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EPA seeks more time on Florida water-quality standards
May 31, 2012
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has asked a federal judge to extend deadlines for proposing revised water-quality standards for Florida rivers and streams.
The request, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, is the latest move in a long-running legal battle about the federal government requiring Florida to use what are known as "numeric-nutrient criteria" to curb water pollution.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in February ordered the EPA to revise the proposed requirements.
The EPA was initially supposed to file changes by May 21, though that deadline was moved to June 4. In the filing last week, the EPA asked that the deadlines be pushed back again to Nov. 30 for rivers and streams in much of the state and July 20 for waterways in South Florida and coastal and estuarine waters.
The EPA said it has worked "diligently" to meet the deadlines but needs further extensions.
Environmental groups, which have fought in court to impose the standards, objected to giving the EPA more time. They said in a filing Friday that "nutrient pollution is a serious and continuing problem in Florida. This fact mitigates against EPA's proposed extensions."
Major business groups and many Florida political leaders have long criticized the EPA for seeking to require numeric-nutrient criteria, arguing that it will impose hefty costs on industries and taxpayers.


Lake Minnehaha cleaner thanks to $600K project to capture, treat stormwater
Orlando Sentinel - by Amy C. Rippel, Correspondent
May 31, 2012
CLERMONT — To frequent Lake Minnehaha visitors, the water may seem a little clearer, a little crisper and just a little more pristine.
The city and Lake County Water Authority recently collaborated on a nearly $600,000 project to capture and treat some of the stormwater before it drains into the popular lake, which is part of the expansive Clermont Chain of Lakes. Minnehaha is designated as an Outstanding Florida Water by the state Department of Environmental Protection because of its natural beauty and attributes. The designation comes certain regulatory requirements that give the waterway special protection. City leaders said it is important to keep the lake unspoiled.
The Clermont chain "is part of the identity of south Lake County and is a popular destination for residents and non-residents alike," city engineer Tamara Richardson said. "It is important to the community and the ecology to maintain a healthy lake system for the enjoyment of future generations as well as promoting a diverse ecosystem unique to Florida."
For the project, which ran from January through April, workers revamped the Disston Avenue drainage basin, which feeds into the lake. Baffle boxes that remove floating debris such as leaves, grass and sand were installed. Also put in were 50 underground concrete chambers that capture and hold storm water so it can percolate through the sand and filter out even more unwanted nutrients.
"The combination of underground structures sufficiently cleans the storm water before it enters the lake," Richardson wrote in the grant application for the project.
The water authority, which contributed more than $200,000 to the project, said the overhaul will remove more than 80 percent of pollutants entering the waterway from the drainage basin. Ron Hart, water-resources program manager, said there a large algae bloom along the chain of lakes several years ago particularly affected Minnehaha and concerned residents. Improvements completed and yet to come are designed to ensure that future generations will see the waterway in pristine conditions.
"It's a step in the right direction," Hart said. "This is one of many."


The river is slimed - Editorial
May 30, 2012
The Santa Fe River, which flows along neighboring Alachua County’s northern boundary, started running green with algae last week. It was the result of a perfect mix of low flow, warm weather and too many nitrates from fertilizers, manure and sewage.
So thick was the green slime, it could be scooped from the once pristine Santa Fe River.
The sliming of the Santa Fe is a heartbreaking testament to the deteriorating state of North Florida’s increasingly stressed springs, rivers and lakes.
The Santa Fe, like Marion County’s own Silver, Ocklawaha, Rainbow and Withlacoochee rivers, is a designated Outstanding Florida Water, which state law declares is “a special category of waterbodies ... which shall be worthy of special protection because of their natural attributes.”
Clearly the Santa Fe, or the Silver, or the Rainbow, or the Withlacoochee, or any other OFW, is not getting enough special protection, if any at all. If they were, they would not be running green with slime or choked with water plants or clouded from a carpet brown algae-coated eel grass that has overtaken these once pristine waterways that 18th century naturalist William Bartrum described as “bowls of liquid light.”
The Santa Fe, declared a health threat last week by county health officials, is not the only river in Florida to turn green in recent days, either.
The Caloosahatchee River near Fort Myers is also covered in green slime so severe the county ordered the shutdown of a drinking water plant serving 30,000 people and warned residents not to have contact with the water, and to keep pets and livestock away as well.
So where are our leaders ? Their reticence is deafening and disturbing. The sliming of the Santa Fe and the Caloosahatchee are just the latest alarms to sound that Florida is facing a major water crisis. Silver Springs, once arguably the largest freshwater spring in the world, is no longer even the largest spring in Marion County thanks to its declining flow, which is one-third its 80-year recorded average. Instead, Rainbow Springs now has a greater spring flow.
Potato farmers in Hastings, north of Palatka, are reporting salt water intrusion into their irrigation wells, the result of a plummeting water table.
The Suwannee River is so low, a person can wade across it, and its world famous springs are literally drying up.
Meanwhile, a plan by Adena Springs Ranch to pump some 13 million gallons of water a day just north of Silver Springs is stirring a statewide protest of reckless water policies that fail to take into account our fragile water resources and an historic drought.
Again, where are our leaders?
It is unrealistic to think that our water management districts will ever cease issuing consumptive use permits, nor should they. Growth is essential to prosperity. But we have to wonder where our elected representatives are, where Gov. Rick Scott is, while the state stands on the threshold of not just a water war, but a water crisis — and, with it, an economic crisis of a new kind.
Our “outstanding” waters are green with slime because of a plummeting water table and too much pollution. What more must happen before we see some serious leadership ?


Water pumping in drought: Cattle vs. Silver Springs
May 30, 2012
In Marion County, the second county north of Polk, Frank Stronach is asking for a state permit to pump some 13 million gallons of water a day from the aquifer. It is for use with his massive Adena Springs Ranch cattle operation.
The problem is, the state is in the midst of a historic drought, even with rain from Tropical Storm Beryl. Based on the public response, this permit request has all the ingredients of being Florida's next water war.
But while past water wars have been largely parochial encounters, this has the potential to be a statewide affair. Interest has been elevated by fear that Adena Springs' gain will be nearby Silver Springs' loss.
This month, a forum called "Silver Springs and Florida's Imperiled Waters," hosted by the environmental advocacy group St. Johns Riverkeeper in Jacksonville, drew more than 250 people. They heard about the deteriorating state of the springs, the Adena Springs project, and its potential toll on the springs, the St. Johns River and the rest of North Florida's water resources.
Also, this month, there was a gathering of the state's most powerful environmental groups in Tallahassee, specifically to discuss the Adena Springs project and the strategy they should employ in addressing it. In attendance were Audubon Florida, the Sierra Club, the Florida Wildlife Federation, St. Johns Riverkeeper and the new-but-ever-more-influential Florida Conservation Coalition, founded by former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham.
It was the first time the groups had come together to discuss a single issue.
"There's a lot of interest in this statewide," Jimmy Orth, executive director of St. Johns Riverkeeper, said. "It's the iconic status of Silver Springs.
"Here is this iconic natural jewel that has brought millions of people to Florida and look what we're willing to do to it. This is kind of a line in the sand. If we can't save Silver Springs, what can we save?"
Good question.


Algae blooms threaten water levels in north Central Florida
Florida Alligator  - by Shelby Webb, Writer
May 29, 2012
Algae blooms now plague the Santa Fe River, blanketing parts of the river in green.
“You can’t miss them,” Jim Wood, owner of the Santa Fe Canoe Outpost, said. “They’re everywhere.”
The Alachua County Health Department identified algae spreading from Highway 27 Bridge to upstream of Poe Springs.
One test sample taken by the health department showed a potentially harmful bacterium. This algae strain is known to produce a neurotoxin in Australia but has not been proven toxic in the United States.
The algae are only a symptom of a wider problem — extremely low water levels in north Central Florida.
Chris Bird, director of the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department, said the springs that dot the Santa Fe River are now the river’s only sources of water flow. Since the spring water makes the river water extra clear, Bird said, it allows more sunlight beneath the surface, which helps algae thrive. This sucks up the river’s oxygen supply.
“That can kill the fish because they don’t have enough oxygen to survive,” Bird said.
Wood said he now has to drive his customers three miles down river to launch their canoes or kayaks.
“It’s a 180-degree difference,” Wood said. “It’s like a desert compared to an oasis.”


Green river
Herald-Tribune – Editorial (first in Gainesville Sun)
May 29, 2012
Last week a stretch of the Santa Fe River near Poe Springs began to run green with algae. And it is only a matter of time, perhaps just days, before Poe Springs itself stops flowing.
The average flow of the springs, which are Gainesville's largest, is 47 cubic feet per second. That's now down to less than half a cubic foot.
It is convenient to blame the drought for both conditions, to shrug it off as an act of God. But while the lack of rain is a problem, two other man-made contributing factors — overpumping of the groundwater and nitrogen pollution of the river — should not be ignored.
Santa Fe is an Outstanding Florida Water, but efforts by state environmental officials and regional water managers to "rescue" the much abused river are ineffectual to nonexistent.
This is a state, after all, that can't even muster the will to require that the owners of millions of aging, leaking septic tanks have them inspected periodically.
What is happening to the Santa Fe River as we enter this hot, dry summer of our discontent was absolutely predictable — the result of years of benign neglect and environmental abuse.
"The Santa Fe River Springs are suffering from the same stressors faced by a majority of springs in Florida," states a proposed Santa Fe action plan published by the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute. "They have lost up to 40 percent of their historic flows due to groundwater pumping and decreased rainfall and they have experienced up to a 3,000 percent increase in nitrate nitrogen concentrations.
"Since clean and abundant water is the lifeblood of these springs, they are experiencing an overall decline in their environmental health."
The Santa Fe River has been in decline for nearly half a century. Must we wait another five decades to save this river?
Saving the Santa Fe will require major changes to water-consumption policies, agricultural and landscaping practices and wastewater control.
Simply waiting out the drought will solve nothing.
Editor's Note: This editorial originally appeared in the Gainesville Sun, a fellow member of the Halifax Media Group.


Mouseover and/or
CLICK for enlarging :
Lake Brooklyn

Lake Brooklyn
seriously receded

What will our elected officials do about our water ? – by Jackie Host, President, Lake Area Water Alliance
May 29, 2012
You know how you get those newsletters from politicians and they ask you to tell them about your concerns. This is what I have just sent to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. I hope other concerned citizens will join me and demand accountability for the water grabbing going on in our state.
Dear Senator Nelson: Nothing is more important in the State of Florida right now than the depletion of the Floridan Aquifer which has caused the lakes, rivers, springs and wetlands to dry up at an alarming rate. While there is an obvious drought greatly contributing to the depletion of our water resources, the huge water withdrawals from the aquifer for industrial, agricultural, landscaping and human consumption are adding insult to injury.
Though severe water shortages are predicted for our state, permit after permit is granted and this problem is endemic to the entire United States. The Floridan Aquifer on which most Floridians depend on for drinking water runs from South Carolina to Biscayne, Florida. What can you do to help save our water resources in Florida?
We are desperate. The lake behind my house in Keystone Heights has completely dried up and many other water bodies in North Florida are rapidly disappearing. As if the economy wasn't bad enough the loss of these water bodies also further impact our poor economy as businesses fail and real estate values plummet. My lifetime assets and dreams of a retirement on a Florida lake died with the lake.
Now, our treasured Silver Springs is threatened by a billionaire Canadian cattle rancher located just 7 miles from the Springs who is asking for 13 million gallons per day of water to irrigate the grass his cows feed on; which is more water than the whole City of Ocala uses. I would at least like to hear some support for the citizens from you on this issue.
The disregard and denial by politicians that over-pumping has harmed the aquifer is disgraceful. The citizens of this state are tired of bottling companies, utility companies and cattle ranches being allowed to get public water for free and get richer from it while local businesses go out of business, as we all watch the landscape of Florida forever be changed.
It is a fact that investors are grabbing up all the water they can, water banking, and are planning on selling it back to us in the future at gold standard prices. I think there should be a Congressional hearing and investigation into the theft of public water which belongs to the citizens of the State of Florida which has been allowed and sanctioned by Gov. Rick Scott and the FDEP.


Beryl bringing much-needed rain to an area parched with drought
Associated Press
May 28, 2012
Beryl bringing much-needed rain to an area parched with drought.
SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Former Tropical Storm Beryl has become a depression with winds dying down.
Still, it is soaking parts of the Southeast and ruined holiday plans along the Georgia and Florida coasts.
Late Monday morning, sustained winds had died down to 35 mph (55 kph).
Mostly, the storm is bringing much-needed rain to an area parched with drought.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami reported that the center of Beryl made landfall near Jacksonville Beach at around 12:10 a.m., with near-hurricane-strength winds of 70 mph (113 kph). The hurricane center reported late Sunday that the weather system was in the process of making landfall.
"There are strong rain bands that are rotating around the center of the storm..." forecaster Al Sandrik said in an audio statement on the NHC website.
The weather system is expected to continue dumping rain over parts of Florida and Georgia on Monday. It is expected to weaken as it moves inland and become a tropical depression by Monday night, and then moves out to sea.
Tropical storm warnings were in effect for the entire Georgia coastline, as well as parts of Florida and South Carolina.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott urged Florida residents in the affected areas to "stay alert and aware."
"Tropical Storm Beryl is expected to bring heavy rain and winds, and it is vital to continue to monitor local news reports and listen to the advice of local emergency management officials," Scott said in a statement early Sunday evening.
Beryl was expected to bring 4 to 8 inches of rain to parts, with some areas getting as much as 12 inches. Forecasters predict the storm surge and tide will cause significant coastal flooding in northeastern Florida, Georgia and southern South Carolina.
The weather system could complicate holiday traffic on Monday. It wrecked some Memorial Day weekend plans on Sunday, causing shoreline campers to pack up and head inland and leading to the cancellation of some events.
Campers at Cumberland Island, Ga., which is reachable only by boat, were told to leave by 4:45 p.m. Sunday. The island has a number of undeveloped beaches and forests popular with campers.
However, many people seemed determined to make the best of the soggy forecast.
At Greyfield Inn, a 19th-century mansion and the only private inn on Cumberland Island, the rooms were nearly full Sunday and everyone was planning to stay put through the wet weather, said Dawn Drake, who answered the phone at the inn's office on the Florida coast.
In Jacksonville, Sunday's jazz festival and Memorial Day ceremony were canceled. Workers were also out clearing tree limbs and debris that could be tossed about by the storm's winds. Winds had already knocked down tree limbs and power lines in parts of coastal Georgia, leaving hundreds without electricity.
But business was booming at the Red Dog Surf Shop in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., where customers flocked to buy boards and wax in anticipation of the storm's high waves. Officials along the coast warned of rip currents, waves and high tides — all of which can be dangerous but also tend to attract adventurous surfers. The waters had already become dangerous in South Carolina, where rescuers were searching for a missing swimmer.
The Coast Guard said three people and a dog were rescued from a sinking recreational vehicle by crews in Charleston Harbor late Sunday morning.
"There were wave heights of roughly four feet, the waves started depositing water in the boat and the boat started to get overwhelmed, it started to sink," Petty Officer Christopher Evanson, a Coast Guardspokesman, told the Associated Press. "The Coast Guard was able to get on scene, get alongside the boat and disembark the passengers.
Evanson said the Guard is "trying to convince boaters and swimmers alike to stay away from the water. It's very dangerous right now and we're trying to stay vigilant and we're out there trying to ensure that everybody is safe.
In Jacksonville Beach, Fernando Sola said business was booming at his Happy Faces Ice Cream truck. A bus- full of tourists from South Carolina had stopped to buy some ice cream and watch the storm waters churn.
"There are actually more people than on a normal day. It's working out great," said Sola, taking a few moments away from scooping ice cream to people lined up in front of his truck.
Steady, heavy winds kicked up sand across the area, forcing onlookers to shield themselves with towels.
Jessica Smith and Chester Jaheeb decided to brave the waters despite many warnings for people to stay out. Jaheeb, who was born in India but lives in Jacksonville, said he had never experienced a tropical storm before.
"We were at a certain part that started pulling us out, like the rip current, so we decided to come to shore," said Smith, 17.
Taylor Anderson, captain of Jacksonville Beach's American Red Cross Volunteer Lifesaving Corps., said his lifeguards went body-surfing early Sunday to get acclimated with the surf conditions for what looked to be a long day. They also reviewed methods to determine where there might be riptides.
"They look for discoloration, the water moving paradoxically back to sea, and our lifeguards are trained to spot that, to keep people away from that, especially when the surf is this high. It makes those run-outs very dangerous. People can get sucked into those very fast, especially with the high surf and the high wind," he said.
Though the weather was calm earlier Sunday, Anderson's lifeguards began preparing other equipment in the morning. They packed sandbags in front of the entrances to the oceanfront Red Cross lifeguard station and pulled lifeguard stands off the beach.
As the winds picked up, officials hung two red flags, one warning of dangerous ocean conditions and the other notifying beachgoers that swimming was prohibited. But a lot of people ignored the warnings. By 3:30 p.m., Anderson said, lifeguards had made 150 "preventions," meaning lifeguards ordered 150 people out of the water, though no rescues were necessary.
One of the people ordered out the water was Christian Siciliano, 14, of Jacksonville Beach. The surfer said the waves were too rough for surfing so he, his brother and a friend decided to go boogey-boarding.
"We just went out to, like, mess around," Christian said. "It was really rough. I didn't make it out too far, about 10 feet."
He said the waves were so powerful it was difficult to paddle against them. Then lifeguards raced to the area and ordered him and the two other youths from the water.
Bars and restaurants along Jacksonville Beach's oceanside roads were enjoying booming business, with outside decks crowded with people listening to music, drinking and watching the weather. At Joe's Crab Shack, which has a deck facing the Atlantic Ocean, the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" blasted from outside speakers.
Joe Murphy, a spokesman for the Ritz Carlton in Amelia Island, Fla., said he was not seeing a flood of checkouts or people trying to get off the island. Outdoor dining had been moved inside and the hotel set up movies and family game activities, but the hotel had no plans to board up or move patio furniture inside.
The southeastern U.S. wasn't the only part of the country dealing with troublesome weather.
In Washington, the annual Memorial Day concert on the National Mall Sunday night was cut short as a line of thunderstorms approached the District of Columbia from the northwest. Mike Musher of the National Weather Service said the thunderstorms developed over Pennsylvania as part of the weather system that created record high temperatures in the Midwest over the weekend.
On Tybee Island, a barrier island not far from Savannah, water off the beaches was closed for swimming Sunday. Tybee Island fire Chief C.L. Sasser said winds of up to 42 mph were creating "horrendous water currents." Only people with flotation devices strapped or tethered to their bodies were being allowed into the water, and they were being cautioned not to venture in farther than knee deep.
"Even if you're standing in waist-deep water, the current can sweep you out quickly," he said.
His ocean rescue team pulled a total of 48 people from the water on Saturday, he said, including about 27 that were considered to be in life-threatening conditions. One man who was sucked under the water was rescued by friends and onlookers and was taken to the hospital in serious condition.
A band of showers soaked the beaches late Sunday morning, causing crowds to thin, Sasser said. With alternating rainy and sunny weather forecast throughout the day, he said he expected the crowds on the sands to ebb and flow.
In South Carolina, Janice Keith with the Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau said Sunday that the office hadn't fielded any calls from concerned tourists.
In Beaufort County, emergency management deputy director David Zeoli said officials were continuing to monitor the storm and encourage people to have a plan in case conditions get worse.
Zeoli said winds had kicked up in the area that includes Hilton Head Island, a popular golf and beach destination. "It's just a wet day here," he said.
Kennedy reported from Miami. Brumback reported from Atlanta. Meg Kinnard contributed to this report from Columbia, S.C., and Jackie Quinn contributed from Washington, D.C.


Silver Spring River

Silver Spring River

Our leaders ignore the disaster beneath our feet - by Sonny Vergara - Special to the Star-Banner
May 27, 2012
If you're monitoring the news these days, you're hearing about the declining state of one of Florida's most unique natural assets — its world-class concentration of first-magnitude springs in northern Florida.
These deep chasms of water that once boiled furiously upward to the delight of generations of local swimmers and thrill-seeking tourists have been slowed to only a vestige of their former strength by drought and overpumping.
Worse yet, many also have become clouded with sediment and slime fed by the nutrient-rich seepage of over-fertilized golf courses, lawns, farm fields and septic tanks. The fish that at one time you could see as clearly as you might see them in an aquarium are nearly gone.
Are you agitated and fearful about what's happening? Worried about what's being done about it? Or have you just become numb to the thought, kind of like the Israelis have become numb to the fact that the Palestinians have rockets aimed at their homes from three directions? (Okay, so the analogy's a stretch, but stay with me.)
I just watched "60 Minutes" on CBS and learned that despite having armed rockets pointed their way and suicide bombers threatening every public gathering with mass murder, Tel Aviv residents have become "numb," as a reporter put it. They go to the beach, to the restaurants and the bars, and carry on normal and apparently very happy lives as if there was nothing to worry about. An observer noted that it seems they have become hopeless because they believe there is little they can do about it, so why worry.
Importantly, he noted that ignoring the danger does nothing to lessen the genuine danger that exists for them. Point being, ignoring a threat to one's way of life will not make the threat go away.
The problem with Florida's springs, while certainly not as lethal, has a somewhat similar ring. While one can hear the wailing of those with a particular emotional appreciation for Florida's natural environment, the silence from the majority of Floridians is deafening. Have they become numb to the reality that these unique natural treasures are being taken from them and have simply given up hope that anything can be done to stop it? Like the Tel Avivians, have they simply decided to go to the mall?
It's a valid question. Those in a position to do something about the obvious deterioration are ignoring the problem and most of us are just shrugging our shoulders. Just as Iran's ambition to become a nuclear nation seems so unstoppable by our elected leaders, so is the continuing deterioration of Florida's springs. State legislators continue to pander to the monied elite and ignore the insidious decay beneath their feet. Florida's world-renowned environmental legacy is at risk while they haggle over how best to cut the cost of protecting some of the state's greatest natural assets because "regulation kills jobs."
This studied denial of the importance of natural Florida has pervaded even the self-aggrandizing publication of the Department of Environmental Protection. If you visit their "Florida State Parks" website (, you'll find this warning about the historic and once incredibly beautiful Wakulla Springs:
"Glass-Bottom Boat Tours over the spring basin have become the exception rather than the rule in recent years. Tea-stained or green water impedes the penetration of light needed to view the impressive features of the 120-foot deep chasm of Wakulla Spring. Heavy rains, combined with other unknown factors, are thought to be the cause of decreased visibility.
"To avoid disappointment, it is strongly suggested that the park be contacted prior to expected visitation to ascertain the feasibility of glass-bottom boat operation. Water-quality conditions can change rapidly and unexpectedly."
It is unfathomable that the state agency responsible for "getting the water right" has become so blasé about such a disaster that they blandly warn visitors to check first because the spring has become prone to green scum and clouded water instead of the crystal clear natural wonder it used to be. Have we all become so calloused by the indifference of our elected leaders that to read this on the primary website, where all of Florida's parks are marketed to the world, we are yet not appalled and offended as we should be?
Well, I'm appalled. And I'm disgusted. I'm going to start seeking out my elected representatives and asking why they aren't as well. You should, too.
Sonny Vergara is the former executive director of the St. Johns River Water Management District, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and the Peace River/Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority. He lives in Brooksville.


(mouse over photo) :
Invasive species


Click HERE for location
of Adena Springs
Ranch and of the
proposed wells

Scientific evidence of a water crisis abounds as Adena Springs case unfolds – for The Star-Banner- by Karen Ahlers and Neil Chonin
May 27, 2012
Upton Sinclair noted that "it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."
That pretty much sums up last Sunday's guest column about Adena Springs Ranch by Ed de la Parte, the attorney for billionaire Frank Stronach and his controversial cattle operation in Marion County.
In his May 20 column, de la Parte fails to understand the special feelings residents, and visitors, in North Central Florida have for the beautiful, iconic Silver Springs. He seems not to understand the common sense shared in local communities that existing aquifer withdrawals are contributing to the all-time low flow from the springs and that an additional withdrawal of 13 million gallons per day in the Silver Springs springshed is way too much, especially during this time of extreme drought. Droughts come and go in Florida. In which case, wouldn't it be sensible to plan for the worst rather than bank on the best?
According to the Adena Springs attorney, we are all too emotional and uninformed, and we ought sit down, be quiet and get with the science.
But the science that de la Parte presents is part of a lawyer's argument, and the "facts" are based on studies Adena Springs commissioned. Studies that have not been completed, accepted or approved by any agency looking out for the welfare of Florida residents.
For instance, Adena Springs' groundwater modeling study reported no harm to Silver Springs. But the study was set up improperly, according to the St. Johns River Water Management District. The district told Adena Springs that the model should not have included recharge because the district would only permit enough irrigation water to grow grass, not recharge the aquifer. Even if the model was set up correctly, the district says the suitability of the groundwater model to evaluate Adena Springs' withdrawal impacts has "been brought into question," and more investigation is required.
According to de la Parte, the results of an aquifer performance test conducted by Adena Springs have not been compiled and submitted, but he already has concluded it would be irrational to expect harm. The district, on the other hand, says further study beyond the aquifer performance test is warranted.
The district has stated that a "primary concern is that of nutrients from the site (sources that include manure, urine and inorganic fertilizer) could be transported directly off-site via surface water conveyance or indirectly off-site via groundwater conveyance to an adjacent OFW water body." Two OFWs (Outstanding Florida Waters) are at risk — the Silver River and the Ocklawaha River Aquatic Preserves.
Is the water management district also being too emotional?
Folks need not be concerned, according to de la Parte, because Adena Springs will use precisely as much water as their grass crop needs. They will manage fertilizer and manure so that only the precise amounts needed by the crop will be used. Some of this precision agricultural science will come from research through the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida's new Frank Stronach Plant Science Center, named for the Adena Springs Ranch billionaire owner and donor who funded the $1.5 million building project.
De la Parte is telling us to leave it to IFAS and Adena Springs' private consultants to determine what best-management practices Adena Springs must follow. He believes the district can decide what's in the public interest. Unfortunately, organizations such as IFAS and the water management districts are bowing to the pressure of money and business and may not be serving the best interests of residents. The St. Johns district, as well as Florida's other water management districts, have been hogtied by the current administration in Florida, resulting in inadequate budgets, reduced staffing and pro-industry/anti-environment executive directors and governing boards. The approval by the district of more water withdrawal permits for the Jacksonville Electric Authority and other major water consumers has contributed to the current unprecedented water crisis. They publicly acknowledge this fact.
The Adena Springs Ranch application and submittals can be viewed online. So can the modeling correspondence quoted in this column and hundreds of objection letters and emails. Go to and type in the permit number 129419.
So, don't judge the Adena Springs Ranch permit based on emotion like some people have. There's plenty of good old-fashioned, fact-based doubt to go around.
Karen Ahlers is an environmental advocate who lives in Putnam County, and Neil Chonin is a noted environmental lawyer with Southern Legal Council Inc. in Gainesville.


Water under pressure - by Robert L. Knight - Special to The Sun
May 27, 2012
The Florida Springs Institute feels that it is necessary to respond to two Speaking Outs published by the Gainesville Sun on May 20 — "DEP is Using Science, Data to "Get the Water Right," by Drew Bartlett, director of DEP's Division of Environmental Assessment and Management; and "Adena Springs Permit Won't Hurt Silver Springs," by Ed de la Parte, water-use permitting attorney for Adena Springs Ranch.
These two essays are similar in their efforts to convince the public that we should trust our government and large corporate lawyers to protect our environmental resources. The evidence to the contrary is overwhelming and irrefutable.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is financed by taxpayer's dollars to protect Florida's environment. In spite of Bartlett's assertion that DEP is using science to "get the water right," more than 30 years of data collected by DEP's own staff has documented excessive nutrient pollution in the state's springs, with increased nitrate concentrations in more than 80 percent of our springs and more than 40 percent of our springs with nitrate increases of more than 1,000 percent.
In 1998, DEP created a task force of scientists and engineers to address this problem. The Florida Springs Task Force concluded in 2000 that DEP needed to "enforce existing regulations that can be used to protect groundwater that flows to springs." Despite Bartlett's claim that DEP is on top of this springs pollution nightmare, his agency shelved the Springs Task Force and their report and has taken no substantive action to provide effective and timely enforcement of the state's water quality standards in springs. Our springs continue to become more polluted under DEP's watch.
The proposed Adena Springs Ranch is in the groundwater basin that feeds Silver Springs. Silver Springs in turn is one of Florida's most unique natural wonders and provides substantial baseflow to the Ocklawaha and St. Johns Rivers.
Yet nitrate contamination has been evident in Silver Springs since the 1950s and continues to rise in spite of well-intentioned agricultural and urban wastewater management practices condoned by our state agencies and their "good science."
DEP issued all required water quality permits to the Adena Springs Ranch without any public input in spite of the many tons of nitrogen waste that will result from raising another 30,000 cows in the springshed.
De le Parte is an attorney and his only expertise as a groundwater and springs guru is a result of his tireless efforts to help big industry and municipal clients win consumptive use permits that allow large-scale withdrawal of Florida's precious groundwater resources. His call to rely on the entire volume of the Floridan Aquifer System to supply the needs of the current generation of Floridian businesses is like suggesting that we tear down the Rocky Mountains so we can build more gravel roads.
He does not appear to understand a simple concept — Florida springs, rivers and lakes are reliant on only the top of the Floridan Aquifer and inevitably dry up when we lower aquifer levels by only tens of feet. He also chooses to ignore the fact that the freshwater under our feet is precariously balanced on salt water at greater depths, and for each one foot of aquifer drawdown there is a corresponding rise of more than 40 feet by the underlying saltwater.
Up-coning of salty groundwater is already happening throughout the coastal regions of Florida, and the Florida Geological Survey is warning that rising salt water in the groundwater under the center of the state is an indicator of an impending disaster if we continue to increase our rate of groundwater withdrawals.
Flows in Silver Springs are declining at an unprecedented rate never observed during previous extreme droughts. Existing rates of groundwater pumping throughout Marion County and as far away as Jacksonville are altering regional groundwater levels and spring flows.
It is likely that the St. Johns River Water Management District will grant the 13.26 million gallon per day groundwater withdrawal permit request by Adena Springs Ranch. By itself this permitted withdrawal could result in a flow reduction at Silver Springs of between about 6 and13 million gallons per day. This is roughly 6 percent of the existing daily flow at Silver Springs and about 2 percent of the long-term average spring flow.
But added to the more than 2 billion gallons per day of existing groundwater withdrawals in the St. Johns and Southwest Florida water management districts, it may be the straw in the groundwater that breaks the camel's back.
Our message to Bartlett and de le Parte is clear — it is not in the best interest of Florida's future environment and economy to continue on this path of excess and environmental degradation. Existing state and federal laws were enacted to protect our groundwater resources and springs and they must be enforced, regardless of the wishes of special interests.
Dr. Robert L. Knight is director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute.


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Invasive species

Mecca Farms

Palm Beach County is
in talks with the SFWMD
to sell the 1,900+ acre
Mecca Farms, west of
Palm Beach Gardens,
to the district. The land
to be used for cleaning
stormwater redirected
to the Loxahatchee

Mecca Farms proposal follows history of land swaps
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
May 26, 2012
Palm Beach County, South Florida Water Management District linked by land deals
It's like the grown-up version of trading Reading Railroad for the Electric Company, but the deals are bankrolled by taxpayer dollars instead of Monopoly money and the game board stretches across Palm Beach County.
Swapping taxpayer-owned land through the years has become a go-to move for local officials trying to resolve multi-million-dollar real estate hiccups.
Palm Beach County government and the South Florida Water Management District have played the game more than once and they are at it again. This time it's a proposed deal for the county's 1,919-acre Mecca Farms property west of Palm Beach Gardens.
The county sunk more than $100 million into Mecca Farms but could never get a planned biotech industry hub to grow there.
Now the district proposes taking the former citrus groves off the county's hands in exchange for about $30 million and a collection of properties totaling more than 1,600 acres.
The district needs Mecca Farms for water storage and treatment because one of its past land deals, turning a rock pit west of Royal Palm beach into a $217 million reservoir, hasn't lived up to its billing.
Critics say the government's real estate wheeling and dealing doesn't always leave taxpayers whole.
A state grand jury investigating ways to correct Palm Beach County government wrongdoing found in 2009 that the county's real estate practice was too often "overvaluation of property for purchase" and "undervaluation of property for sale or trade."
But county and district officials contend this new proposed trade, like past deals, could be a win-win for both sides.
A boost for the ecosystem and paying down at least a portion of the Mecca Farms debt could be a good return for taxpayers, County Commissioner Karen Marcus said.
"It's been a good partnership," Marcus said about the county and the district collaborating on land deals. "In both directions, it's a win for the public."
In the 1990s, that real estate partnership between the county and the water management district helped defuse a neighborhood fight over a proposed landfill west of Boca Raton.
Public backlash to the prospect of living near a trash mound prompted the county to start looking for a new landfill location.
The district ended up acquiring the county's 1,600 acres and helped arrange a land trade that enabled the county to acquire another 1,600 acres of farmland west of the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, miles from the nearest home.
The county's Solid Waste Authority originally paid about $30 million for the property west of Boca Raton and ended up getting 1,600 acres of sugar cane land worth about $7.5 million in return.
The land west of Boca Raton is now becoming a reservoir and restored wetland to help Everglades restoration.
The deal enabled the county to get out of its landfill fight with Boca residents, but it eventually led to a new fight with environmentalists who objected to putting a landfill beside the wildlife refuge.
The county has since shelved landfill plans in favor of building a new incinerator at the existing landfill near West Palm Beach, leaving the 1,600 acres out west in limbo.
The district's newly proposed bid to acquire Mecca Farms could also result in the county recovering substantially less than what taxpayers invested. But like the landfill deal, the property would be put to use for environmental restoration.
Mecca Farms was once destined to become a "biotech village," home to high-tech businesses and spin-off development anchored by The Scripps Research Institute.
In a rush to lure California-based Scripps from other suitors, the county in 2004 spent $60 million to acquire the 1,919-acre Mecca Farms property, west of Palm Beach Gardens.
The county ended up spending another $40 million on planning and development to get Mecca Farms ready for Scripps and an additional $51 million on a water pipeline to serve the property and development expected to follow.
But in 2006, environmental objections caused the County Commission to move Scripps' East Coast home to Jupiter.
The state grand jury report in 2009, prompted by a series of County Commission corruption scandals, offered a scathing review of the county's handling of Mecca Farms.
The report contends that the county paid two or three times the per-acre value of Mecca Farms and suggested that "intense political pressure" was a driving force behind the purchase.
"The Mecca site transaction and other transactions lend credence to the perception of cronyism, unfair access and corruption of the land acquisition process," the grand jury report said.
The county's backup plan for recovering taxpayers' Mecca Farms investment was to sell the former citrus groves to developers, but that fizzled after the South Florida housing boom went bust.
Since then, the county hasn't tried hard enough to find a buyer for Mecca Farms, according to Fred Scheibl, of the tea party spin-off Palm Beach County Taxpayer Action Board.
"It was a bad thing to buy in the first place. Holding onto it was not a good idea," Scheibl said.
Now the water management district, once again, could offer the county a chance to unload a costly property.
The district, under federal pressure to jump-start Everglades restoration, would acquire Mecca Farms to store and treat stormwater that could replenish the Loxahatchee River. That would compensate for taking water from a $217 million rock pit-turned-reservoir west of Royal Palm Beach, built to help the river, and sending it south to the Everglades.
Environmentalists that fought putting Scripps on Mecca Farms have voiced support for the new proposal.
"We knew that the land was important for the Loxahatchee River," said attorney Lisa Interlandi, who represented environmental groups that fought Mecca development. "We feel vindicated."
Under the district's proposed deal for Mecca Farms, the county could get a collection of properties totaling 1,600 acres and potentially $30 million in a proposed deal for taxpayer-owned Mecca Farms.
The county could boost the value by selling or leasing some of the district land it would acquire, but county officials aren't expecting the deal to match the $100 million plus already spent on Mecca Farms.
Lessening long-term Mecca Farms debt payments, about $6 million a year, and avoiding ongoing maintenance costs could be worth the trade-off, according to county officials, who also said that these talks with the district are only preliminary.
"Obviously we would like to recover the full value," said County Commissioner Steven Abrams, who wasn't on the board when the county bought Mecca Farms. "The county may be in a position of just cutting its losses on Mecca Farms."
The district has proposed a 120-day due diligence period to see if the county and the agency that leads Everglades restoration can work out a deal.
The district, which owns more than 1 million acres from Orlando to the Keys, has faced scrutiny of its own for real estate deals.
The district in 2010 paid U.S. Sugar Corp. $197 million to acquire 26,800 acres for Everglades restoration, but so far hasn't put the land to use. Since then, the Florida Legislature imposed land-buying limits on the district that would require the governor and the Florida Legislative Budget Commission to sign off on new land deals, including the Mecca Farms proposal.
In addition to pursuing the Mecca property, the district has suggested trading some of the Palm Beach County portion of the U.S. Sugar land it acquired for land closer to the Everglades.


Mild season may hinge on El Niño’s predicted return in the late summer months
Palm Beach Daily News – by John Nelander, Special to the Daily News
May 26, 2012
Meteorologists have come to understand that water temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean influence the weather in the entire Western Hemisphere and during all four seasons of the year. So when any kind of long-term forecast is being prepared, one of the first questions the experts ask is: Are we going into an El Niño or a La Niña ?
Or neither ?
Basically, La Niña conditions exist when water temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean are cooler than average. A La Niña is declared when surface temperatures in the Central or Eastern Pacific are at least 0.5 degrees Celsius below average.
The flip side is an El Niño, in which Pacific water that is at least a half a degree warmer than the historical average.
La Niña tends to bring warm, dry winters and springs to Florida, followed by a busy hurricane season. The main reason is that La Niña cuts down on atmospheric wind shear in the Atlantic Ocean, allowing more storms to form.
El Niño, on the other hand, causes cool, wet winters and springs in Florida and puts a lid on the development of tropical storms in the Atlantic because of higher wind shear.
In addition, according to Weather Underground’s Jeff Masters, studies show that storms tend to be steered away from Florida’s East Coast during El Niño summers.
The last El Niño occurred from June 2009 through May 2010. Since then, we’ve been in either La Niña or what the experts call neutral conditions. In 2009, there were only nine named storms and none threatened South Florida. But both 2010 and 2011 saw 19 named storms, tying those years for having the third-busiest season ever.
What’s in the cards for the 2012 season?
Colorado State University hurricane experts William Gray and Philip Klotzbach are putting their money on an El Niño developing by August or September. That’s why their April forecast called for just 10 named storms.
But actually, computer forecasting models are split on the issue, with some forecasting El Niño and others predicting neutral conditions.
Gray and Klotzbach will update their hurricane forecast in June, and by then more model consensus may be available.


Deep dredging of Miami’s port gets final environmental OK
Miami Herald - by Charles Rabin
May 25, 2012
State environmental regulators have issued a permit that will allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge and deepen Government Cut, as part of the PortMiami expansion plan.
A month after reaching a legal settlement that cleared the way for the controversial $2 billion PortMiami expansion plan, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has issued a permit that will allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge and deepen in and around Government Cut by up to 50 feet.
The project will be put out for bids this summer, with construction expected to begin in early 2013.
Port expansion advocates argue the deeper depth will allow PortMiami to be more competitive by accommodating larger vessels that are expected to make use of the new and wider Panama Canal when that project is completed some time next year.
Dredgers will follow protocols set by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which means all hard coral colonies greater than 25 centimeters and up to 1,300 hard coral colonies between 10 and 25 centimeters will be relocated, 16.6 acres of new sea grass beds will be created, and more than nine acres of artificial reef will be built.
Last month, environmentalists who had spent two years arguing that blasting and digging in the port’s main channel would leave Biscayne Bay scarred, agreed to drop an administrative challenge after Miami-Dade County said it would spend $2.3 million on restoration and to monitor the project.


The best deal they'll get
Palm Beach Post – by Randy Schultz for The Post Editorial Board
May 25, 2012
The offer for Mecca Farms is the best chance Palm Beach County will get to move past a mistake.
The county bought the 2,000-acre property for $60 million in 2003, supposedly to make it the home of Scripps Florida. The land, far west of Palm Beach Gardens, never seemed to make sense as the location for a new biotechnology hub. It quickly became clear that another agenda, enabled by certain county commissioners, was at work.
A private offshoot of the Business Development Board hoped to acquire the Vavrus Ranch, east of Mecca Farms, and sell it for development that Scripps would fuel. Half of the $102 million price for Vavrus, generated through the use of public money, would go to the private group. Business Development Board members touted Mecca for Scripps without revealing their plans for Vavrus.
The deal fell through after The Post reported it. The county commission, though, pressed ahead with Mecca for Scripps, even after Scripps' CEO criticized the site. Despite warnings from environmental groups, which were suing to block Scripps at Mecca, and The Post, the county began work. Then the county lost in court, and Scripps wound up on the Jupiter campus of Florida Atlantic University - a fitting location.
So Palm Beach County taxpayers spend about $4 million in annual debt payments for, and $250,000 a year to maintain land the county doesn't need. In 2006, some commissioners wanted to sell the site for as many as 4,000 homes, but that was during the real estate bubble, and such a plan would have drawn another legal challenge.
Last week, the South Florida Water Management District offered to trade roughly 1,700 acres of district-owned land for Mecca's 2,000 acres. The district also would give the county $30 million. That amount wouldn't come close to making the county whole, but the county could use the money to retire the debt. Some of the district land also is being leased for farming, and could be a revenue source.
The water district's interest in Mecca stems partially from negotiations between Gov. Scott and the Environmental Protection Agency on the governor's proposal for cleaning water that flows to the Everglades. Having Mecca would give the district another place to store water. Another environmental benefit from the swap would be the ability to use Mecca as a flow way for fresh water to the Loxahatchee River, thus lowering the level of damaging salt water in the river.
As for the water district, The Post reported that the 1,751 acres were bought for about $57 million and have a market value of roughly $24 million. So we have two large public agencies that during the go-go days bought large amounts of land they didn't need. Perhaps there are stories behind the district's purchases like the one behind Mecca Farms.
Some Palm Beach County commissioners might want to hold out for a good deal on Mecca Farms. That good deal won't ever happen, because the decision to buy Mecca Farms was so bad. Unless County Administrator Bob Weisman finds something unexpected in the next month, the commission should be prepared to like a deal that takes Mecca off its hands.


Branford Spring

Branford Spring
overrun by exploding
algal bloom

All talk no action on water – by Annette Long, Chiefland, FL
May 24, 2012
In Sunday's Gainesville Sun, Drew Bartlett, from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, wrote that his department is working to "get the water right" here in Florida. That totally makes sense because people come from all over the U.S. and the world to play on our beaches, fish in our bays, float on our rivers and swim in our springs. Clean, abundant water is hands down one of the most important factors to a healthy economy here in Florida.
I believe that at one time it was important to Bartlett's DEP and to the State of Florida, because over the years I have been to dozens of meetings where water quality standards were discussed, scientific studies were vetted and adopted to use as supporting documentation for rule making and even in some cases, plans were actually made to do something to improve water quality.
However, nothing has actually been done. Lots of meetings. No new rules. No numeric criteria. No plans for any. Politics are messing it up. The science is clear. Powerful lobbyists for polluters are twisting facts and making proclamations of doom about how much it will cost to keep our water clean that are overblown fiction and scare tactics. Just to make a few more cents.
The current "solutions" to all of the water quality issues are completely voluntary and most depend on federal or state grants to complete. If those grants aren't forthcoming, no cleanups.
From the start, Florida's leaders have tried to duck under actually doing something about cleaning up excessive nutrient pollution, of high mercury levels in our seafood and on preventing low dissolved oxygen levels in our natural water bodies. Cleaning up our act means that some industry or municipality would actually have to spend money to fix the problem. Because of that there is intense political pressure to let it drop.
Even here in our own back yard, the plans have gone beyond the public radar and behind closed gates. The TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) process was announced and all of the meetings were in the sunshine. Over the course of two years, rules were developed to clean up the Santa Fe River. When they adopted the Santa Fe River Basin Management Action Plan to clean up the river, it was by invitation only on a private farm. Those of us who attended meetings over the years on this issue only found out it was held by a post on Facebook.
Why did the FDEP want to keep it so quiet ? Good question. I never got an answer.
If a picture is worth 1,000 words, this photo of Branford Spring full of algae tells the story. Most of our Suwannee and Santa Fe Springs look like this one. This was taken on a hot Sunday afternoon. This used to be a favorite local swimming hole. There are dozens of springs that look just like this on the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers.
If they want to get the water right, we also need to ask Bartlett about a new dairy that is going into the Ginnie Springs watershed soon. What is the FDEP going to do to prevent Ginnie Springs from looking just like Branford Spring ?
I hope that Bartlett and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is willing to put their money where their mouth is. We need water quality protection yesterday, not down the road...


Hurricane bud

Hurricane bud - NOAA

El Niño may temper hurricanes this year
May 24, 2012
 (Florida Today) - A Colorado State University forecast team expects four hurricanes this year, with potential for strong storms blunted by a weak El Niño climate pattern.
But don't get too comfortable.
Twenty years ago, during another weak El Niño, CSU rightly predicted just one major hurricane. That turned out to be the Category 5 goliath, Andrew, which pummeled South Florida in late August as the first named storm in an otherwise sleepy storm season.
And hurricanes Charley, Frances, Jeanne and Ivan smacked Florida in 2004, another year with a weak El Niño.
"We don't have El Niño yet and there's some uncertainty with that," warned Phil Klotzbach, who leads the CSU team founded by William Gray, a pioneer in seasonal hurricane forecasting. "In general, it reduces your odds of major storms."
In April, the CSU team's latest prediction for this hurricane season, which runs June through November, called for a bit-below-average tropical cyclone activity:
• 10 named storms
• 4 hurricanes
• 2 hurricanes of Category 3 or stronger magnitude.
El Niño is a cycle every several years of warmer-than-usual water near the equator in the Pacific Ocean that causes weather patterns that can suppress hurricanes. It creates upper-level winds that tend to shear the tops off tropical systems before they can strengthen to hurricanes.
No such shearing effect exists during La Niña - the opposite pattern of cooler-than-usual Pacific waters near the equator - or during neutral phases between the two cycles.
El Niño is expected to develop by peak hurricane season, around mid-September. The cycle could have more of a hurricane-hampering influence this year than others, because of a cooler-than-usual Atlantic Ocean, Klotzbach said. Warm Atlantic surface temperatures tend to trump other climate factors, when it comes to hurricanes.
In late May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issues a range of expected tropical cyclone activity.
The CSU team plans to update its forecast June 1 - the beginning of hurricane season.
Last year, Klotzbach and Gray's team predicted 16 named storms, nine hurricanes and five major (Category 3-4-5) hurricanes.
The actual season saw 19 named storms, seven hurricanes and four major hurricanes.
Brevard has a 2.9 percent chance of one or more named storms making landfall this year, according to the CSU team. That compares to a long-term average of 3.8 percent on any given year. The chances are 1.3 percent of a hurricane reaching land in Brevard, compared to 1.7 percent over the long term.
Despite El Niño's potential to tame this year's storms, the Atlantic region remains in the middle of a longer-term, multi-decade ocean current pattern that increases the frequency of hurricanes.
"We expect this more active era to last probably another 10 or 15 years," Klotzbach said.
The researchers realize the difficulty in predicting a specific number of storms. So, why try?
"We issue these forecasts to satisfy the curiosity of the general public and to bring attention to the hurricane problem," Klotzbach and Gray wrote in their April forecast. "There is a general interest in knowing what the odds are for an active or inactive season."
Colorado State University's 2012 hurricane season predictions (April 4)
Colorado State University's 2012 hurricane season predictions (April 4)
• Named storms: 10
• Hurricanes: 4
• Major hurricanes: 2
CSU's 2011 hurricane season predictions
(June 1)
CSU's 2011 hurricane season predictions (June 1)
• Named storms: 16
• Hurricanes: 9
• Major hurricanes: 5
Observed storms in 2011
• Named storms: 19
• Hurricanes: 7
• Major hurricanes: 4
Source: Colorado State University's Tropical Meteorology Project
Probabilities for at least one major (Category 3-5) hurricane landfall
Probabilities for at least one major (Category 3-5) hurricane landfall
• Entire U.S. coastline: 42 percent
(average for last century is 52 percent)
• U.S. East Coast including Florida: 24 percent
(average for last century is 31 percent)
• Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle westward to Brownsville, Texas: 24 percent
(average for last century is 30 percent)
Source: Colorado State University's Tropical Meteorology Project


Environmentalists battle DEP, industries on two fronts
Florida Current – by Bruce Ritchie
May 24, 2012
Environmentalists said Thursday they will ask the Florida Supreme Court to require the governor and Cabinet to decide on a plan for a pollution pipeline into the St. Johns River approved by the state.
Also Thursday, the Earthjustice law firm and the Florida Wildlife Federation, which are fighting proposed state pollution rules, said an algae bloom on the Santa Fe River demonstrates the need for tougher federal rules instead of the state rules.
The actions represent separate fights between environmental groups and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection along with industry groups over water quality.
The Clean Water Network of Florida and its allies continue to fight DEP and the pulp and paper industry over its proposals to build pollution pipelines. DEP in 1994 issued an order to Georgia-Pacific to make water quality improvements and to construct a four-mile pipeline to move the discharge at its Palatka plant from Rice Creek to the St. Johns River.
A draft petition states that by allowing "mixing zones" for pollution from the pipeline, DEP is allowing for the "private use" of submerged state lands without approval by the Cabinet, which has responsibility in the state Constitution to approve those uses and require compensation.
Georgia-Pacific spokeswoman Trish Bowles said the company had received a submerged lands lease easement from the governor and Cabinet in 2003 for the pipeline and that a separate mixing zone easement is not required. She said the company has spent $200 million on water quality improvements at the plant since 2002.
A DEP spokeswoman said the department is still reviewing the petition but she pointed out that mixing zones are a part of state water quality standards and are kept to the smallest size possible while maintaining designated waterway uses.
On Thursday, Earthjustice and the Florida Wildlife Federation highlighted Gainesville Sun coverage of the Santa Fe River, where health officials have advised people not to swim, consume fish or drink water near an algae bloom although it hasn't been classified as toxic.
“This is heartbreaking for people and for wildlife,” Florida Wildlife Federation President Manley Fuller said in a news release. “It’s a full-blown crisis like we’ve never seen before on the beautiful Santa Fe River.”
Earthjustice represents the federation and other groups that filed a legal challenge to block proposed state water quality rules, called numeric nutrient criteria. The state rules are proposed to replace federal water quality rules that are being rewritten after a federal judge earlier this year found them to be "arbitrary and capricious."
Industry groups favor the proposed state rules that DEP says are more flexible and will cost less for industries and utilities to comply with while protecting water quality. Environmental groups say the proposed state rules are weak and will result in continued increases in nitrogen that feeds the algae choking springs and other waterways.
Ryan Banfill, a spokesman for a coalition of industry groups, cities and counties that have opposed the federal rules, said it's hard to understand how the environmentalists who are opposing the state rules are complaining about foot-dragging on pollution.


New procedure could mean fuller reservoirs during droughts - by Ashley Fielding
May 24, 2012
A new procedure at Jim Woodruff Dam could mean that, in times of drought, reservoirs in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin will be fuller when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers resumes normal water releases to Apalachicola Bay.
But when rainfall is at least average, corps officials say they want to make the river act as natural as possible just below Woodruff Dam, matching flows below the dam with those above it.
The corps, which manages the reservoirs in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin including Lake Lanier, made the announcement Tuesday.
And many stakeholders say they are still reviewing what it might mean.
A corps official said Wednesday the decision came after more than a year in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in efforts to protect species in the Apalachicola River that have been deemed federally endangered or threatened.
He said it likely will have little impact on upstream users, and a spokesman for Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said state officials aren’t particularly concerned that Tuesday’s decision will impact Georgia’s drinking water supply.
Deal’s communications director Brian Robinson said state officials, like many others, are continuing to review the specifics of the corps ruling, which came with a 50-page biological opinion Tuesday.
“Our initial findings show a mixed bag,” Robinson said in an email. “There are some positive changes for when our state is experiencing drought conditions, but more water will be released when we’re under regular operations.”
The Apalachicola River is the last stop for water coming out of the hills of North Georgia before it joins the Gulf of Mexico.
The river forms at the borders of Southwest Georgia and Florida by the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers. Its official start is below Woodruff Dam on Lake Seminole in south Georgia.
Apalachicola Riverkeeper Dan Tonsmeire is concerned how the decision will shift the burden of the region’s ongoing drought on those who make their lives below Woodruff Dam.
Tonsmeire, like others, said he had not had time to completely grasp the corps decision.
But he said the Apalachicola is already suffering from the corps’ drought-time management of the basin.
Corps officials adjusted their operations of the basin on May 1 to account for drought conditions. The procedure essentially calls for releasing the minimum amount of water, 5,000 cubic feet per second, from Woodruff Dam until the drought subsides.
Tuesday’s decision from the corps means that those drought-era flows will be lower for longer.
“The purpose is to conserve storage in the system,” said E. Patrick Robbins, spokesman at the corps’ Mobile district. “If you drain the system, then there’s nothing (to send) down there (below Woodruff).”
Instead of returning basin flows to normal when upstream reservoirs reach “Zone 2” elevations, the corps will wait until they reach a composite “Zone 1” elevation. The decision means each of the reservoirs upstream of Woodruff will have to be nearly at its full pool level before the corps will release any more than 5,000 cubic feet per second from that dam.
Robbins said the new ruling allows corps officials to restore the health of the basin quicker after a drought.
But Tonsmeire is afraid the decision puts the burden of the drought on the Apalachicola’s ecosystem.
“What I’m taking away from (the corps’ decision) is that the Apalach is going to take the brunt of the drought conditions,” Tonsmeire said, adding concerns that upstream users weren’t cutting back on water use.
It makes him worry that what happened during the drought in 2007 is going to happen to the river all over again.
Already, Swift Slough, which alarmed stakeholders when it went dry for the first time in recorded history in 2007, is dry this year, said Tonsmeire, who had been out on the river Wednesday.
“The flood plain is completely disconnected from the river now,” Tonsmeire said. “I just don’t understand how they can expect to put the ecosystem in that kind of shock.”
And though areas of the Southeast have shown some improvement over the last several weeks, drought conditions overall aren’t expected to let up soon. Forecasts for lake levels in the basin predict a decline throughout June.
“It would take a sustained rain period or some kind of tropical system to get (the basin) out (of drought conditions) in a relatively rapid time frame,” Robbins said. “Otherwise, it’s going to take some time.”


North Central Florida rivers at record low water levels by Shelby Webb, Alligator Staff Writer
May 24, 2012
In increasingly dry North Central Florida, lakes are drying and springs are predicted to stop flowing. The land is becoming more brittle by the week.
Some visible symptoms of the arid conditions are the muddy banks and low water levels in bodies of water frequented by fun seekers during the summer months.
The Florida Park Service warned on the Ichetucknee River website that “due to extreme drought conditions and historic low water levels in the Ichetucknee River,” there is “potential for occasional temporary recreational tubing closures this summer at the park’s North entrance.”
“If things don’t change, we will see more closures,” said Chris Bird, Alachua County environmental director.
Bird said he’s been working with the environment in Alachua County for 22 years, and he’s never seen water levels this low, especially in the springs.
“We’re getting to the point as a community and as a state that we’re going to have to make tough decisions on how to allocate water use,” he said.
Poe Springs is at a record low water level, and Bird said the county estimated that the spring would stop flowing within the next two weeks, which would make it unsafe for swimmers.
Once a spring stops flowing, bacteria flourishes in the stagnant water.
“It’s like a public swimming pool with no chlorine,” Bird said. “The bacteria levels could spike, and swimmers could end up getting sick.”
Ginnie Springs isn’t in danger of having its flow stopped, mostly because it draws water from a much larger area, Bird said.
The Santa Fe River has its own challenges. Its only source of water now comes from springs, which makes the water unusually clear. But clear water lets more sunlight in, helping algae grow.
When algae blooms, Bird said, it turns the water green and uses a vast amount of the oxygen in the water. Without enough oxygen in the water, fish could die.
There are two main causes for the lack of water, according to Bird: a statewide drought and overpumping of aquifers for residential and agricultural use.
On average, each Floridian uses about 155 gallons of water each day, Bird said. About 50 percent of that water is used for watering yards.
Without enough rainfall to replenish the water people use, levels have fallen unusually low.
“The amount of rainfall we need to return to normal levels would be several hurricanes,” Bird said, “which no one wants.”
The county and the health department are continually checking water quality, something UF associate professor Taylor Stein expected.
“Part of having any water open to recreation is that you have to monitor the water quality,” said Stein, who teaches ecotourism and is affiliated with the UF Water Institute. “It’s always an issue, even in good water times.”
Stein said another issue facing recreational bodies of water during a drought is overcrowding.
A good way to make sure the spring or river has enough water to remain open to the public is to check their websites, Stein said.
Despite possible warnings, Stein said students may still flock to at least one of the springs, even if it is closed to swimmers.
“People go to Ginnie to party more often,” Stein said, laughing. “They might be just as happy sitting on the side drinking beer as they would be in the water.”


Northwest Florida Water Management District taps DEP's Steverson as new director
Florida Current – by Bruce Ritchie
May 24, 2012
The Northwest Florida Water Management District board on Thursday named Jon Steverson of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as its new executive director.
Steverson is DEP's special counsel on policy and legislative affairs. He starts June 1 but his salary had not been set on Thursday, board chairman George Roberts said.
Steverson worked in the governor's Office of Policy and Budget from 2005 to 2009 and was governmental liaison for the Florida Association of Counties from 2002 to 2005. He has a law degree and bachelor's of science degree in geography from Florida State University.
Steverson was by far the most qualified among the four who applied for the job, Roberts said.
"He had a lot more knowledge than anybody else in the questions we asked specifically about our district," Roberts said.
In his job application cover letter, Steverson said resolving the dispute with Alabama, Florida and Georgia over water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system is of "utmost importance." He also cited his work for the department this year on SB 2142, which lifted a property tax revenue cap placed on water management districts by the Legislature in 2011.
Steverson replaces Douglas Barr, who left the district on April 24 after he wasn't reappointed by Gov. Rick Scott.
The governor told reporters he didn't want to explain why he chose not to reappoint some after the Senate failed to confirm hundreds of appointments during the legislative session. Barr, who was hired by the district in 1977, became the last executive director of the state's five water management districts to leave since Scott took office in January 2011.
Meanwhile, a Suwannee River Water Management District search committee last week named DEP's Ann Shortelle as its recommended candidate. If chosen by the district board in June, she would replace David Still, who was pushed out by his district's governing board in February.
Shortelle is director of DEP's Office of Water Policy. She has a doctorate in limnology and water resources from the University of Notre Dame and she joined DEP in 2011 after serving as a water quality consultant.
In her cover letter with her application, Shortelle said her priorities would include the North Florida Regional Water Supply Partnership with DEP and the St. Johns River Water Management District along with process review and putting science into action.


Woodshole Oceanographic

Robot monitors toxic red tides - by Peter Gwynne
May 24, 2012
A robotic device suspended under the ocean surface from a buoy off the New Hampshire coast is monitoring seawater for evidence of the red tide, clusters of microscopic plants that release toxins into fish and shellfish, making them poisonous to anyone who eats them.
Named for the color the microorganisms give seawater when stimulated by sunlight, red tides are common seasonal phenomena in coastal waters.
"There are many different types of red tides depending on where you are in the world and many different types of impacts depending on the organism that cause the problems," said Don Anderson, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.
The differences stem from different types of plant, also known as harmful algal blooms, responsible for red tides in different locations.
Eating seafood contaminated with red-tide toxins can cause gastrointestinal, neurological, and cardiovascular symptoms and, in rare cases, death.
To protect consumers, governmental regulators currently test ground-up shellfish and other seafood from coastal sites for the presence of the red-tide toxins. When the level of poisons becomes too high, the authorities close down fishing from the affected area.
"We usually collect between 15-20 blue mussels, which have a tendency to take up the toxin very quickly, and take them to the lab," said Chris Nash, shellfish program manager at the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. "Once we see toxicity in the blue mussels we'll take up other species for testing."
The main target for the investigation is an algae species called Alexandrium fundyense, which is the main component of red tides off New England and several other locations worldwide.
The new robotic device, called an Environmental Sample Processor, tests seawater directly for the organisms responsible for Alexandrium fundyense and other toxins.
Scientists emphasize that the technology won't replace tests on shellfish tissue, because the governments of coastal states mandate them. But if the test succeeds the method will give advance notice of incipient red tides and allow more precise location of the poison-carrying algae.
"It doesn't replace our monitoring, but it's certainly useful," Nash said. "More data is great. It's helpful not just generally but also to be able to anticipate what's coming."
The robotic device works by pumping seawater onto a sensor that identifies the microorganisms' DNA and radios the information to scientists at Woods Hole.
"Ours is the only instrument that can robotically filter the water and perform analyses of multiple red-tide species and some of their toxins," Anderson said. "Everything is new about it. We've had to develop new moorings and communications with the shore. We're learning how to use this instrument, how to deploy it, and how to come up with all the details other users will need."
Developed over the past decade by Chris Scholin, a former student in Anderson's laboratory who is now president and CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California, the patented device is built by McLean Research Laboratories of East Falmouth, Massachusetts.
At present each instrument costs about $200,000. The mooring system, which includes a Woods Hole-developed cable resembling a bungee cord atop the buoy that keeps the system stable when large waves and high winds ruffle the surface, adds as much as $100,000 to that figure.
"Of course, this is the earliest stage of the technology," Anderson added. "We fully expect that in time the devices will be much, much smaller and easier to operate."
Anderson and the Woods Hole team plan to place more robotic devices in new locations over the next few years.
"This year there's a single instrument out there; next year we'll have two at different locations," Anderson said. ''It's very much a research and development project while supplying information to the states."
Other emerging methods show promise of monitoring red tides.
In some regions of the world authorities use satellite images to monitor and track the tides based on the color of microorganisms. Scientists in Florida are also developing an optical method that identifies microorganisms based on their color pigments.
Another system under development at Woods Hole, the Imaging FlowCytobot, feeds pictures of individual cells in algal blooms to software trained to identify organisms.
Anderson said that the Environmental Sample Processor has other, and potentially more widespread, applications, such as monitoring pathogens in beaches, reservoirs, and drinking water systems.


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Invasive species

Mecca Farms

Palm Beach County is
in talks with the SFWMD
to sell the 1,900+ acre
Mecca Farms, west of
Palm Beach Gardens,
to the district. The land
to be used for cleaning
stormwater redirected
to the Loxahatchee

Trading Mecca Farms could bring Palm Beach County 1,600 acres and $30 million treatment
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
May 24, 2012|,
South Florida Water Management District seeks to acquire Mecca Farms for water storage.
Palm Beach County could get more than 1,600 acres of land and potentially $30 million in a proposed deal for taxpayer-owned Mecca Farms, according to terms disclosed Thursday.
The county has invested more than $100 million of taxpayer money trying to turn 1,919-acre Mecca Farms, west of Palm Beach Gardens, into a biotech industry hub that never materialized.
This week, the South Florida Water Management District proposed using a combination of cash and land swaps to acquire Mecca Farms and use it to store and clean stormwater that would help replenish the Loxahatchee River.
The 1,653-acre collection of properties offered in trade includes about 500 acres beside the county's Riverbend Park near Jupiter as well as farmland west of Delray Beach that the county could sell or lease to growers.
While the ultimate value of the deal would fall short of what Mecca Farms already cost the county, the district made a "reasonable offer" for land that in recent years hasn't drawn much interest, County Administrator Robert Weisman said.
"There is no way under current economic circumstances that we could ever recover what we have put into Mecca," Weisman said.
The district sees the water storage potential of Mecca Farms as a way to deliver on overdue efforts to both replenish the Loxahatchee River and to boost Everglades restoration that has fallen short of meeting federal water quality standards.
The district proposes a 120-day due diligence period to see if the county and the agency that leads Everglades restoration can work out a deal.
While talks are still preliminary, the district sees a "tremendous amount of environmental value" in Mecca Farms, said Ernie Barnett, the district's director of Everglades policy.
The county in 2004 paid $60 million for Mecca Farms and then spent another $40 million in planning, permitting and initial construction for Scripps.
The county also built a $51 million water pipeline to provide water to Scripps and the development expected to spread to nearby farmland.
Environmental groups fought plans to put Scripps on Mecca Farms, saying the project threatened surrounding wetlands and would result in more development mushrooming across rural land.
In 2006, those environmental objections finally persuaded the county to move Scripps' East Coast headquarters and research campus to Jupiter.


Water management district offers county 1,653 acres of land, cash for Mecca Farms site
Palm Beach Post - by Christine Stapleton, Staff Writer
May 24, 2012
The South Florida Water Management District wants to swap 1,653 acres of its land throughout the county, including the site of the Palm Beach Downs equestrian center west of Delray Beach and Riverbend Park in Jupiter, for the county-owned Mecca Farms.
Details of the land swap were revealed in a letter of intent sent to Palm Beach County Administrator Bob Weisman on Tuesday.
The water management district wants all 1,919 acres of the former orange grove for its Loxahatchee River restoration project. Water could be stored on the property and then used to maintain minimum flow levels to the river, said Ernie Barnett, the district's director of Everglades Policy and Coordination.
The district would also give the county its 570-acre Pero Farms property, along with a 10.47-acre adjacent parcel called the Church Property. The 313-acre West Delray Regional Center and 256 acres along the Beeline Highway known as Bill's Property are also part of the swap.
The district would also give the county "cash in an amount that roughly equalizes the estimated values of the transaction parcels." In an email that Weisman sent to County Commissioners this morning, Weisman estimated that amount at $30 million.
"The additional land transfers proposed to supplement the cash includes agricultural income generating property, property with potential for sale for agricultural or limited commercial use and park/environmental property," Weisman wrote. "This is all very early in the process. We will bring this proposal to the Board in the near future for discussions."
The county purchased Mecca Farms for $60 million in 2004 as a potential site for The Scripps Florida Research Institute. Scripps eventually decided on another north county site for its biotech operations, and Mecca Farms has been sitting idle since.



Don't be silent about Florida's water crisis
The Gainesville Sun - by Sonny Vergara
May 23, 2012
If you're monitoring the news these days, you're hearing about the declining state of one of Florida's most unique natural assets; its world-class concentration of first magnitude springs in northern Florida.
Everywhere, these deep chasms of water that once boiled furiously upward to the delight of generations of local swimmers and thrill-seeking tourists have now slowed to only a vestige of their former strength by drought and over-pumping.
Worse yet, many have also become clouded with sediment and slime fed by the nutrient-rich seepage of over-fertilized golf courses, lawns, farm fields and septic tanks. The fish that at one time were as clear as you might see them in an aquarium are nearly gone.
Are you concerned, agitated, and fearful about what's happening ? Worried about what's being done about it ? Or have you just become numb to the thought.
While one can hear the wailing of those with a particular emotional appreciation for Florida's natural environment, the silence from the majority of Floridians is deafening. Have they become numb to the reality that these unique natural treasures are being taken from them and have simply given up hope that anything can be done to stop it ?
It's a valid question. Those in a position to do something about the obvious deterioration are ignoring the problem and most of us are just shrugging our shoulders. State legislators continue to pander to the moneyed elite and ignore the insidious decay beneath their feet.
Florida's world renowned environmental legacy is at risk while they haggle over how best to cut the cost of protecting some of the state's greatest natural assets because "regulation kills jobs."
This studied denial of the importance of natural Florida has pervaded even the self-aggrandizing publication of the Department of Environmental Protection. If you visit its "Florida State Parks" website (, you'll find this warning about the historic and once incredibly beautiful Wakulla Springs:
"Glass-Bottom Boat Tours over the spring basin have become the exception rather than the rule in recent years. Tea-stained or green water impedes the penetration of light needed to view the impressive features of the 120-foot-deep chasm of Wakulla Spring. Heavy rains, combined with other unknown factors, are thought to be the cause of decreased visibility."
"To avoid disappointment, it is strongly suggested that the park be contacted prior to expected visitation to ascertain the feasibility of glass-bottom boat operation. Water quality conditions can change rapidly and unexpectedly.
It is unfathomable that the state agency responsible for "getting the water right" has become so blasé about such a disaster that they blandly warn visitors to check first because the spring has become prone to green scum and clouded water instead of the crystal clear natural wonder it used to be.
Have we all become so calloused by the indifference of our elected leaders that to read this on the primary website where all of Florida's parks are marketed to the world we are yet not appalled and offended as we should be?
Well, I'm appalled, even if I'm only one of a few. And I'm disgusted. I'm going to start seeking out my elected representatives and asking why they aren't as well.
You should, too.
Sonny Vergara is the former executive director of the St. Johns River Water Management District, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and the Peace River/Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority.


Flood Control Structures are Moving Water Quickly and Efficiently
Targeted News Service
May 23, 2012
The South Florida Water Management District issued the following news release:
Due to extreme rainfall in some parts of Miami-Dade County, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is operating the extensive flood control system as it was designed to move large amounts of water quickly and efficiently.
Intense rainfall during the past 24 hours caused some localized flooding, particularly in the areas of Sweetwater, Doral and West Miami.
The heaviest rainfall on Tuesday and early Wednesday was centered in the areas of Sweetwater and Doral, where more than 8 inches of rain fell in less than six hours. A National Weather Service rain gauge at Miami International Airport detected 9.73 inches in less than six hours. The District's field station gauge recorded 6.13 inches of rain.
"The system is working as it was designed to minimize flooding near homes and businesses," said SFWMD Director of Operations, Maintenance and Construction
Tommy Strowd. "Hundreds of millions of gallons of water have been pumped out of the area that would otherwise threaten buildings."
More than 200 million gallons of water from this rain event have already flowed into the C-4 Emergency Detention Basin, a 900-acre impoundment area that was built by the District in response to local flooding from Hurricane Irene in 1999 and an unnamed stormed in 2000. The overall project is providing improved flood protection to 500,000 residents and to 5,000 homes and businesses.
District meteorologists are forecasting localized rainfall totals up to 5 inches overnight in parts of Miami-Dade County. On Thursday, forecasters are expecting less intense, continuous rainfall in the area.
In anticipation of the forecasted rainfall, regional canals have been drawn down and have significant capacity to accept a large amount of additional stormwater runoff. The District's coastal structures and pump stations are being operated to accommodate the excess flows.
Contact: Randy Smith, 561/682.2800



Florida needs a water ethic
The Gainsville Sun - by Lucinda Faulkner Merritt
May 23, 2012
The May 20 Speaking Outs about our water by Ed de la Parte and Drew Bartlett were real eye openers.
First off, de la Parte is the water use-permitting attorney for Adena Springs Ranch. Of course he is going to claim their water use won't hurt Silver Springs; Frank Stronach, the owner of the ranch, is paying him ! I hear my mother's voice echoing in my ears: "Consider the source."
Considering the source of conflicting information: Bob Knight, of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, says the Adena Ranch water permit could irrevocably damage Silver Springs. I consider him an unmuzzled, independent voice for our water, a Ph.D. scientist who trained under the late Odum, who coincidentally did one of the first ecosystem studies in the world at Silver Springs !
(Disclaimer: I work for the organization that is providing nonprofit incubation for the Springs Institute, but the finances of the two groups are completely separate and our professional relationship consists of occasionally sharing information. We make no attempt to control either Knight's science or his message.)
So, who are you going to believe ? An attorney who is being paid to get a water use permit for someone, or an expert scientist who has done his own independent research and is not being influenced to skew his message ?
As for Bartlett's Speaking Out, our lakes are drying up, our springs are drying up, our rivers are drying up, sinkholes are opening up, pollution is rampant, and we're pumping water from the Floridan Aquifer at the fastest rate in recorded history.
No one at the water management districts can tell us how much water is actually being used, because many of the bigger wells are not metered and the districts rely on water users to self-report the amount of water they are using !
Just recently a friend sent me a photo of the Santa Fe River below the U.S. Highway 27 bridge outside High Springs; the river is bright green, probably infested with cyanobacteria that can cause health problems.
Clearly, our state officials have not gotten the water right; they've gotten it all wrong. Is this what happens when we make the almighty dollar more important than the environment that sustains us ?
There is a larger issue here, however. Even the best and most well meaning scientists will often disagree about each other's findings, and it's this scenario I find most troubling because it stymies any attempts to "get our water right."
A clear way forward through the bumps, sidetracks, and dead ends that occur when arguing about science and statistics is offered by Cynthia Barnett in her book "Blue Revolution": We need a water ethic for Florida.
Barnett's call for a water ethic is strongly supported by the work of Kathleen Dean Moore, who explains that science is designed to explain how our world works, but was never designed to tell us what we should do in any given situation. To make that decision, we need to inform ourselves with science, and then we need to consider our ethical and moral values.
Moore argues, "It's wrong to wreck the world." And it's wrong to wreck our water: What will we drink when it's polluted, or gone ?
Lucinda Faulkner Merritt is coordinator for the "Travels on The Blue Path" exhibition for Florida's Eden. She lives in Fort White.


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Powel Creek Preserve

Powel Creek Preserve
filter marsh work

Powell Creek Preserve's filter marsh should help clean water
May. 23, 2012
Project in North Fort Myers a result of Conservation 20/20 buy.
Heavy equipment has turned almost a quarter of Powell Creek Preserve in North Fort Myers into a desert of browns and grays.
By August, though, those browns and grays will have become various shades of green as construction of an 18-acre filter marsh is completed on the 77-acre preserve.
Lee County bought Powell Creek Preserve for $618,000 in 2003 through its Conservation 20/20 program, which taxes county residents to buy and manage sensitive lands.
“When the county buys 20/20 properties, we’re looking at certain criteria, one of which is the ability to improve water quality in the area,” county operations manager Anura Karuna-Muni said.
“Powell Creek has problems with fecal coliform bacteria and nutrients, and we said, ‘Oh, wow, what an opportunity to improve the quality of the water.’”
The Powell Creek project is being financed by $1.06 million from Lee County, $440,000 from the state Department of Environmental Protection and $300,000 from the South Florida Water Management District.
A filter marsh’s main objective is to clean water before it enters a larger water body.
For the Powell Creek project, water from the creek, which runs through the preserve, and the Powell Creek Bypass Canal, which is the preserve’s western border, will be diverted through three man-made wetlands. There sediments will settle and wetland vegetation will absorb nutrients, which cause algal blooms, and other pollutants.
Clean water will then flow back into the creek, which flows into the Caloosahatchee.
Part of the preserve is native plant communities, which include flatwoods, hammocks and wetlands, but part of it had been disturbed by farming and contained more than 30 invasive exotic, or non-native, plants.
Many exotic plants have been removed during construction of the filter marsh, and the completed marsh will create 18 additional acres of wildlife habitat.
“It will provide more of a year-round area for wading birds,” said Laura Greeno, a county land stewardship coordinator. “In its former condition, there were a lot of invasive exotics, and the site was dried out due to canals that altered the hydrology. The marsh will bring in species that couldn’t use the site before.”


SFWMD requesting Lake O releases
May 23, 2012
LEE COUNTY - The South Florida Water Management District wants more water released from Lake Okeechobee to prevent an algae bloom in the Caloosahatchee River. While algae growth is natural, the SFWMD says too much of it can be harmful to the waterways, and the people using them. "April and May is typically the driest time of the year for the southwest coast. We have a very limited amount of rainfall as a result we don't see as much water flow in the Caloosahatchee River," said Phil Flood, with the SFWMD.
That's why crews have been collecting samples every week, monitoring the levels of algae and making sure they don't become toxic.
"The idea is to take preventative measures to prohibit the growth of algae," said Flood.
The district said Wednesday it is requesting the Army Corp of Engineers to release more water from Lake Okechobee into the Caloosahatchee River to get water flowing again.
"The water will naturally be dispersed throughout the river and will mix with the salt water and dissipate," said Flood.

Conservation groups acquire land to help Florida panthers migrate
Orlando Sentinel - by Alexandria Baca
May 22, 2012
A partnership of government agencies and conservation groups announced Tuesday that they have protected 1,278 acres west of Lake Okeechobee to help Florida panthers as they migrate with increasing frequency from the Everglades north toward Central Florida.
Although male panthers are occasionally spotted passing through the newly protected area — and have been found as far north as Metro Orlando and even central Georgia — conservationists must ensure that female panthers have a wildlife corridor, safe from development, in which to build dens and raise cubs, said Shelly Lakly, executive director of the Nature Conservancy in Florida
The 1,278-acre parcel, in Glades County along the Caloosahatchee River, was acquired for $6.65 million with money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in partnership with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the Nature Conservancy and the land's new owner.
"As we look at bringing private dollars and public dollars together, and we look at the shared mission that we all have and the passion that we all have, it really is … what the future is going to be for conservation," Lakly said.
According to a written statement released Tuesday, the two agencies, the foundation and the Nature Conservancy essentially purchased the land's development rights, but then a new owner identified only as Lone Ranger LLC contributed $1.5 million to the deal and acquired the property, newly encumbered with multiple conservation easements.
Lone Ranger, a privately held corporation, lists Dwayne A. House as its managing member, with a Miami address, according to state records.
Dave White, chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said his agency's $1.5 million contribution was used to purchase a conservation easement on 718 acres of the property that will be managed as a working ranch. The service will work with the Nature Conservancy and the new landowner to develop grazing-management and wetland-restoration plans for the 718 acres, he said during a Tuesday news conference near Kissimmee to announce the deal.
Mark Musaus, Southeast deputy regional director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said, "Protecting the property will directly support the Florida panthers recovery plan's objective," which includes restoring and expanding the panther population in South Florida and extending the reproductive-panther population to areas north of the Caloosahatchee River.
The property will also provide a wetlands sanctuary for various birds, including the threatened crested caracara and the endangered wood stork.
Florida panthers are an endangered species; they currently exist as a single, wild population of 100 to 160 animals in South Florida, though they have begun to migrate north with increasing frequency.
Last year, wildlife officers found a dead panther in Seminole County, about 19 miles from Orlando and nearly 200 miles from where all wild Florida panthers are born. Also last year, a deer hunter pleaded guilty to killing a Florida panther in woods not far from Atlanta — 500 miles from the animal's birthplace.
According to one state expert, about 10 Florida panthers are roaming north of South Florida's baldcypress swamps and forests at any given time. All are thought to be males, because no females have been documented outside South Florida since the 1970s.



An old dredge of the
1920s biting into Florida

Dredging up Hudson’s past - by Jeff Cannon
May 22, 2012
For nearly two decades Hudson residents petitioned the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the Hudson Channel, from Hudson Spring to the Gulf via Hudson Creek.
In May 2011, Governor Rick Scott and the Florida cabinet unanimously approved a 50 year lease and dredging of state-owned submerged land to joint applicants Pasco County and Sun West Acquisition Corp.
According to WUSF, permits outline the dredging of a recreational boat channel nearly five miles long and five feet deep that will run through 27-acres of delicate sea-grass beds.
The new channel would separate a planned 313 acre county park from the proposed private development SunWest Harbourtowne, which plans to build a marina with 500 boat slips, 250 hotel rooms, retail space, and up to 2,500 homes.
While the project received the blessings of the Governor and Florida cabinet, there is still the major hurdle of getting approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
And if our past history is any indicator, this much needed approval from the Army Corps might take decades to accomplish.
Following the March 3, 1899 passage of the River and Harbor Act, the first known explorations into dredging in the Hudson region of Pasco County began.
According to correspondences from the U.S. Army Chief of Engineers, the act authorized a preliminary examination and survey of the bay at Hudson, Florida.
The final report submitted to Congress found improvements inadvisable at the time, and Chief of Engineers, Brig. Gen. John M. Wilson wrote:
To create a navigable channel of not less than 6 feet in depth at mean low water and bottom width of 60 feet will cost, according to estimates submitted, not less than $200,000.
Surveys indicate an extensive rock reef above the six foot plane which must be crossed, thereby greatly increasing the cost of doing the necessary work of excavation.
When the preliminary examination was made the Division Engineer, Colonel Peter C. Hains, Corps of Engineers, stated that, in his judgment, this locality was not worthy of improvement by the General Government, and the results of the survey confirm this opinion
And, while preliminary surveys were completed in 1899, the first formal request from residents for a channel didn’t come until the 1930s as local fishing and sponging businesses grew.
This is when residents retained the pro-bono services of Tampa attorney and Hudson land owner Richard D. Morales.
Morales, with assistance from U.S. Representative J. Harding Peterson, was successful in getting the Rivers and Harbors Committee to adopt a resolution on July 16, 1935 which provided for the re-survey of the Bay at Hudson, Florida.
From there, proponents for the channel project quickly grew, with expressions of support including adopted resolutions of support from both New Port Richey City Council and Pasco County Board of County Commissioners, adopted in October 1935.
But it was going to be a tough row to hoe.
The Rivers and Harbors Committee came to a decision quickly. In December 1935, according to a public notice, Hudson residents received the bad news—their channel project was denied following another unfavorable report by the Army Corps.
However, this didn’t disenfranchise proponents who immediately requested a review of the decision.
By September 1936, after formal review, Army Engineers stood firm with their decision and reported the opinion that the cost of the improvements “would be greater than justified by the minor and local nature of the anticipated benefits.”
Since the Army Corps decision was based on a channel 60 feet wide, by 6 feet deep, and three miles long, residents opted to attempt a reduction in their request—a 30 or 40 foot channel, stretching two miles long from Hudson Spring to the Gulf, via Hudson Creek.
On April 13, 1937, U.S. Representative J. Hardin Peterson successfully introduced H.R. Bill 6354, authorizing and directing the Secretary of War to conduct a preliminary examination and survey of Hudson Creek and the matter was again referred to the Rivers and Harbors Committee, who, on August 26, 1937, made yet another unfavorable report.
In a letter dated April 13, 1938 to attorney Richard Morales, Representative J. Harding Peterson wrote,
I have already asked for a resolution by the river and harbors committee and will keep pushing on the project. The West coast is developing rapidly.”
But, on April 29, 1938, the news wasn’t good—the committee refused a new review of the reports, stating a year must elapse between each review.
Four days after the one year waiting period, on August 30, 1938, the Senate Committee on Commerce adopted a resolution to review the previous reports on the Bay at Hudson, with a view of determining if the improvement were advisable.
Less than two month later, on October 25, 1939, the Army Corps rendered another unfavorable opinion on the Hudson project but added,
The principal grounds upon which the adverse conclusions are based are that a survey had been authorized to determine the cost and advisability of improving Pithlachascotee River 7 miles south of the Bay at Hudson, that this river, if improved, would be reasonably sufficient for navigation in the vicinity of Hudson, and that the benefits to be expected from an improvement of Bay at Hudson would be insufficient to justify the cost.
Perhaps this was the worst determination since the initial request for a channel years prior.
Within five days of the determination, Richard Morales filed an out right appeal against the Army Corps decision.
But, more interesting is what he discovered in reviewing the 1939 report—a favorable review by the District Engineer, but an unfavorable report by the Division Engineer, the latter of which the Army Corps sided with.
This favorable review by the district engineer gave them the in they needed to get the project’s final approval, although it would come for several more years.
Based on the conflicting reports Morales was advised by the Army Corp, to let the project “lie for a while” and then request another review, so he heeded the advice.
Five years later, following passage of the River and Harbor Act on March 2, 1945, residents submitted what would be their final request to the Army Corps.—a revised plan for consideration of a 30-foot-wide channel, six feet deep, and 3 miles long.
In 1949, nearly two decades after residents first petitioned the Army Corps for a channel, Congress adopted the project as recommended in House Document No. 278, Eighty-first Congress, and authorized its prosecution.
The channel was approved.
However, according to a letter written to Congressman George Smathers in 1952, the same Congress failed to appropriate funds for the Hudson channel and the project was at yet another dead standstill, never to come to fruition.
It wasn’t until May 30, 2000, when then Governor Jeb Bush signed a state budget that included $1.08 million to dredge the Hudson Channel, from what is known as Port Hudson, to the Gulf.
Who knows what saga the SunWest Harbourtowne channel project might become?
To read more about SunWest Harbourtowne please visit:


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Invasive species

Mecca Farms

Palm Beach County is
in talks with the South
Florida Water Management District
to sell the 1,900+ acre
Mecca Farms, west of
Palm Beach Gardens,
to the district. Land
once intended for
biotech development
could instead become
a "flow way," cleaning
stormwater redirected
to the Loxahatchee

Mecca Farms proposed for Everglades restoration
Palm Beach Post – by Christine Stapleton, Staff Writer
May 22, 2012
The South Florida Water Management District wants to swap some its land for Mecca Farms -- the former orange grove that has been sitting idle since Palm Beach County bought it for $60 million as a potential site for The Scripps Research Institute in 2004.
Ernie Barnett, Everglades Policy Director at the district, said on Tuesday that he will send a letter of intent to negotiate a land swap to county officials this week. Barnett said the district wants all 1,920 acres for its Loxahatchee River Restoration project. Water could be stored on the property and then used to maintain minimum flow levels to the river, Barnett said.
"We're very early in the process," Barnett said. "We are just expressing our desire to work out with them a land exchange."
Mecca Farms has long been the subject of environmental debates. Plans to develop the site for Scripps' Florida expansion would have meant more traffic on a stretch of road bordering J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area and dumping polluted runoff from the development into the C-18 Canal, which feeds the Loxahatchee River. Scripps opted for an eastern site instead, near Florida Atlantic University in Jupiter.
The district has eyed the unused Mecca site for years. As for the timing of the current interest, Barnett hedged on saying it is tied to the district's current efforts to settle decades-old lawsuits over restoration of the Everglades.
"It's more as we assemble the features needed to achieve water quality standards," Barnett said. "It certainly is an integral part of making sure all the pieces fit together."
Any swap would be based on land value, not an acre-for-acre exchange, Barnett said.
The district has not appraised the land, which the county purchased in 2004 for $30,000 an acre. Since then, the county has tried to find uses for the site, which costs taxpayers about $250,000 a year to secure and maintain and $4.5 million to pay down the loan that was used to buy it.
In 2007, a group proposed building a water park and 15 hotels on the site. The county commission also considered allowing 192 homes and a 40-acre equestrian center on about half of the land. Last year the commission decided to seek proposals from growers interested in leasing the property.
Among the three growers who submitted proposals was former owner Mecca Farms, which wanted the site rent-free for the first five years, claiming the cost of restoring the land for agricultural production was much more than a five-year lease. County officials say that about $800,000 worth of work needs to be done to rebuild irrigation ditches and berms on the property before it can be returned to farming.
In March, the commission considered leasing 750 acres to Pahokee-based Pope Farms, which wants to grow sugar cane with a rotation of corn and beans on the land. In the meantime, water managers approached the county about the possibility of a land swap, said County Administrator Bob Weisman.
Although the county still owes about $45 million on the land, the debt would not need to be paid off before swapping the land under the terms of the bond obligation, Weisman said. As for the Pope Farms, its lease proposal is on hold, Weisman said.
Weisman said he did not know what land the district would offer to swap but added "we're looking for cash plus land."


Seagrass is a climate change hero – by Michael Crumbliss
May 22, 2012
This week new research was published that points to seagrasses as a solution to climate change. Seagrass can store up to twice the carbon of the world’s terrestrial forests. The paper, “Seagrass Ecosystems as a Globally Significant Carbon Stock,” is the first global analysis of carbon stored in seagrasses and was published in the journal Nature Geoscience. The research was led by James Fourqurean of Florida International University, in partnership with scientists at the Spanish High Council for Scientific Investigation, the Oceans Institute at the University of Western Australia, Bangor University in the United Kingdom, the University of Southern Denmark, the Hellenic Center for Marine Research in Greece, Aarhus University in Denmark and the University of Virginia.
The results are compelling.
Coastal seagrass beds can store 83,000 metric tons of carbon per square kilometer. Most of the carbon is stored in the soil beneath the beds. Terrestrial forests store about 30,000 metric tons per square kilometer in wood.
Seagrass meadows make up 0 .2 percent of the world oceans but are responsible for 10% of the carbon buried in the sea annually.
“Seagrasses only take up a small percentage of global coastal area, but this assessment shows that they’re a dynamic ecosystem for carbon transformation,” said James Fourqurean, the lead author of the paper and a scientist at and the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site.
Seagrass meadows, the researchers found, store ninety percent of their carbon in the soil–and continue to build on it for centuries.
In the Mediterranean, the geographic region with the greatest concentration of carbon found in the study, seagrass meadows store carbon in deposits many meters deep.
“Seagrasses have the unique ability to continue to store carbon in their roots and soil in coastal seas,” said Fourqurean. “We found places where seagrass beds have been storing carbon for thousands of years.”
Seagrasses are among the world’s most threatened ecosystems. Some 29 percent of all historic seagrass meadows have been destroyed, mainly due to dredging and degradation of water quality. At least 1.5 percent of Earth’s seagrass meadows are lost every year. However, seagrass meadows can be brought back and carbon sinks re-established.
Seagrass has other benefits: it filters sediment from the oceans; protects coastlines against floods and storms; and serves as habitats for fish and other marine life.
The new results, say the scientists, emphasize that conserving and restoring seagrass meadows may reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon stores–while delivering important “ecosystem services” to coastal communities.
Source: redOrbit (


South Florida Water Managment Claims Water Reuse Week
May 22, 2012
To demonstrate an ongoing commitment to protecting regional water supplies, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board is recognizing May 20 to May 26, 2012 as Water Reuse Week.
Also commemorating Water Reuse Week are Governor Rick Scott’s proclamation, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and close to 40 South Florida communities and organizations. The goal is to continue raising awareness of the benefits of reclaimed water.
Reclaimed water, which is carried in purple-colored pipes, eases demand on traditional sources of water and reduces discharges to surface waters. Florida and the District recognize Water Reuse Week each year in mid-May, when the region is transitioning from the dry season to the wet season.
“Each year, Water Reuse Week is an opportunity to increase awareness of the benefits of using water more than once as part of a diversified water supply,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Joe Collins. “Reusing water helps ease the burden on our region’s limited water resources.”
Water reuse involves treating domestic wastewater and using the resulting high-quality reclaimed water for a new, beneficial purpose. Extensive treatment and disinfection ensures that public health and environmental quality are protected. Reclaimed water can be used for many purposes, including:
- Irrigation of golf courses, parks, residential properties, highway medians and other green space.
- Aesthetic features, such as decorative lakes, ponds and fountains.
- Agricultural irrigation.
- Environmental restoration and wetland creation.
- Groundwater recharge.
- Industrial uses, including equipment wash down, processing water and cooling water.
As a long-term benefit, communities that reuse water can continue to grow while minimizing or even reducing their impact on water resources around them. Use of reclaimed water is exempt from landscape irrigation restrictions and also allows communities to postpone or minimize capital investments in the development of new, more costly water sources and supplies.
Florida leads the nation in water reuse. Within the District’s 16-county region, more than 100 reuse systems produce and reuse 235 million gallons of reclaimed water per day. This water irrigates hundreds of golf courses and thousands of residential lots, provides environmental enhancement and recharges regional water resources across the region.
More information about water reuse in South Florida is available on the District’s Water Reuse webpage as well as DEP’s webpage on Water Reuse. For details on SFWMD’s Comprehensive Water Conservation Program and water-saving tips, visit


(mouse over photo) :
Invasive species


Click HERE for location
of Adena Springs
Ranch and of the
proposed wells

Time for enlightened discourse about water – by Eleanor K. Sommer
May 22, 2012
While the media is often accused of bias, the training of journalists is quite to the contrary. This training and practice often give journalists a unique perspective on current events. Such is true of the recent controversy surrounding the Adena Springs Ranch consumptive use permit for 30,000 acres of land in Fort McCoy.
I recently wrote an article about the growing protest of the facility for a class assignment at the University of Florida (UF). I interviewed those who opposed the 13.2 million gallon a day permit for the grass-fed cattle and slaughterhouse operation. I sought out those in favor. I listened to the benefits of grass-fed beef; healthy for cows and people.
In the process of investigating the controversy and collecting and verifying facts, I could not help but become knowledgeable about both sides of the issue. This process, I have noted over the decades as a writer and editor, often reveals that both sides tend to exaggerate, make blanket statements, and resist hearing what the opposition has to say.
As I collected information, I found myself wondering about Frank Stronach, the billionaire Canadian who has bought up nearly 100,000 acres of land in north central Florida. What does he want ? What are his goals ? Is it just about money ?
I wondered if Stronach has ever enjoyed the abundant beauty of the Silver and Ocklawaha rivers likely to be impacted by his business. Does he know that excrement from his 30,000 cows will affect these waterways as well as the aquifer from where Floridians obtain most of our drinking water ?
How, I wondered as I wrote the story, could a successful entrepreneur be callous to the very natural resources he needs to operate businesses in Florida ?
My curiosities were not easily reconciled. As a graduate student doing a class assignment, the closest I could get to Stronach was written answers to questions that I submitted to his lawyers in Tampa. Pat, party line, lacking in any deep insight; and in some cases counter to the current science I had researched.
I continued to follow the story even after the semester ended. On May 15, 2012, I watched as Stronach and his entourage drove along State Highway 318 in Marion County to attend a celebration in his honor at the University of Florida Plant Science and Research and Education Unit. I wondered what he thought about the 120 or so protesters lined up along the road waving signs. They were sweltering in the late morning sun to let Stronach know they were opposed to ranch’s permit for 135 wells to draw water from the Floridan aquifer.
These were not bored students or uninformed rabble rousers. Some were local politicians and faculty from the UF. The people I interviewed, regardless of political ideology, expressed concern about Florida’s dwindling water resources. All urged Stronach to reconsider his plans.
I had the opportunity to speak with Jack Payne, senior vice president of Agriculture and Natural Resources at UF. Standing in the hot sun, Payne expressed dismay at the sight of faculty and students protesting at the celebration. He called it inappropriate and said the protests of the consumptive use permit on Stronach’s ranch land had nothing to do with the day’s event.
“We’re here to thank a major donor for his philanthropy. For his generous donation for this building,” Payne said.
The Institute of Food and Agricultural Science, which oversees the research station has identified water as a major challenge, he said. “But today is not a water issue.”
The same university that accepted his generous donation houses the researchers and experts on water issues in the state, some of who question the environmental safety of the cattle operation in its current structure.
I read the articles from the practicing journalists who were allowed entry to the event. I listened to Donna Green-Townsend’s coverage on WUFT-FM. I listened closely to what Stronach had to say and was struck by his candor.
Perhaps he is a good actor. Or perhaps he is insulated from everyday life and he did not realize the water scarcity currently facing residents of Florida.
He told reporters he wants to be a good citizen. He said he is too old to have his reputation tainted. He noted that he has plenty of money and if it meant spending a little more to do the right thing he would. He said this all publicly.
Sitting in the middle, watching both sides, I see this as an open door. Those in power positions at UF and in local politics already have forged connections with Stronach. Regardless of personal beliefs, politicians, like journalists, have duty to examine all sides of an issue.
My observation as a trained and professional “watcher” of events is that a door is open for a new understanding.
Concerned citizens and local business people can listen to needs of a new entrepreneur. The St. Johns Water Management District board of directors can note their mixed messages; for business developers there’s plenty of water, but the rest of us must conserve.
Governor Rick Scott might note that people of all political parties drink water and, according, to my brief interviews, all care deeply about the economic and recreational aspects of Florida’s waterways.
From the centrist position of a journalist, it appears to me as if Stronach is available to hear what the residents of Florida have to say. IFAS is in a position to broker a compromise and develop strategies so that business and water resources for residents can flourish in Florida.
Karen Ahlers, a concerned citizen of north central Florida, has publicly announced her intent to sue if the permit is approved. She told me that she looks at this as a desperate action to get the attention of Stronach and of the leaders in Florida’s government to pay attention to decline of water resources in the state. At least, momentarily, that attention has been galvanized. Now it is time for enlightened discourse.
Eleanor K. Sommer, Master’s Candidate, University of Florida
School of Natural Resources and the Environment


FL aquifers

(mouse over and/or CLICK)

Adena Springs won't cause harm to springs or aquifer - by Ed de la Parte, Special to the Star-Banner
May 20, 2012
Florida and Central Florida especially are experiencing drought ranging from severe to exceptional. This is one of the periodic irritating — sometimes devastating — ironies of Florida weather. We know spring months will be dry. But when a dry spring combines with a really bad drought, the lack of rain for extended periods can lead to reduced water levels in our lakes, rivers, springs and even the aquifer.
It is, therefore, probably not the most psychologically advantageous time for a Marion County rancher to be asking the St. John's River Water Management District (SJRWMD) to approve a new groundwater withdrawal of up to 13.2-million gallons a day from his property, Adena Springs Ranch.
However, the one thing we know about Florida weather is that it is unpredictable. As many of us recall, an even more severe drought in 2001-02 was followed by a year of unprecedented hurricanes and tropical storms in 2004.
Water-use permit applications like Adena Springs Ranch must be judged on their long-term impact on water resources and not on current climatic conditions. It would make no more sense to permit Adena Springs Ranch during a period of extreme flood than it would to reject the permit application during a period of drought.
Also, on a map, the ranch appears to be located close to several lakes, and at least a half a dozen natural springs, one of which is the already stressed Silver Springs, one of Florida's greatest natural wonders. Predictably, some individuals and environmental groups forecast disaster if SJRWMD approves the water-use permit for Adena Springs Ranch. They argue a withdrawal of 13.2 mgd will lead to certain damage, perhaps even destruction of Silver Springs and other natural springs in the area, as well as dropping levels in area lakes. It is an emotional, and sometimes politically effective, argument.
But emotional and effective don't add up to factual.
A highly regarded environmental engineering firm from Sanford, Fla., used a peer-reviewed, hydrologic model developed by the SJRWMD to assess the impact of the proposed withdrawal on environmental features and private wells surrounding Adena Springs Ranch. The results of this model are that the proposed withdrawal will have virtually no impact on Silver Springs, other natural springs, lakes and private wells.
Adena Springs Ranch is proposing to withdraw water from the Floridan aquifer, which is one of the largest, most prolific aquifers in the world stretching from Southern Georgia to the southern tip of Florida. It is estimated the Floridan aquifer contains more than a quadrillion (that's 1 followed by 15 zeros, i.e., 1,000,000,000,000,000) gallons of water, equivalent to all the Great Lakes combined.
The Floridan aquifer isn't a bathtub, all of which drains toward the same outlet as the water level falls evenly. Rather, it is a massive layer of irregularly contoured limestone about 2,000 feet deep in this part of Florida, with widely varying water storage and transmissive properties. In some areas of the aquifer, the effects of water withdrawal can be felt many miles away, while in other areas, the effects dissipate quickly.
The environmental engineer who studied the permit application found that the effect of the withdrawal of water from the Adena Springs Ranch dissipates before it reaches Silver Springs, other springs, lakes and private wells.
Therefore, the impact on these environmental features is virtually nonexistent. For example, the predicted decline of the Floridan aquifer at Silver Springs due to the proposed withdrawal will be about an inch. This impact is so small that it could not be measured even with the most sophisticated monitoring equipment available to modern science, and will not perceptibly impact the Spring flow.
To provide an even greater level of assurance concerning the impact of the proposed withdrawal on the Floridan aquifer, Adena Springs Ranch was requested by the SJRWMD to perform a pump test on its property to verify the results of the hydrologic model performed by its environmental engineer. That test consists of pumping water from a production well like the ones that will be used on the property and measuring the actual change in water levels in surrounding monitor wells. Adena Springs Ranch has completed this test and will soon be reporting the results to the SJRWMD.
Opponents of the permit also claim the aquifer and the natural springs in the area will be polluted with nutrients through over-fertilization and other cattle-ranching activities. However, it has always been Adena Springs Ranch's intent to only use the minimum amount of fertilizer necessary that can be absorbed quickly by the plants, while maintaining sufficient growth to supply the forage needs of the cattle, and to spread the cattle manure so the nutrients therein will not leach into groundwater. The process will be in accordance with recommendations from a certified agronomist and best-management practices approved by Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. In fact, Adena Springs Ranch is developing a state-of-the art nutrient management plan and irrigation plan to ensure that no additional nutrient loading will occur on the property as a result of the proposed cattle-ranch activities.




After decades of ranching Florida's cattlemen feeling the squeeze
The Tampa Tribune - by Jeff Houck
May 20, 2012
Florida is the third-largest beef-producing state east of the Mississippi River and ranks 10th in the nation. But it's getting harder for families like the Barthles to keep their family tradition alive as a business.
Randy Barthle climbs from behind the wheel of his well-used GMC truck into a herd of grumpy looking Brahman cattle.
Several of the dusty-white beasts watched curiously in the late morning sun as he drove across their grazing pasture on the 8,100-acre Barthle Brothers Ranch in San Antonio. Instead of scurrying away when he gets out of the truck, dozens of cows, calves and one truck-sized, grey-humped bull amble toward him silently.
Should any of them get spooked, they could stomp him to death in an instant. Which would be ironic, since they look like half-asleep lop-eared bunnies. If those bunnies weighed 1,500 pounds.
"They think they're getting something to eat," Barthle says, reaching out to gently pat the flat, soft hair on the bridge of one cow's face. "They know that usually when we come out here, it's dinnertime."
Keeping the cattle well-fed and watered is priority No. 1 for Barthle family members, who have operated the ranch since it was formed in the 1930s by J.A. Barthle, grandfather to Randy, his sister, Jan, and their brothers, Mark and Larry. Well-fed cattle make happy cattle, and happy cattle are tender cattle.
The herds of Brangus, Hereford bulls and purebred Brahman they keep in rotation are among Florida's more than 1.1 million head of beef cattle, Florida is the third-largest beef-producing state east of the Mississippi River and ranks 10th in the nation. Florida Gov. Rick Scott proclaimed May as Florida Beef Month for the first time, recognizing cattle as an important part of the state's economy.
But it's getting harder for families like the Barthles to keep their family tradition alive as a business. Inheritance taxes decades ago took a chunk of the ranch when their grandfather died. Fluctuations in the price of beef and the costs of raising cattle swallow more of the profits every year. Changes in the American public's tastes also are proving volatile.
Then there's the fact that their land is being sipped dry by water wells used to keep Pinellas County from going thirsty. The more development encroaches, the fewer resources they have to grow calves and the more creative they have to be in making money from non-cattle businesses.
"When I was growing up we were 50 miles from Tampa," Randy says. "We're now 30 miles from Tampa and we haven't moved at all."
Before the 1930s, cattle grazing in Florida was done on open range, meaning cattle roamed where they wanted before being collected by the ranches that owned them. That's how much room there was.
Then in the '30s, J.A. Barthle saw that a fence law was about to be passed, requiring ranchers to restrict their herds' movement. In anticipation, he spent the decade buying property from turpentine companies, using pine trees harvested from the land to pay for the purchases. He accumulated as many as18,000 acres at one point.
When he would go out riding to check the cattle for screwworms, the cattle at J.A. Barthle & Sons ranch ranged from Highway 41 east to Highway 301, and from the Hernando County line south to Highway 54.
They started with native scrub cattle, descendents of the first cattle that came from Mexico, but then upgraded in 1942 to Brahman, a species native to India that was more tolerant to heat and insects.
J.A.'s sons, Albert and Joe, entered the family business, with Joe (Randy's father) starting to breed American Quarter Horses on the land after returning from World War II.
When J.A. passed away, the family had to sell 1,200 acres to pay $1 million in inheritance taxes. When the government came to say they owed more, the family took out a 20-year loan.
"I can remember when we built the fences to divide the land up, it was a major investment to buy the fence posts," Randy remembers.
"We had to build through a cypress swamp, and we wanted to use cypress posts," he says. "We needed a chainsaw but we couldn't afford one, so we borrowed one."
The Barthles have always done what it takes to stay in the cattle business.
Even J.A. Barthle had his hand in several enterprises, including a sawmill, a grocery store and a company that built roads,
Like many large tracts in Central Florida, the ranch at one time produced citrus crops. That was until freezes in 1981, '83, '85 and '87 killed off most of their grove.
Beyond the cattle and quarter horse operations, the family also operates a quail and turkey hunting facility on the property during those seasons. Many of the customers are Tampa residents who make the drive north to hunt in the near-pristine wilderness.
The family planted pine trees and harvested some of that crop. The way it works: You plant trees and then thin them out by harvesting some 15 to 20 years later. Then in another 15 years you can harvest the remainder.
"It's not a short-term adventure," Jan says. "You don't just jump in or jump out."
When the conditions are right, they cultivate the bahiagrass sod that feeds the cattle, using a cultivator to scrape the tops of each stem to collect the seeds. But that's during years when there has been enough rain to make the grass grow.
Water has been in short supply in recent years, so much so that ponds and lakes on the property have shrunken and, in some cases, disappeared. What droughts haven't evaporated, residents of adjoining cities have done through permits granted by state water managers.
Fish Lake, which once covered 1,300 acres in the middle of the Barthle property, now holds about 40 acres of water. The last time it had a substantial depth was during the El Nino weather years of 1997 and 1998, when the cattle could eat the broad-leafed maiden cane that grew in the lake. Almost all of that is gone now. The state-record 23-pound bass once caught here by Fritz Friebel in 1923 might as well have been a dinosaur.
West Central Florida is a hard place to raise cattle. The temperatures are colder than in South Florida, the weather dryer in the winter than in North Florida, where winter grazing is possible.
"We might be in one of the toughest places to grow," Randy says. "But this is where we are. It's kinda hard to move it."
It might be easier if cattle raised here stayed here. But the way the industry works is that everyone ships their animals west to where the feed lots are in West Texas and Oklahoma. There was a time when Americans ate grass-fed beef, but that went away when a taste for corn-fed meat was cultivated.
Cattle grow faster on corn than grass. The faster a calf grows, the sooner a rancher can move it to market and start growing new calves. And because all the corn-fed animals are out west, so are the butchering facilities that process them. A calf born in Florida might be eaten here, but it will likely make a lengthy round-trip before it makes it to a plate. The closest processor of significant size is in Montgomery, Ala.
That may have to change if the recent push for locally grown produce and livestock gathers momentum. Food lovers, chefs and restaurateurs have bemoaned their lack of direct access to the abundance of cattle, poultry and pork the state has to offer.
Randy Barthle says it isn't for lack of desire on the ranchers' end. They would love nothing more than to produce graded "freezer beef" for local customers. There just isn't a way to do it consistently with the way the system currently operates.
"If it tastes good – which is what everyone wants -- that's what you try to produce," Randy says. "If the public wants something, you'll find a cowman who will find a way to provide it for them."


Silver Spring River

Silver Spring River

Because of declining flows, Silver Springs no longer king - by Robert. L. Knight, special to the Star-Banner
May 20, 2012
"Primum non nocere" (first, do no harm) is commonly referred to as the Hippocratic Oath, the pledge taken by all physicians. Perhaps this oath also should be taken by public servants responsible for the health of the environment.
The absence of normal rainfall in North Central Florida has revealed an inconvenient truth — there is little water left in the aquifer to maintain the baseflow of our springs.
As long as we have average rainfall, the springs keep flowing, and it is easier to believe that long-term flow declines in our springs are just a response to a variable rainfall cycle. But strip away normal rain and what is left? The lowest flows ever recorded in Silver and Rainbow springs, just to mention two of the most famous springs in the state.
In fact, the flows in Silver Springs are declining at a precipitous rate, beyond anything ever observed in the more than 80 years of record keeping. While the drought is one cause for these flow declines, groundwater pumping has made a bad situation worse.
Due to Marion County's limestone geology, the springsheds that recharge groundwater to Silver and Rainbow springs are adjacent to each other. Due to their similar rainfall and human development histories, flows at both Silver and Rainbow springs have been declining in magnitude for the past 50 years. Silver and Rainbow flow trends were roughly parallel for the first 35 years of this period. From 1950 to 1985, Silver's flow averaged about 495 million gallons per day (mgd), or on average, about 51 mgd higher than Rainbow's flow.
Beginning in 1985, Silver Springs' average annual flow began to decline at a faster rate than the flow at Rainbow Springs. As a consequence of this accelerated flow decline, in 1998 Silver Springs lost its dominance over Rainbow Springs. Since that time Rainbow Springs has had higher annual average flows than Silver Springs in all years, averaging about 76 million gallons per day higher in 2011.
These data indicate that there is something seriously wrong in the springsheds that feed these two first-magnitude artesian springs. The most likely explanation for this shift in flows is that the groundwater basin feeding Silver Springs has diminished in size relative to the springshed that feeds Rainbow Springs due to a combination of excessive groundwater pumping in west Marion County and reduced recharge. Since Rainbow Springs' water surface is about 12 feet lower than the water surface at Silver Springs, it was suggested by water district staff that Rainbow Springs might be "pirating" flow from Silver Springs during dry periods.
With continued groundwater pumping it is impossible for the historic sustained flows at Silver or Rainbow springs to be restored, even if future rainfall totals surpass historic levels. It also is highly likely that Rainbow Springs will continue to capture a substantial portion of the flow that would otherwise have fed Silver Springs.
Shifting of the groundwater divide in Marion County is symptomatic of a regional failure by both water management districts to use necessary caution (Primum non nocere) while managing groundwater resources. Overpumping of the Floridan aquifer within and outside of Marion County is resulting in the unintentional transfer of more than 100 million gallons per day of groundwater flow away from the Silver River to the Rainbow River. More tangible to the public interest is the fact that the lifeblood of both Silver and Rainbow springs is being squandered to irrigate lawns and farm fields in one of the wettest areas of the United States.
Without the immediate and focused attention of the St. Johns and Southwest Florida water management district governing boards, there is a reasonable chance that Silver Springs will permanently lose a majority of its historic flow. If our environmental stewards take action to reduce groundwater pumping, they have an opportunity to reverse an environmental disaster.
Robert L. Knight, Ph.D., is the director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute at the University of Florida.



DeWitt is squeezing underground where
water used to be

Dry, empty caves offer grim proof of Tampa Bay's groundwater decline
Tampa Bay Times - by Dan DeWitt, Times Columnist
May 20, 2012
In Thornton's Cave, in southern Sumter County, you see beams of light streaming through holes in the ceiling, worn by thousands of years of steadily flowing water.
You see that the bottom half of the tunnel is almost as white as chalk, scoured by that same steady flow.
At the end of the one-third-mile-long cave, you see where the spring run once emerged. And you see that the run's bed is not only dry, but covered by grass, weeds and opportunistic seedlings.
"I used to be afraid of this cave because you had to worry about cottonmouths and alligators," Robert Brooks said with a shrug, meaning, obviously, that's not a problem now.
Brooks, 38, has been wriggling into every crack in the earth he could find since he was a 10-year-old kid growing up in Brooksville.
We hear from the Southwest Florida Water Management District about the steadily declining groundwater levels, now nearly 2 feet below the bottom of the normal range for this time of year.
Brooks, one of the most experienced cavers in the state, recently led me and Times photographer Will Vragovic to see this decline.
Our view under the ground — at Thornton's and at Crumbling Rock Cave in southern Citrus County — was as grim as the sight of the steadily shrinking rivers and lakes on the surface.
Or more so, because groundwater isn't supposed to be as prone to fluctuation and is, of course, the source of almost all of the state's drinking water.
One other thing, unsurprisingly, is the same above ground and below: the cause of the falling water levels, which is pumping and a long-term slump in rainfall.
Both caves are in Swiftmud's Northern District, which includes Hernando and five other counties to the north and east. There, the amount of water pumped increased by 42 percent, to 163 million gallons a day, between 1990 to 2006, when demand started to decline slightly because of the flagging economy.
The historical average rainfall, compiled over the past three decades, is 53.5 inches per year. Since 1990, the annual total has been less than that 14 times, including each of the past six years.
Of course, back in the 1960s, that historical average was at least 2 inches higher, about 55 inches, a mark hit even less frequently in recent years.
So by visiting the cave in the middle of a severe drought, we weren't seeing rare conditions, but ones that are recurring again and again.
"It's like we're in a drought, things briefly improve, and then we're back in it again," said Granville Kinsman, manager of the district's hydrologic data section.
Kinsman also produced data showing that average rainfall was on an upward trend before 1960, suggesting the more recent downward one is part of a natural cycle.
Other theories are that the decreasing rainfall is tied to the loss of wetlands in Florida — "the rainmaking machine,'' former Swiftmud executive director Sonny Vergara called it. Or that it's related to global climate change.
But at this point, nobody really knows. And nobody I talked to at either Swiftmud or the much better-funded South Florida Water Management District has made a concerted effort to find out.
Which can't go on.
Because whatever amount of pumping the district is allowing is too much.
It would probably be too much even if we were receiving steady doses of normal rain. It's definitely too much if we're dealing with a long-term decline.
Which is sure what it looks like underground.
The entrance to Crumbling Rock is a little like an old-fashioned well — a vertical shaft barely big enough to fit a bucket — and it used to lead directly to water.
Once Brooks had dropped a cable ladder down the shaft, and we had climbed down, he pointed to a coffee-colored water line that showed the usual level of the former underground stream.
"You would have been crawling with your chin just above water," said Brooks, who has been exploring this cave for the past six years.
Every year, the water level has dropped, and on our visit we encountered only a few puddles and some ankle-deep mud.
"With the rain we're getting, we're ending every year in a deficit, and yet we're taking the same amount out," Brooks said.
"If you treated your bank account that way, you'd be broke. And our aquifer is broke."
Maybe not yet. But it's getting there.



Where are the
limits to drawing
waters ?

Line in the sand - Editorial
May 20, 2012
Floridians know all too well about water wars. They really aren't wars so much as periodic and pitched skirmishes between one group of residents over a plan by business or development interests to take large amounts of water. Nonetheless, we know them as water wars, and they have been waged for decades now, from the Everglades to Tampa Bay to Jacksonville.
So now comes Frank Stronach asking the state to pump some 13 million gallons of water a day from the aquifer for his massive Adena Springs Ranch cattle operation in the midst of a historic drought. Based on the angry and growing public response, it has all the ingredients of being Florida's next water war.
But while past water wars have been largely parochial encounters, this one has the potential to become a statewide affair. No doubt, interest has been elevated by fear that Adena Springs' gain will be beloved Silver Springs' loss.
Consider that this week a forum called "Silver Springs and Florida's Imperiled Waters," hosted by the environmental advocacy group St. Johns Riverkeeper in Jacksonville, drew 250-plus people who heard about the deteriorating state of the springs, the Adena Springs project and its potential toll on the Springs, the St. Johns River and the rest of North Florida's water resources.
Also last week, there was a gathering of the state's most powerful environmental groups in Tallahassee, specifically to discuss the Adena Springs project and the strategy they should employ in addressing it. In attendance were Audubon Florida, the Sierra Club, the Florida Wildlife Federation, St. Johns Riverkeeper and the new but increasingly influential Florida Conservation Coalition, founded by former governor and U.S. senator Bob Graham. It was the first time the groups had come together to discuss a single issue.
Now, there is word a rally protesting the Adena Springs permit is being planned for mid-June in Ocala.
"There's a lot of interest in this statewide," Jimmy Orth, executive director of St. Johns Riverkeeper, told us. "It's the iconic status of Silver Springs. Here is this iconic natural jewel that has brought millions of people to Florida and look what we're willing to do to it.
"This is kind of a line in the sand. If we can't save Silver Springs, what can we save? This is ground zero for all the [water] problems in the state."
If we can't save Silver Spring, what can we save ? Good question.
And what about all those special designations so proudly affixed to our natural wonders? Silver Springs is a national landmark and an Outstanding Florida Water. The Ocklawaha River is an OFW and an aquatic preserve. The St. Johns is a Great American River. Do those mean nothing?
This is not Ocala/Marion County's first water war. Remember five years ago when water managers wanted to build a plant on the Ocklawaha and pump 100 million gallons a day to Orlando?
The Adena Springs showdown feels different, though. It is fueled by the emotion attached to Silver Springs. Emotion is not always good in water wars where science and politics are the best weapons, but if emotion helps bring attention to the real issue — our dwindling and deteriorating water supply — it is a line in the sand we should draw.



Hollow underneath us:
One of the hundreds of sinkholes in Florida - swallowing a house

Florida's expanding sinkholes: Pumped into the pits - Editorial
May 19, 2012
During the freeze of 2010, Plant City farmers pumped water out of the ground continuously for 11 days to insulate their strawberry crops against the biting cold.
"The massive water withdrawal dropped the level of the aquifer 60 feet in a week and a half," Gainesville author Cynthia Barnett writes in "Blue Revolution: Unmaking America's Water Crisis."
"One hundred and forty sinkholes opened up in communities surrounding the farms. Seven hundred and fifty residential wells dried up. An underground chasm closed Plant City's Trapnell Elementary School."
Sinkholes are a natural phenomenon in porous, limestone-girded Florida. Even so, the cause-and-effect relationship between dropping groundwater tables and increased sinkhole occurrence is absolutely clear.
Add a prolonged drought — coupled with continuing, excessive withdrawals from the aquifer — and one can all but guarantee that still more sinkholes will occur. An example is a sinkhole that forced the evacuation of a family in Jonesville, west of Gaineville in Alachua County, last week.
That raises an interesting principle.
Sinkholes are so common in Florida that the insurance industry has gone to the Legislature to limit its liability for claims.
The state should be culpable — legally and not to mention ethically — when it permits draining of the aquifer to the extent that it is the cause of sinkholes that destroy property, homes and businesses and endangers public safety. The state's doctrine of sovereign immunity should not cover such sins.
"Even though it's related to the drought, it's really overpumping of the aquifer that is making matters worse and making conditions such that we're more likely to have sinkholes," said Alachua County environmental protection director Chris Bird to The Gainesville Sun this week.
The massive Jonesville sinkhole is yet another warning sign that Florida is flirting with a water disaster.
Our politicians and water managers haven't even begun to adopt a conservation ethic sufficient to counteract Florida's consumption bias in water use policy.
That needs to change and soon. Residents need to be able to rely upon lawmakers and regulators to keep the state on solid ground — literally.
Florida is crumbling beneath our feet.



Herschel VINYARD
Secretary of FDEP

EPA wants to know if Herschel Vinyard, Secretary of Florida's Department of Environmental Protection, lied on his resume - by Chris Sweeney
May 18, 2012
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is investigating whether Herschel Vinyard, secretary of Florida's Department of Environmental Protection, fabricated part of his resume and has asked Vinyard's counsel to clarify various discrepancies surrounding his employment history.
It seems like a lose-lose situation for Vinyard, who was appointed to the position by Gov. Rick Scott in January 2011.
If Vinyard's resume is up to snuff, then he might be in violation of conflict-of-interest clauses within the federal Clean Water Act. If he fudged his past work experience, then he made false statements to a federal agency, which is a crime.
The fiasco started in 2011, when the environmental groups PEER and the Florida Clean Water Network contacted the EPA and asserted that Vinyard's appointment violated a section of the Clean Water Act that bars the "appointment of any state decision-maker on pollution discharge permits in federal quality water programs who has during the previous two years received a significant portion of his income directly or indirectly from permit holders or applicants of a permit."
The groups pointed out that Vinyard had worked for BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards and was the chairman of the Shipbuilders Council of America, an industry group that represents more than 100 companies.
The resume Vinyard submitted for the DEP post, which can be found here, shows that he was director of business operations at the unit of BAE Systems where he "counseled the company on major environmental permitting decisions," among other duties.
When the EPA pursued this point, Thomas Beason, general counsel for DEP who's handling the matter on behalf of Vinyard, said Vinyard only worked for BAE for two weeks and that he did not receive a significant amount of income from the company. Beason said that Vinyard didn't make money as chair of the Shipbuilders Council. He also said that the BAE unit Vinyard worked for and other companies listed on his resume didn't hold the permits in question.
"In order to get around the requirements of the Clean Water Act, he's saying he worked for another company, a company he didn't list on his resume," Jerry Phillips, director of PEER's Florida chapter, tells New Times. "He can't have it both ways. He's either lying to the Governor and legislature, or he's lying to the EPA."
On a questionnaire Vinyard submitted to Gov. Scott's office as part of the application process, Vinyard listed BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards - formerly known as Atlantic Marine Shipyards - as his primary employer from 1999 through 2011.
Furthermore, Vinyard's experience at BAE was touted by Gov. Scott when announcing the appointment. In this 2011 press release from the governor's office, Scott praised the legal services Vinyard provided to BAE, the world's second-largest defense contractor.
An April 27 letter from the EPA asked Beason to explain these apparent discrepancies, as well as provide information on all the subsidiaries of the companies that Vinyard worked for. The agency also asked Beason to clarify how BAE's acquisition of Atlantic Marine affected Vinyard's employment status.
PEER says that the BAE unit and/or Atlantic Marine held national pollutant discharge elimination system permits in the two years preceding Vinyard's appointment.
"Now Vinyard is denying that he worked for the company that he once claimed gave him the experience to be secretary of DEP," Phillips says. "He's saying through his attorney that he didn't work there. It's a shell game."
The EPA didn't return calls asking for comment. Vinyard's attorney was unavailable for comment.


Governmental reps tour farm lands -by Carlos E. Medina, Correspondent
May 18, 2012
Cattle rancher Bubba Hatcher on Friday reminded a group of legislators touring the ranch he manages that food does not come from the supermarket.
"It comes from here, and a lot of other place like this," Hatcher said during a legislative farm tour sponsored by the Marion County Farm Bureau. The annual tour takes lawmakers to several Marion County agricultural operations to show how they influence the economy and the impact legislative decisions can have on the industry.
The Perry Cattle Ranch, just outside Belleview, was the first stop on the tour. Hatcher has worked at the operation for more than 30 years. It is owned by Luddy Perry, who is Hatcher's father-in-law.
The other stops on the tour were the Bailey Brothers citrus operation and Spring Valley Farm, a blueberry grower near Umatilla.
Perry is a multi-generational cattle rancher. His family bought nearly 5,000 acres of land off County Road 25 in 1948. Over the years, some of the land was sold for development, but 20 years ago a large portion was sold to the city of Ocala and the county, and is used to disperse reclaimed water.
The land is leased back to the cattle company, which grazes nearly 1,200 head of cattle on the grass.
"That's the only reason we can do what we do in the numbers we do. If we didn't have the water coming in, we couldn't do it. It's good, clean water," Hatcher said.
Jeff Vermillion of the Marion County Farm Bureau said the arrangement is one instance where government and private companies have worked well together.
"The city gets rid of the reclaimed water and it helps grow the grass that the cattle graze on. It's a very good thing," he said.
The tour drew more than 65 people, including Florida state senators and representatives as well as Marion County commissioners and other local elected officials.
"They got to see firsthand the issues we have. Needless to say, water is a very big issue here in Marion County," Vermillion said.
Losing farmland to development and other uses is also a major issue in the county. While Hatcher knows the importance of agriculture, he said he can also see why people sell their land when prices get high.
"This land gets so valuable you kind of scratch your head. But agriculture will continue in some form," he said. "As long as they keep leasing us back the land, we're not going anywhere."
Hatcher's daughter, Allison, a registered nurse, is also interested in keeping the family's cattle tradition alive.
"I'm always out here when they are working cows. I love doing it, and I have no plans to stop," she said.



St. Johns River

Riverkeeper will look closely at effect of proposed Army corps plan to dredge St. Johns River
May 17, 2012
St. Johns Riverkeeper battled long, hard and unsuccessfully against withdrawing water from the river to supply Central Florida utility customers.
On Tuesday, representatives of the environmental nonprofit will attend a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers meeting about a different man-made change — the plan to dredge Jacksonville’s harbor for bigger cargo container ships.
For now, the group is taking a neutral stance while waiting for results of a study that will unfold over the next year.
“It’s going to have an impact on the river, and we have to better understand what that impact is,” Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman said.
The Army Corps won’t release any findings at the Tuesday meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Jacksonville Port Authority’s cruise terminal at 9810 August Drive. The focus will be on the environmental model the corps intends for its study of how a deeper channel could affect marine life.
“There are so many unknowns at this point that it’s hard to put your finger on it,” said Paul Stodola, a corps biologist working on the study.
The corps is in the midst of studying the costs and benefits of deepening the 40-foot ship channel to a depth of up to 50 feet. JaxPort estimated the cost of deepening would be in the range of $600 million, though the expense will depend on the depth.
In addition to evaluating the economic benefits of a deeper channel in moving cargo through the port, the corps will examine the environmental impact. The study will determine salinity changes on the river as a result of more saltwater from the ocean flowing into a bigger harbor and pushing saltier water further upstream. In places where salinity rises, the study will analyze the effect on marine life and riverbottom grasses that need fresher water.
The corps plans to use an environmental model the St. Johns River Water Management District applied to the river during a four-year study about the impact of water withdrawals.
That report, released in February, found the river could serve as a supply source without causing significant environmental harm.
The actual impact hasn’t been measured.
Corps officials say the district’s study provides a solid foundation.
“It’s not a generic model,” Stodola said. “It’s a model that was developed specifically using data from the St. Johns River for the St. Johns River.”
Rinaman also supports using the district’s study, provided the corps examines dredging in light of factors such as water withdrawals and droughts.
The water management district did some analysis of harbor dredging and determined salinity would rise the most in a section from the Dames Point bridge to the Main Street bridge downtown.
But that segment of the river already is salty enough that increasing the salinity wouldn’t impact an environmental resource, said Peter Sucsy, a district scientist.
The district’s final report examined a 50-foot channel depth along a 20-mile distance from the mouth of the river to the Talleyrand terminal area.
The Corps' dredging study will cover a 14-mile distance from the mouth of the river to just west of the Dames Point bridge. The Corps will examine various depths between 40 feet and 50 feet.
The corps plans to finish a draft report on deepening the harbor in 2013. The report would then go through a series of reviews, and the best-case scenario for authorizing and funding the project would start dredging in early 2017.


Weston company invests in bonds for the good
Sun Sentinel - by Donna Gehrke-White
May 18, 2012
The Everglades provides a sea of grass — and an opportunity to make money selling bonds for its restoration.
So say managers at Weston-based Community Capitol Management, which focuses on fixed-rate bonds that invest in socially positive projects, from the environment to wind turbine manufacturing to homes for low- and moderate-income families.
Community Capitol manages about $1.5 billion for investors who want a safe return on projects that improve conditions, such as the state's efforts to restore the Everglades. The privately held firm was started in the late 1990s to help banks meet federal guidelines to invest in their local communities and has since branched out to help foundations, charities and private investors find socially conscious bonds.
"Investors can do well doing good," said Jamie Horwitz, a Community Capitol spokeswoman who is a member of a national nonprofit group that emphasizes socially conscious investing, the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment
One of Community Capitol's intermediate bond funds that is geared to foundations and other institutions with at least $500,000 to invest is earning 3.26 percent a year and earned an "A" rating, according to Morningstar.
It is a "good quality bond fund with a decent current yield and lower risk, but the price you pay is lower long-term returns compared with competitors," said Boca Raton financial planner Mari Adam.
Community Capitol also has a mutual bond fund for investors who put in as little as $2,500.
The Weston firm has a "theme of investing in projects that better our communities," said Ben Watkins, director of the Florida Division of Bond Finance, in an e-mail. "We are pleased that they have chosen to invest in the bonds issued to finance the restoration of the Everglades, an environmental treasure of Florida."
The Miami Lakes-based BankUnited began investing in Community Capitol's CRA Fund in April 2010, less than a year after the bank was formed. It now has a total of $25 million invested, said the bank's spokeswoman Mary Harris. The fund helps the bank meet the requirements of the federal Community Reinvestment Act, such as giving credit in low-income areas, including home mortgages as well as loans to redevelop neighborhoods or pay for environmental cleanups.



Environmental groups sue EPA to clean Mississippi mess – by  Slayde Hawkins
May 17, 2012
Fertilizer and other waste from across America’s Breadbasket washes into the Mississippi Watershed, and the Environmental Protection Agency is supposed to be doing something about it. A group of environmental organizations, led by NRDC, say the Agency isn’t doing its job, and have filed suit to change that.
17 May 2012 | The Mississippi River Basin covers more than 40% of the lower 48 US states and is one of the world’s most productive agricultural regions; but what’s good for farmers is bad for fishermen as fertilizer and human wastes feed rapid algal and bacterial growth in the Mississippi River, its tributaries, and out into the Gulf of Mexico. The resulting green, orange, or brown scum is a familiar sight throughout the watershed, where it impairs recreational opportunities, fouls drinking water, and creates public health risks.
Beneath the water’s surface is another, less visible consequence: low oxygen “hypoxic” dead zones, where algae and cyanobacteria have robbed the water of oxygen needed to support aquatic life. Underwater creatures must flee or suffocate. The Gulf of Mexico is particularly severely hit each summer, when it becomes home to one of the largest dead zones in the world. Negative impacts are felt by the millions of people living on the Gulf Coast and by the region’s commercially-valuable tourism and fishing industries, yet there is little that they can do to stem the tide of nutrient pollution.
It’s an old problem that regulators have failed to address, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), among others, is tired of waiting. So, along with nine environmental organizations in more than five states, NRDC sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in March of this year, arguing that the agency has failed to meet its obligations under the Clean Water Act (CWA).
The Regulatory Set-Up
Under the CWA, states and the EPA share responsibility for water quality in our lakes, rivers, streams, and other waters. Ideally, states take the lead, but the EPA also has an important role to play in supporting and prodding state action, and even stepping in to regulate where necessary to protect water quality.
Despite many years of state inaction and unsuccessful voluntary programs, the EPA has thus far declined to use the authority granted to it under the Clean Water Act (CWA) to impose numeric water quality standards or to set “total maximum daily load” (TMDL) limits on the amount of nutrients that can be discharged into bodies of water within the watershed.
The Lawsuit
The lawsuit grows out of a July 2008 petition asking the EPA to set water quality standards for the Mississippi watershed. After three years’ consideration, the EPA agreed that nutrient pollution posed a “significant water quality problem” and was “a high priority”, but denied the petition. The agency’s reasoning was that imposing federal controls would not be efficient or effective. Instead, the EPA said it planned to build on existing technical support efforts and to work with states to strengthen nutrient management programs.
The problem, according to NRDC, is that this is the same approach that has failed to control nutrient pollution to date. With few exceptions, states in the Mississippi Basin have not set numeric water quality standards or prepared TMDLs for nutrient-polluted waters within their borders. And in any case, a purely state-based approach cannot adequately protect interstate waters, like the mainstem of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, or adequately address interstate pollution.
While the CWA envisions states being primarily responsible for protecting water quality, it doesn’t let the EPA off the hook where state actions are not occurring or are insufficient. Given practically nonexistent numeric water quality standards from states, poorly enforced narrative standards, and the magnitude of nutrient pollution problems throughout the watershed, the Mississippi Basin appears to be a poster case for where the CWA requires EPA intervention.
Déjà vu all Over Again
The agency’s reluctance to use its rulemaking authority may be colored by recent experience in Florida, where a similar lawsuit led to five years of intensive regulatory work and multiple legal challenges. The convoluted process now appears to be running its course. Earlier this year, a federal judge in Tampa, Florida upheld the EPA’s determination that numeric nutrient standards are necessary to protect Florida’s waters, while invalidating some of the criteria set by the agency. The EPA is set to issue new rules this summer.
Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) has stepped forward, putting in motion its own numeric criteria-setting process and asking the EPA to withdraw federal rules. The EPA says it’s happy to do so if and when the FDEP adopts “protective and scientifically sound numeric standards.”
So, one way or the other, it looks like Florida’s waters will soon be subject to numeric limits on nutrient pollution. These limits will arguably leave less wiggle room than previous narrative standards and, by putting numbers behind what needs to be achieved, can provide a basis for nutrient trading programs. While longer-term results remain to be seen, this would seem to be a victory for water quality in Florida.
Even so, Florida might seem like a cautionary tale to the EPA. The complexity, political hurdles, and legal challenges that the agency faced in establishing numeric nutrient criteria in the state are not trivial, yet are likely a small fraction of what the EPA would face in the Mississippi River Basin. Practically, addressing nutrient pollution on such an enormous scale implicates utterly novel jurisdictional, scientific, political, and economic questions. It’s bound to be incredibly challenging, controversial, filled with missteps, and something the EPA would probably prefer to avoid altogether.
A Swift Kick
Regardless of the challenges, the plaintiffs in this case say that the CWA doesn’t give the EPA the choice to refuse to regulate in these circumstances. As Ann Alexander, a senior attorney at NRDC, told journalist Codi Yeager, the toughest part of tackling water quality problems in the Mississippi watershed is getting governments to do something.
“The states and the EPA are under substantial pressure not to do anything about the problem, but the law requires that they do,” she said.
With this lawsuit, NRDC and the other organizations involved in the case hope to force the issue, setting in-motion government action to control nutrient pollution across almost half of the United States.
Related Links
Nutrient Trading and Dead Zones
Clean Water Act Turns 40
Water Trading: The Basics



Herschel VINYARD
Secretary of FDEP
Most wanted ?

Environmentalists demand ‘citizen’s arrest’ of Florida regulatory official – by Mathew Boyle
May 17, 2012
Environmental groups are attacking the secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, claiming he has a conflict of interest because of his previous work handling water pollution matters.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, and the Florida Clean Water Network are claiming Herschel Vinyard’s work in the private sector for different businesses represents a conflict of interest and that he should be disciplined for it. The groups claim Vinyard provided false information to the Environmental Protection Agency about the matter too, prompting them to call for a “citizen’s arrest” of Vinyard.
“Mr. Vinyard is making decisions that affect our waters every day, and most if not all of his decisions over the past 15 months have reflected a pro-polluter bias,” Linda Young, the director of the Florida Clean Water Network, said in a statement. “As a regular user of our waters I am personally so unimpressed with our state and federal government’s level of concern over Vinyard’s disregard for the law that I think a citizens’ arrest is now in order.”
In response to the left-wing group’s accusations and demands, Free Market Florida executive director Ryan Houck pointed out their hypocrisy as the EPA is littered with people who are tied to advocacy groups they support. “If EPA is on the hunt for conflicts of interest they can start in their own building,” Houck said in a statement. “Many of EPA’s top brass have extensive ties to environmental litigation groups with a clear financial interest in the outcome of major permitting battles. Somehow, I doubt the Florida Clean Water Network or PEER will be calling for their firing.”
In a press release, Houck’s organization published a lengthy list of left-wing environmentalists it claims are in the same predicament as Vinyard.
Rick Manning of Americans for Limited Government told TheDC that EPA officials’ close relationships with left-wing advocacy groups is dangerous for the economy. “The revolving door between the environmental extremist groups and the EPA is shocking and sobering, when one considers the damage they continue to do to our nation’s economy.”



Tampa Bay water solution simple: Charge heavy users more
Tampa Bay Times - by Robert L. Beekman and Brian T. Kench
May 17, 2012
Tampa Bay experienced the 11th driest winter since 1915 and it is once again in a drought. Tampa Bay residents continue to demand more water than the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud, and Tampa Bay Water can supply. To reduce water demand, lawn watering is limited to once a week and the operation of outdoor fountains to four hours a day.
What is wrong with limiting frivolous uses of water during a drought ? During the area's last drought, the Tampa Bay Times ran a story about a Swiftmud official receiving a question from someone with a backyard pond stocked with koi, the colorful Japanese carp. The pond's fountain is keeping the fish alive, the owner said. Will Swiftmud save water by killing koi? The Swiftmud official said that, so far, no answer had surfaced.
Water restrictions force bureaucrats to spend time fielding questions about lawns, birdbaths, and the life and death of koi. Many more person-hours and budget dollars are used to educate consumers, enforce new rules and punish cheaters. All the effort spent engaging in such matters comes at a high cost for the Tampa Bay area.
It doesn't have to be this hard. The price mechanism does a fine job of allocating scarce resources. The markets for economics professors and tomatoes operate efficiently by allocating resources to the individuals willing to pay the highest price. Allowing the market to allocate the supply of water in Tampa Bay would work, too — if we let it.
A 2005 Swiftmud study found that water use will decrease as the price of water increases. Thus, we do not need to resort to inefficient bureaucratic mechanisms to allocate water. A better pricing system will give consumers the freedom to decide on the life or death of their koi or on the greenness of their lawns. Along the way, Tampa Bay Water can increase its coffers by charging heavy users higher prices.
The city of Tampa uses a tiered system in which the per-gallon rate increases with higher water usage. Currently, it costs $10.45 a month for the first 3,740 gallons of water. This lowest-rate tier is a proxy for the necessary indoor water use of a typical household — cooking, bathing, laundry and flushing toilets. Outdoor water use, however, varies greatly across households and includes irrigating lawns, filling swimming pools, and supporting koi ponds. We offer a relatively simple proposal: In times of drought, Tampa Bay Water should sharply raise the price of water for volumes above the lowest tier.
While our proposal increases the price of using a gallon of water, customers would have the opportunity to conserve to avoid higher bills. If a customer used less than 3,740 gallons per month, his bill would not increase. Customers have the freedom to decide how to conserve water. A customer might decide to install a water-saving shower head rather than be forced to switch off the life support for koi. From a communitywide perspective, a gallon of water saved is a gallon of water saved.
Consumers are sensitive to water rates, so water use will diminish if upper-tier rates are increased. However, the Swiftmud study found that very wealthy users are less sensitive to price changes. They can afford to maintain their lush landscapes and run their fountains. A higher water bill would be a minor part of their monthly expenses. Thus, we should not expect significant usage reductions from this group. Even if these folks choose not to conserve water, they will provide extra revenue to Tampa Bay Water, which it might use to fund the repair of the cracked reservoir.
How would the poorest households be affected? The Swiftmud study reports that lower-income households have a limited ability to reduce water consumption when faced with higher prices because they are mostly indoor water users satisfying basic needs. By not changing the price of water in the lowest tier, the area's poorest households would not be impacted by increased upper-tier water prices.
Rather than prohibit specific uses of water for all households, we suggest that in times of drought, water authorities temporarily institute a significant increase in upper-tier water rates. This proposal avoids an undue burden on the poor while encouraging water conservation among outdoor water users. Expensive water encourages consumers to choose how to conserve. And it is more efficient than having bureaucrats perform the impossible task of deciding what types of water use should be restricted and whether the koi shall live or die.
Robert L. Beekman is an assistant professor of economics and coordinator of the international business program at the University of Tampa. Before working at UT, Beekman was an economist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Brian T. Kench is an associate professor of economics, editor of "The Tampa Bay Economy," and chairman of the Department of Economics at the University of Tampa.



Environment Secretary Vinyard's current claims contradict his previous filings
States News Service –
May 16, 2012
The following information was released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER):
Environment Secretary Vinyard's Current Claims Contradict His Previous Filings
Tallahassee The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is trying to decide which Herschel Vinyard to believe the one who claimed his expertise in handling pollution permits as his chief qualification to serve as Floridas top environmental official or the one who is now alleging, through a state lawyer, he had nothing to do with permits. At stake is whether he will be barred from handling water pollution matters as the result of a federal conflict-of-interest complaint filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Florida Clean Water Network.
The groups today released the latest correspondence from EPA questioning why information on Vinyards rsum and state job application, and even the Governors press release announcing his appointment as Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), are all incorrect, as Vinyard now declares. The April 27, 2012 letter from EPA Regional Counsel Mary Wilkes asks Thomas Beason, the General Counsel for DEP, which Vinyard oversees, to explain the apparent discrepancy between the assertion in your letter that Vinyard was not really employed by the company he said he worked for in state filings or doing work he once bragged about but now disclaims.
The federal Clean Water Act forbids appointment of any state decision-maker on pollution discharge permits in federal water quality programs who has during the previous two years received a significant portion of his income directly or indirectly from permit holders or applicants for a permit (emphasis added). Vinyard represented himself as director of operations for BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards where he was responsible for its wastewater permits and other regulatory affairs. He also chaired the Shipbuilders Council of America, representing 40 companies operating 100 shipyards.
Secretary Vinyard should stop wasting state resources playing peek-a-boo with the EPA. His ploy that he is not in clear violation of federal law because he lied on his job application is just plain absurd, stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney, noting that Governor Scott should fire him if he falsified his application. By using state lawyers to dissemble on his behalf, Mr. Vinyard is only making a bad situation worse.
The next move may aggravate the jeopardy for Secretary Vineyard, as making false official statements to a federal agency is a crime which could result in loss of office and imprisonment, sanctions far more serious than those he now faces. Unfortunately, EPA has not moved swiftly to resolve the February 2011 complaint, despite one promise last November to render a final decision within two weeks.
Mr. Vinyard is making decisions that affect our waters every day, and most if not all of his decisions over the past 15 months have reflected a pro-polluter bias, said Linda Young, Director of the Florida Clean Water Network. As a regular user of our waters I am personally so unimpressed with our state and federal governments level of concern over Vinyards disregard for the law that I think a citizens arrest is now in order.


Florida crumbling – Editorial
May 16, 2012
During the freeze of 2010, Plant City farmers pumped water out of the ground continuously for 11 days to insulate their strawberry crops against the biting cold.
"The massive water withdrawal dropped the level of the aquifer sixty feet in a week and a half," Gainesville author Cynthia Barnett writes in "Blue Revolution: Unmaking America's Water Crisis."
"One hundred and forty sinkholes opened up in communities surrounding the farms. Seven hundred and fifty residential wells dried up.
An underground chasm closed Plant City's Trapell Elementary School....". Sinkholes are a natural phenomenon in porous, limestone-girded Florida. Even so, the cause-and-effect relationship between dropping groundwater tables and increased sinkhole occurrence is absolutely clear.
And a prolonged drought — coupled with continuing, excessive withdrawals from the aquifer — all but guarantee that still more sinkholes, like the one that forced the evacuation of a family in Jonesville last week, will occur.
Which raises an interesting question:
Sinkholes are so common in Florida that the insurance industry has gone to the Legislature to limit its liability for claims.
But what is the culpability of the state — legally and ethically — when permitted draining of the aquifer creates sinkhole activity that destroys property, homes and businesses and endangers public safety ?  Does the state's doctrine of sovereign immunity cover all sins ?
"Even though it's related to the drought, it's really over-pumping of the aquifer that is making matters worse and making conditions such that we're more likely to have sinkholes," Alachua County environmental protection director Chris Bird told The Sun this week.
The massive Jonesville sinkhole is yet another warning sign that Florida is flirting with a water disaster. Our politicians and water managers haven't even begun to adopt a conservation ethic sufficient to counteract Florida's consumption bias in water use policy.
That needs to change, and soon. Florida is crumbling beneath our feet.


Lakewood Ranch, River Club focus of pilot stormwater study
Bradenton Herald - by Nick Williams
May 16, 2012
LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Lakewood Ranch and the neighborhood next door, River Club, will be the focus of a pilot study conducted by the University of Florida to gauge the regional impact of landscape fertilizer and lawn debris on stormwater ponds in the upper Braden River Watershed.
The project will study 900 homes in River Club and more than 4,000 in the Country Club Village of Lakewood Ranch. Homeowners in those areas will be educated on fertilizer best management practices, applicator training and how to create programs that encourage replanting shorelines with natural vegetation and aquatic plants.
The project will also seek to determine how well homeowners are complying with the county's fertilizer ordinance, which was created to reduce nutrient runoff into stormwater ponds.
The objective of the pilot study is to determine if the outreach and education efforts can change behavior.
Paul Monaghan, an assistant professor in UF's department of agricultural education and communication who is leading the project, said the study can evolve into a statewide program.
"We think the lessons we learn can be used in a lot of places," he said. "There are a lot of homeowner associations that have dealt with stormwater systems."
Monaghan said he was contacted by officials from both communities through the Institute of Food and Agricultural Science Extension Service concerning stormwater systems. He said excessive fertilizer chemicals and lawn debris in stormwater systems can lead to diminished water quality, invasive species, negative effects on wildlife and greater costs for treating the drinking water supply.
"What you put into your landscape can reach your stormwater ponds," said Michelle Atkinson, the Florida Friendly Landscaping coordinator for the county IFAS extension.
Atkinson will provide education for homeowners involved in the study. Homeowners will also be asked to provide more direction to landscapers regarding fertilizer use and yard debris seeping into stormwater systems.
The project will be implemented in June, which is when the county fertilizer ordinance takes effect. A final evaluation will be completed by October.
The total cost for the study is $17,000, of which $10,000 is provided by an internal grant from UF's Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology and $1,500 by the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
"If we succeed, this is a program that can secure much greater grant funding," Monaghan said.



Deadline looms for EPA water pollution rules proposal
WFSU - by Sascha Cordner
May 15, 2012
The deadline for the federal Environmental Protection Agency to propose new water pollution rules for Florida rivers and streams is fast approaching. As Sascha Cordner reports, that’s after a federal judge rejected the agency’s proposal months ago and told them to come up with new water quality standards.
In February, U-S Judge Robert Hinkle ruled the water quality standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency for Florida’s lakes and springs were good. But, he said the EPA’s standards for other water bodies needed to be changed. And, Rich Budell, the director of the Office of Water Policy in the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, says the deadline to make that fix is coming up.
“May 21st is the deadline for the EPA to re-propose new numeric criteria for flowing waters, streams, ditches, canals, north of Lake Okeechobee. So, that deadline is approaching next week.”
The judge’s ruling is part an ongoing legal battle between environmental groups, who like the federal water quality standards, and utility and industry groups, who say Florida knows how to best manage its own waters.
On that same May 21st deadline, under a different legal challenge, the EPA is also expected to propose new limits for South Florida streams, canals, and estuaries.


Vulcan Materials

Look who's deciding the future of your water – by Steve Lodle, Brooker, FL
May 15, 2012
We are currently in a water crisis in North Florida.
The Florida aquifer upon which we all depend for clean drinking water, sustaining local agriculture, and preserving our rivers and springs is at a historic low flow level. This is because of the ongoing drought and because the aquifer is being pumped out at the highest rate in recorded history.
In response, our area's two water districts formed a super-committee to provide input on North Florida water supply planning issues. This "stakeholders" committee will have 12 voting members.
Who will help determine the future of your water supply? It is a wide range of people from local government, utility companies, power generating facilities, industrial interests, ranching and agriculture, and environmental organizations.
Unfortunately they couldn't find a seat for anyone from Alachua County and Gainesville, even though it is the most populous constituency in the region besides Jacksonville. It is unclear if committee membership includes any hydrology scientists who are skilled at developing a regional water supply plan.
The districts did find room for voting membership for Vulcan Materials, Inc., the nation's largest producer of construction aggregates including asphalt and ready-mixed concrete and a leading producer of cement in Florida. Another voting seat was reserved for a representative for PCS Phosphates, a major phosphate rock mining operations which has almost two-thirds of its products used to make fertilizers. Good to know that although the springs that feed the Ichetucknee and Santa Fe rivers have been impaired by nutrient pollution for more than 30 years, these industries will have a voice in how much future regulation we will have.
To have a credible impact on our current water crisis, the committee's first order of business should be to recommend suspending future permitting of large-scale water withdrawals and there should be a review of those recently permitted. This suspension must continue until there is a scientific determination of the impact of water pumping on our aquifer decline and an agreed upon sustainable level of water allocation that must not be exceeded.



Prof. Ehab MESELHE

Water Institute hires ULL professor
The Associated Press –
May 15, 2012
LAFAYETTE, La. - The Water Institute of the Gulf has hired a civil engineering professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette as the new director of natural systems modeling and monitoring.
Ehab Meselhe, who has worked on coastal Louisiana and Florida Everglades issues, tells The Advocate ( he is working part time with the water institute as he finishes up projects at the university and with other current commitments. He will start full time with the water institute on Sept. 1.
The water institute, a nonprofit science group that will help coordinate research needs for coastal restoration and planning in Louisiana, was organized through the efforts of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, the state's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and others.
Since he started at ULL in 1997, Meselhe started and maintained a research program with more than $10 million in state and federal funding. He also was appointed as the state's technical lead for the Mississippi River Hydrodynamic and Delta Management Study, a five-year, $25 million project to look at a number of issues, including how and where water and sediment flow.
In his new position, Meselhe will be in charge of the institute's modeling and field observations and he will be the liaison for research being done at the university, government agency and private levels and the state's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.
"The institute in general is going to be the science arm of the state," he said. "We need someone to be the bridge between basic science and implementation on the ground."
Other staff positions will be determined after an organizational plan being developed is approved for the institute, said Charles "Chip" Groat, president and chief executive officer of the Water Institute of the Gulf.
Working with a consultant and getting input from the state, universities and others, the water institute is putting together a plan that will outline its short-term and long-term goals, Groat said. That plan, which should be public by mid-August, will guide the institute on other director positions and staffing needs, he said.
However, Groat said, it's a certainty that modeling and monitoring activities will be important to the water institute which led to Meselhe's position being created before the plan was done. "Our next significant technical hire will come as a result of that plan," he said.
The exception, if possible, will be the position of chief scientist, Groat said. Since this position is not dependent on any specific scientific focus the institute will have, he said, it's possible that position could be filled before such a plan is completed.



(mouse over photo) :
Invasive species


Click HERE for location
of Adena Springs
Ranch and of the
proposed wells

Water-issue protesters greet UF's Stronach center dedication - by Nathan Crabbe, Staff writer
May 15, 2012
CITRA — Billionaire auto parts magnate Frank Stronach said high school bands usually welcome him at openings for his factories, so he "felt a bit bad" about being met by protesters at Tuesday's dedication of a University of Florida conference center named after him
Stronach donated $1.5 million to fund construction of the center at UF's Plant Research and Education Unit in Citra. As officials dedicated the facility, dozens of protesters outside the gates picketed against Stronach's bid for a permit to pump more than 13 million gallons of groundwater a day for a cattle operation he plans near Fort McCoy.
Stronach pledged at the dedication that he would do everything he could to prevent damage to water resources, if necessary cutting back on water usage and developing an alternative.
"I want to be a good corporate citizen here, not to come in here and say, ‘Gee, I've got some moneys (and) I've got to do this, if people like it or not,' " he said. "Far from it. I don't want to have any confrontations."
The 10,000-acre cattle operation, called Adena Springs Ranch, would include a grass-fed cattle ranch and a meat processing plant. Protesters object to the size of the water permit being sought from the St. Johns River Water Management District — more water than the city of Ocala uses each day — and pumping groundwater that feeds the already declining Silver Springs.
"We've got a deficit here that we're not going to make up if we keep issuing new permits," said Robert Knight, director and founder of the H.T. Odum Florida Springs Institute in Gainesville.
Stronach, an Austrian-Canadian businessman, founded the auto parts company Magna International. He's also involved in horse racing and owns a thoroughbred horse farm in northwest Marion County.
Florida cattle are usually shipped to meat-processing plants in other states, so Stronach said his plant would keep them here in a modern operation that wouldn't expose them to pain or stress. He said he would take the steps necessary "that when it finally comes down that the people which live around here will say, ‘This processing plant will have no negative effect on the environment and will be very positive to the agricultural community.' "
He started working with UF researchers on the project when he made the donation for the center. With state funding for university buildings having dried up, the donation funded the center's construction. The facility, called the Frank Stronach Plant Science Center, includes a 5,380-square-foot multipurpose building and a 7,000-square-foot open pavilion.
Annette Long, president of the environmental group Save Our Suwannee, said naming the center after Stronach would carry a negative connotation if he obtained the water permit.
"If we let him have this permit and let him drain Silver Springs dry, it will be more an epitaph to the springs than an honor," she said.
The center will host about 20 "field days" annually in which agricultural researchers showcase their work for farmers. UF classes also are expected to be held there. Jack Payne, the head of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said he was disappointed protesters picked the venue for their protest.
"We're trying to solve the water problem," he said. "I'm dedicated to making water the No. 1 issue that IFAS does."
The facility is located at a UF center for research involving various plants, such as breeding new varieties of blueberries, growing sugar cane that can be used for fuel and developing turf for golf courses and sports fields. UF President Bernie Machen said the dedication was "a good day for Florida's economy" because of the research done there.
"This is a huge incubator, in a sense, for the agriculture industry," he said.
Tuesday's dedication brought UF officials and Marion County commissioners who rescheduled their meetings to be able to attend. Gov. Rick Scott didn't attend, despite reports that he might, but Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos was there. Officials played a video about Stronach's business success and unveiled a plaque honoring him.
As Stronach and officials cut a ribbon outside the center, protesters could be heard chanting as they held signs beyond the fence with sayings such as "No free water for cows" and "Our wells are being sucked dry by greed." Despite a news release from UF that said the dedication was open to the public, protesters were turned away at the gate and sheriff's deputies stood guard.
Stronach, 79, said his reputation was more important than money and that he didn't want to be known for harming the environment.
"At my age, I don't need it," he said.


Work approved to upgrade levees dividing western Broward County from Everglades
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
May 14, 2012
The South Florida Water Management District has approved about $18 million of work to upgrade the levee that protects Broward County from getting flooded by the Everglades.
That’s more than the $13-$15 million once projected to beef up the earthen structure that guards against flooding of Coral Springs, Weston and other western communities.
The 38-mile-long Broward section of the East Coast Protective Levee falls short of federal safety standards, which raises safety concerns and could lead to increased flood insurance costs if repairs aren’t made.
The district has a two-year window to make levee fixes before the Federal Emergency Management Agency triggers regulatory changes that could increase South Florida flood insurance costs.
On Thursday, the district’s board OKed the selection of two contractors tapped to handle levee improvements.
The work involves: building filter berms and drains, flattening levee side slopes, reconstructing access ramps for ongoing maintenance and re-compacting the top of the levee after work is finished.
District Director of Operations Tommy Strowd said selecting contractors was the next step in keeping the agency on track with meeting FEMA’s two-year timeline.
About $11 million of the project contracts go to Arbor Tree & Land Inc. of Lake Worth, according to the proposal endorsed Thursday.
A $7 million phase of the project goes to GlobeTec Construction of Deerfield Beach, according to the proposal.
The Sun Sentinel in 2010 reported that the Broward section of the levee failed to meet FEMA certification standards.
In 2011, the Army Corps of Engineers finalized its review of the entire 100-mile East Coast Protective Levee and also called for repairs. The corps found the levee minimally acceptable, the middle tier on the federal government's new three-tiered levee-rating system.
Inspectors’ concerns about the levee include: erosion, levees being too low, overgrown vegetation obstructing maintenance, fencing and gates in disrepair, slopes being too steep and culverts needing repair.
The East Coast Protective Levee, built in the 1950s, stretches across western Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. It was built with limestone, shell and soil dug from the edge of the Everglades.
A levee that once bordered mainly farmland, now sits next to neighborhoods that spread west after decades of sprawling development.
The district maintains that the levee is structurally sound and remains able to protect against flooding while the upgrades are made.


to enlarge, also MAP)

Lake Hancock

Lake Hancock

Construction continues
on the new SWIFTMUD
P-11 water control
structure that is being
built on lower Saddle
Creek southwest of
Lake Hancock near

Engineers hope project to raise level of Lake Hancock will help ease Peace River problems
May 13, 2012
BARTOW | In wet years, expect to see more of Lake Hancock. In dry years, expect to see more of the Peace River. That's the plan anyway.
Southwest Florida Water Management District officials are building a new, taller control structure on Saddle Creek south of the lake. It will regulate the lake level and replaces a smaller one built in 1963.
That new $6 million dam-like structure, which is being built by Censtate Contractors of Winter Haven, will allow the lake to rise to 100 feet above sea level. The current apparatus, which cost $65,000 half a century ago, allowed the lake to rise to a maximum elevation of 98.7 feet.
The replacement will keep more water in the 4,519-acre lake so it can be released downstream to keep the Peace River flowing during all but the most serious droughts.
Lake Hancock and the upper Peace River are at the mercy of weather and geology.
The highest recorded level was 101.88 feet above sea level on Sept. 16., 1960, following ­Hurricane Donna. The lake-level project will increase the base flood elevation from 102 feet above sea level to 103.85 feet, Swiftmud engineer Scott Letasi said.
The lowest recorded level was 93.98 feet on May 23, 1968, after a sinkhole drained the lake. The lake also declined seriously during the 2000-2001 drought.
Flow in the Peace River at Bartow pretty much reflects the same extremes.
Given that history, one recurring question is whether the lake-level plan will really work.
Lake Hancock Timeline
1850: First government survey of Lake Hancock, which likes at the head of the Peace River in an area surrounded by Lakeland, Winter Haven and Bartow.
1927: Lakeland sewer plant begins discharging into Stahl Canal, which connects to the 4,500-acre Lake Hancock via Banana Lake and Banana Creek.
1952-1968: Phosphate mining under way on east and south sides of Lake Hancock.
1960: Lake Hancock reaches 101.88 feet above sea level following Hurricane Donna.
1963: Control structure completed on Saddle Creek south of Lake Hancock to regulate lake level, replacing old drainage structure that dates from 1930s.
1968: News story mentions suggestion to mine Lake Hancock to ease serious pollution. Sinkhole in lake seriously drops water level to 93.98 feet.
1985: State wildlife officials use Lake Hancock as site for experimental alligator hunts as prelude to resumption of legal alligator hunting in Florida. State environmental officials ban pollution discharges from industrial and sewer plants into Lake Lena Run, one of the lake's sources of water.
1987: Lakeland halts sewer discharges into Lake Hancock via Banana Lake.
1986-88: Consultant studies feasibility of mining Lake Hancock bottom to aid restoration, concludes it's not feasible.
1989: Major fish kill leaves an estimated 1 million fish dead.
2000: Drought hits Lake Hancock, leaving lake bottom parched.
2001: Circle B Bar Reserve along Lake Hancock purchased.
2002: Southwest Florida Water Management District officials begin discussing raising lake's level to as high as 100.5 feet above sea level.
2004: Lake Hancock level reaches 101.5 feet above sea level following series of hurricanes.
2007: Swiftmud governing board votes for project to raise Lake Hancock level from 98.7 feet "up to" 100 feet above sea level. Plan proposed for recreational uses of land around lake, including trail system and boat ramp.
2008: Swiftmud begins buying 32 homes and 8,000 acres of land in areas expected to flood as a result of higher regulated lake level. Tab comes to $118 million, though some of land will be sold to recoup part of the cost.
2011: Work begins on development of filter marshes on south side of lake to clean up water flowing downstream.
2012: Work begins on replacement of structure south of lake to allow for higher lake level as part of plan to use Lake Hancock as a reservoir to maintain minimum flow in Peace River. Plans for boat ramp shelved.


Silver Springs River

Silver Springs water must be protected – The Florida Times Union – Lead Letter by Jimmy Orth, Executive Director, St. Johns Riverkeeper
May 13, 2012
How could we allow such an iconic and beloved natural treasure as Silver Springs to degrade so significantly?
Over the last several decades, this National Natural Landmark has suffered from dramatic increases in nutrient pollution and declines in its flow, partly due to excessive groundwater withdrawals, poorly treated wastewater and excessive use of fertilizer.
Silver Springs is one of our most famous natural resources, attracting millions of people to Florida over the last century and half.
According to a 2004 study, Silver Springs supports more than 1,000 jobs and has an annual economic impact of more than $61 million.
It also is an important source of clean water for the St. Johns River.
This first magnitude spring flows from the aquifer into the Silver River before converging with the Ocklawaha River (a State Aquatic Preserve and Florida Outstanding Water), the largest tributary of the St. Johns River (an American Heritage River).
All of these bodies of water are suffering from pollution and flow issues.
Now, a large-scale cattle operation and slaughterhouse located in the Silver Springs area is seeking a permit to withdraw more than 13 million gallons of water a day from the aquifer.
This is more water than is used by the entire city of Ocala. Adena Springs Ranch would include up to 30,000 head of cattle in an area prone to runoff and leaching of nutrients and pollutants.
Due to the sandy soils, karst topography and proximity to Silver Springs, this is simply the wrong place for this type and size of cattle operation.
We believe that the amount of water the applicant is requesting is excessive, especially considering the current low levels of the aquifer and the significant decline in flow from Silver Springs and other area springs.
However, this issue is much bigger than the impending threats to Silver Springs.
What is happening to this iconic spring system is emblematic of the water quality and supply challenges we are facing throughout Florida, highlighting the significant pollution problems that exist and the impending water crisis that we face.
This is a fight for all of Florida’s imperiled rivers, lakes, springs and aquifers and a call for restoration and conservation.
After all, if we can’t save Silver Springs, then what can we save ?
Learn more by attending the Silver Springs Forum Tuesday at the Wyndham in Jacksonville.
Also please visit the following website:


South Florida cuts water use by 20 percent
Miami Herald – by Curtis Morgan
May 13, 2012
Thanks to low-flow toilets, efficient shower heads and washing machines and lawn watering restrictions, South Florida has managed to quit wasting so much water.
South Florida has suffered through some dreary declines of late — home values, paychecks and the Miami Dolphins, for instance.
But in the case of the public thirst for one precious commodity — fresh water — the decline has actually turned into a major money-saving plus.
The 53 water utilities serving Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties pumped about 83 million fewer gallons a day in 2010 than they did in 2000 — despite a population that grew by some 600,000 over the decade — according to a new draft analysis produced by the South Florida Water Management District.
Do the math and it adds up to South Floridians using about 20 percent less water each day for drinking, bathing and sprinkling yards per person than they did a decade ago. That’s about 30 billion gallons over the course of a year, enough unused water to fill 45,900 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
It’s an unexpected but entirely welcome drop-off in public demand in a region that only a decade ago was worried about taps running dry in relentlessly sprawling suburbs.
“It’s not a surprise that it went down,’’ said Mark Elsner, administrator of water supply development for the water management district. “It’s a surprise it went down so much.’’
Though water consumption per person has been declining for decades, water managers point to a combination of factors that are accelerating the trend. They include newer water-efficient toilets and other fixtures, tougher restrictions on lawn irrigation and stepped utility rates designed to make customers pay a premium for excessive water use.
Water managers and state and local environmental regulators have pushed conservation programs and also demanded that utilities expand use of “reclaimed” wastewater — often by using it to irrigate parks and golf courses.
At Hillcrest Golf & Country Club in Hollywood, for instance, every drop from the sprinklers is recycled wastewater — cheaper and in totally unrestricted supply.
“We have a very good deal for water. We could use a million gallons or 10 gallons and we pay the same amount,’’ said Lewis Rissman, Hillcrest’s general manager. “The city of Hollywood doesn’t even know what to do with all their reclaimed water.’’
Clearly, South Florida’s economic downturn, housing market collapse and flattening population growth have contributed to the slaking thirst as well.
“There are a lot of things working together,’’ said Elsner, whose agency oversees the water supply for 16 counties stretching from south of Orlando to Key West. “What you’re seeing is a conservation ethic being developed. People are understanding the value of water.’’
What the decline in demand from public utilities does not mean is South Florida is in the clear when it comes to water shortages
South Florida depends on wildly varying annual rainfall to replenish its underground aquifers and Lake Okeechobee. Right now, for example, an unusually dry winter has left ground water levels lower than normal.
The district’s long-term planning analysis, revised every five years with new consumption and population figures, also covers only four counties in the region and doesn’t track similar trends for agriculture, which consumes an estimated 37 percent of the region’s water. It also doesn’t account for some critical future demands — such as the massive volumes of water needed to help restore the Everglades. The draft study predicts the four counties will still need to expand the public water supply by 18 percent by 2030.
But improved conservation has eased pressure on traditional public water supplies and utilities contemplating new, far more expensive water systems designed to reclaim wastewater and tap other new sources, from deep aquifers to sea water.
The drop-off has been significant enough that Miami-Dade’s Water and Sewer Department has been able to scale back projects considered essential only five years ago, saving the utility — and its customers — hundreds of millions of dollars.
In 2007, Miami-Dade, which had historically relied almost entirely on the cheap, clean Biscayne Aquifer, was forced to draw up a $1.6 billion expansion plan to serve a then-booming population. Under pressure from water managers, who warned that drawing more from the underground supply could hurt regional water supplies, the Everglades and Biscayne Bay, Miami-Dade designed projects to tap the deeper brackish Floridan aquifer or to treat wastewater.
Bertha Goldenberg, assistant director of the water and sewer department, said the county has since been able to cancel or defer a handful of projects, including one that would have piped highly treated wastewater back into the ground near Zoo Miami to increase ground water supplies.
“We basically saved $300 million by changing that,’’ she said.
Alan Garcia, director of Broward County’s water and wastewater services, said the decline has allowed the agency to push back a $46 million project to tap the Floridan until at least 2023 and explore other potentially cheaper options for the future, such as teaming up with other Broward and Palm Beach utilities in constructing a massive reservoir.
Garcia said county figures show per person usage falling sharply in some areas, down almost by half between 1990 and 2008 in one area that includes Lighthouse Point and parts of Pompano Beach.
“People have finally started to see they don’t need to water their lawns four or five days a week,’’ he said. “It’s expensive water and they don’t need to use it.’’
Miami-Dade’s Goldenberg also points to irrigation restrictions the district first imposed in 2006 during a severe drought as a major factor in the decline, with county usage dropping by 20 gallons a day per person over the following two years. In 2010, both Miami-Dade and Broward made twice-weekly lawn watering rules permanent.
Miami-Dade programs to offer rebates and exchanges for high-efficiency toilets and shower heads and to improve homeowner associations’ irrigation systems also combined to save nearly 8.5 million gallons a day last year, according to a water department report completed in April.
The district analysis shows that, based on 2010 figures, Miami-Dade remained the largest consumer of the public water supply, slurping some 347 million gallons a day. Broward trailed with 217 million gallons a day, followed by Palm Beach County with 207 million gallons and Monroe with 16 million gallons.
But Palm Beach County’s agricultural industry, dominated by sprawling sugar farms, made it the thirstiest county overall. Farms, which draw from their own wells and pumps, pushed Palm Beach’s total daily demands to over 600 million gallons. Miami-Dade’s combined farm and public total runs just over 400 million gallons a day, according to the report.
Measuring by usage per person, Palm Beach recorded the greatest decline between 2000 and 2010, at 28 percent, followed by Broward at 19 percent and Miami-Dade at 17 percent. Miami-Dade’s updated numbers, which include figures through 2011, show a 21 percent reduction since 2000.
Officially, Monroe ranked far and away as the thirstiest county per person at 198 gallons per day in 2010 but water managers said that number was heavily skewed by tourists in the Florida Keys, who use much of the water but aren’t included in the calculations.
Lower population projections also have eased the pressure to expand water systems. The last time the district produced its analysis, in 2006, when South Florida was in the midst of a super-heated housing boom, water managers calculated the four counties would be using nearly 2.3 billion gallons of water a day by 2025 for everything from home faucets to farming.
That estimate is now down by some 400 million gallons — for 2030, five years later.
“I don’t think the question is are we going to run out of water but are we going to run out of less expensive water,’’ said Elsner, of the water management district. “What this does is extend the traditional fresh water sources further down the road.’’
Miami-Dade now believes it can cover much of its future demand through 2030 with a plant in Hialeah already under construction and expected to be completed later this year that will tap the Floridan and a second plant in South Miami that is being designed to use less expensive technology.
“We’re a lot better off than we were in 2005,’’ Goldenberg said. “Our demands were above our allocations so we were really in a crisis.’’


Why is it so hard to achieve good water quality standards ? – Guest Column by Judith Hushon, PhD, Chair, Collier County Environmental Advisory Council
Most of us moved to southwest Florida for birding, fishing, boating or just the lovely panoramic views of our lakes, rivers and beaches. No one will be happy if our Florida waters become covered with algae and dead fish from high levels of "nutrient" pollution (from sources such as sewage and fertilizer). That is what happens when water quality is degraded by nutrients, and this year, the state legislature, at the request of the agricultural and utility industries, is pushing us in this unacceptable direction to the detriment of our waters, quality of life, and our tourism based economy.
For years, the state of Florida has used an ineffective "narrative" nutrient water quality standard. In 1998, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asked all states, including Florida, to create "numeric" standards, according to the Clean Water Act.
Just as a speed limit tells drivers how fast they can drive safely, numeric water quality standards tell us how much pollution can enter a waterway before it becomes unsafe.
Eleven years after the state had been directed to create these standards, nutrient pollution, algal blooms and fish kills were worsening and Florida still had no numeric standards. So several environmental groups represented by Earthjustice petitioned the EPA, asking them to step in to set a deadline for the state to comply. In August 2009, the EPA required the state to adopt numeric standards, or the EPA would do so itself to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act.
The state did not act in the established timeframe, so EPA set nutrient pollution limits for most of Florida's freshwaters, giving additional time for the state to set them for the remaining waters. The state responded with legal opposition to EPA's standards and the requirement to implement them. It claimed that numeric criteria, such as proposed by EPA would be too expensive and were not necessary to protect Florida's waters, despite the strong evidence to the contrary. Subsequently, the state administrative law judge ruled in EPA's favor by agreeing that numeric standards, similar to EPA's proposed criteria, are required by the Clean Water Act.
After this ruling, the state finally issued its own water quality standards that either maintained the current completely ineffective narrative standards or set numeric standards that were worse than none at all — requiring that a water body be confirmed as a "biological failure" before limiting pollution. This undermines the entire purpose of water quality standards: to prevent harmful algae blooms and fish kills from happening in the first place. The state's inadequate standards are currently being challenged by the environmental groups while the state and polluting interests attempt to get them implemented before EPA's more effective standards take effect.
Cost is always an issue. EPA has estimated the costs associated with implementing the federal standards to be $135million-$206 million. Florida state lobbyists have inflated those costs to $298 million- $4.7 billion based on worst case scenario assumptions. An EPA Science Advisory Board recently supported the need for numeric criteria for nutrients, determining that the true costs to implement them would be somewhere between the EPA's and the lobbyist's estimates. Moreover, the SAB felt that when the waters of the state are studied more closely, additional waters will be found to be polluted and thus require more cleanup.
In the next few months, the EPA should propose marine and estuarine nutrient standards and implement its previously proposed freshwater criteria. If EPA is prevented by the state from creating effective and protective numeric criteria and we continue with our current narrative nutrient pollution standards, Floridians stand to lose our tourism-based economy and quality of life. Algae blooms will continue to grow to dangerous levels, threatening to create unsightly beaches and causing a public health and safety threat.
The old adage — an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure — is so true when dealing with water quality, where costs to fix water quality problems after-the-fact are always much higher than those for prevention. Additionally, the state standards require taxpayers to foot the entire water quality bill while the federal standards would require the polluting industries and taxpayers to share the costs. Which is fairer and more cost effective to taxpayers ?  Florida has a polluter pays law, but it not being enforced.
And so we are at the crossroads. Will Florida lose its tourism industry ?  And who will pay for the changes and cleanup required to support the superb water quality we want and need ?
Judith Hushon is a director of the Rookery Bay Foundation and a volunteer naturalist on the Good Fortune II tour boat operated by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. She worked as an environmental consultant for over 40 years with clients including industry as well as U.S. and foreign governments.


With new 'realities,' water district still strong
Tampa Tribune - by Blake C. Guillory, Executive Director, SoWest FL Water Management District.
May 12, 2012
Much has been written about the reduction of revenue at Florida water management districts during the past several months. The Southwest Florida Water Management District has refocused its priorities and mission to address the new economic realities, while remaining committed to protecting the environment and providing funding to local governments for vital water resources projects.
The district is building on a longstanding commitment to provide funding for water supply and natural resources projects within the 16 counties we serve. In fact, the ad valorem revenue we've collected has been reinvested into $1.3 billion in projects to meet the needs of the region.
When matched by our project partners this provides a total investment of more than $2.5 billion in water resources infrastructure to protect our environment and support our economy. Due to our "pay-as-you-go" philosophy, we have not incurred debt, and moving forward we are well positioned to provide continued support to our local partners.
The district is committed to providing our local government partners with cooperative funding for water resources projects that meet our core mission responsibilities. Currently, the district has $380 million dedicated to more than 650 ongoing cooperative projects in the region. When matched, this gives our area $760 million in ongoing water resources work. In addition, the district currently has another $200 million in unencumbered reserves to be dedicated to new projects.
Looking ahead, the district is reviewing our long-range plans for the region. Some of the need for new, large-scale alternative water supply projects has decreased with the downturn in the economy. However, thanks to the passage of Senate Bill 1986, as the economy rebounds and the demand for water increases, we have the capacity to grow and meet these commitments.
It is good for all Floridians to ensure that government is efficient and that state laws are implemented consistently and expeditiously for the protection of water resources and the taxpayer. Gov. Rick Scott's direction to consider every opportunity to implement new business processes has resulted in great savings and improvements in the way we operate. Under the governing board's direction, the district has reduced its operating expenses from nearly $100 million to less than $80 million. This savings allows continued investment for regional projects.
One way we have increased internal efficiencies is by reorganizing regulatory staff and centralizing the permitting review process. This alone has saved nearly $4 million while increasing our quality of service. And by implementing a new process of evaluating the complexity of permit applications, using the same rigorous environmental standards, many environmental resource permits (ERPs) are now issued within 48 hours. We also are working closely with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the other four water management districts on statewide permitting consistency.
Yes, we face challenges, but this district will continue to manage and protect the water resources of West-Central Florida and provide for the development of new water supplies for years to come. The district is staffed by dedicated public servants committed to our core mission of flood protection, water supply, water quality, and their associated natural systems. We assure you that we are capable of meeting these challenges, and we will remain fiscally and operationally strong.



Director of Operations, SFWMD

May rains bringing watery relief for Everglades, drinking water supplies
Sun Sentinel – by Andy Reid
May 11, 2012
South Florida water supplies – from drinking water wellfields to the Everglades – are benefiting from steady May showers that followed an April soaking.
While the 16-county region stretching from Orlando to the Keys still has an almost 6-inch rainfall deficit since November, continued rainy weather is helping ease South Florida’s otherwise drier-than-usual winter-to-spring dry season.
April’s average rainfall of nearly 3.4 inches was almost a full inch above normal for what is typically one of the driest months of the year.
And a series of rainy days in May is a taste of what’s expected to come during the summer rainy season.
"We think we may be seeing a glimmer of hope," said Tommy Strowd, director of operations for the South Florida Water Management District.
Thanks to the rain, groundwater levels – relied on to fuel drinking water supplies – are largely at normal levels along the southeast coast of Florida, according to the district.
Also, the Everglades water conservation areas in western Palm Beach and Broward counties are above normal water levels. That’s good news for wildlife habitat that last month was drying out in the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, considered the northern reaches of the Everglades.
While the rainfall has been a big boost for water supplies along the southeast coast, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, not enough as been falling north of Lake Okeechobee. Rainfall in the Kissimmee River region is needed to send water flowing into Lake Okeechobee, which serves as South Florida’s primary back-up water supply.
Lake Okeechobee dropped about half a foot during the past month, down to about 11.62 feet above sea level. While that’s nearly two feet below normal, it’s almost one foot higher than this time last year.
Water levels rising down south mean "significant improvement" for wildlife habitat in the Everglades, but Lake Okeechobee’s dried-out marshes rimming the lake are still "waiting for recovery," said Terrie Bates, district water resources director.
Wading birds and other wildlife are still trying to rebound from last year’s drought conditions that diminished the smaller prey species they feed on, Bates said.


to enlarge MAP)

FIU swap

Florida International
Univ. was proposing
a land swap that would
give it a 99-year lease
on 350 acres of land
now owned by the SFWMD. FIU wants to
give that land to the county in exchange for
an existing fairground
site next door to its
Tamiami Trail campus.

South Florida water district takes Miami-Dade wetlands off the trade table with FIU
Miami Herald - by Curtis Morgan
May 11, 2012
Water managers have decided to draw up new plans on how to use a chunk of West Miami-Dade wetlands once sought by Florida International University.
Water managers on Thursday decided to draw up new plans for a chunk of West Miami-Dade wetlands that Florida International University had sought as part of a controversial expansion plan.
In a move praised by environmentalists, the South Florida Water Management District’s governing board voted unanimously to begin a new study on how to use a checkerboard of 2,800 acres owned by the state and district at the southeastern junction of Krome Avenue and the Tamiami Trial.
Drew Martin, of the Sierra Club, said environmentalists hope that much of the land will remain undeveloped.
“It’s a nice buffer between the national park and the urban area,” he told board members during a district meeting in West Palm Beach. “We would like to see this area maintained basically as a natural area.”
FIU had hoped to obtain a cost-free lease on some 350 of the state-owned acres as part of a land swap that potentially would have moved the Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition to the wetlands site so the university’s fast-growing medical school could expand into existing fairgrounds land next door.
The wetlands had been purchased more than a decade ago for $3.7 million for an Everglades restoration project to store storm runoff and recharge ground water. Water manager later abandoned the plans as too expensive and ineffective.
But the deal with FIU was derailed after Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez raised objections to moving the fairgrounds to the site because it is outside the county’s urban development boundary. Gov. Rick Scott later asked lawmakers to kill a proposed amendment to legislation in Tallahassee that would have given FIU control of the land, with aides saying they would continue working with the school to resolve its space crunch.
Ernie Barnett, the district’s Everglades policy director, said FIU could still pursue the lands, but it was his understanding that the state was not currently planning to sell or “surplus’’ wetlands in the area.
The district intends to meet with environmental groups, surrounding land owners including the Miccosukee tribe and other Everglades restoration agencies to determine how the parcels might be used.
Under FIU’s proposal, much of the land, which has been used as dump site and by off-road vehicles, would have been turned into a county park surrounding the fairgrounds and a large parking lot. Environmentalists had argued the land provided foraging grounds for endangered wood storks and other wildlife, and could easily be restored.
Sandy Batchelor, a board member from Miami, urged “finding a way to preserve the ecologically sensitive land. They produce such good habitat for so many animals and birds.”


Wise call on wetlands
Miami Herald – Editorial
May 11, 2012
OUR OPINION: Land in UDB not fit for fairgrounds
South Florida’s water managers are drawing up new plans on how best to use wetlands in West Miami-Dade, land that Florida International University had pushed for as part of a land swap. Good idea.
FIU had tried to fast track the deal when the Florida Legislature was in session, which was a very bad call. The land swap would have helped FIU’s medical school expand to land around the current fairgrounds south of the campus. We’re all for the medical school’s expansion, but FIU’s proposed land swap would have put the Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition in the wrong place. It attempted to rush a deal that, as Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez warned during the legislative session, is bad for the environment.
On Thursday, the South Florida Water Management District’s governing board voted unanimously to study how best to use 2,800 acres in that area near Krome Avenue and Tamiami Trail.
The swap would have turned over 350 acres of those wetlands in the Bird Drive Everglades Basin for a new fairgrounds far out west. But wait. That land was bought by the state more than a decade ago to protect wetlands and water recharge areas and prevent flooding.
Parking lots and exhibition buildings don’t belong outside the county’s urban development boundary, which is meant to control sprawl and not force urban services like sewer lines in the middle of nowhere. And a fair certainly doesn’t belong where the land is essentially muck and floods during rain storms.
These wetlands need help, too. Some chunks have been used as a dump, yet, as environmentalists point out, that area serves as ideal foraging grounds for wildlife, including endangered wood storks.
Gov. Rick Scott’s office and the county are working with FIU to find a better location for the medical school’s expansion. That’s ideal.


State and federal
officials are negotiating
a new Everglades
cleanup plan intended
to reduce the amount
of polluting phosphorus
flowing into natural
areas, such as the
Loxahatchee National
Wildlife Refuge.

New Everglades cleanup could cost $880 million
Orlando Sentinel - by Andy Reid, Sun Sentinel
May 10, 2012
State, federal officials trying to reach restoration deal
7:51 p.m. EDT, May 10, 2012
Florida's revamped plan to restore the Everglades could soak taxpayers for another $880 million to save the famed River of Grass, according to estimates released Thursday.
The state already has spent $1.8 billion to stem water pollution, but still has fallen short of federal water-quality standards in the Everglades.
A redirected Everglades-restoration plan, pushed by Gov. Rick Scott, seeks to resolve lingering litigation over Florida's failure to meet water-quality standards — without paying as much as the $1.5 billion envisioned under pending federal mandates.
Negotiations between state and federal officials over a restoration plan have been ongoing since October, but fell short of a settlement this week.
"We are not done, but we are close," said Melissa Meeker, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District, which leads Everglades restoration for the state.
The deal calls for the district to use a mix of cash reserves, property-tax revenue and help from the Legislature to pay for the mix of stormwater-treatment areas and reservoirs envisioned for the restoration plan.
But expecting more tax revenue as well as money from the Legislature is more of a "wish list" than a financial plan, said James Moran, a member of the water management district board, which would have to approve paying for the deal.
"I have about 880 million reasons why I don't like this plan," said Moran, one of Scott's appointees to the nine-member district board. "If we approve this plan … we will eventually have to raise taxes."
While still awaiting more concrete details of the new restoration plans, environmental groups have defended additional investment in the Everglades as worthwhile to protect water supplies that are as beneficial to drinking-water supplies and tourism as they are to wildlife and native habitat.
"We are having to repair something that we have broken," said Drew Martin of the Sierra Club. "A clean environment and a clean Everglades [are] ultimately going to benefit all of us."
Florida and the federal government remain behind schedule on a long-term, multi-billion-dollar plan agreed to in 2000 to restore water flows to the Everglades.
In October, the governor surprised the environmental community by flying toWashington, D.C., to try to jump-start settlement talks with a new plan for Everglades restoration.
Without a deal, Florida faces the possibility of having to enact a plan proposed by theU.S. Environmental Protection Agencythat the state estimates would cost $1.5 billion.
The new state proposal seeks to limit costs by using taxpayer-owned land for a core group of reservoirs and treatment areas to clean polluted stormwater that flows to the Everglades.
Florida already has more than 50,000 acres of man-made filter marshes that use aquatic plants to absorb polluting phosphorus washing off agricultural land.
Scott's plan seeks to reduce the additional 42,000 acres of stormwater-treatment areas sought by the EPA.
It envisions improving the efficiency of existing filter marshes by adding more water storage. That could better regulate water flows through the treatment areas and hold water for times of need.
The state proposes targeting pollution "hot spots," which could mean stepping up pollution-control requirements on certain farming areas where fertilizer runoff and other agricultural practices boost phosphorus levels.
Other possibilities in the deal include tapping an under-used reservoir west of Royal Palm Beach for more "multi-purpose" water supply needs, according to Meeker.
The Palm Beach Aggregates rock-mine-turned reservoir cost the district $217 million and was intended to replenish the Loxahatchee River and provide a backup to community drinking water supplies. But the district has yet to build the $60 million pumps needed to get the water to the river.
Also under the state proposal, northern portions of the 26,800 acres the district in 2010 bought for $197 million fromU.S. Sugar Corp.for Everglades restoration could be traded for property in targeted restoration areas farther south.
State and federal officials later this month are to meet with court-appointed representatives to show what kind of progress they are making on reaching an agreement.
"Substantive progress … is being made," district board Chairman Joe Collins said Thursday. "We are headed in the right direction."
Environmental groups such as Audubon of Florida and the Sierra Club have maintained that imposing more pollution control requirements on sugar cane fields and other South Florida farms could cut restoration costs by stopping run-off pollution before it gets to natural areas.


Mouseover and/or
CLICK for enlarging:

FL dry

Tougher water restrictions could help and hurt Tampa Bay businesses Ch.10-News
May 10, 2012
South Tampa, Florida -- New, tougher water restrictions mandated by the Southwest Florida Water Management District are now being enforced throughout the Bay Area, and they effect a lot more than how often you can water your grass.
It's effecting businesses that rely on water for their livelihood.
For example, Frank Hall makes his living off his business "Specialty Pressure Washing".
But he may be feeling pressure soon because part of the district's modified Phase 2 restrictions limit pressure washing for aesthetic purposes to just once a year per customer.
And that's whether you do it yourself, or hire Hall to do it for you.
He wants people to know it's not an outright ban.
"I don't want them to think that you can't do pressure washing because it can be done," said Hall.
Hall says in 2009, the last time they put such tough measures in place, he resorted to using re-claimed water to stay in business.
The restrictions apply to well water, municipal water and surface water. There is no usage limit on re-claimed water.
And yet, even as some water-based business models may dry up in the drought, others are profiting.
Take carwashes.
Residents can only wash their cars once a week, and only on their designated watering day. In fact in Tampa, weekends are off limits.
But commercial carwashes have no such limitations.
Throw love-bugs into the mix ('tis the season), and commercial car washes like the Dugout in South Tampa could cash in.
The detail shop's owner, Gorky Portes, admits in some ways, "they're helping us out a little bit."
For the first 14 days, the city of Tampa says it understands folks may need time to make adjustments, so they'll be issuing warnings.
That's a good thing for them too. Because the fountains right out in front of Tampa City Hall were still on today, even though they should be limiting their usage to just four hours under the tighter guidelines.
A spokesperson says the city's fountain faux pas will be addressed by the beginning of next week.
After the grace period, fines can add up quickly.
A first time offense is $100 dollars, and Tampa Utilities Director Brad Baird says it goes up from there.
"$200 dollars for the second, and $450 for third offense," said Baird.
Of course for some, the fines may be cheaper than re-sodding or even replacing their lawns.
Landscape maintenance man Leonard Henry predicts many lawns could die with once-a-week watering.
"A majority of people have St. Augustine, that's what the majority of people have,"said Henry, "And you need at least, I'd say, normally two days a week to have that survive."
The restrictions, by the way, extend well beyond Tampa's city limits.
They include Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco County.
in Tampa, an outside contractor will be patrolling neighborhoods looking for violators, said Baird.
For a more complete list of rules and watering times, click here.


Fisheating Creek

Fisheating Creek
at Palmdale

Fixing Fisheating Creek
May 9, 2012
Critics say plans could cut public access.
Critics say a state plan for popular Fisheating Creek in Glades County could change how much of the waterway is navigable.
Preliminary information on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission project has sand being placed in the creek and Cowbone Marsh, a popular section of the waterway 11 miles west of Lake Okeechobee. The plan’s opponents charge it would involve 50 million pounds of sand and have roads built through wetlands near the creek.
Fisheating Creek on weekends is a favorite canoeing, camping and wildlife area for many Southwest Floridians. The creek has a long history of legal battles between environmentalists and agricultural interests, including a 1997 agreement to keep the creek navigable.
According to documents posted on a state Web site, the sand would help fill a section of the creek and the marsh that was dredged by the FWC in 2010, helping to slow water flow.
The plan came to light earlier this year after the Calif.-based environmental group Earthjustice filed a suit against the FWC, claiming the agency held closed-door meetings that included representatives of agribusiness congolmerate Lykes Brothers.
However, Cari Roth, representing Lykes, said that at no time did a Lykes representative meet behind closed doors with a state agency on this issue.
“I don’t know where they got that idea from,” she said.
Earthjustice, with offices in Florida, said the meetings helped craft a plan that would cut off public boating access to part of the creek.
The plan so far
Nick Wiley, FWC executive director, gave a report on Cowbone Marsh/Fisheating Creek to FWC commissioners May 2. The report said the FWC was finalizing plans to fill the channel with clean sand and the plan would be initiated late next winter/early spring during the dry season. Wiley also said six temporary check dams had been put in place and were holding water back in the marsh.
He also alluded to lawsuits filed by Earthjustice against FWC in an attempt to stop those corrective actions.
FWC added Wednesday that the amount of sand is undetermined, that permits will be requested from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Florida Department of Environmental Protection for the project when needed.
A draft restoration plan for Cowbone Marsh dated Nov. 2011 on the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Web site lists four options ranging in cost from $1.5 million to $4 million and all using fill material.
A DEP spokesman said the agency was delegated to be the site where all the documents related to Cowbone Marsh would be posted.
Earthjustice has filed two lawsuits, including one earlier this year in on behalf of Save Our Creeks and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida.
Local kayaker
Don McCumber of Fort Myers, a regular kyaker on Fisheating Creek, said the check dams have made it impossible to get from Lake O to Cowbone Marsh.
“The last time I tried I got maybe a mile or two upstream,” he said. “I couldn’t even get near the dams because the water was too low. I was walking more than I was paddling.”
He said that before the dams were put into place one could paddle from Lake O to the marsh, a 10- to 11-mile trip.
Earthjustice attorney David Guest said many believed the issue over creek access was settled as part of a 1997 lawsuit, the result of a 10-year legal battle between Lykes and environmentalists.
In 2010, the FWC as part of the 1997 settlement pact, cleared vegetation through the marsh and was eventually ordered to cease by another state agency that said the work was too severe and caused too much water flow.
In a recent article on Earthwatch’s Web site, Guest claimed Lykes complained to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Corps referred the matter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The article said the EPA expressed concern that removing the vegetation was causing a new water-flow pattern that drained too much water out and then asked the state to come up with a solution to retain water, including earthen dams and weirs. Guest’s article said the EPA suggested those actions could help keep the creek open .
That’s when the FWC convened a technical working group, Guest said, which examined a number of alternatives and made the decisions behind closed doors. A representative of the public tried to attend a meeting, but was made to leave, he said.
Out of that meeting, Guest said, came the announcement that the FWC “preferred” a plan of roads and sand in the creek.
Guest said he has tried to talk to the EPA about the issue on a number of occasions with no success.
“We can’t get the EPA to meet with us,” he said. “We’re just getting stonewalled.”
Roth, speaking for Lykes, said the company is not part of the restoration project.
“Lykes cares about the environment in that area,” she said. “We are glad that they are on the path to restoring the damage that was caused.”



Potential implications of Mississippi River lawsuit
May 9, 2012
As you may know, on March 13, 2012, several environmental advocacy groups sued EPA in federal district court in Louisiana on nutrient related issues. The case, Gulf Restoration Network, et. al. v. Jackson, et al., Case No.12-cv-677 Eastern District of Louisiana), challenges EPA's denial of a 2008 petition requesting new water quality standards and total maximum daily loads to address excess nitrogen and phosphorous in the Mississippi River Basin (MRB) and the Gulf of Mexico. Approximately 60 percent of the fertlizer used in the United States is consumed in the MRB. This case has even broader implications for the industry than the EPA's efforts to impose numeric nutrient criteria in the state of Florida.
The Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA), The Fertilizer Institute (TFI), American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), and several other agricultural groups intend to intervene in this case given the significant it could have on fertilizer production and application in the MRB watershed. Crowell & Moring will be representing the above-mentioned agricultural organizations in this case.
We strongly encourage all member companies and state agribusiness organizations with operations within the MRB watershed to contact your Governor and state agricultural department and urge the state to also intervene in this case. Early intervention by industry and impacted states will be useful in helping EPA craft legal arguments against the plaintiffs and allow participation in any potential negotiations.
What are the legal ramifications of this lawsuit ?
If EPA loses or settles this case, the result would likely be federal rulemakings establishing numeric water quality criteria for Total Nitrogen and Total Phosphorus throughout the Mississippi River Basin as well as EPA-promulgated nutrient TMDL(s) for the River and Northern Gulf of Mexico. The nutrient criteria and TMDLs stemming from a negative judicial ruling would be translated into nutrient water quality based effluent limitations in NPDES permits and TMDL load and wasteload allocations. In other words, local governments, industry, and agriculture in the Mississippi River Basin states could have new limits placed on the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus they discharge or allow to runoff into the river system.
Would these nutrient limits likely be stringent ?
Yes. Likely, very stringent. It would be reasonable to expect that EPA’s numeric nutrient criteria would be in the same general range as those EPA recently imposed on the State of Florida (i.e. 0.06-0.49 mg/LTP; 0.67-1.87 mg/L-TN). EPA imposed the Florida standards after settling a lawsuit that similarly sought the establishment of numeric criteria for Florida waters.
Would these nutrient limits likely be expensive to achieve ?
The economic impact of numeric nutrient criteria and nutrient TMDLs on the Mississippi River Basin states would likely be enormous. By way of comparison, EPA’s recent numeric nutrient criteria rules for Florida freshwater systems are estimated to carry a Florida-wide implementation price tag of $298 million to $4.7 billion per year. Another study calculated that Florida sewer utility bills would have to increase $570 to $990 per year to fund the substantial capital projects required to achieve EPA’s nutrient water quality criteria.
What can be done by the states and the regulated community to protect their interests ?
Given the potential implications, the states and regulated entities in the Mississippi River Basin should consider intervening in this litigation. The ongoing numeric nutrient criteria litigation and rulemakings in Florida, which also began with the filing of a lawsuit by environmental advocates against EPA, demonstrate the importance of early involvement in these types of lawsuits. It is simply too perilous to rely upon EPA to defend its policies and stay the course with cooperative arrangements with the states.
Intervening interests (particularly, state environmental regulators) can demonstrate the reasonableness of EPA’s decision to deny the rulemaking petition by informing the court of the states’ efforts and achievements in addressing nutrient pollution; the significant challenges associated with establishing scientifically defensible numeric nutrient criteria; and the substantial technical and economic difficulties in addressing non-point sources of nutrient pollution (e.g. agricultural, septic tanks).


money rain

Couldn't it rain money ?

Florida Cabinet trip to the Keys doesn't come cheap
Miami Herald – by Brittany Alana Davis, Staff Writer
May 07, 2012
TALLAHASSEE — Accompanied by staff and security, Gov. Rick Scott and Cabinet members descended on the Florida Keys Monday night, 590 miles from their Tallahassee base.
The elected officials are in Marathon, one of the northern Keys, to discuss water quality and emergency management, among other things. It's the second time this year the Cabinet is vacating Tallahassee to interact with citizens around the state, said Lane Wright, a spokesman for the governor's office.
These Florida field trips aren't cheap, especially when home is the out-of-the-way Tallahassee, where flights are often expensive and inconvenient. That's especially true when it's destination middle-of-nowhere, population 8,000.
Scott shoulders some of the bill by buying his own food and flying two of his staff on his private jet. But for him and his aides to attend alongside Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and their staffs, the cost to taxpayers is at least $5,470.
"(The governor) feels it's important to bring state government to the people and give Floridians who might never make it to Tallahassee a chance to meet and discuss issues with their elected officials," Wright said.
Here's the cost breakdown.
For Scott to travel with four staff and a press aide, it's $1,411.
That includes hotels for $150 per night, food and three commercial flights for those who didn't take the governor's jet.
For Bondi and her crew, it's $1,284.
That includes flights to Miami with two staff members, car rental and gas, and a $125 per-night hotel.
For Putnam and his posse? It's $1,594.
Putnam and his Cabinet affairs director flew south for $314.
Putnam's press aide Sterling Ivey drove nine hours and spent $530 in gas from Tallahassee to fetch his boss at the airport and shuttle him to Marathon. The three are scheduled to stay in the Holiday Inn Express for two nights at $125 each.
And for the state's CFO?
Atwater drove from West Palm Beach, where Scott held a ceremonial signing for a bill to prevent fraud in personal injury protection insurance, known as PIP.
His gas is $160 (the state reimburses about 45 cents per mile). He also flew two employees to Miami for $521 and rented four hotel rooms for $500.
Atwater's total bill is $1,181.
The prices don't always include food, which state rules cap at $36 per day.
The meetings are open to the public.
Since Scott took office, Cabinet expeditions included the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, the state fairgrounds in Tampa and an excursion to the Panhandle — which was to promote tourism after the BP oil spill, Wright said.
This time, Scott will release a previously injured turtle into the wild to bring attention to the state's natural diversity, Wright said.



Pump-baby-pump - -

Florida's ‘perfect storm' water crisis
Gainsville Sun -  by Robert L. Knight
Special to The Sun
May 8, 2012
During an extended drought we tend to think a lot about water.
When we see local springs and rivers running dry (think Hornsby, Poe, and Gilchrist Blue Springs on the upper Santa Fe River) we start to wonder what is next. Our private wells? Our public water supplies?
Then we think: No, that can't happen, our government will take care of us. After all, we pay them taxes and give them jobs so they can look out for our collective good. They have official plans that say we have at least 20 more years before we need to worry about running out of plentiful and healthy groundwater supplies.
Still, a drought seems to sharpen our innate senses: when nature peels away the rainwater inputs during a drought, shouldn't there still be some water left in these springs? Did these springs run dry in the past ?
The fact is our springs are not just being stressed by an historic drought. The groundwater aquifer that feeds these springs is being pumped at the highest rate in recorded history. And to add "insult to injury" these springs are being exposed to the highest groundwater nitrate nitrogen contamination ever observed.
These two stresses are creating a "perfect storm" of severe impacts to our precious springs that is appalling to witness. Go visit your favorite spring now and put on a face mask. Look carefully at the clarity of the water, examine the plant life and algae, and study the fish and turtles. I am afraid you will see a sick ecosystem.
That is exactly what I did last weekend, when I snorkeled the lower Ichetucknee River from Dampier's Landing to the U.S. 27 take out. Here is a summary of what I saw: Very low water levels and reduced flow rates, turbid water with less than 30 feet of visibility, eelgrass leaves coated with a thick encrustation of attached algae, long trailing filaments of green algae, areas of thinning vegetation, and largemouth bass with white fungus growing on their heads. It was not a pretty sight.
This shouldn't be happening.
How could the water management districts issue so many groundwater pumping permits that the flow in the Ichetucknee River continues to decline and flows in smaller springs like Poe have essentially stopped?
How could the Department of Environmental Protection set the groundwater nitrate standard so high that the springs that feed the Ichetucknee and Santa Fe rivers have been impaired by nutrient pollution for more than 30 years?
Who was in charge of protecting these state-designated Outstanding Florida Waters?
Is there a public agency that will take responsibility for this environmental negligence ?  Or will they continue their denial that there is a problem with our groundwater and continue to issue more groundwater withdrawal permits, rather than immediately mandating emergency water use restrictions ?
Are the water managers who are tasked with protecting our water bodies and the public's best interests afraid to speak up because they fear losing their jobs ?



Sawfish -
Populations of the
seven species of
sawfish have
drastically declined.
They are traded as
live animals for public
aquariums, and also
for their fins and meat.
Their distinctive
saw-like snouts are
sold as souvenirs and
ceremonial weapons,
while other body parts
are used for traditional

Everglades scientists play risky game of tag with near-extinct predator
Miami Herald - by Susn Cocking
May 7, 2012
Catching, tagging and releasing rare sawfish is a dangerous endeavor for researchers who want to learn more about the endangered species.
The boat captain and the scientist wielded their lasso like seasoned cowboys instead of fishermen. A good thing, since their lives literally depended on it: roping an upset, 13-foot-long, prehistoric creature waving a double-toothed saw in the water is just as dangerous as grabbing a bull by the horns.
“There’s a swing,” Captain Jim Willcox warned as the saw slashed the air. “Careful, it’s pretty green.”
But Willcox and Yannis Papastamatiou, a University of Florida scientist, managed to secure the line around both the saw and the tail of their quarry: an endangered smalltooth sawfish, the rarest marine species in U.S. waters. Now the huge brown creature lay quietly alongside their skiff near East Cape Sable in Everglades National Park, enabling them to safely complete their research mission.
“He’s a good boy!” said UF research assistant Bethan Gillett, who had caught the giant fish on a rod and reel moments earlier.
The point of this hazardous maritime rodeo is for researchers from the Smalltooth Sawfish Recovery Team to learn as much as they can to help bring back one of the top predators in the marine ecosystem — nearly wiped out through its entire range over the past century.
“These guys started disappearing before we as biologists started figuring out they were going,” said George Burgess, who runs a sawfish database at the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.
Once common from New York south to Florida and west to Texas, these huge members of the ray family that can grow to 25 feet are rarely seen today, except for the waters of Everglades National Park and the Keys. Not a lot is known about their life history, but scientists say they may live 25 to 30 years, reaching sexual maturity after about 10 years. Females give birth to litters of 15 to 20 pups.
With its slow growth and late maturity, the smalltooth sawfish met its demise decades ago by becoming entangled in gill nets, being slaughtered by collectors of its bill, and squeezed by shrinkage of its shallow mangrove habitat. It was declared an endangered species in the United States in 2003. Its cousin, the endangered largetooth — formerly found in the Atlantic — now is functionally extinct in U.S. waters, according to Burgess.
Burgess says recovery of the smalltooth will take a very long time.
“Even with a total ban on death, it will take 100 years, and we’re 10 years into that process, so we’ve got 90 years to go,” he said.
Sawfish numbers are so beaten down that even scientific experts like Burgess and colleagues from the National Marine Fisheries Service and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission must obtain a federal permit to handle the species. Anyone else who molests or harasses them faces a possible $10,000 federal fine.
This year, Burgess had a permit to tag 11 sawfish, which he did over the past couple of months with help from Willcox — a veteran Islamorada light-tackle guide — and several UF colleagues. They deployed the final two sets of tags on April 27 near East Cape Sable on two males in the 13-foot range. Both swam forcefully away when the procedures were completed.
Papastamatiou drilled holes in the animals’ tough dorsal fins and fastened a cigar-shaped satellite pop-up tag, an acoustic transmitter tag and a small streamer tag with the research lab’s phone number. The satellite tag records water temperature, depth and light levels at short intervals, then pops off after five months, broadcasting the accumulated data to a satellite, which sends it to the scientists’ computers.
The acoustic tag beeps a signal to underwater listening stations that tell how many times the sawfish passes through the area. The three tags are intended to back each other up.
Willcox and the scientists have been catching and tagging sawfish in the park for about three years — not enough time to draw conclusions about the animals’ movements or growth rates. Their ability to continue the research is imperiled by money problems: Federal funds are running dry, so they’re seeking private donations.
“It’s going to be a long haul,” Burgess said. “We can’t grow weary of the fight. Hopefully, our children and grandchildren will have a shot at this down the line.”
One thing in the sawfish’s favor is its charisma — a giant, brown apex predator that slashes its prey, mostly fish and some crustaceans, with its deadly bill. A recent study by scientist Barbara Wueringer of the University of Queensland in Australia found that the animals have a “sixth sense” in their bills — a series of pores that can detect movements or electrical fields of hidden fish or crabs.
The sight of a sawfish is awe-inspiring, Willcox says.
“When people see that for the first time, they feel like they’ve gone back in time,” he said. “It’s not something you want to mess with casually. That bill can come up vertically and take your head off. For me, it’s like fishing in a tournament and getting a victory. It’s about as big a rush as you can get in fishing — or anything in life.”


Lake Okeechobee at 11.61 Feet; Kissimmee at 49.28 Feet by Del Milligan
May 7, 2012
Lake Okeechobee stood at 11.61 feet above sea level on Monday, down from 12.15 feet a month ago.
The historical average for May 7 is 13.46 feet, according to the South Florida Water Management District.
While the lake is dropping, bass fishing has remained excellent. Ish Monroe won the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament March 25 with 108 1/2 pounds.
Lake Kissimmee stands at 49.28 feet, slightly below the historical average of 49.61 feet.

For rainfall levels across the district since early November, check:

  Florida dry

Massive FL sinkhole forced evacuations - by: Bruce Berry
May 07, 2012
Some Florida residents have evacuated their homes after a large sinkhole placed many of their properties in danger.
Officials say the sinkhole, which was measured to be 60 feet wide and 30 feet deep after initial estimates said it was 100 feet wide, opened up behind a Windermere home last week. While experts say it doesn't look like the hole will expand further, some neighbors have moved away. Experts say recent dry weather may be to blame for the sinkhole. "Sinkholes tend to happen after droughts when there's a large difference between the surface water table and

the underlying aquifer," Daniel Stanfil from Geotechnical Consultants, told Central Florida News 13. Engineers have already determined that the home affected is already likely a total loss. Local news sources also reported that the owner of the property - which was rented at the time - did have sinkhole coverage as part of their home insurance. While not an issue in this case, sinkhole coverage has been a contentious issue recently due to fraud. Officials say some homeowners may file a claim for sinkhole damage without justification.

Everglades settlement in the works between feds and state
Miami Herald – by Mary Ellen Klas
May 6, 2012
Peace may finally be at hand in the decades-long Everglades dirty-water war.
Eight months after Gov. Rick Scott flew to Washington to extend a political olive branch and personally pitch Florida’s latest plan for stopping the flow of polluted farm, ranch and yard runoff into the Everglades, state and federal negotiators are on the verge of an accord expected to be hailed by both sides as a major milestone.
A settlement crafted with the goal of resolving two protracted and paralyzing federal lawsuits — one goes back almost a quarter century, the other eight years — could be soon finalized, possibly within the month, according to officials on both sides of the confidential negotiations.
The agreement would commit Florida to a significantly expanded slate of Everglades restoration projects pegged at an estimated $890 million. Still, that’s a considerably smaller price tag than a $1.5 billion plan drawn up by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that a Miami federal judge has threatened to impose.
Most key technical issues — such as the size of additional artificial marshes used to scrub dirty, nutrient-laced storm runoff that has poisoned vast swaths of the Everglades — have been largely sorted out. But both sides cautioned the deal could still be delayed as negotiators work through the nuts and bolts of rolling out, implementing and enforcing a complex and likely controversial agreement.



Major Everglades protection deal may be close
Bradenton Herald - by Curtis Morgan, The Miami Herald
May 6, 2012
Peace may finally be at hand in the decades-long Everglades dirty water war.
Eight months after Gov. Rick Scott flew to Washington to extend a political olive branch and personally pitch Florida's latest plan for stopping the flow of polluted farm, ranch and yard runoff into the Everglades, state and federal negotiators are on the verge of an accord expected to be hailed by both sides as a major milestone.
A settlement crafted with the goal of resolving two protracted and paralyzing federal lawsuits -- one goes back almost a quarter century, the other eight years -- could be soon finalized, possibly within the month, according to officials on both sides of the confidential negotiations.
The agreement would commit Florida to a significantly expanded slate of Everglades restoration projects pegged at an estimated $890 million. Still, that's a considerably smaller price tag than a $1.5 billion plan drawn up by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that a Miami federal judge has threatened to impose.
Most key technical issues -- such as the size of additional artificial marshes used to scrub dirty, nutrient-laced storm runoff that has poisoned vast swaths of the Everglades -- have been largely sorted out. But both sides cautioned the deal could still be delayed as negotiators work through the nuts and bolts of rolling out, implementing and enforcing a complex and likely controversial agreement.
Environmental groups and sugar growers have heard increasingly encouraging reports from negotiators over the last few months though they have not been briefed on key details. But they agree the new clean-up blueprint that emerges will stand as a landmark in the costly, contentious legal and political battles to revive the struggling, shrunken River of Grass.
"It would be huge for everyone,'' said Gaston Cantens, a vice president for Florida Crystals, one of the region's largest sugar growers. "For a business, whenever you can have stability and certainty then you can make long-term plans with confidence.''
Environmentalists are reserving judgment, with some bracing for a deal they fear will be a compromise that might fall short of providing the Everglades the pristine fresh water it needs and will push clean-up deadlines, already repeatedly delayed, back by years.
David Guest, an attorney for EarthJustice who represents several environmental groups in a 24-year-old lawsuit brought by the federal government that first forced Florida to deal with Glades pollution, said he's heard enough about the framework of the deal to know he'll find plenty to question.
But even Guest acknowledges, "It's absolutely going to be progress, there is no doubt about that. The thing is, this is going to be the whole shooting match. As the whole shooting match, is it really going to get the job done?"
The South Florida Water Management District, which oversees restoration projects for the state, responded to questions with a statement, saying the state plan was "scientifically sound, economically feasible and would bring about long-term protection for America's Everglades."
"We've had productive dialogue with our federal partners and have made significant progress toward an agreed-upon approach. However, there are some outstanding issues that are important to Florida." For both the Obama and Scott administrations, finalizing a major Everglades deal would represent a political win and a rare example of bipartisan cooperation. It would be particularly notable for the governor, a Tea Party-backed, anti-regulation Republican healthcare executive who infuriated environmentalists in his first year in office by slashing environmental programs and gutting much of the state's grown management oversight.
With the state facing the threat that U.S. District Court Judge Alan Gold would impose the $1.5 billion EPA clean-up plan on the state, Scott last October flew to Washington to pitch Florida's alternative plan, meeting with high-ranking White House officials including Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
He's continued campaigning since, in meetings and letters, including a Feb. 1 letter to President Obama discussing encouraging settlement talks and stressing a message repeated in a state court brief filed this month requesting more time for negotiations: that the state's time and taxpayer's money would be better spent on projects than "pointless, expensive and time-consuming litigation."
In an April 5 response to Scott, EPA administrator Jackson echoed the upbeat tone, noting "we share a common desire to take advantage of the opportunity in front of us for quick, historic progress towards clean water for the Everglades."
Though four federal agencies initially found the state's plan inadequate, the state has made a number of tweaks and additions during negotiations, officials said, adding some 8,400 more acres of treatment marshes -- still far less than the 42,000 additional acres the EPA had proposed. In addition, the state plan calls for expanded water storage in a string of new "flow equalization basins" intended to keep the marshes more effective by limiting flooding or damaging dry-downs.
To save money, land swaps are being considered and water managers also intend to convert a massive reservoir that water managers halted two years and $272 million into construction in 2008 would be turned into one of new, shallower basins.
The nearly $900 million in projects would add to the $1.8 billion the state has already spent to construct 45,000 acres of existing marshes, with another 11,000 acres scheduled to come online later this year.
But that massive network hasn't been enough to meet the super-low standards needed to protect the sensitive Glades ecosystem from phosphorous, a common fertilizer ingredient that drains off farms and yards with every rain storm. It fuels the spread of cat tails and other exotics that crowd out native plants.
Though Scott has earned praise from some environmentalists, Guest, the EarthJustice attorney, isn't among them, arguing the governor didn't lead so much as he was pushed by courtroom defeats and mounting pressure from two federal judges.
Gold, in a 2004 suit brought by the Miccosukee Tribe and the environmental group Friends of the Everglades, has issued a series of rulings blasting the state and federal agencies for "glacial delay'' and repeatedly failing to enforce water pollution standards tough enough to protect the Everglades. In 2010, he ordered the EPA to draw up a clean-up plan that water managers said they couldn't afford.


Silver Springs River

Will the Silver Springs become all dried up ? - by Brad Rogers, Editorial page editor
May 6, 2012
Charles Lee has spent a lifetime watching Florida's environment survive one man-made assault and natural calamity one after another. As Florida Audubon's longtime director of advocacy, he has been on the front lines of every important environmental battle and part of every important conversation about conservation and preservation for four decades.
As a result, he is a respected figure from the swamps of the Everglades to the halls of the state capitol.
So when Lee speaks on an environmental questions, people listen.
On Thursday he was in Ocala for a symposium called “Protecting Our Rural Lands,” presented by the Conservation Trust of Florida. It is too bad none of our elected or water management representatives were on hand. What Lee had to say was eye-opening.
Lee's talk, not surprisingly, was about how to preserve our water supply. And as is so often the case when we talk about Marion County's water supply, he used Silver Springs' flow measurements as a barometer of the state of our water supply.
Now water management officials will say there's nothing to worry about, that we have plenty of water, that if Frank Stronach sinks 135 wells just north of Silver Springs, everything will be all right.
Well, consider the figures Lee shared Thursday.
For the past 80 years, since October 1932, the U.S. Geological Survey has been measuring the flow of Silver Springs with a meter located about three-quarters of a mile downstream from the headspring.
Over the course of those eight decades, the average flow has measured 727 cubic feet per second (cfs). The highest measurement was in 1960, at 1,130 cfs. The lowest was, well, last month.
As Lee recited the USGS figures, he pointed out that in 2000, Silver Springs' flow rate dropped below 500 cfs for the first time. A year later, in March 2001, it fell below 400 cfs for the first time; and last month, it fell below 300 cfs for the first time.
See a pattern? Again, the 80-year average is 727 cfs.
Over the past 12 years, the USGS figures show that Silver Springs' flow has declined at a rate of .05 cfs per day. And if it continues at that rate?
“If that rate continues as it has for the past 12 years,” Lee told his audience, “in another 12 years it will be gone, dried up, a sinkhole.”
Now, we are in the worst drought since the 1930s, and a few good tropical storms and hurricanes could change everything, but as Lee said, “Something has to change or those are the results of the arithmetic.”
They say numbers don't lie. Let's hope the St. Johns River Water Management District board takes time to seek a little truth.


Biscayne Bay

Biscayne Bay

Florida Senators Nelson & Rubio express concern over water access closures in Biscayne Bay National Park
May 4,2012
As a part of ongoing efforts among National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) and the boating and fishing community to bolster awareness for the National Park Service’s Proposed General Management Plan to close nearly 20 percent of boating and fishing access in Biscayne National Park, Florida Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio signed a joint letter expressing concern to Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar. In the letter, the Senators note that the proposed “marine reserve” as well as several “non-combustion zones” would halt fishing and boating in the area and substantially diminish the contribution boating and fishing make on Florida’s economy. NMMA estimates that the recreational boating industry in Florida accounts for over $4.8 billion dollars and more than 45,000 jobs.
The letter is yet another piece of a continuing discussion amongst Members of Congress, National Park leadership, state officials and fishing and boating advocates. NMMA continues to work on this issue and was on hand for a April 27 oversight hearing by the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands titled “Access Denied: Turning Away Visitors to National Parks.” Access issues at two popular national parks, Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area, N.C. and Biscayne National Park, Fla., were discussed in detail by the subcommittee. Reps. David Rivera (R-Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) were on hand as well to discuss the severe restrictions faced by the recreational fishing and boating community in Florida.
The Park Service’s proposed plan for Biscayne National Park would close more than 10,500 acres of the park’s most popular and productive fishing areas. The Fishery Management Plan Stakeholder Working Group and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) have provided detailed recommendations to the National Park Service including for consideration that include less restrictive management tools. These tools, backed by sounds science, can rebuild the park’s fisheries resources and protect habitat. NMMA, along with its boating and fishing coalition partners, urges the National Park Service to reconsider a marine reserve for Biscayne National Park, and instead address this option, along with several other less restrictive management tools in collaboration with FWC in a Fisheries Management Plan.
NMMA President Thom Dammrich says, “Boating and fishing in our National Parks is an American pastime and access to these waterways is essential to the public’s ability to enjoy t these natural treasures. Boating and fishing are an essential part of Florida’s economy and a major contributor to encouraging the community to enjoy the outdoors. NMMA will continue to work towards a solution with the National Park Service on this important issue.”


Tampa Bay Water ditches plan for expansion of reservoir amid sinkhole concerns
Tampa Bay Times - by Craig Pittman, Staff Writer
May 4, 2012
Tampa Bay Water officials are ditching their plan to expand Florida's largest reservoir by 3 billion gallons, saving the ratepayers money, but once again stumbling on a major project.
Instead of spending $163 million to expand the reservoir, the utility will pay closer to $121 million to fix the repeated cracking problem in the existing 15.5 billion-gallon facility.
Utility officials gave two reasons: the weight and the winter.
State Department of Environmental Protection officials say they are worried about what they've seen of the honeycombed limestone geology beneath the reservoir. Although it is sturdy enough to support the current reservoir, state officials say, they fear the higher walls and extra water in an expansion would be too much weight.
What has them particularly worried about the reservoir in rural Hillsborough County is what happens when a winter freeze hits, such as the ones that occurred last year and in 2010. During those freezes the farmers pumped so much water out of the ground to protect their crops that the aquifer suffered a dramatic drop.
During the January 2010 freeze, dozens of new sinkholes opened around Dover and Plant City. In December 2010, a sinkhole 75 feet wide and 45 feet deep opened in Hillsborough County's Southeast County Landfill, about 20 miles from where the winter pumping was going on.
That landfill sinkhole "changed the game," Tampa Bay Water general manager Gerald Seeber said Thursday. It made DEP officials much more leery about the movement of water through the limestone in that area.
In an April 13 letter, DEP officials told Tampa Bay Water they're worried that with the extra weight on an expanded reservoir, pumping by neighboring farmers during a freeze could lead to a sinkhole.
DEP officials said they were not denying the permit for the expansion yet, but they were leaning that way because "the additional loading posed by a larger reservoir is not a good idea at this location."
Tampa Bay Water's own geology experts had no such qualms. But rather than fight the DEP over a potential permit denial, Seeber told board members in an April 30 memo that he intended to ditch the expansion and instead ask DEP for a permit for just the repair by Kiewit Construction.
Seeber wrote in the memo that he couldn't wait to get permission from the board at its June 18 meeting because "time is of the essence in this project, we are draining the reservoir for construction work planned for later this year, and delays in the construction schedule can run $90,000-100,000 per week."
He said in an interview Thursday that he could not estimate how much ending the expansion will save ratepayers, but it does cut the cost of the project by an estimated $40 million.
Seeber's decision won't get an argument from at least one board member. St. Petersburg City Council member Karl Nurse contended this week that the drop in expected demand for water after Florida's real estate boom cooled off shows there's no need for additional water storage for another 10 to 15 years anyway.
Nurse had opposed the expansion from the start, arguing last year that instead of raising the walls of the reservoir to hold more water, Tampa Bay Water should spend the extra $40 million promoting water conservation so people would use even less of it.
But at the time, the board agreed with Seeber that it would be cheaper to expand the reservoir while its cracks were being fixed, rather than wait another decade and have to spend an estimated $200 to $300 million to build a second reservoir.
The C.W. Bill Young Reservoir opened in 2005 to store water skimmed from the Alafia River, Hillsborough River and Tampa Bypass Canal. Its 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 2006. Some cracks were up to 400 feet long and up to 15½ inches deep. Patches on the cracks didn't last.
The utility sued HDR Engineering for the way the reservoir was designed, hoping to recover at least $73 million. Instead, on April 11, a jury ruled for HDR. Tampa Bay Water is appealing.
During closing arguments, HDR attorney Wayne Mason predicted that if the utility lost it would drop the expansion, which he called unnecessary. Afterward, Seeber scoffed at Mason's prediction and said, "I believe our board will forge ahead with the work."
At the time he said that, Seeber said Thursday, "I had no clue — none of us did — that the DEP would take this tack" on the expansion.
"Isn't it curious that it happened within a couple of weeks of the verdict ?" Mason asked. "Isn't it amazing ?"



Natural Resources
Defence Council

Climate change: What’s the potential impact on Florida agriculture ?
Southeast Farm Press – by David Bennett
May 3, 2012
 Are we readyfor continuing record-breaking warm temperatures and their consequences? According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), March this year was the warmest since records began to be compiled in 1895
A NOAA report says, “Record and near-record breaking temperatures dominated the eastern two-thirds of the nation and … more than 15,000 warm temperature records were broken during the month.
“The average temperature of 51.1° F was 8.6 degrees above the 20th century average for March and 0.5° F warmer than the previous warmest March in 1910. Of the more than 1,400 months (117-plus years) that have passed since the U.S. climate record began, only one month, January 2006, has seen a larger departure from its average temperature than March 2012.” (Read the report at
This isn’t the first time NOAA has sounded climate alarm bells. In 2010, its “State of the Climate” report drew on data for 10 key climate indicators “that all point to the same finding: the scientific evidence that our world is warming is unmistakable.”
More than 300 scientists from 160 research groups in 48 countries contributed to the report, which confirms that the past decade was the warmest on record and that the Earth has been growing warmer over the last 50 years. (Read the report at
Following such an incredibly warm winter, in April the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a report of its own, “Ready or Not: An Evaluation of State Climate and Water Preparedness Planning.”
The study ranks every state in a variety of categories and ranks their readiness for issues that continuing record-breaking temperatures could bring. (See the report at
After a year spent digging through laws, regulations and plans, the NRDC claims only nine states have “taken comprehensive steps to address their vulnerabilities to the water-related impacts of climate change, while 29 states are unprepared for growing water threats to their economies and public health.”
In an interview with Grove & Vegetable, Ben Chou, NRDC policy analyst and author of the report, discussed the study’s methodology, how the Southeast — particularly Florida — is, or isn’t, preparing for climate change and what can be expected in coming years. Among the Q&A:
How did you compile this ? Did you go to each state and look at their laws ? Methodology ?
“It was a combination of things. Essentially, we were looking at whether or not states had a specific plan to prepare for climate change impacts. Nine states do have that sort of planning.
“We also looked at other planning at the state level — things like water resources planning, water supply planning, drought plans. We also looked at coastal hazard mitigation plans.”
Are there different gradations within the colors assigned to each state ?
“There are. I think the criteria for each category are fairly general. We were trying to group states that were similar as far as the progress they’ve achieved or what they’re doing on the planning side. So, within each category there are some states ahead of the other ones.
“So, if you look at category 3, which is where Florida falls, they’re probably the most advanced of all the category 3 states. That’s because when they’re looking at climate change, it’s more than just one planning document.
“For example, Arizona is in category 3 as far as how it might impact wildlife species.
“In Florida, though, they’re looking at the various aspects of sea levels rising. They’ve considered that in the context of local community planning as well as how it might impact wildlife and transportation. So, they’re looking at it in more than just one area whereas other category 3 states are looking at climate change in one specific, limited aspect.”
Is the ultimate purpose of this study to prevent worsening of climate change or to prepare for the inevitable ?
“At the global level I certainly believe we need to reduce carbon emissions. That’s something that can, in the long run, prevent the worst sort of climate impact with the highest degree of warming, the largest amount of change in precipitation patterns.
“But there are a lot of scientists who believe even if we do cut off all our carbon emissions today, there are still impacts we’ll see in the future. That’s because of the amount we’ve been releasing up to this point.
“So, the mission is two-fold: we need to cut our carbon emissions but also need to prepare for the impacts coming in the decades ahead.”
Can you talk about the checked boxes for Florida in your study ? How did they earn those checks ? [An interactive map can be accessed at]
“For the ‘Carbon Pollution Reduction Target/Goal’ check-box we were looking specifically at whether or not through an executive order by the governor or some sort of legislative act, the state has established a target or goal. Some states set it at a 20 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2020. Some go up to 80 percent reductions by 2050. That’s the type of things we’re looking for in that box.
“For ‘Carbon Pollution Reduction Strategy’ we were looking at whether there is a state-level task force or government agency that has come up with strategies to reduce the state’s carbon emission pollution, global warming gases, things like that.
“No states have a check beside ‘Full Adaptation Plan Implementation’ box. That’s saying ‘so you have a plan. How are you putting that plan into practice?’ A lot of states have plans but aren’t yet doing a good job of putting into practice the strategies they’ve developed.
“The ‘Comprehensive Adaptation Plan’ box is for category 1 states. That’s where they have a plan looking at impacts across a wide variety of sectors.
“Then, Florida has the ‘Limited Adaptation Activities’ box checked. That’s indicative of the fact of a few efforts at the state level to address climate change…”
What might Florida face in coming decades if these things aren’t addressed ?
“Florida is considered one of the most vulnerable states to climate change. That partly has to do with the fact that it’s bordered on three sides by water.
“It also happens to be one of the most populous states. And something like 75 percent of the state population – over 14 million – lives in a coastal county. Those people are vulnerable to sea level rise and also tropical storms.
“I don’t think the research is quite settled on whether we’ll be seeing more hurricanes and tropical storms. But I think we could generalize that with warmer ocean temperatures and more moisture in the atmosphere, you could certainly see more extreme or powerful hurricanes and tropical storms.
“And in conjunction with higher sea levels, the storm surge will go farther inland and cause more flooding and erosion risk.
“In addition to sea level rises, there are also other threats like water supply challenges. With warmer temperatures there is greater evapotranspiration ( from surface water — and streams, lakes and rivers are an important source of water in Florida.
“And if surface water sources are declining or are less reliable and predictable, there might be a shift to greater reliance to groundwater resources. In Florida, there are already issues with some aquifers being over-utilized — more water is being pumped out than is replenishing the stores naturally.
“Also, more heavy rainfall events could increase flooding risks and water quality problems if pollutants are flushed into waterways.
“A big concern in Florida is the coral reefs off the coast. Those are not only an important ecosystem but are also important for tourism. As more carbon dioxide reaches the atmosphere, the ocean absorbs some of it. But it also creates a process in the ocean where the water becomes more acidic and, when that happens, it can affect organisms with shells that contain calcium carbonate.”
How did you find all the relevant state laws ?
“It was a challenge and required a lot of research and a wide variety of sources. … It was about a year-long process.
“For some states it definitely isn’t as explicit as others using words like ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming.’
“I think in the Southeast, states that have looked at sea level rise haven’t seen it as a stand-alone issue. Instead, it’s a compounding factor in existing problems with coastal erosion and the like.
“In Louisiana, when they look at sea level rise it isn’t ‘this is something we need to address to protect against climate change.’ It’s seen as an impetus following the hurricanes and everyone saw that erosion is an issue and sea level rise is a part of that. South Carolina also has coastal erosion.”



Toxicity (mainly Hg
) accumulating
in fish from the
Everglades causes

DEP moving into new areas of possible water quality controversy
The Florida Current – by Bruce Ritchie
May 3, 2012
With the workload of developing new nutrient water quality rules seemingly in the rear view mirror, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is moving forward on some other potentially controversial water quality issues.
DEP is responsible for protecting the quality of Florida’s drinking water as well as its rivers, lakes, wetlands and springs. The Federal Clean Water Act requires states to publicly review and update their water quality standards in what is called a "triennial review."
LobbyTools subscribers: View additional information on DEP's triennial review of water quality standards, and estimated Florida per capita fish consumption rates.
The department has scheduled hearings for later this month in West Palm Beach, Orlando and Tallahassee to consider its "human health criteria" involving exposure to chemicals through fish consumption.
DEP was conducting a similar review in 2008 before some environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state's lack of numeric limits for nitrogen and phosphorus. That lawsuit led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set limits for nitrogen and phosphorus in Florida waterways, which prompted DEP to adopt replacement rules.
"That just became all-consuming," said Drew Bartlett, director of DEP's Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration. "Now that we put that to rest, we can shift those resources consumed by the numeric nutrient criteria back onto this issue. We decided to pick it straight right back up."
The Legislature waived approval of those rules in February and the state sent them to the EPA for review. Environmental groups including the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club have a legal challenge pending at the Division of Administrative Hearings.
In 2009, the Clean Water Network petitioned the federal EPA to set human health criteria for fish consumption. Other environmental groups had sued in 1995, arguing that previous human health criteria were based on low fish consumption rates by Floridians.
DEP has conducted studies and determined that Floridians do eat more fish than those in other states, so proposed new human health criteria will have to reflect that, Bartlett said.
"It is going to become more stringent than it is currently on the books for all of those (pollution) parameters," he said.
Although Bartlett said DEP is moving forward as planned, Clean Water Network's Linda Young said her group has warned it will sue if DEP delays action again.
"(The federal) EPA has to make sure the criteria adopted are protective of human health when those fish are consumed," said Young, the group's director.
After the hearings from May 15-17, DEP hopes to adopt updated rules by the end of the year, Bartlett said.
The department also is proposing limits for nitrogen and phosphorus in estuaries along the Florida Panhandle. And the department will consider setting new requirements for dissolved oxygen, which affects the amount of pollution that can be discharged into waterways.
Florida's dissolved oxygen criteria were based on national criteria from studies conducted in the 1960s and 1970s, Bartlett said.
He said in more recent years, DEP has invested in a "huge" monitoring system in Florida to determine what dissolved oxygen conditions exist naturally in Florida. That science also will be presented at the workshops.
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is tracking the dissolved oxygen issue and has raised serious concerns with DEP, said Jennifer Hecker, the group's director of natural resource policy.
"Sometimes by changing the goal and standard you can create compliance," Hecker said. "It doesn't necessarily make anything better -- that is the concern. We want to see things truly improve. I think that is what Floridians want as well."
Young warned that industry groups are seeking to allow pollution to continue by reducing dissolved oxygen -- along with setting weak nitrogen and phosphorus limits and creating new designated uses for waterways with their own pollution limits.
Bartlett responded the science behind dissolved oxygen standard needs to be updated based on new science, just like with the nitrogen and phosphorus limits. And he said DEP will looking for feedback from the public at its upcoming workshops.
"We can't really do anything at DEP that is not truly and soundly rooted in the science," Bartlett said. "There is no other way to do it really."



Director of the Office
of Agricultural Water
Policy, Florida
Department of Agriculture and
Consumer Services

Florida’s tug of war over fresh water supplies intensifies
Southeast Farm Press – by David Bennett
May 3, 2012
The tug-of-war over finite water resources is only becoming more intense. Agriculture must have its portion for irrigation, while industry and municipalities must have theirs.
In Florida — where an extremely sensitive environment is also part of the allocation of water — state government is utilizing a variety of approaches to deal with the shrinking freshwater pool.
Rich Budell, director of the Office of Agricultural Water Policy, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, spoke with Farm Press about ongoing projects, how funding of those projects is tied to a morose economy, and the good news in the agricultural sector. Among his comments:
On water demands by Florida agriculture and municipalities…
“There’s always potential for conflict to arise. The urban supply sector is focused on providing reliable, high-quality water at a reasonable cost. Agriculture is focused on having a locally available adequate quantity of water to meet their production needs.
“In the current environment, particularly the economic climate, the amount of money available for the development of alternative water supplies — something different than the ground or surface water normally used — is difficult to come up with.
“Public supply utilities have more options available to develop alternative water supplies because they have rate payers to whom they can pass on the costs. Agricultural producers have few options to develop alternative water supplies because they have no one to pass the costs on to.
“Looking long-term at water supply plans and what urban needs will be in 10 years or 20 years, along with what agricultural needs will be — all the while recognizing we must reserve enough water for the environment, wetlands, rivers, springs, lakes — we’re increasingly running up on a situation where water demand projections exceed water availability. That isn’t a comforting outlook.
“It’s difficult for utilities to plan for infrastructure needs when the availability of an adequate water supply is uncertain. They have to go to bonding entities to fund construction and expansion. If water supply plans suggest there won’t be enough water to meet demand, it’s difficult to get such infrastructure bonded.”
On alternative water supplies…
“Florida is one of the leaders in the country in
coming up with innovative ways to try and fund de-velopment of alternative supplies. Alternative water supplies include Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR
ASR is a technology that allows for excess water, during periods of high rainfall when river and spring flow is high, to be injected into the ground to create a freshwater ‘bubble’ that can be withdrawn later during dry times.
“There is also surface water storage. You can create reservoirs and store water aboveground. During the rainy season or hurricanes or tropical storms, you can fill the reservoirs. Later, those reservoirs can be tapped as a source for agriculture, industry and municipalities.
“ASR and above-ground reservoirs are expensive. They also take a lot of time and effort to design, construct and maintain. There are mechanisms in Florida to fund those kinds of things.
“But it is increasingly difficult when the economy takes a downturn like it has in the last five or six years. Most of the funding sources for the designated trust funds to offset the costs of alternative water supplies come from the ‘Documentary Stamp’ tax on land transactions, real estate and refinancing activities.
“With the real estate market as it is, there aren’t a lot of those revenues coming in, and there’s a shortfall of money to meet the demand for all the alternative water supply projects that need to be developed.
“Because of Florida’s topography and geology, we don’t really have a shortage of water. We just don’t have ways to store water very effectively.”
Where are most of the reservoirs situated ?
“Mostly they’re in central and south Florida. Several are in the Southwest Florida Water Management District, several in the St. John’s Water Management District, and in the South Florida Water Management District.
“Regionally, the reservoirs are important resources. However, on a statewide basis, they pale in comparison to the amount of water we still rely on from groundwater and traditional surface water sources.
“While we have a program that promotes alternative water supply development, it hasn’t realized its full potential. About the same time we were creating the policies and statutes that established the funding mechanism, the economy started to turn south.
“We’ve been unable to build out the alternative water supply projects at the pace we’d originally hoped to in 2005 when the trust fund was created. Since 2007, there’s been very little money available because revenues have been swept from the trust fund accounts to offset deficits and balance the state’s budget.”
On actual water demand numbers in coming years …
“In 2010, estimates showed there was about 6.9 billion gallons of freshwater per day used in Florida. That is for all uses.
“By 2030, projections are that we’ll need 8.2 billion gallons of water per day to meet demand. That’s a 19 percent increase over 2010.
“In several areas of the state, we’re already finding situations where there isn’t enough water to maintain current uses. In some cases, folks are concerned there won’t be enough water in five or 10 years, let alone 20.
“There are water-use caution areas around Tampa Bay where groundwater levels have been drawn down and the resource must be managed very carefully. There are areas around central Florida, the greater Orlando area and slightly south, where all available resources have already been allocated. Even in rural north Florida, at the juncture of the St John’s district and Suwannee district, there are significant groundwater draw-downs.
“A lot of this is driven by weather. It isn’t completely a matter of ‘we’re using too much water’ or ‘we’re using water faster than it can be replenished.’
“We’re in a fairly long drought cycle. In northern Florida, we’re used to getting 55 to 58 inches of rainfall yearly. Farther south, the average is slightly less. But we’ve been in a cycle for a considerable period, especially in north Florida, where the rainfall average has been way under the norm. That has a huge impact, particularly on groundwater levels.
“As water resource managers, as those tasked with the responsibility to develop water supply plans, we must work while recognizing the uncertainty looking forward. There really isn’t a ‘normal’ rainfall year ­— you receive ‘more’ or you have ‘less.’ That uncertainty must be built into plans.”
Precision agriculture and how those technologies factor into Florida’s water plans? If funding wasn’t an issue would the state push new agricultural technologies to save water ?
“Absolutely. Industry-wide, agriculture has done a remarkable job of reducing the amount of water they use. If you look at the water statistics in Florida over the last decade — maybe even 12 to 15 years — agricultural water use has been flat or even slightly declining. Meanwhile, production has been rising.
“If you look at freshwater use in agriculture across the state, that’s a telling statistic. There has been widespread adoption by agriculture of more conservative and precise irrigation mechanisms, tools and systems.”
On mobile irrigation labs…
“I absolutely believe even more efficiency can be gained. We have a program where mobile irrigation laboratories are funded. These are teams that go out and do irrigation system evaluations and make recommendations on how those systems can be upgraded or improved. We then help to cost-share for those improvements.
“Billions of gallons of water can be saved annually as a result of these mobile labs. That’s a huge component of Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service’s overall water resource conservation and protection program.
“We’d like to see more of that type of program. The demand far exceeds our ability to supply the evaluations or cost-share.”
More on irrigation in Florida…
“Interestingly, only about 10 percent of Florida’s agricultural acres are irrigated. There are roughly 18 million acres in crops — including forestlands — and about 1.8 million acres are irrigated.
“To help economize water, we have tools other than the mobile irrigation labs. If we can figure out ways to give the growers information, they can fine-tune how much irrigation water to apply and what time of day to apply it. That way, only the amount of water the crop needs is actually applied.
“Other tools include things like soil moisture probes and weather models, which allow growers to make real-time decisions on turning irrigation systems on and off. Still other tools can be employed to reduce the amount of water the industry uses when protecting crops from frost and freeze events.
“The notion of irrigation conservation and use efficiency is very much at the forefront of our programs. With a bit more funding we could make even bigger strides.”
Any water-related legislation pending in Florida’s next legislative session ?
“There isn’t too much activity going in. We’re working collaboratively with the water management districts and Florida Department of Environmental Protection to consider the current methodologies and tools used in the statewide water supply plans. The aim is to bring more uniformity to the planning process, more predictability.
“In Florida, water is owned by the public. There is an administrative process to allocate that water out for use, a permitting program. That means consumptive use permits are required of all major users of water — utilities, agricultural producers, industrial facilities, mines.
“We think there could be much more predictability and transparency in the permit decisions. So, there’s an effort to bring more clarity to the whole water supply planning and permitting programs. That may lead to legislation being introduced in the 2013 session.”
How the Everglades fit in the water balance…
“Everglades restoration has been going on at various paces over the last 25 years. I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.
“I believe there are ways to meet the needs of the overall Everglades ecosystem and still maintain a healthy population, a healthy business climate and a healthy agriculture community. It will take a bit more compromise on everyone’s part to find the right combination of solutions, but there are a lot of things happening.
“There have been tremendous strides made in improving the quality of water entering the Everglades, whether coming from urban areas or agricultural areas.
“Are we there yet? No, but the South Florida Water Management Districts, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, agricultural, urban and environmental interests, and other partners have worked for years and are honing in on the right mix of N-site source controls, regional storm-water treatment areas, reservoirs, and infrastructure.
“All of these components are aimed at improving the timing, distribution and quality of the water going into the Everglades.
“It’s an interesting time to be engaged in such work. A lot of ideas are still on the drawing board.
“But the biggest issue is: where will the funding come from ?  How can we keep all the players constructively engaged and focused on practical, economically viable solutions?
“It isn’t a matter of whether we can deal with water issues. We can. But we must focus the resources where they are needed and maintain the commitment to funding them long-term.”



Bill HERZ,
Scientific Programs,
The Fertilizer Institute

New water/nutrient regs: an added challenge for growers
Southeast Farm Press – by David Bennett
May 3, 2012
Since late 2010, desiring to monitor nutrient levels in Florida waters, the EPA has sought to implement its proposed “Water Quality Standards for the State of Florida’s Lakes and Flowing Waters.”
Held up by court challenges, in February the EPA was instructed by the court to implement numeric standards for lakes and springs in the state.
This was followed by a coalition of 48 groups writing a letter to the EPA, urging the agency to adopt the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (FDEP) “Numeric Nutrient Criteria” rule.
“Florida is recognized as a national leader in implementing a sophisticated suite of water quality and technology-based nutrient management programs to protect its water bodies,” the letter said.
“In fact, FDEP has spent more than $20 million during the last decade to collect and analyze data related to the concentrations and impacts of nutrients in Florida’s water bodies. By utilizing this data and analysis, FDEP has worked tirelessly over the past year to develop scientifically defensible water quality standards.
“While there will be significant costs associated with these standards, we believe they are technically achievable standards that our members and other stakeholders will be able to meet while working in partnership with the state.”
Bill Herz of The Fertilizer Institute (TFI spoke with Farm Press about the proposed rules, the science behind the issue, and why the Florida case is important to agricultural interests across the nation. Among his comments:
On the Florida case…
“I’m not an expert on the local litigation in Florida. I know there are multiple parties challenging the viability of the state rule. We aren’t involved in that like we were in the federal litigation.
“TFI got involved because we were very concerned about the interests of our members, as well as the agricultural constituents who buy our products. We worried about what the long-term cost impacts would be for setting ultra-low and rigid, numeric nutrient criteria.”
On what could have happened if the new rules had been adopted…
The consequences “could have been anything from driving down production to increased set-backs to potentially limiting nutrient applications. It could have gone as far as budgeting (nutrient applications).
“It fundamentally, basically disagrees with the science we advance for agronomic stewardship. You have to look at all factors involving nutrients. (Doing so) with single nutrients, we don’t think, is a positive way to go.
“On the production side, when you’re going from mining to manufacture of a product, obviously you’ll have outfalls where there is discharge of nutrients at some level. Significant increases in the cost of abatement or otherwise will increase the cost of the products. That, in turn, is pushed on down the line, presumably.
“So, there are multiple ways this could impact farmers either directly or indirectly.”
On the science…
“We’re not saying there aren’t too many nutrients in some watersheds.
“We think agriculture is typically one contributor of nutrients to any water body. And agriculture should be involved in these discussions and, depending on how large the source is, probably should be a significant part of the discussions.
“However, setting very rigid criteria for something that’s supposed to be in the ecosystem to begin with — and naturally varies depending on season, spring flock, natural decomposition from cropping and things like tree leaves — makes this a very, very difficult situation to put a single number on. And then to say, ‘That number is always right and if (nutrient levels above that aren’t healthy) it causes an imbalance in flora and fauna.’
“In fact, the judge in the federal litigation agreed with us. He vacated the stream standard. He said, ‘You can’t take six or seven unimpaired streams and get a number that’s representative. You can’t say because those streams are healthy, any stream with a higher number is therefore unhealthy.’
“What the EPA didn’t do, in fact, was confirm that number (from the few streams) had anything to do, really, with the biological health of those particular water bodies. They didn’t confirm it by going to the indicators in the ecosystem, which is what you must do. You have to count chlorophyll and also micro- and macro-organisms to understand if you’re causing an imbalance that’s harming it in some way.”
On the need for flexibility…
“We think there needs to be more inherent flexibility in nutrient regulation. We’re certainly not denying the need for regulation. We want to work cooperatively for our stewardship and otherwise to bring out techniques, products and timing that will help to improve uptake of nutrients.
“It’s really a win/win in my opinion because people buy the products and benefit due to using them more efficiently. They’re getting more for their buck, so to speak. And the environment wins because less is lost from the edge of the field.”
Why Florida’s situation is important…
“There are a couple of reasons Florida may be precedent-setting. There are several aspects of the federal law that are precedents. First is the use of this particular approach in regard to streams.
“Another piece of it was partially vacated (by the court) — the concept known as ‘downstream protective value (DPV).’
“DPV allows the EPA to set a number — what they call a ‘pour point’ — which is where a stream enters a lake. Then, they back that regulatory DPV regardless of what the watershed’s contribution is to the non-attainment of the lake.
“To be clear, the judge said it isn’t valid to subject DPV for a lake already in attainment. But if a lake is in non-attainment, the judge allowed it to proceed.
“In regard to the DPV allowed to stand, you could have many factors. Imagine a lake with a bunch of vacation homes around it, all on septic. So, a major source of nutrients in the lake happens to be leaking septic from those homes.
“Streams flowing into the lake could actually be improving the lake’s water quality. Yet, EPA has this regulatory overreach straight up the watershed. That’s a concern on the federal precedent level and someone might go after that on appeal.”
Florida’s new rules on nutrients…
“What’s interesting is that the regulatory standards look very similar between the Florida rule and federal rule.
“I think the primary difference — and this was looked at in a report by the National Academies of Science — is the Florida rule is preferable because it has a biological confirmation step. It doesn’t just assume a water body is impaired because its numbers exceed the numeric criteria.
“It requires confirmation and TFI thinks that’s appropriate. Nutrients are naturally occurring and they vary naturally. There can be situations where you’re above thresholds and yet not putting a water body at risk of a critical imbalance.
“You don’t want a system that will, statistically, put multiple water bodies out of compliance simply by chance when, in fact, many of them are actually healthy.”
Where does this go from here?
“It’s our sincere hope that the EPA takes up the Florida state rule and accepts it in its entirety. The subsequent rule-making that the Florida DEP is working on would complete the picture. We think that’s a critical next step.
“The EPA will always have back-stopping authority. But the right next step is for Administrator (Lisa) Jackson to give this back to Florida. They’ve worked very hard for it and deserve that.”
What are chances of that happening?
“I think they’re good. It’s an election year and the (Obama) administration understands there’s a perception out there, whether they agree or not, that their environmental agenda is impending the economic recovery.
“A lot of people want to put good, solid jobs back in the United States because of where we are with the energy situation. But they’re afraid because of the regulatory agenda and what that might mean from a cost perspective. It’s so uncertain, right now, between air and water regulations.”


Water district cuts may undo decade of work
Herald-Tribune - by Kate Spinner
May 3, 2012
In its heyday — especially for thirsty cities and counties — the Southwest Florida Water Management District was the closest thing to a rainmaker.
Nicknamed Swiftmud, the agency during the last decade granted nearly $1 billion — tens of millions of it in Southwest Florida — to expand drinking water supplies, clean stormwater runoff and improve water quality in bays and rivers.
But this year and the next, because of state budget cuts, Swiftmud can muster only $40 million to spread over its 16-county territory, including Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte.
The funding cuts reduce the agency's capacity for transformative spending on projects such as the expansion of a regional water supply for Southwest Florida on the Peace River and construction of a huge desalination plant on Tampa Bay that has put the region in an enviable position for drinking water supplies amidst the drought.
It also could affect numerous other spending plans for the area during the next several years, including:
• Dona Bay restoration in Sarasota County.
• Stormwater runoff improvements in a host of old neighborhoods.
• Expansion of the nearly 500-acre Robinson Preserve in Manatee County.
• Restoration projects on conservation land region-wide.
Glenn Compton, president of the local environmental group Manasota-88, called the cuts shortsighted because delays will make environmental restoration more expensive.
"If we don't correct these mistakes, we'll be probably paying more in the future for environmental cleanups," Compton said.
Opportunities to preserve or restore sensitive land, especially on the coast, will shrink, said Charlie Hunsicker, director of natural resources for Manatee County, which has relied heavily on Swiftmud money for coastal restoration.
Each year from 2006 to 2010 the district gave out more than $100 million in grants for projects from south of Punta Gorda to north of Ocala. Those so-called cooperative funding grants — which required matching money from local governments and utilities — peaked at $161 million in 2009.
A decade of gains
The cash matches played a major role in Southwest Florida's economy over the past decade, removing water supply as a potential impediment to growth by developing new supplies, promoting water conservation, increasing waste water recycling and reversing damage caused by development built before stringent regulations were adopted in the 1970s.
The funding loss could halt or reverse more than a decade of work that has led to fewer floods, abundant water supplies even in droughts and cleaner bays and rivers throughout the district.
For example, wastewater reuse projects have greatly reduced the amount of water discharged to Sarasota Bay, helping to restore bay seagrasses. The Celery Fields restoration project, east of Interstate 75, fixed flooding problems for hundreds of people and created a destination for bird watching.
The construction of new reservoirs, meant to keep up with population growth, has also given the region ample drinking water.
In its heyday — especially for thirsty cities and counties — the Southwest Florida Water Management District was the closest thing to a rainmaker.
Nicknamed Swiftmud, the agency during the last decade granted nearly $1 billion — tens of millions of it in Southwest Florida — to expand drinking water supplies, clean stormwater runoff and improve water quality in bays and rivers.
But this year and the next, because of state budget cuts, Swiftmud can muster only $40 million to spread over its 16-county territory, including Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte.
The funding cuts reduce the agency's capacity for transformative spending on projects such as the expansion of a regional water supply for Southwest Florida on the Peace River and construction of a huge desalination plant on Tampa Bay that has put the region in an enviable position for drinking water supplies amidst the drought.
It also could affect numerous other spending plans for the area during the next several years, including:
• Dona Bay restoration in Sarasota County.
• Stormwater runoff improvements in a host of old neighborhoods.
• Expansion of the nearly 500-acre Robinson Preserve in Manatee County.
• Restoration projects on conservation land region-wide.
Glenn Compton, president of the local environmental group Manasota-88, called the cuts shortsighted because delays will make environmental restoration more expensive.
"If we don't correct these mistakes, we'll be probably paying more in the future for environmental cleanups," Compton said.
Opportunities to preserve or restore sensitive land, especially on the coast, will shrink, said Charlie Hunsicker, director of natural resources for Manatee County, which has relied heavily on Swiftmud money for coastal restoration.
Each year from 2006 to 2010 the district gave out more than $100 million in grants for projects from south of Punta Gorda to north of Ocala. Those so-called cooperative funding grants — which required matching money from local governments and utilities — peaked at $161 million in 2009.
A decade of gains
The cash matches played a major role in Southwest Florida's economy over the past decade, removing water supply as a potential impediment to growth by developing new supplies, promoting water conservation, increasing waste water recycling and reversing damage caused by development built before stringent regulations were adopted in the 1970s.
The funding loss could halt or reverse more than a decade of work that has led to fewer floods, abundant water supplies even in droughts and cleaner bays and rivers throughout the district.
For example, wastewater reuse projects have greatly reduced the amount of water discharged to Sarasota Bay, helping to restore bay seagrasses. The Celery Fields restoration project, east of Interstate 75, fixed flooding problems for hundreds of people and created a destination for bird watching.
The construction of new reservoirs, meant to keep up with population growth, has also given the region ample drinking water.
The district helped fund a $158 million drinking water desalination plant and a $162 million drinking water reservoir in Tampa to solve the state's last water supply crisis. The dwindling supply had spawned legal feuds between cities and counties, as regulations tightened in response to dropping aquifer and lake levels and dried-up wetlands.
Swiftmud also contributed the land and $50 million in funding for a reservoir on the Peace River in Arcadia, helping turn the Peace River-Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority from an operation serving mainly Charlotte County and North Port into a regional system.
The recession, however, curbed the anticipated growth. When people begin moving here in droves again, Southwest Florida could find itself once again mired in legal fights over affordable drinking water if money for better conservation or expansion efforts is not available.
Additionally, district money helped pay for dozens of distribution pipelines for drinking, irrigation and recycled waste water.
Assessing cutbacks
The drastic spending reduction follows a law passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011 that cut and capped how much money water districts statewide could raise in property taxes. The cap was meant to save money, keep taxes low and streamline state government.
While the limit saves average taxpayers in Swiftmud's territory about $12 per year, it has cut the multi-faceted agency's budget 44 percent, or $119 million.
Local officials are still assessing how the cutbacks will affect them.
Hunsicker called it a "tragic" setback because Manatee County relies on the district to help fund environmental restoration on its conservation lands. Robinson Preserve, bordering Sarasota Bay in Manatee County, is an example.
The money also allowed the county and other local governments to win additional matching grants from federal and state agencies.
Plans to pursue some restoration projects, such as an expansion of Robinson Preserve, may be delayed unless Manatee County can find money elsewhere in difficult budget times, said Hunsicker.
Sarasota County may feel the pinch more because it relied on larger grants each year, ranging from $4 million to $6 million annually.
Much of that money paid for work that restored degraded wetlands and water flow to now-popular destinations, such as the Celery Fields — part of a flood control project in east Sarasota County.
In Sarasota County, efforts to restore Dona Bay, aimed at boosting both water supply and water quality in the Venice and Nokomis area, could be set back. Plans to build better natural filters to clean storm water in older Sarasota neighborhoods also may be halted.
Smaller requests
Regionally, water suppliers are concerned, too.
The Peace River authority, run jointly by DeSoto, Charlotte, Sarasota and Manatee counties, is building miles of new pipelines with water district grants.
The authority was fortunate to get funding for its reservoir and three pipeline projects years ago and to complete the reservoir before back-to-back years of drought set in.
"We were very lucky both financially and weather-wise," said Mike Coates, the water authority's deputy director.
Although the district has less money to award to communities this year, funding remains available because of smaller requests driven by a slow economy, said Mark Hammond, Swiftmud's director of resource management.
Several communities and water suppliers have scaled back on projects because they can no longer afford to put up the money required for the district match. Those delayed projects have resulted in tens of millions in refunds, which has helped to build the district's reserves, Hammond said.
The city of Tampa returned $24 million after economic constraints halted a few projects. Bradenton decided not to build a drinking water reservoir, instead opting for underground storage in aquifers for half the $20 million cost. During the past 11 years, project cancellations throughout the district have put $90 million back into reserves.
Though the budget will severely curtail the projects the water district funds, the Legislature faces the same problems, argues state Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota. "Just like we did in the Legislature, there's a lot of things we'd like to fund, but there's a lot of things they'll have to prioritize," Pilon said.
Pilon, a former government affairs coordinator for the Peace River authority, said he does not like the law that limited the district's ability to raise money. Lawmakers this year passed a new law that removes the cap on the districts next year, but the districts will still need to get legislative permission to raise money through taxes.


Wet summer predicted for South Florida
Miami Herald – by Curtis Morgan
May 3, 2012
Though the previous washed-out weekend might have suggested otherwise, South Florida’s rainy season has not yet begun - at least officially.
But when it does start sometime this month, expect it to be a bit wetter than normal, forecasters and water managers said Thursday.
South Florida’s wet season, which usually begins around May 20 and runs until mid-October, typically produces about 70 percent of the regional rainfall. Those five months help keep the Everglades healthy and water supplies recharged or - if the rains don’t show - produce droughts that kill crops and lawns.
Robert Molleda, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Miami office, said a number of indicators, including the easing of the global La Nina weather pattern, point to a wetter season into June. The remaining months appear likely to be close to average.
With the region still showing lingering effects from an unusually dry fall and winter, a bit more rain would help, said Susan Sylvester, chief of water control operations for the South Florida Water Management District, which oversees the water supply for 7.7 million people from Orlando to Key West.
Above-average April rainfall, much of it delivered last weekend, helped Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties but only provided a bit of recharge for Lake Okeechobee, which serves as the region’s water barrel.
Overall, the 16-county district’s rainfall deficit since November is about 5.5 inches. Lake Okeechobee was at 11.63 feet above sea level Thursday, about two feet below its average mark for the date.
The typical wet season produces about 35 inches of rain but one tropical storm or hurricane can easily push the figure higher.


Mouseover and/or CLICK
for enlarging:


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.

DEP says no reservoir expansion allowed - by STEVE ANDREWS, News Channel 8
May 02, 2012
TAMPA -- Concern about possible sinkholes has moved the state to nix a plan by Tampa Bay Water to expand the troubled C.W. Bill Young Reservoir in Hillsborough County.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection plans to reject Tampa Bay Water's application to increase the capacity of the 15.5 billion gallon reservoir by 3 billion gallons.
But a sinkhole that opened in a Hillsborough county landfill in 2010 has created new concerns for the environmental agency.
In an April 30 letter to his board, Tampa Bay Water general manager Gerald Seeber wrote, "Due to the agricultural frost/freeze protection pumping that occurs in the neighborhood around the reservoir and the underlying geology, the FDEP is concerned with the potential for sinkhole development arising from the additional load posed by a reservoir facility with increased capacity."
The reservoir stores water from the Alafia and Hillsborough rivers, as well as the Tampa Bypass Canal. It went on line in 2005. During its first drawdown in 2006, the soil cement erosion barrier began cracking. An 8 On Your Side investigation discovered cracks hundreds of feet in length in 2007 and the state placed a limit on the amount of water the facility could hold until Tampa Bay Water could fix the cracking.
Tampa Bay Water spent millions on temporary repairs and investigating the cause of the cracks. The agency estimates a permanent fix will cost $121 million.
While repairs were under way, Tampa Bay Water decided to expand the facility. That added $40 million to the tab.
The agency, which sells water to Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, claimed a design flaw caused the cracking. It filed a lawsuit against H-D-R Engineering, which designed the facility. A jury in April decided in favor of the engineer, leaving the bill to fix the reservoir in the laps of Tampa Bay Water and its water users.


Alabama, Florida govs visit Dothan - by Editor
May 1, 2012
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and Florida Gov. Rick Scott came to Dothan Monday for a meet and greet with local Republicans and the opportunity to talk up cooperation between the two states.
Bentley and Scott spoke to local Republicans at The Grand in downtown Dothan Monday evening. About 200 people showed up for the event.
Bentley spoke about common interests shared by Florida and Alabama, including the aftermath of the BP oil spill, ongoing negotiations among Florida, Georgia and Alabama concerning water rights, and economic development.
Scott said Alabama and Florida can work together on economic development, as benefits from growth in one state will benefit the other.
“I’ll get a lot of jobs in Florida if something comes here,” he said.
Scott said he and Bentley share a similar economic growth agenda, focusing on reducing burdensome government regulation, keeping taxes low and trimming excess regulation.
Scott also spoke about his efforts to bring Florida back into the Republican column for the upcoming presidential election. Scott said scrapping President Barack Obama’s health care reform law should motivate Republicans in Florida and nationwide to turn out at the polls this November.
Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitz said bringing both governors to Dothan would help keep the Circle City in the loop concerning economic development projects between the two states.


Ranch may become city's second largest reclaimed water user - The Tampa Tribune – by Dave Nicholson
May 1, 2012
PLANT CITY -- The city hopes by 2014 to pipe as much as 750,000 gallons of reclaimed water per day to a sprawling ranch north of town.
Two Rivers Ranch and a related business, Hickory Hills Land Co., would become the city's second-largest customer of reclaimed water. The largest is CF Industries, which uses 2 million gallons per day in its phosphate processing factory.
The 22-square-mile ranch off State Road 39 has long been eyed as a customer for reclaimed water, as it's near a pipeline that runs along the highway. An agreement approved April 23 by the City Commission gave the ranch more time to seek environmental permits from the Southwest Florida Water Management District and other agencies.
Robert M. Thomas, chief executive officer of the ranch and land company, has said previously that he was exploring a number of options, including injecting the reclaimed water underground to mitigate groundwater withdrawals from other parts of the property to irrigate hay and grasses.
Reclaimed water is wastewater that is cleansed so it is suitable for certain irrigation and industrial purposes.
The city is in the process of expanding its distribution system for reclaimed water, including plans to extend lines 19,000 feet to reach the Sydney Road area and 10,000 feet to the Park Road area.
In 2008, the city rebuilt its sewage treatment plant off Victoria Street, near Interstate 4, and increased its reclaimed water processing capacity from 8 to 10 million gallons per day.
In other action at the April 23 meeting:
- City Commissioner Mike Sparkman asked for a staff review of the timing of the traffic light at Alexander Street and Timberlane Drive, the main entrance into the Walden Lake subdivision. Sparkman, who lives in Walden Lake, said the light doesn't stay green long enough for motorists trying to turn north from Timberlane onto Alexander.
- The commissioners authorized the police department to buy 10 iPads, update digital audio equipment in its interview rooms and buy other items with $16,416 in federal help. The commissioners voted unanimously for the purchases paid by the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program.
- The city entered into an agreement with Hillsborough Community College to offer an internship program so students studying in the environmental field can receive training at the Utilities Operation Division's water, wastewater and reclaimed water plants.



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