FULL TEXTS OF ARTICLES
No ocean view ? 'Lakes' offer alternative waterfront living
Sun Sentinel - by Ben Wolford
September 30, 2012
They have lovely names like Coral Lakes, Lakeridge Falls and Le Lac.
But these housing developments don't have any lakes at all. In fact, the glimmering water bodies that dot our residential landscape are retention ponds. They're designed to capture filth and floodwaters, features of utility more than beauty.
Still, residents and developers have embraced them as amenities offering a hint of nature in South Florida's vast built environment
"If they're not on a lake, then you make one," said Larissa Rutsch at Home Dynamics Corp., a developer with a dozen communities across Broward and Palm Beach counties. "It's Florida. You put the shovel in, and you've got a lake."
Often they're filthy, and residential developments across South Florida spend thousands of dollars every year to keep them looking nice, paying upwards of $600 annually per pond. Management companies drop herbicides and algaecides in the water, killing off invasive plants that stifle water flow.
"There's nothing nicer than taking a look out your window and seeing a beautiful lake," said Ellen Gabler, who lives on a street called Brightwater Terrace in a community west of Boynton Beach called Coral Lakes.
The thing about her street, Brightwater, is that it's not near water, and Coral Lakes has no lakes, properly speaking. It's just that Coral Retention Ponds lacks a certain marketing appeal for developers trying to sell inland waterfront homes.
Little more than drainage ditches, the ponds keep flooding at bay and feed into a regional system of canals. They also serve an environmental purpose, sucking up runoff from lawns, streets and parking lots, retaining much of the oil and chemicals as the water seeps into other waterways.
The plant-killing chemicals and runoff don't bother the fish that populate the ponds.
"In the average community you might have a few people that fish it, usually for the largemouth bass," said John Cimbaro, a fisheries biologiest for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "In other places you'll have fishing clubs. The homeowners association itself may actually manage the lake for fishing, including fish stocking."
Some fish, such as largemouth bass and sunfish, are native. But others, the peacock bass, tilapia and suckermouth catfish, are invasive species that spread along underground pipes that link retention ponds to each other and to the South Florida Water Management District, which monitors water levels and controls flooding.
Most of the ponds are about 10 feet deep, said Adam Grayson, operations director for Lake and Wetland Management, a maintenance contractor. But they can reach greater depths (he once saw a 26-footer in Pembroke Pines), especially in the western communities, where more fill was needed to perch homes above the floodplain.
Grayson's operation cleans ponds up and down the coast. He said he spends a lot of time "explaining to people you don't live on a lake, you really don't."
"It's a tough balance because we do have a lot of people who want to see a lake like up north," he said. In the north, lakes are "very clean, there's nothing in them, you can see to 20 feet down. And that's just not the way it is in Florida."
But don't tell residents that.
"We call it a lake. The village calls it a retention pond," said Philip Steinberg, 76, a member of the board at Huntington Woods in Royal Palm Beach.
As Huntington Woods found out recently, the retention ponds can turn quickly from sparkling to sludgy, and many homeowners there blame new storm drains along Royal Palm Beach Boulevard.
Now, they say, there's more water in their lake, plus more street grease and trash. In August, 38 homeowners (almost everybody with a waterfront house) signed a petition complaining to the village council. They're still working on a solution and are in talks with Grayson's company.
"There's a cost to [maintain them], but if you don't do that, the lakes look terrible," said Rich Ruskin, president of the homeowners board at Cascade Lakes, near Boynton Beach. They have 600 houses and seven ponds. "When the lakes do not look good, our residents have a tendency to let us know."
But most people said the retention ponds are uncontroversial and apolitical. They said they appreciate the views and the atmosphere of waterside living.
Banyan Trails Drive in Coconut Creek winds between rows of two-story homes, with water on either side. Harry Falterbauer, 57, moved there in 2001 after breaking bank for many years on oceanfront property. Now he pays about $100 a month in fees for a water view, plus two community swimming pools, a club house and a gym.
He likes the view, the wide open backyard and the glimpses of nature — "you see some birds and fish" — in the man-made habitat.
"You get some peace and quiet," Falterbauer said.
Water management district to shake things up after lower revenue
September 30, 2012
BROOKSVILLE -- Southwest Florida Water Management District will undergo organizational restructuring with about $3 million less in property tax revenue in the current budget.
"We are committed to providing the greatest value to the taxpayer," Executive Director Blake Guillory said in a press release. "By implementing new business processes we have found opportunities to improve our efficiency and further reduce our operational costs."
The district employs 617 full-time workers, Guillory explained. The district, based in Brooksville, determines water policy for the 16-county region.
Restructuring could affect about 30 employees in phases during the next nine months. Most cutbacks will come from the administrative, technology support and management staff.
Organizational changes include creation of a Project Management Office for greater efficiency and effectiveness of more than 400 projects.
Guillory also anticipates hiring about 15 additional scientific and engineering staff this year. They would support the district's groundwater and surface water modeling work as well as its springs and water quality initiatives.
"We've identified some areas in which we can use some additional expertise to meet our core mission," Guillory commented. "Our pool of technical experts has eroded during the last decade with employees retiring or leaving for the private sector. This restructuring will ensure that we have a high level of scientific expertise to manage and protect the water resources of the region."
Late last month, the water district adopted its fiscal year 2013 millage rate and budget that went into effect Monday.
The millage rate stayed the same at 0.3928 mill. Because taxable property values declined by 2.9 percent, this rate resulted in a $3 million reduction in ad valorem property tax revenue.
The total budget, however, rose to $159.5 million, 2.5 percent higher than last fiscal year's budget of $155.5 million. The $3.9 million increase primarily will go toward requests from local governments for water resources projects.
The budget increase comes from leftover balances from prior years due to the cancellation of projects or projects completed under budget.
The budget includes $83.2 million for capital, infrastructure and other projects.
With discounts from its partners, the district will invest the equivalent of more than $132 million for projects.
Don't give away Florida's precious water
Tampa Bay Times - Letters to the Editor by Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Walt Handelsman, Tribune Media Services
September 29, 2012
Beneath the ground in Alaska lies a valuable resource: oil. The state of Alaska allows energy companies to remove this oil and sell it for a profit. However, the state of Alaska has determined that this oil actually belongs to the citizens of Alaska, and when it's sold for a profit the citizens of Alaska should share in that profit.
Alaska charges the energy companies a royalty on each barrel of oil they remove from the ground. The royalty money is deposited into a trust fund and invested by the state. Each year the income from these investments is distributed to the citizens of Alaska.
The underground oil in Alaska is exactly like the underground water in Florida. However, unlike the oil in Alaska, the water in Florida is given away free to businesses that want to sell it for a profit, and the Southwest Florida Water Management District sees nothing wrong with this picture. They continue to freely give away our water to private companies while at the same time severely limiting the use of this public resource by the citizens of Florida who own it.
Why can't our leaders in Florida show the same consideration for their citizens that the leaders in Alaska show ? The water belongs to the citizens of Florida, and the citizens of Florida should either be allowed to use it or they should be paid for it.
Sugar's stop to Stuart anything but sweet
TCPalm.com - by Ed Killer
September 29, 2012
The "best snook fisherman from Belle Glade" came to Stuart on Thursday.
David Goodlett, vice president of government and community affairs for the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, addressed the monthly meeting of the Rivers Coalition. Introducing himself with the slight Southern drawl of a Florida Cracker, Goodlett spoke of his love for the outdoors, fishing, hunting and family.
Goodlett is a character. He is colorful and quick-witted, savvy and slick. He is polished to perfection, but at times blunt to a flaw.
He speaks in tall tale-telling sound bites and country witticisms. He could make ordering lunch interesting.
If nothing else, Goodlett is a great speaker. But his message was not one his audience wanted to hear.
Far from it.
Goodlett represents a cooperative with 54 sugar cane grower members from family farms as small as 150 acres to corporate farms with thousands of acres. The co-op contains about 75,000 of South Central Florida's 375,000 acres of sugar cane.
He was invited to speak to the world's greatest advocates for the health of the St. Lucie River and southern Indian River Lagoon.
The Rivers Coalition, a group of 58 business and civic organizations, formed in 1998 in an effort to stop discharges of water from faraway Lake Okeechobee into the nation's most diverse estuary. The Coalition formed following a season so destructive in the St. Lucie River's history it produced millions of fish that bore lesions — open, runny sores on the skins of dozens of species of marine fishes that live in these estuaries.
The Rivers Coalition since has battled tirelessly to shift the priority of stakeholders in the complex web of interests that have ties to Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades system. It is laudable that its directors invited a representative from the sugar industry that controls the majority of the land located immediately south of Lake Okeechobee as a speaker. A century ago, the waters that now turn the St. Lucie River brown like stale coffee crossed the lands that now are farmed by Goodlett's charges.
The Rivers Coalition believes if nature's original flow of water could return south from the lake into the Everglades, the destructive dumping into the St. Lucie would stop. Many coalition members attended Thursday with hopes this was perhaps the beginning of a peace accord — one which eventually will find river protectors allied with agribusiness.
Mideast peace will come sooner.
Goodlett did not come to Stuart to squash dreams and dash hopes. But he did.
One by one, Goodlett fielded questions from Coalition members seeking to build a bridge of cooperation between the river and the cane fields. Point by point, it became increasingly clear Goodlett's group has zero interest in the St. Lucie's problems.
He informed the crowd if they are to find a solution to the dumping of incalculable volumes of polluted water into a sensitive estuary, they will be doing so without his help or the help of any of his peers.
Goodlett began his Q & A period feigning interest in the Coalition's mission to clean Treasure Coast waterways. But as frustration grew and questions became more pointed and direct, Goodlett's good nature transformed into smugness.
It was off-putting, but I don't blame him. River lovers could "hurl hand grenades" at the man, as Goodlett said, and it wouldn't matter.
The painful moral to his story was those who have secured power do not give it up freely.
Sadly, in order to effect a change in power, those who want it must take it from those who have it.
Goodlett headed back southwest to Cane Country confident and secure. Changes to this lopsided system of water management are not coming soon.
Environmental program preserves county's precious resources
Bloomingdale.Patch.com - by D'Ann White
September 28, 2012
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY - - Residents are invited to comment on the latest nominees for the Environmental Lands Protection and Acquisition Program Oct. 29 at 6 p.m.
At a time when overeager developers see dollar signs on every piece of vacant property in Hillsborough County, it's refreshing to know that the county is making an effort to preserve our most environmentally sensitive properties, thus protecting precious water resources, bird habitats and threatened wildlife.
On March 3, 1987, Hillsborough County voters wisely approved a referendum allowing the county to collect a .25 mill tax for four years for the purchase or protection of environmentally sensitive lands, establishing the county's Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program.
Another favorable referendum in 1990 extended this tax for 20 years. Then on Nov. 4, 2008, voters approved a third referendum to issue up to $200 million in bonds to purchase lands.
The result is thousands of acres of pristine woodlands, scrubs and shorelines that might have been bulldozed for shopping centers or subdivisions have been preserved and protected.
Since its inception, ELAPP teams have completed 344 reviews and identified 126 sites to be considered for purchase. Fifty-one sites encompassing more than 61,000 acres of environmentally sensitive wildlife habitat and corridors have been acquired at a cost of $251,639.512. Other entities, such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the city of Tampa also have kicked in $83,643,299.
During the 15 years since its inception, ELAPP has preserved:
• 2,700 acres along the south prong of the Alafia River and 4,400 acres along the north prong
•2,450 acres around Aldermans Ford Park
•The Balm-Boyette Scrub consisting of 5,835 acres on both sides of Balm-Boyette and Balm-Riverview roads
•The Balm Scrub of 5,945 acres south of Balm Road and east of U.S. 301
•4,500 acres south of the Alafia River and north of Boyette-Bell Shoals roads
•1,236 acres north of Big Bend Road and west of I-75
•The Triple Creek Ranch consisting of 2,000 acres along Bell Creek between FishHawk Ranch and the Balm-Boyette Scrub
•12,605 acres between the eastern edge of the Little Manatee River corridor and the Alafia River South Prong site
•4,600 acres in the Blackwater Creek area in northeast Hillsborough
•5,400 acres on both sides of Cypress Creek east of Livingston Road and west of I-75
•The Cone Ranch consisting of 3,600 acres in northeast Hillsborough
•The Varn/Cone Ranch Greenway including 1,470 acres in northeast Hillsborough
•The Lower Green Swamp Preserve consisting of 12,800 acres in northeast Hillsborough
•The Brooker Creek Headwaters including 1,730 acres north of Van Dyke Road and south of Lutz-Lake Fern Road
•The Ecopalms site consisting of 1,036 acres between Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and I-75
•Lake Dan encompassing 1,219 acres in northwest Hillsborough
In addition, the county has purchased a number of smaller sites as additions to already acquired sites or to stands on their own, such as the 13-acre Sulphur Springs Park site with its historic tower.
Those interested in finding out what environmentally sensitive lands are under consideration for preservation in this year are invited to attend a public meeting of the ELAPP Site Assessment and Review Team Monday, Oct. 29 at 6 p.m. at the Planning Commission Conference Room, 18th floor of Frederick B. Karl County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd. in downtown Tampa.
The team will review and rank properties that have been nominated to become part of ELAPP. Property owners, nominators, concerned groups and interested parties will have an opportunity to comment on the nominations.
Those unable to attend the meeting can view the report online and submit written comments prior to the meeting to be entered into the public record. Comments should be sent to the Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department, 10119 Windhorst Rd., Tampa, Fl. 33619.
Southwest Florida Water Management District to restructure
Tampa Bay Business Journal
September 28, 2012
The Southwest Florida Water Management District will undergo organizational restructuring.
The agency is implementing new business processes and has “found opportunities to improve our efficiency and further reduce our operational costs,” Blake Guillory, executive director, said in a press statement.
The district currently has 617 full-time employees. The restructuring, to be implemented in phases during the next nine months, will affect about 30 employees, primarily administrative, IT and management staff, the statement said.
The organizational changes include creating a project management office to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of how the agency’s more than 400 projects are managed. Also envisioned is the hiring of roughly 15 scientific and engineering staff to support the district’s groundwater and surface water modeling work as well as its springs and water quality initiatives.
The pool of technical experts has eroded during the last decade with employees retiring or leaving for the private sector, Guillory said.
Water Management votes to accept judge's ruling on water rights
WMBB.com - by Ken McVay
September 28, 2012
The Northwest Florida Water Management District's Governing Board voted unanimously yesterday to accept an administrative law judge's finding that "it is not in the public interest for Bay County to operate the well field" in the Sand Hill Lakes region.
The Board's decision came after hearing from its legal counsel, opposing lawyers for Bay and Washington counties, and several supporters of the Save Sand Hill Lakes Coalition. About 20 concerned citizens attended the meeting in Havana, with several publicly urging the Board to reject Bay County's consumptive-use permit request.
"We need to stop this [legal dispute] and consider what we're doing with the taxpayers' money," said Board member Joyce Estes just before the panel voted.
The 2-year dispute over the well field stems from Bay County's original proposal to draw up to 30 million gallons of water per day from an area located in northern Bay County on the Washington County line. The area is home to a fragile network of hundreds of karst lakes, some of which now look more like puddles after years of drought. Hundreds of residents in the Sand Hill Lakes region feared Bay's proposed well field would further reduce water levels in lakes and the aquifer as well as in private residential wells.
"This would have been the most disastrous thing that could have happened to the Sand Hills," Coalition member Bill Gunter said of the well field plan minutes after the board voted to accept the judge's recommended order, issued in late July. Over the last few years, Gunter and his wife, Gail, have watched the water recede on Lake Lucas, where they live, 50 feet beyond their 86-foot dock. "Because of usage and drought we have lakes that are virtually dry," he added.
Gunter was relieved that Bay also lost a legal maneuver asking the Board to return the case to the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings for reconsideration. "I literally praise the Lord for the fact that our environment has been protected," he said.
Doug Manson, lead counsel for Northern Trust, one of the petitioners in the lawsuit against Bay County, lauded the Board's decision. "We thank the Governing Board for listening to us and to the citizens who came here today to voice their concerns about the Sand Hill Lakes area," he said. "But," he added, "we are ready to put this divisive issue behind us and foster better relations with Bay County. It is our hope to work with Bay County in the future."
The Coalition to Save Sand Hill Lakes is made up of over 500 Bay and Washington County residents as well as environmental organizations such as the Bay County Audubon Society and Florida Audubon.
Environmental groups say DEP permitting initiative threatens future water supplies
Florida Current – by Bruce Ritchie
September 27, 2012
A Florida Department of Environmental Protection initiative that is intended to create more consistent water-use permitting statewide threatens future water supplies, several environmental groups contend in letters to the department this month.
DEP this week concluded a series of workshops on proposed rules to provide consistency among the state's five water management districts on consumptive-use permitting. Comment letters were due Sept. 14.
Among the proposed rule changes is a requirement that water management districts, as they review permits already issued, not reduce the amount of water-pumping that is allowed.
Those permit "compliance reviews" now are conducted every 10 years for a 20-year permit. DEP issued guidelines to the districts in March telling them any reductions in water use should be rare.
The Florida Conservation Coalition says it doesn't understand how districts can prevent environmental harm or deal with the possibility of there being less water in the future if they are issuing permits that can't be modified.
"I guess what worries me the most, all of this seems to be rolling merrily along the way and the general public can't possibly understand it," said coalition coordinator Estus Whitfield, who was chief advisor in the governor's office from 1981 to 1999. "It doesn't appear to be it has been thought through enough."
Similar concerns were raised in letters submitted by the Gulf Restoration Network and the St. Johns Riverkeeper and in one letter signed by groups including the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and the Everglades Foundation.
Save the Manatee Club wrote in its letter that permits should be issued for a maximum of 10 years. Other groups and environmentalists argued more generally for a needed emphasis on conservation.
DEP spokesman Patrick Gillespie said applicants must show water management districts that their water use will not cause environmental harm. Water management district staff, he said, do extensive modeling and consider many factors when reviewing a permit application.
"If users are conserving water, which is encouraged, taking away water from a permit dis-incentivizes conservation practices," Gillespie said. "Also, districts changing the amount of water allocated during the term of a permit doesn’t provide needed certainty for users and doesn’t recognize fluctuations in economic and market conditions."
The Southeast Florida Utility Council and Tampa Bay Water said they support the DEP proposal. Tampa Bay Water, a water wholesaler, said some compliance reviews that are required for alternative water supply permits should be extended from five years to 10 years.
Gillespie said DEP hopes to adopt the rule changes before the March legislative session.
During the 2012 legislative session, HB 7045 would have extended permits for reusing treated wastewater to 37 years. The bill passed the House 116-0, but supporters were left puzzled when it died in the Senate without being heard in a committee.
* Sept. 21, 2012 Florida Conservation Coalition letter
* Sept. 19, 2012 Letter from groups including the Conservancy of Southwest Florida
* Sept. 19, 2012 St. Johns Riverkeeper letter
* Sept. 14, 2012 Save the Manatee Club letter
* Sept. 14, 2012 Southeast Florida Water Utility Council letter
* Sept. 11, 2012 Tampa Bay Water letter
* March 23, 2012 DEP guidelines to water management districts
Excess water a challenge to drainage system, wildlife
Sun Sentinel - by Mike Clary
September 27, 2012
With at least a month of rainy season yet to go, South Florida's overburdened drainage system is facing new challenges as heavy rains pound inland areas still soggy from Tropical Storm Isaac.
One month after the huge system had engineers scrambling to move record amounts of water away from our houses and off the streets, canals are brimming, water continues to spill south into the Everglades, and levels in Lake Okeechobee — now above 15 feet — continue to rise.
"Any additional rain could make a tolerable situation worse," said Tommy Strowd, operations director for the South Florida Water Management District.
Radar tracking maps at the National Weather Service show that in the last 30 days heavy rains have pounded western suburbs, according to forecaster Barry Baxter.
"The ground is saturated, so it doesn't take much," he said.
In the Everglades, water is lapping at the tree islands, concentrating deer, raccoons, bobcats and other mammals in ark-like communities dotted through the sawgrass prairie.
"This is where the animals seek refuge," said developer Ron Bergeron, a commissioner with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, as he gunned his airboat Thursday and then coasted into a hardwood hammock about five miles south of I-75 in far western Broward County.
"They can take high water like this for about 60 to 90 days, but after that they could be in trouble."
In response, the wildlife agency issued an order banning airboats, ATVs and other vehicles from portions of the Everglades and Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.
The emergency measures also prohibit hunting deer and other game animals.
Seasons of wet and dry are natural in South Florida, and water in the Everglades is not at record levels. Bergeron said he remembers that in 1994 he found dozens of dead deer after his wetlands camp was completely submerged for days.
But Isaac left a soggy legacy, and hurricane season has two months to run. In some areas of western Palm Beach County, "Isaac was unprecedented in the sheer volume of water we had to move," said Strowd.
High-speed pumps operating at maximum capacity drained more than 100 billion gallons of water left behind, roaring through one control gate in Palm Beach County at the highest rate ever recorded—10,300 cubic feet per second.
"When we get up to 12 inches of rain in 24 hours, flat land and the infrastructure we have is not designed to deal with that," Strowd said.
Operating the complex plumbing system that makes South Florida livable calls for a delicate dance involving several local, state and federal agencies trying to balance oft-competing interests of homeowners, farmers, sportsman and the ecosystem.
"What this event tells us that we are likely to get more intense rainfall because the atmosphere is warming up and holds more moisture," said Leonard Berry, a Florida Atlantic University climatologist who heads the Center for Environmental Studies. "We really need to rethink the way we manage water in flooding and in drought, and rethink the drainage systems."
Berry recommends adding more small pumping stations through the region.
For now, the Army Corps of Engineers and Water Management District officials say the system is working.
But Thomas Van Lent, a senior scientist at the Everglades Foundation, said times of too much water underscore the need for more storage capacity.
"After big rains like this, you end up just throwing it away," said Van Lent. "We need to change the infrastructure so we have more options to store that water for when we need it."
Dawn Shirreffs, of the National Park Conservation Association, agrees.
"You can never prevent an act of God, but storms like Isaac point up our inability to move water through the system," she said.
Into the Everglades – Grad students study the behavior of predators
FIUSM.com – by Barbara Corbellini Duarte and Christina Valdes
September 27, 2012
Graduate students from the University are pioneering the study of alligators and bull sharks in the Everglades, providing baseline data for the effects the Everglades Restoration Project will have on these predators.
The goal of the research, which takes place in the Shark River Estuary located along the west coast of the Everglades National Park, is to understand the roles of the predators in the ecosystem. Adam Rosenblatt and Philip Matich, doctoral students in the biology department, observe the way alligators and sharks behave in different locations throughout different times of the year, as well as how changes in water quality and variations in weather affect the animals.
“Our research investigating top predators indirectly shows that these are not man-eating, blood thirsty animals to be feared, but rather important components of coastal ecosystems that help regulate the population sizes of smaller species and help maintain the energy and nutrient balance of these ecosystems,” said Matich, who is researching bull sharks.
The research is part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project, described as the largest environmental restoration effort in history.
The restoration project intends to provide a framework to restore, protect and preserve the water resources of central and southern Florida, including the Everglades.
The Everglades is a natural filtration system that keeps the waters in the South Florida aquifers clean. Aquifers are the underground source of fresh and drinkable water for the community in Miami.
The plan, covering 16 counties over an 18,000-square-mile area, was approved in the Water Resources Development Act of 2000. It consists of more than 60 civil work projects that will be designed and implemented in a period of 30 years. In the October 2007 estimate, the latest available, it was stated that the projects will cost $9.5 billion.
“The Everglades is a very complex ecosystem. There are a lot of elements. There is rainfall. There is heat. There are hurricanes. There’s thousands of different species of plants and animals all interacting with each other,” said Rosenblatt, who is researching American alligators.
According to Rosenblatt, this interaction is crucial to keep the Everglades healthy and to maintain the function of the natural filtration system.
“Predators help regulate the population sizes of other animals to prevent them from overpopulating ecosystems and altering the balance of species within ecosystems,” said Matich.
The research was initiated in 2007 when Rosenblatt began his study of American alligators. Matich began the research on bull sharks in 2008.
To study these predators, Rosenblatt and Matich have tagged more than 100 alligators and bull sharks. At the bottom of the Shark River Estuary lie two monitors: one records the presence of tagged animals; the other measures salinity, temperature and dissolved oxygen in water.
The scientists have observed that the animals often behave differently from one another.
“We’ve been finding more and more that animals have personalities similar to how people have personalities,” Rosenblatt said.
To understand the differences of behavior, Rosenblatt and Matich take blood, muscle and skin samples from the animals. The scientists use the samples to analyze where the predators have been feeding and what they’ve been eating using a technique called stable isotope analysis.
Besides studying alligators, Rosenblatt also examines blue crabs, which are important prey for this predator.
The scientists believe that the predators often have a bad reputation in society.
“In general, many people view some top predators, like sharks, as threats to humans because we coexist in the same habitat (coastal areas), but view other predators, like lions, in a positive light because of our geographical distance from these animals,” said Matich.
Rosenblatt explains that a shark or an alligator attack usually has a great repercussion. People remember these animals as dangerous and don’t realize how atypical these attacks are.
“How many times have we killed them compared to the times they have hurt us?” Rosenblatt asked.
Robin Sarabia, a graduate biology student researching bottlenose dolphins in the Everglades,
said that if the predators and the environment are not preserved and protected, it will cause a domino effect, damaging other species and potentially harming humans. She said that restoring and preserving the national park is essential to maintain the water quality of South Florida aquifers for the future.
“If we are going to want to continue living here and strike a balance with our environment, it’s important to have this restoration effort in order to understand what we are dealing with and why,” Sarabia said. “It’s all connected.”
Current Everglades draining flow
Desired flow for
Leader of sugar growers group says farmers won't support south flow way plan to end Lake Okeechobee discharges
TCPalm.com - by Ginny Beagan
September 27, 2012
STUART — The sugar industry will never get behind a proposed plan to move water south from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades.
That was the message David Goodlett, vice president of government and community relations of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative, delivered Thursday at the Rivers Coalition meeting in Stuart.
"I love natural resources, but I also love my job," Goodlett said.
The Rivers Coalition has been fighting for years for solutions to damaging releases of fresh water from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie Estuary. The nonprofit environmental group has pushed a proposed flow way project named Plan 6 that would restore the natural flow of waters south, so polluted runoff and lake releases don't end up in the estuary.
Lake releases began again last week and already have created environmental problems for the fragile estuary.
"The water quality is disastrous," said Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society.
However, the problem with Plan 6 is the sugar industry controls most of the land south of Lake Okeechobee, where river advocates say the flow way should be.
The cooperative is made up of 54 members/farmers whose mission is to be successful in sugar farming. Not to be confused with Big Sugar, they represent small- to medium-sized cane farmers.
Goodlett consistently defended the sugar industry, explaining that sugar farming was a marginal business; six mills have closed in the past 50 years. He said the sugar industry's negative reputation is unfounded because the industry has invested $300 million into finding a solution for lake discharges and there has been a significant reduction in discharges in recent years.
He suggested the solution to the water quality issues lies farther north, where lots of dirty water that flows into Lake Okeechobee originates.
Perry said the Plan 6 concept remains at a standstill. A 2008 proposal by then-Gov. Charlie Crist to buy approximately 180,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee from U.S. Sugar Corp. in a $1.34 billion deal was scaled back to 27,000 acres for $197 million. Additional funds also would be required to re-engineer the southern canals which currently do not have the necessary capacity to make the flow way work.
Goodlett and Thomas K. MacVicar, a registered professional engineer and private consultant specializing in the water resource and environmental issues, suggested engineers working with the sugar industry have proved the flow way would not work.
"Environmental laws are designed to stop projects," MacVicar said. "Stop shouting at sugar. Go to the government."
Goodlett answered questions for more than an hour and the room grew tense a few times. One of the more contentious moments came when Goodlett was asked why he thought the sugar industry was more important than the fishing, tourism and real estate industries?
Coalition Chairman Leon Abood reined in the contention by rephrasing the same question at least five times.
"How can we work together to come to a solution?"
Many attendees came away thinking the answer to that question was — we can't.
"Forget 'never,'" said Jensen Beach resident Jackie Trancynger. "You can't start out with saying 'never' and expect me to take you seriously when you say you want to work together."
Swiftmud Board Approves Budget, Tax Rate
September 27, 2012
Southwest Florida Water Management District's Governing Board on Tuesday adopted next year's $159.5 million budget following a public hearing in Tampa.
The property tax rate in the 16-county district, which includes most of Polk County, will remain at 39 cents per $1,000 of property value.
For the owner of a $100,000 home with $50,000 in homestead exemptions, the tax would be about $19.50.
Next year's budget is 2.5 percent higher than this year's $155.5 million.
Swiftmud officials said the $3.9 million increase will fund requests from local governments for water resources projects and will be paid for using unspent money from previous years.
The budget includes $83.2 million for capital and infrastructure and other projects.
The budget takes effect Oct. 1.
Swamp pizza with
frog-legs and swamp
Bon apetite !
It's the Everglades pizza, with swamp of toppings
September 26, 2012
The pizza starts out harmless enough.
Dough is rolled out, ladled with sauce, sprinkled with cheese. Toppings are applied.
But this isn’t a pepperoni pie; not even a Hawaiian.
Think anchovies are exotic ? Think harder.
“For the Everglades pizza, we do the swamp cabbage, an alligator-wild hog sausage, frog legs — there’s the Everglades seasoning, naturally,” says Evan Daniell, owner of Evan’s Neighborhood Pizza in Fort Myers, “and the python.”
Daniell and his wife, Avis, concocted the Everglades pizza last year after news reports of giant Burmese pythons eating alligators in the Everglades. They hoped it would be a conversation starter at their 11-year-old eatery. Maybe drum up attention for Evan’s Facebook page.
At $45 a pie they didn’t believe they’d sell many.
“We’ve actually averaged one to two a month,” Evan Daniell said. “It’s a mix. Locals who are used to the idea of frog legs and gator, and tourists who want to try something completely different.”
The pizza’s hefty price tag covers the $66-per-pound Daniell pays for the skinned, cleaned, ready-to-use python fillets he gets from an exotic-meats dealer who imports the snakes from Asia (lest you think Daniell is out back clubbing to death wild pythons each morning).
Evan’s needs 24 hours notice to make the Everglades, and he likes to be there to watch people’s reactions as they take their first — sometimes only —bites.
He describes the meat as chewy, a cross between chicken and gator.
Longtime Evan’s customer John Lawlor concurs. He likes to feed it to his Minnesotan in-laws.
“For people that are mostly meat and potatoes, it’s pretty terrifying,” laughed Lawlor, who has convinced only one of his in-laws to swallow the python bits. “In fact, the mother-in-law will be in next week, so maybe we’ll take her in for a re-do.”
LO water release
Martin commissioners want to show Army Corps leaders effects of lake releases on estuary
TCPalm - by George Andreassi
September 25, 2012
STUART — Several Martin County commissioners and residents Tuesday blasted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' decision to release polluted water from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie Estuary.
Releases of polluted water from the lake have historically harmed fish, sea grasses and other wildlife and made it hazardous for people to swim in the estuary.
"I suspect it's going to get worse before it gets better," said Commissioner Sarah Heard. "They need to see what the consequences of those actions are. It's an unhappy, unenviable, unfair consequence."
The commissioners voted unanimously to ask the South Florida Water Management District, which helps the Army Corps manage the lake, to provide information needed to discuss the discharges with Army Corps officials.
The commissioners also agreed to invite Col. Alan M. Dodd, the commander of the Army Corps district that includes Florida, to visit Stuart to see the problems caused by the lake discharges.
In addition, the commissioners agreed to send news articles, photos and other information about the releases to federal lawmakers to show them the need for funding for the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area, the Herbert Hoover Dike Rehabilitation and other related projects.
"It continues to rain, the forecast continues to be wet and we do have the releases going on now," said Deborah Drum, the county's manager of Ecosystem Restoration and Management.
The Army Corps began releasing water from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers on Sept. 19 as part of its efforts to manage the rising lake level so the dike is not compromised.
Commissioner Doug Smith expressed sentiments similar to Heard's.
"I've been here for five colonels now. They all seem to tend to think as they go into their new position that they've got everything under control," Smith said. "They need to come and see and understand what it really means to us locally because it does change their perspective instantly when they see it."
Jacqueline Trancynger, a civic activist from Jensen Beach, said she thinks the lake releases are the result of the South Florida sugar industry's extraordinary political power. Massive sugar cane fields are located south of the lake.
Some observers think the sugar industry uses its wealth and political influence to block efforts to restore the historic flow of water from Lake Okeechobee south to the Everglades.
"It is certainly not a lack of the understanding of environmental facts that is causing the Army Corps to release water from the lake, so that if it continues (it) will kill our rivers and our lagoon forever," Trancynger said. "Think Big Sugar and all of their money, much of which is earned by subsidies from my tax money in the first place."
Water districts respond to former board members who wrote Gov. Scott
Florida Current – by Bruce Ritchie
September 25, 2012
The chairs of the state's five water management districts say their agencies are focused on the "prudent use of taxpayer dollars" rather than on raising taxes.
They wrote a letter on Monday in response to a missive sent to Gov. Rick Scott last week by 20 former board members of the districts . The former board members asked the governor to restore funding for the districts in the wake of cuts last year imposed by legislation.
The Legislature this year lifted the spending caps, but the districts have proposed keeping the same or slightly lower tax rates under reported pressure from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. A DEP spokesman said this month the department "collaborated" with the districts to hold down the cost of living for Florida residents.
The former board members, in their letter last week, described the economic benefits of proper water management and threats to future water supplies from a growing population. They point out that the owner of a $150,000 home in the South Florida Water Management District saved less than $20 in taxes paid because of the cuts last year.
They suggested the option of allowing "some discretion" for each of the five districts to adopt tax rates needed "to accomplish their core mission."
The five chairmen responded Monday that past spending on land acquisition, building expansions and local partnership projects had built good will but also had led to unrealistic growth their agencies' sizes along with salaries and benefits that exceeded those of state employees.
"Today, in a different fiscal climate, the governor and Legislature are focused on prudent use of taxpayer dollars and not increasing the burden of more government and higher taxes on Florida’s citizens," the letter stated.
The chairmen pointed to projects under way this year in each of the districts that when combined provide almost $1 billion towards restoration and water conservation. In addition, the South Florida Water Management District is moving "aggressively" forward on the governor's plan to spend $880 million over 12 years on Everglades restoration, including $87.6 million in this year's budget.
The board chairmen said they were pleased that the Legislature lifted the revenue caps.
"This will allow our budgets to grow as Florida’s economy grows -- rather than increasing the burden on current taxpayers," they wrote.
Eric Buermann, a former South Florida Water Management District board member, said he and some of the others who signed the letter last week were disappointed and taken aback that the governor did not personally respond.
"The districts are driven now right out of Tallahassee," Buermann said. "Anybody who doesn't think that is kidding themselves."
Letter former Governing Board members of Florida's water management districts wrote to Governor Rick Scott Sept. 17, 2012,
The memo from the Florida Department of Environmental Protections on water management district funding
Water district needs to be more public about its public land
Palm Beach Post - Editorial by Jac Versteeg, Staff Writer
September 25, 2012
If the first step in solving any problem is admitting that the problem exists, then the South Florida Water Management District has started to solve its land-management problem.
The Post’s Christine Stapleton reported Sept. 15 that the district board was privately briefed on an inspector general’s report that criticized the agency for failing to have a comprehensive inventory of the 1.4 million acres of land it owns across 16 counties. The report also said the district did not have a formal, publicly accessible system for deciding which land it can and should sell or lease. The board then received the report at its public meeting, during which board members had no comment on the report.
Such apparent secrecy is unacceptable for a public agency that incurred criticism for paying $25.5 million for 2,042 acres of land that a year earlier had been valued at just $5.5 million. Further, the district bought the land from the politically influential family of Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and then allowed the family to graze cattle rent-free.
Director of Operations, Maintenance and Construction Tommy Strowd said in an interview that “it was true we used a lot of sort of informal methods” to categorize water district property, and “it was not a well-documented process.” Mr. Strowd said the district will be reevaluating all of its property and that it will do so in a way that is “very visible” and “very public.” He predicted that it would take the district at least until August 2013 to complete the reevaluation.
That’s a reasonable timeline for a variety of reasons. The district, as Mr. Strowd explained, owns property in three general categories. Some was acquired for environmental preservation, some because it is key to controlling water flow and some for capital projects such as drainage systems.
The district’s mission is broad, ranging from flood control to water supply to Everglades restoration. Political upheaval and financial constraints have further complicated that mission. So, Mr. Strowd says, the district has to review all its property and decide if the original purpose for which each piece was acquired still applies. He does not expect the district either to buy a lot of new land or to stage a fire sale on land it already owns.
In 2011, the district cut its staff by roughly 11 percent through layoffs and buyouts. Many of those who left were long-timers. Asked if the departures have damaged the district’s institutional knowledge, Mr. Strowd said the organization still has a “large number of highly tenured people.” However, the district still is going through an extensive reorganization of its smaller staff and has not permanently assigned real estate duties to single employee following the May retirement of its former real estate chief. Even with a year to work on it, getting a handle on all 1.4 million acres of land is a huge undertaking.
Last week a group of former water district board members from across Florida wrote to ask Gov. Scott to restore adequate levels of spending to the five districts. The group, including former South Florida district chairman Eric Buermann, asked Gov. Scott to advocate in the Legislature for flexibility, allowing individual water districts to raise tax rates for crucial projects. One way to make the case for restored spending is to show that the district is doing a good job with current resources — including the land it owns.
Water district's budget goes public again
Tampa Tribune - by Keith Morelli
September 25, 2012
TAMPA -- Plummeting property values and a governor looking to cut government bureaucracy have dealt a double whammy in recent years to the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
The district, which covers 16 counties including Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Polk, cut its workforce by almost 20 percent last year.
The district now has 617 workers, down from nearly 900 in 2009.
Last year's cuts came while district administrators were facing a 44 percent budget cut. The agency now has a smaller operating budget and payroll and has lowered spending on some projects, administrators say.
Water management officials say the public shouldn't notice the difference.
"We've reduced our operating costs," said Kurt Fritsch, the district's management services director, "and will continue to fund major water resources programs."
The water management district's governing board will hold its final public hearing on the $159.7 million budget at 6 p.m. today at the district's Tampa office, 7601 U.S. 301.
The bulk of the district's revenue comes from property taxes, but less tax money is coming in because of lower land and home values.
The agency's governing board kept the same tax rate as last year, but with assessments down 3 percent, the district is pulling in $3 million less than last year. In all, slightly more than $100 million of the budget comes from property tax revenue.
For the owner of a $150,000 house with a $50,000 homestead exemption, the district portion of the property taxes would amount to $39.28 on the tax bill.
The 229-page proposed budget, submitted to the governor's office in August, represents a 2.6 percent increase over this year's budget of $155.5 million. The governor has approved the budget, and the Florida Legislature did not submit any comments, Fritsch said.
The $4.2 million increase is partly coming from reserve funds, mostly accrued by cancellations of funded projects and projects that came in under budget. Fritsch said the budget uses a total of $9.8 million from the district's reserve funds.
Additional funding comes from balances from previous years, local and federal governments, permit fees and interest from investments.
In a letter to the governor's office in August, district Executive Director Blake Guillory said: "The district developed this budget based on current economic and taxation realities to ensure the long-term sustainability of the region's water resources. … Over the past year we reviewed every district project, program and initiative to determine if we should be doing it and, if so, whether we do it efficiently."
Guillory said the budget continues to allow the district to operate without going into debt.
Fritsch said the budget up for approval includes $2.8 million available to purchase wetlands to protect water resources, a program that went dry after last year's budget cuts.
In seeking aid for Isaac, Scott now wants D.C.’s money
Palm Beach Post – Editorial by Randy Schultz
September 24, 2012
With the Federal Emergency Management Agency rejecting Florida’s request for disaster assistance because of Tropical Storm Isaac, all the usual roles are reversed.
The supposedly spendthrift Obama administration is playing the fiscal conservative, declaring that Florida’s damage wasn’t severe enough for FEMA to reimburse local governments. Damage in Palm Beach County is estimated at $6 million, with most of the problems in the west-central communities.
Meanwhile, Gov. Scott, who won’t take money from Washington to implement the health care law, will appeal FEMA’s decision and ask the feds for relief. He calculates the damage in 10 counties at $36.7 million.
Finally, what’s up with FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate ? He was Florida’s director of emergency management during the hurricane years of 2004 and 2005. He was among many in Florida bugging FEMA about its slow reimbursements. And doesn’t he think his boss might like to win Florida?
If the decision stands, local governments won’t be crippled. The decision is somewhat confusing, though, given what happened after similar storms.
In October 1999, President Clinton declared Palm Beach County a disaster area after Tropical Storm/Hurricane Irene went up the spine of the state. Most rain was on the east side. Boynton Beach got more than 17 inches. The damage also was considerably higher. Agriculture losses alone were $73 million.
In August 2001, FEMA withheld aid after Tropical Storm Barry caused flooding in parts of Martin County. Last July, however, President Obama declared a disaster in five west-central Florida counties due to rain from Tropical Storm Debby.
Local governments, though, maintain “rainy day” funds for a reason. They might have to tap them. Whatever happens with FEMA, discussion should continue on how to better prepare for the next big rain.
In that spirit, Palm Beach County Commissioner Karen Marcus has raised the idea of a government purchase of the 4,7000-acre Vavrus Ranch in Palm Beach Gardens. The South Florida Water Management District is set to buy Mecca Farms, which adjoins Vavrus to the west, as part of Everglades restoration. Buying Vavrus, Commissioner Marcus argues, could create more environmental benefits and provide more water storage.
The price could be $60 million. But the water district, Palm Beach County, Palm Beach Gardens and other directly and indirectly affected agencies have a stake in minimizing flood damage. The idea is worth talking about.
And if FEMA doesn’t change its mind, it will be one more reason for residents in those west-central communities to consider paying more for flood protection.
new Operations Leader
New expert joins ARCADIS
September 24, 2012
ARCADIS, the international design, consulting, engineering and management services company, announced it has hired Stuart Appelbaum, an expert in water resources planning and ecosystem restoration.
Appelbaum will work out of the firm’s Jacksonville, Fla. office where he will support the firm’s clients in water resources planning, river basin studies, urban watershed management, as well as in projects and studies related to stormwater, floodplain and drought management, coastal protection and ecosystem restoration.
Appelbaum comes to ARCADIS from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers where he spent more than 35 years in water resources planning, ecosystem restoration and program management. A recognized expert in planning and implementing large-scale ecosystem restoration projects, he successfully led the Corps’ $13 billion Everglades restoration program, one of the world’s largest ecosystem restoration projects. He was also involved in similar efforts along the Louisiana coast, the Puget Sound and the Missouri River.
“Stu’s demonstrated experience in interagency and interdisciplinary collaboration, public outreach and policy development combined with his technical expertise in ecosystem restoration and water resources are a powerful addition to the capabilities we can offer clients,” according to ARCADIS U.S. operations director, Rudy Guichard. “His restoration expertise helps fulfill our mission of balancing the built and natural worlds for our clients and our communities.”
Appelbaum holds a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from Polytechnic Institute of New York and a master’s degree in Water Resources Engineering from George Washington University
No room for 'dirty water rules'
Gainesville Sun – by Andrew McElwaine, President, Conservancy of Southwest Florida
September 24, 2012
We are lucky to live in one of the most beautiful places in the country, but how will our economy fare if our waters keep getting covered in stinking slime and algae?
When nitrogen and phosphorus pollution builds up in rivers and estuaries, we experience dead fish on our beaches, algae piled three feet high along the shore, closed water treatment plants and dead zones in our sounds and bays. Without quantifiable limits on the amount of so-called “nutrient” pollution which comes from sewage, manure and fertilizer, our waters will never recover.
Excess nitrogen and phosphorous pollution in our waters has reached dangerously high levels, triggering toxic outbreaks of algae and bacteria. Florida’s waters are being poisoned. We need to keep the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines and the Clean Water Act rules intact.
However, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has drafted a substitute for EPA’s rules that would only require pollution controls AFTER waters have been severely degraded, requiring expensive clean-up at taxpayer expense. These industry-friendly standards will allow unsafe pollution levels rather than following the common-sense limits set by the U.S. EPA under the Clean Water Act.
The basis of the Clean Water Act was enacted in 1948 as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, and was significantly reorganized and expanded in 1972. Let’s not throw away decades of water protection.
The quality of Florida’s water is puts our tourism, fishing and real estate values at risk. These industries are the backbone of our economy, and without them we may never see a sustainable economic recovery. The EPA’s Clean Water Act standards will not only protect our health and our environment, they will help us restore the reason people want to live, visit and invest here.
Florida is an important state in the upcoming elections. Floridians must let President Obama know NOW that Florida deserves better and that he should enforce the Clean Water Act to clean up Florida’s waters. Obama should say NO to the Scott Administration’s dirty water rules. Visit conservancy.org/take action.
Preserve our national 'anchors'
TBO.com - Editorial
September 24, 2012
Ken Burns' entitled his documentary on the national parks "America's Best Idea" with good reason. Few things unite Americans like the parks, which preserve the nation's most majestic landscape and valuable habitat.
The parks attract more than 200 million visitors a year, and polls consistently show they enjoy strong bipartisan support.
Yet the national parks, including the Florida Everglades, face a grim outlook if the nation doesn't get its budget fiasco under control.
The automatic cuts that will kick in if Congress does not agree on a budget by early next year would cut the parks by up to 10 percent.
This follows years of cutbacks that, as The Washington Post recently reported, have undermined the National Park Service's ability to maintain roads, protect archaeological resources, control invasive species, deal with air and water pollution, conduct research and otherwise handle all the chores necessary to serve the public and safeguard the land.
Austerity is essential if the country is to confront the deficit.
But a haphazard butchering of the national parks would be economically foolish — and devastating to local economies.
The National Parks Conservation Association points out that the national parks contribute more than $31 billion to local economies and support 258,000 jobs.
There are 58 national parks, but when national monuments and such historic sites are included, the number grows to nearly 400.
The nonprofit advocate for the parks says "if the Parks Service was a Fortune 500 company, it would be among the top 100 revenue generators in the country."
Some other statistics from the association: National parks in Florida attracted about 9 million visitors who spent more than $513 million. The parks in Florida support 8,530 jobs.
The parks have undertaken extensive cost-cutting measures over the years. Many services are privatized. The parks utilize dedicated volunteers and private fundraising groups.
Although some vocal Republican members of Congress seem indifferent to the parks' importance, it is encouraging that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney told the Post he is a "passionate advocate of our national parks."
He and President Barack Obama should consider the approach of former President George W. Bush, who had hoped to increase funding while rallying more private funding, until the economic downturn.
Increased funding may not be realistic, but the president and the gridlocked Congress should emphasize their support for the national parks and at least strive to keep them from falling into further disrepair.
They should consider the words of documentarian Burns, who calls the parks "anchors" that are good for our health and sanity. "When we say 'My country 'tis of thee' — it's my country — are we talking about city streets? Are we talking about industrial cities? No. We're talking about the land we have, and there's so very little of it that's unspoiled or that doesn't have a fence through it.
"Here in these special places that we've resolved together as a people to preserve, we feel a sense of commonality."
Florida’s water bill
Gainesville Sun - Editorial
September 23, 2012
Floridians can pay a little more now or a lot more later.
That was the message delivered to Gov. Rick Scott this week in a letter signed by 20 former water management district board members from across the state. The letter urged the governor to restore $240 million in funding he stripped from the five water district budgets last year.
The letter writers — including former Suwannee District member David Flagg, of Gainesville — played to Scott's business sense, pointing out, correctly, that investing in Florida's long-term water well-being is not only environmentally wise but economically beneficial as well.
"Protecting and restoring Florida's treasured ecosystems drive our economy," they wrote. "For example, a recent study showed that for every dollar invested in Everglades restoration, approximately four dollars of economic benefits are generated.
The letter points out that Florida is divided into five water districts based on the aquaculture of each region, and therefore water issues are most effectively managed on a regional — not a statewide — basis.
Moreover, they told Scott that as "the possibility of climate change contributes to more weather extremes such as drought and sea-level rise" that threaten our water supply, "it is all the more urgent to invest now in solutions so that the people and new businesses coming to Florida can be assured of a clean water supply."
Water quality and quantity do depend on adequate and well-maintained watersheds. Water districts not only monitor water supply, but manage flooding, pollution and "treasured ecosystems." And to do these effectively, they need adequate funding.
But it is on our future water supply that the letter's authors are most focused.
"As our limited resources are strained by a growing population in the coming years, adequately funding water supply development through water storage projects, alternative water supplies, greater conservation and reclaimed water projects is vital for a sustainable future," they wrote.
Florida taxpayers need to know that failing to adequately undertake water solutions for the future will cost them far more later.
"We think the average Floridian would rather pay a little more for water management solutions today than have to pay for much more expensive projects later," the letter argued.
Current Everglades draining flow
Desired flow for
St. Lucie River gets dumped on again, prompting advocates the cries for a flow way south
TC Palm.com, WPTV5 – by Eve Samples, Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers
September 23, 2012
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Enough freshwater to fill more than 900 Olympic-size swimming pools everyday started gushing into the St. Lucie River last week.
The water — arriving from Lake Okeechobee via the St. Lucie Canal — is laden with pollutants. It is brown and foamy as it cascades through the St. Lucie Lock & Dam.
We can expect it to kill oysters and sea grasses. Depending on how long the Army Corps of Engineers continues the releases, it might trigger algae blooms and fish kills.
"It's easily the most frustrating aspect of the current system that the Army Corps operates, just because the estuary bears the brunt of it," said Kevin Powers, vice-chair of the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board.
There is no debating that the releases — which started Wednesday as the Army Corps tried to lower a rising Lake O — will hurt the already ailing St. Lucie River estuary.
What is still being debated, after decades of abuse, is where to focus efforts for a solution.
Allies of the Rivers Coalition, a diverse collection of advocates for the St. Lucie River, have been clear about what must happen.
"The true long-term fix for the next generation is for them to be able to move and store the water south," said Leon Abood, chairman of the group.
If he had a nickel for every time he made a statement like that, he'd be able to buy all the land needed to restore the natural flow of water from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades.
But the unwavering message has not forced the hands of those in power.
The Rivers Coalition has tried taking its battle to federal court. It has tried diplomacy with government agencies.
Neither approach has stopped the discharges into the St. Lucie River. On Thursday, 925 cubic feet of polluted water per second flowed through the St. Lucie Lock & Dam — less than what the Army Corps is allowed to send our way, but enough to cause damage.
Still hoping for a solution, the Rivers Coalition now intends to try its message on a new potential ally: the sugar farmers who control much of the land south of Lake Okeechobee.
"We don't have the political will to force it. We don't have the money to outspend them. We don't have the political influence to out-lobby them," Abood said. "So we've got to get them to the table."
Two representatives of the sugar industry — consultant Thomas MacVicar and David Goodlett of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida — will join the Rivers Coalition at 11 a.m. Thursday for a public meeting at Stuart City Hall.
They're bound to get an earful from fed-up residents who are tired of the federal government propping up the sugar industry with subsidies while the St. Lucie River suffers.
"What we're looking to accomplish is to have them be frank and candid in their answers to specific questions involving the flow way south, involving cleaning up their own water, involving their support for a flow way concept," Abood said.
Abood and other members of the Rivers Coalition were hopeful about a flow way in 2008 when former Gov. Charlie Crist announced a deal to buy more than 180,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee from U.S. Sugar. That deal was dramatically scaled back after Gov. Rick Scott took office, though the South Florida Water Management District still has an option to buy the remaining 153,000 acres.
Powers, who is in the unique position of living on the St. Lucie River and sitting on the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board, is more focused on near-term projects than embracing the idea of a flow way.
He pointed to four things that, in combination, he believes could help the St. Lucie avoid at least some water from Lake Okeechobee:
Construction of the C-44 reservoir, which will capture local runoff in the St. Lucie Canal; rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee's 140-mile perimeter, which might allow the lake to hold more water; restoration of the Kissimmee River north of the lake; and water-quality projects to the south.
"I would rather focus on things that we have an actual chance of doing," Powers said.
Abood said he agrees with Powers to a point. He supports those four projects — yet he and many others in the Rivers Coalition want the larger fix, too. They raised their voices together Wednesday night, when about 50 protesters from the River Kidz group gathered at the St. Lucie Lock & Dam to oppose the releases.
As Powers pointed out, Martin County's voices often get drowned out amid the competing interests jockeying for Florida's water supply.
"Martin County's at a huge disadvantage. It's got 140,000 residents. It's got 100,000 voters," Powers said. "There's 5 million people in the counties south of us. Who do you think has a louder voice ?"
( Lilioceris cheni)
to control spread of
'brazilian pepper' vine
Leaf beetle key to ridding S. Florida of destructive vine
September 22, 2012
MIAMI (CBSMiami) — The newest weapons in Florida’s long and mostly losing war against exotic plants seemed in no real rush to enter the fray on Friday, clinging to their plastic containers, the hands of young students and the shirt of entomologist Ted Center.
“They’re very hardy. You can handle them,” instructed Center, pinching a bug just a little bigger than a grain of rice between his fingers and then reaching out to let it fly off into the lush forest surrounding Long Key Natural Area in Davie.
It promptly dropped straight down into the dirt.
In its article, CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald reports it was just a natural defense reaction of the air potato leaf beetle, the latest pest-fighting “bio-control agent’’ unleashed by researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Invasive Plant Research Laboratory in Fort Lauderdale.
The beetle, formally known as Lilioceris cheni, soon flittered away with some 200 others in search of air potato, a vine that may sound like a diet food product but ranks among the state’s most damaging, difficult-to-control pest plants.
Judging by the results of earlier test releases across South Florida, the beetle may offer the first real hope of knocking back the notoriously resilient air potato, which can climb 60 feet and smother everything from wild coffee bushes to live oak trees in a dense, strangling cloak.
The air potato, an inedible variety of yam originally from Asia, spreads by dropping gnarled potato-like growths called bulbils that can grow up to two-pound-plus, Idaho-baking size.
Though not as well-known as the melaleuca or Brazilian pepper, it’s equally problematic and found across the state and Gulf Coast. It is particularly dense in South Florida, where air potato has overtaken tropical hammocks in parks and wild areas.
In Miami-Dade County, for instance, air potato has infested just over half the 90 sites maintained by the county, said natural areas manager Joe Maguire. Fighting it is a frustrating, expensive exercise that can run more than $8,000 an acre.
Periodic clean-up efforts by volunteer “spud-busters,” followed by herbicide treatments, barely hold ground. “You think you’ve done a great job and you come out the next March or April and it’s all back again,” he said.
Like many exotic pests, the air potato was brought to Florida as an ornamental plant around 1905. Its rapid growth and heart-shaped leaves made it attractive.
Pat Howell, a Broward County natural area specialist at Tree Tops Park, said homeowners didn’t initially realize how damaging they were — and some still don’t.
“They liked how they twined around mailboxes,’’ she said, but “they’ll twine your whole house if you don’t do something.’’
After more than a century, with no Florida native insects to keep it in check, the air potato has run amuck. Its vines turn brown and brittle every winter.
But by spring, millions of ticking spud bombs lurking in the soil explode in a new, thicker tangle crowding out and even killing native plants. The vines, Center said, grow at an astounding rate of up to 10 inches a day.
Scientists at the USDA’s Agriculture Research Service in Fort Lauderdale went back to the air potato’s native lands in China to seek a potential “bio-control’’ — an insect that targets only a single host plant.
Though Florida has a long history of misguided imports — melaleuca to drain the Everglades, bufo toads to control sugar cane pests and blue tilapia to clear weeds in canals, to name a few — bio-controls today must clear a rigorous screening process involving multiple agencies that can take years, said Center, the lab’s research leader.
The aim is to ensure imports won’t develop an appetite for unintended plants, including crops such as citrus and sugar cane.
In the last decade, scientists at the center, with support from state and counties agencies, have introduced dozens of imported insects. Not every bio-control has worked but some, such as the melaleuca snout beetle, have put a real dent in troublesome species.
Center stressed that bio-controls are not “silver bullets’’ capable of eradicating an invasive plant but they can promise cheaper, more environmentally friendly alternatives to chemical herbicides.
In a handful of initial tests this spring, the air potato leaf beetle has shown promise.
Attractive as bugs go, its flame-colored wings standing out against a body as shiny as black patent leather, the beetle possesses a prodigious appetite, consuming by USDA estimates about 30 square feet of leaf in a three-month life span.
It also reproduces rapidly, with females laying about 1,200 eggs each cycle. There aren’t enough beetles now to do much damage but Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will begin mass rearing them for wider release at three labs.
At the tropical forest in Davie, just 66 of the beetles have taken a visible bite out of a small test area, leaving air potato leaves looking like they’ve been peppered by repeated shotgun blasts.
Ellen Lake, a USDA research entomologist, pointed out one native wild coffee plant, completely cloaked a few months ago, was now visible through the desiccated vine.
Though the beetles may not do enough damage to kill a vine outright, they could weaken the plant enough to limit its climbing or curb its output of bulbils.
One key, Lake said, is how well the beetles survive the winter. It could take several years and wider releases to determine effectiveness.
Still, Center is optimistic the beetles could become a new and powerful tool against a supremely stubborn pest.
He’s looking forward to next spring, when the bugs will emerge from the leaf litter and soil to find plenty of what they seem to crave most — tender new air potato shoots.
“We’ve very interested to see what will happen,’’ he said. “The hope is they’re going to devastate the foliage.’’
Vilsack: USDA’s record conservation accomplishments
Cattlenetwork.com – by Tom Vilsack, USDA Secretary
September 22, 2012
As drought continues across America today, President Obama and I are committed to taking every possible step to help farmers and ranchers, businesses, and communities recover when disaster strikes.
Meanwhile, it is disappointing to many in rural America that Congress has not taken action on a comprehensive, multiyear Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that would give rural families more certainty in a tough time. I continue to remind folks in Washington that we need a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible to keep rural America growing in the years to come.
Especially in a time of drought, we’re reminded of the great importance that conservation of our natural resources plays in the lives of all Americans – and today USDA continues its record efforts to conserve, restore, and protect America’s land and water.
Since 2009 USDA has partnered with more than half a million private landowners to enroll a record number of acres in conservation programs. We’ve accelerated protection of critical wetlands, enrolling more than 800,000 acres in programs to enhance water availability.
And we have offered producers multiple new opportunities to utilize the Conservation Reserve Program to retire marginal agricultural lands, restore grasslands and forests, and protect valuable wildlife habitat.
Since 2009 USDA has initiated new, large-scale efforts to protect natural areas, including farms, ranches and forestland, in partnership with producers and landowners. These include efforts to protect water supplies in areas such as the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, restoring National Forest lands in the west to make these forests healthier and more resilient to forest fires and other threats, and working with ranchers to conserve thousands of acres of wetlands that will help protect Florida’s Everglades.
We’ve also taken action to be sure producers who work hard to implement conservation practices can count on our programs. For example, USDA and the Department of Interior recently partnered to announce an effort called Working Lands for Wildlife that provides landowners with incentives to protect endangered wildlife, along with the certainty that they can keep earning a living farming, ranching and managing their forests.
Finally, we’re always focused on new and better ways to give farmers and ranchers tools to conserve the land. We’re pioneering new conservation markets that will compensate farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners for cleaner water, better wildlife habitat, and improved land stewardship practices. These emerging markets hold the promise to benefit landowners and the environment.
And through the Conservation Innovation Grants program, since 2009 USDA has provided more than 200 grants to support new technology and innovation such as methane digesters that turn waste into renewable energy. We also recently modified the program to help fund conservation work to help landowners address drought.
Ultimately, by improving our forests, waterways, farmland and fields, USDA will help landowners and land conservation at the same time. We’ll continue to create sustainable jobs in rural areas. And we will help protect America’s natural resources for generations to come.
clashing over a
proposal to allow
alligator hunting at
Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, a vast
swath of the
Everglades that juts
into western Palm
(Photographer: Robert Duyos, Sun Sentinel)
Alligator hunting dispute: Clash over proposed Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge gator hunt
Sun Sentinel - by David Fleshler
September 21, 2012
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Hunters and environmentalists clashed Thursday over a proposal to allow alligator hunting at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, a vast swath of the Everglades that juts into western Palm Beach County.
At a public meeting in West Palm Beach, opponents held signs that read, “This is their land! No alligator hunts!” “No hunting in a refuge” and “Alligator hunters not welcome!” Hunters didn’t bring signs but made their presence known by showing up in camouflage or orange vests.
About 100 people showed up to give opinions on a proposal by the refuge to issue 11 permits in 2013 for hunters to kill two of the giant reptiles each, for a total of 22 dead, with an increase planned if all goes well. Among the methods are snares, gigs, harpoons, spearguns, crossbows and bangsticks.
From a show of hands, supporters of the alligator hunt appeared to outnumber opponents by about 2 to 1. Hunters said “harvesting” alligators was a sustainable and traditional outdoors activity necessary to keep in check a population of top predators.
“As someone who hunts and fishes on the refuge, I can tell you the alligators are thick and unfortunately aggressive,” said Newton Cook, executive director of the United Waterfowlers of Florida. “While I’m fishing the alligators will take the fish off the hook.”
Opponents said that a hunt would be cruel, disturbing to the majority of visitors and contrary to the spirit of a refuge for wildlife.
“Why would you want to inflict guns, bullets and violence on this peaceful place?” asked Don Anthony, communications director for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida. “It’s offensive to even consider allowing the killing of animals in a so-called refuge.”
He dismissed the purported need to manage alligator populations as “a ruse,” saying alligators had managed their numbers by themselves for millions of years.
Staci-lee Sherwood, another opponent, said she hunting would make the refuge an unpleasant and disturbing place for the majority of visitors, imagining a parent with a child encountering a hunter “beating a bellowing alligator fighting for its life or being dragged out of the swamp by hooks.”
Byron Maharrey, past president of the Everglades Coordinating Council, which represents hunters, said alligators are killed in a quick, humane manner, contrary to some of the earlier comments. Like other supporters of the proposal, he said hunting was necessary to control a top predator that has no natural enemies.
“We think this is needed to keep the species in check,” he said. “There have been a number of people hurt or killed by alligators in the state.”
Sylvia Pelizza, manager of the refuge, said an analysis of the alligator population found it to be strong and abundant.
“It was determined that we have a harvestable population,” she said.
A decision is expected in November.
Comments may be submitted through Oct. 31 to Rolf_Olson@fws.gov or by mail to the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, 10216 Lee Rd., Boynton Beach, Fla. 33473-4797.
|Just don't mess
with nature - too
much that is !
It was common for Floridians to travel by water during the rainy season. Native Americans travel by canoe much of the year. Because of our drainage systems, we assume that these areas have always been dry land. Wetlands always seek to return to their natural state. We need to understand and adapt to our situation, or it will get much worse.
How to prevent increased flooding
Sun Sentinel – by Drew Martin, Conservation Chairman of the Sierra Club
September 21, 2012
In reading articles about the recent floods, it is apparent that the flooding in Palm Beach County has come as a surprise to many – even though many of us live in areas that were under water much of the year before drainage districts were established.
One dangerous assumption is that drainage systems can always drain all the water off the land, but that is not the case. Another dangerous assumption is that we can continue to build in these wetlands without impacting existing developments; we can't.
Unfortunately, the legislature and our regulatory agencies continue to make it easier and easier to destroy wetlands. Mitigation banks require fewer functioning wetlands, often nowhere near those wetlands being destroyed. Florida needs to adopt a policy of no net loss of wetlands and protect its remaining natural wetlands, or flooding problems will only become more severe.
Regulations protecting wetlands need to be increased and strengthened. This is good for our economy, because, if Floridians lose homes, we pay higher insurance rates. If Floridians can't get to work, we lose productivity.
One way to protect our wetlands is to restore the Florida Everglades. Areas such as the Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge took in water during the storm. At the same time, we need to continue building Storm Treatment Areas that filter and clean storm water as well as store it. We also need to stop cutting the budget of our Water Management Districts; this is penny wise and pound foolish. These districts need to be returned to their funding levels that existed before Gov. Scott took office.
We need to plan for increased sea levels and understand that rising sea levels will impact existing drainage systems. We need to stop the continued overdevelopment of areas that are technically wetlands. Every new housing development, road and big box store means more flooding to existing home owners. We need to return vacant lands to cypress swamps and sawgrass, which hold and filter water into our aquifers. We need to prevent property owners from filling in ponds and removing natural areas that provide the first barriers against flooding.
It is not too late, but it will be soon if the legislature, governor and local governments do not change their policies.
Sooner or later
Ocala.com - Editorial
September 21, 2012
Floridians can pay a little more now or a lot more later.
That was the message delivered to Gov. Rick Scott this week in a letter from eight former water management district board members from across the state who urged the governor to restore $240 million in funding he stripped from the five water district budgets last year. The letter writers played to Scott’s business sense, pointing out, correctly, that investing in Florida’s long-term water well-being is not only environmentally wise but economically beneficial as well.
“Protecting and restoring Florida’s treasured ecosystems drive our economy,” they wrote. “For example, a recent study showed that for every dollar invested in Everglades restoration, approximately four dollars of economic benefits are generated. Our state is blessed with incredible freshwater systems and habitats from America’s Everglades to the St. Johns River and from our freshwater springs to the rivers that emerge from the Green Swamp. Expediting progress on restoration projects means more jobs, more tourism, and more money for our state.”
The eight former water governors pointed out that Florida is divided into five water districts based on the aquaculture of each region, and therefore are most effectively managed on a regional — not a statewide — basis. Moreover, they told Scott that as “the possibility of climate change contributes to more weather extremes such as drought and sea-level rise” that threaten our water supply, “it is all the more urgent to invest now in solutions so that the people and new businesses coming to Florida can be assured of a clean water supply.”
The letter contains many truths about managing Florida’s fragile and increasingly stressed water systems. Water quality and quantity do depend on adequate and well-maintained watersheds. Water districts not only monitor water supply, but manage flooding, pollution, and “treasured ecosystems.” And to do these effectively, they need adequate funding.
But it is on our future water supply that the letter’s authors are most focused.
“As our limited resources are strained by a growing population in the coming years, adequately funding water supply development through water storage projects, alternative water supplies, greater conservation and reclaimed water projects is vital for a sustainable future,” they wrote.
They note that restoring last year’s funding cuts will not create an onerous burden on taxpayers. For instance, for a Marion County taxpayer who owns a $100,000 house, the budget cuts resulted in tax savings of $8.41 in the St. Johns River Water Management District and $21.50 in the Southwest Florida WMD.
We can assure those taxpayers that failing to adequately undertake water solutions for the future will cost them far more later.
We are reminded of a prognostication by Florida Audubon’s Charles Lee to an Ocala audience a couple years ago: “Take your monthly electric bill — your highest one, your August bill — and look at it. If we don’t do something, that is what your monthly water bill will look like in a quarter century.”
The eight ex-water board members put it another way:
“We think the average Floridian would rather pay a little more for water management solutions today that have to pay for much more expensive projects later.”
Let’s hope Gov. Scott listens to their counsel, because sooner or later Florida’s water bill will come due.
Water district advocates call for governor to restore budget cuts
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
September 21, 2012
Restoring millions slashed from the budgets of Florida's water management districts would help boost jobs, tourism and the environment, according to a coalition of former agency leaders.
Twenty former board members from Florida's five water management district's this week sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott calling on him to support sending more money to the agencies that guard against flooding, protect water supplies and lead environmental restoration.
That includes the South Florida Water Management District, which in 2011 saw its budget cut by more than $100 million.
That was a 30 percent cutback that resulted in more than 100 layoffs and raised concerns in the environmental community about more delays for Everglades restoration efforts.
"We urge you to consider restoring adequate funding for our state's water management districts for Florida's economy, environment, and future," the former board members wrote to Scott.
The governor's administration contends that budget cuts at the water management districts haven't deterred efforts to protect water supplies, lead environmental restoration and guard against flooding.
"As a result of more fiscally responsible practices, the districts have become better stewards of the tax dollars they receive and are better able to support their core missions," said Patrick Gillespie, spokesman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the state's five water management districts.
The governor, both as a candidate and after getting elected in 2010, has supported cutting water district spending.
The Florida Legislature in 2011 required deep spending cuts the water management districts by capping allowable tax rates and putting new limits on land purchases and other spending.
This year, the Legislature eased those tax rate caps, but didn't return all of the money cut from the districts.
Those budget cuts have gone too far, according to the letter from the former district board members. Former South Florida Water Management District board members who added their names to the letter included Eric Buermann, John Flanigan, Allan Milledge and Nathaniel Reed.
"In a region susceptible to great extremes in weather — from hurricanes and floods to droughts, our 18.8 million residents and businesses rely on water management districts to effectively manage flooding and to ensure abundant water supply for their livelihoods and recreation," the letter said.
Even after last year's deep cut, property taxes would take a slight dip in the nearly $600 million budget proposed by the South Florida Water Management District.
The district's board — appointed by the governor — earlier this month gave initial approval to a new property tax rate that would be about 43 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value.
At that rate for a home valued at $230,000 and eligible for a $50,000 homestead exemption, district taxes for a property owner in Broward or Palm Beach counties would be about $77 a year. That's about $2 less than the previous tax rate.
The final budget vote is Tuesday.
Get involved in water issues
Gainesville.com – by Katie Tripp
September 20, 2012
It has been a big year for water issues in Florida, particularly north Florida. Folks in every corner of the state have likely heard about the Adena Springs Ranch permit application in Marion County, originally for 13.2 million gallons per day (mgd) from the Floridan aquifer, now for 5.3 mgd. A North Florida Regional Water Supply Partnership has been convened to solve trans-boundary water issues between the lesser developed Suwanee River Water Management District and the ever-thirsty St. Johns River Water Management District.
In Crystal River, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, residents and local government are outraged over a water bottling permit issued by the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) to allow 76,700-153,400 gallons to be withdrawn daily from the Floridan aquifer. This issuance came after residents and the environmental community worked arduously to purchase and protect local springs, only to have a well permitted in the city limits so water can be pumped, shipped, bottled, and sold by a private water bottling company. Meanwhile, no minimum flows and levels (MFLs) have been set for Crystal River and Kings Bay, where anyone who lives on or recreates on the water will tell you that the bay is saltier and the spring flows have been reduced. Just to the south, a group of stakeholders have been fighting MFL proposals from the SWFWMD for the Chassahowitzka and Homosassa Rivers that would allow reduced flows. All of these issues are integral to the future of our state’s water supply and the vitality of our aquatic ecosystems and the species dependent upon those ecosystems, including manatees.
Water in J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area has dropped to safe level
Palm Beach Post - by Mitra Malek, Staff Writer
September 20, 2012
THE ACREAGE — Water levels at the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area have dropped to safe levels, and the berm separating the sanctuary from The Acreage is stable, according to regional water managers.
Also, a flow-way and weir that the South Florida Water Management District built near Corbett to handle flooding from Tropical Storm Isaac is complete.
“That weir is going to help take the pressure off,” said Gabe Margasak, a spokesman for the water management district. “If you do get a big rain, that’s where it’s probably going to go.”
The 100-foot flow-way and 140-foot weir can move enough water out of Corbett to fill a residential swimming pool every 2.7 seconds until a long-term solution is completed, according to the water management district.
Water levels in Corbett had been lowered to 21.66 feet above sea level today, down from 24 feet at the peak of the storm.
The temporary solution is good news, said Lisa Tropepe, engineer for Indian Trail Improvement District, which handles drainage and roads for The Acreage.
But Indian Trail — which for years has logged concerns regarding potential flooding from Corbett — will keep fighting for a permanent solution, Tropepe said.
A berm of dredged material separates Corbett from the MO Canal and dozens of homes in the semi-rural community’s northwest corner. The Acreage bore intense flooding from Isaac several weeks ago.
“The integrity of the berm prior to, during the storm, and currently is questionable,” Tropepe said. “It was never intended to withstand over 60,000 acres of high water levels. Even though it may be at the target level, we still are very, very cautious.”
The water management district in a press release today said that “based on continuing visual inspections,” the berm “does not present an imminent threat.”
$64 million reservoir pumps approved to deliver overdue water boost
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
September 20, 2012
Building new $64 million pumps could finally get water flowing as once intended from a Palm Beach County reservoir plagued by controversy.
South Florida taxpayers already sunk $217 million into transforming old rock mines west of Royal Palm Beach into a reservoir intended to boost water supplies and help the environment.
Now, the South Florida Water Management District has approved a deal to design and construct a pumping station that has been on hold since the L-8 Reservoir was finished in 2008.
Budget problems and changes to Everglades efforts contributed to shelving pump plans.
But now the reservoir plays a key role in revamped Everglades restoration plans and more money is pouring in to get the pumps built.
"It's a very, very significant construction project," said Joe Collins, board chairman for the South Florida Water Management District. "It's something that has been a long time coming."
Even with the long-delayed pump plans getting back on track, questions remain about whether the reservoir will ever deliver the expected water supply benefits.
"They are trying to bail out a bad decision," Drew Martin, of the Sierra Club, said about the new plans for the reservoir. "It was just a bad investment."
The 15 billion-gallon reservoir built at Palm Beach Aggregates was once intended to store water that would replenish the Loxahatchee River — which had natural water flows diminished by decades of draining in South Florida.
The reservoir was also meant to supplement community drinking water supplies and provide drought relief for West Palm Beach and other areas.
While the reservoir has helped West Palm Beach during droughts in 2007 and 2011, without the pumps it hasn't delivered the water expected for the Loxahatchee River.
Also, water quality problems blamed on the depth of the reservoir and stagnation from lack of pumps have dogged the project.
Now the state's new $880 million plan for improving Everglades water quality includes sending the bulk of that reservoir water south.
Help for the Loxahatchee River instead would eventually come from plans to store and treat water on Palm Beach County's Mecca Farms property, west of Palm Beach Gardens.
The planned pumping station would include six large pumps capable of drawing water from 40-feet deep. The reservoir's 15 billion gallon capacity is enough water to cover 34,000 football fields one foot deep, according to the water management district.
The district chose Archer Western Contractors, based in Atlanta, to design and build the pumps. Archer was the low bidder among two other competing firms. It's expected to take 2-1/2 years to build the pumping station, with construction expected to start in May.
Controversy has followed the reservoir project.
Palm Beach Aggregates ended up reimbursing the district for a $2.4 million secret "success fee" that federal prosecutors contend was paid to an engineering consultant who pushed the reservoir deal to water managers — without revealing his work as a consultant for Palm Beach Aggregates.
That fee and a Palm Beach Aggregates home development proposal factored into separate federal corruption investigations that led to the resignations and jail time for two Palm Beach County commissioners ousted by scandals.
Corps of Engineers sends some of Lake Okeechobee down the drain
September 19, 2012
MIAMI (CBS Miami) – The Army Corps of Engineers has decided to drain South Florida’s resource for freshwater, Lake Okeechobee, according to CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald.
According to the Corps’ plans, the lake’s water levels are supposed to stay between 12.5 feet and 15.5 feet, but rains from Tropical Storm Isaac pushed the levels higher.
Lake O serves as a flood control basin, a regional water reservoir, a fishing destination for Floridians and is home to numerous plants and animals, including a number of threatened and endangered species; but is now harming the environment instead of helping it.
At one point following Isaac, storm water flowed into Lake Okeechobee at 30,000 cubic feet per second. That’s enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every two seconds, according to the South Florida Water Management District.
Now, the lake is being drained; which means the Corps will be sending polluted waters down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers. This process has triggered fish-killing algae blooms in both rivers in the past.
Draining away lake water will also be beneficial, by easing the strain on the Herbert Hoover Dike which is considered one of the country’s most at risk of failure.
But dumping billions of gallons also wastes lake water relied on to back up South Florida water supplies during the typically dry winter and spring.
According to CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald, the engineers will release small amounts of water to minimize environmental impacts starting Wednesday.
Army Corps to release water from Lake O
September 18, 2012
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced it will begin releasing water from Lake Okeechobee as part of efforts to manage the rising lake level.
The water release is scheduled to begin Wednesday and will continue until further notice.
The goal of the release is to slow the current rise of the lake to maintain storage capacity for the remainder of hurricane season. The release is being conducted to keep the lake level between 12.5 and 15.5 feet. Today, the lake is at 15.11 feet.
As a result of Tropical Storm Isaac, the lake performed as intended by capturing excess rainfall in the Kissimmee basin from the north and St. Lucie basin from the east," Lt. Col. Thomas Greco, Jacksonville District Deputy District Commander for South Florida said in an email. "The lake has now risen nearly 3 feet from where it was a month ago. It's important that we go forward with releases to ensure we have adequate storage for the remainder of hurricane season."
No water has been released from the lake since Tropical Storm Isaac passed through the area Aug. 26 and 27, although the corps has allowed runoff from the heavy rains that has accumulated in the Caloosahatchee River and St Lucie Canal to pass through the Franklin and St. Lucie locks.
"It is our hope that by doing small releases now, we can avoid a situation where we're doing larger releases later," said John Kilpatrick, chief of Jacksonville District's Multi-Project Branch, which has oversight of water management at the lake. "Tropical Storm Isaac provided a classic example of how quickly the lake can rise. Now we've got to manage it in a manner where we have enough storage for the remaining two months of hurricane season, have enough water for the dry season, and be sensitive to the delicate ecosystems in each of the estuaries."
For more information on water level and flows data for Lake Okeechobee, visit the Corps' water management page at the Jacksonville District website: http://www.saj.usace.army.mil.
Corps releasing water from Lake Okeechobee Newszap.com
Corps to release water from Lake Okeechobee Newszap.com
Water managers lower Lake Okeechobee as high level causes dike ... Palm Beach Post
Former water board members urge Scott to restore funding
Miami Herald – by Curtis Morgan
September 18, 2012
A letter to Gov. Rick Scott asks him to restore pending cuts to the budgets of Florida’s water management districts responsible for the water supply and Everglades restoration.
Twenty former governing board members of Florida’s water management districts are urging Gov. Rick Scott to reverse another round of pending budget cuts.
In a letter sent to Scott Monday, they urged the governor to “restore adequate funding’’ for the five regional agencies responsible for the water supply, flood control and many environmental protection projects, including Everglades restoration.
The Florida Legislature this year removed a year-old revenue cap that had slashed district budgets statewide by 30 percent, a move environmental groups had hoped would restore some of the lost funding. Instead, water district governing boards, who are appointed by the governor, have continued cutting back, rather than holding the line or raising property tax rates to previous levels.
The South Florida Water Management District, for example, which just settled a long-running federal lawsuit by agreeing to $880 million in new projects to reduce the flow of pollution in the Everglades, gave preliminary approval to a $600 million budget that includes another 2 percent cut in its property tax rate. That follows a $100 million cut last year. A final budget hearing is scheduled for Sept. 25.
The former board members, including Miami attorney Eric Buermann, who was the South Florida district’s chairman under former Gov. Charlie Crist, argued the cuts save property owners a small amount at a large cost for important programs like Glades restoration, and alternative water supply projects. A Miami-Dade property owner of a $150,000 home paid $62.40 in district taxes in 2011. This latest proposed roll-back will reduce that to $42.89.
The governor’s office did not respond to a call and an email for comment about the letter, which echoes complaints from environmental groups. But in announcing final state approval last week of the Everglades pollution cleanup plan reached with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Scott said the plan was to pay for the work with existing state and district revenues “without raising or creating new costs for Floridians."
Former water district board members urge Gov. Scott to restore lost tax revenue (The Florida Current)
Former waterboard members urge Gov. Scott to restore funding (Bradenton Herald)
Water levels in the lake started rising with heavy rains from Tropical Storm Isaac, which passed Southwest Florida in late August.
Lake Okeechobee releases prompt concerns for Caloosahatchee
September 18, 2012
With lake levels dangerously high, small amounts of fresh water will be discharged.
Special project: River at Risk
Southwest Floridians are hoping the freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee that begin today will not hurt the Caloosahatchee River and its estuary. In the past, lake releases have caused massive algal blooms and killed oysters and seagrass.
To protect the aging Herbert Hoover Dike, the Army Corps of Engineers wants to keep lake levels between 12.5 and 15.5 feet.
On Tuesday, the lake was at 15.11 feet, with water continuing to flow in from the Kissimmee region and with more rain forecast for South Florida.
The Kissimmee floodplain dry before Isaac
|At 7 a.m. today, the Corps was to release water at 1,500 cubic feet per second measured at Moore Haven Lock, but not to exceed 4,500 cfs at the W.P. Franklin Lock and dam east of Fort Myers.
After major rainfall events in the past, the corps has released as much as 6,500 cfs measured at the Franklin Lock. The smaller releases that begin today should preclude larger releases later if South Florida gets a major rainfall event, said Lt. Col. Thomas Greco, Jacksonville District Deputy Commander for South Florida.
“It’s been since 2010 since we’ve had a release of this nature,” said John Campbell, public affairs specialist for the Army Corps of Engineers. Since that time the corps has made smaller “low-flow” freshwater releases to reduce the salinity of the estuary, but nothing to the extent of today’s release, Campbell said.
How long the latest releases will last depends on rainfall and flows into the lake, Greco said.
The Kissimmee is flooding after Isaac
“The lake was tracking at 12 feet until Isaac,” said Gabe Margasak, spokesman for the South Florida Water Management District. “On July 31, the lake was 12.12 feet. Today it’s 15.11. That’s 3 feet in a month and a half.”
Before Isaac, the flood plain in the Kissimmee region north of Okeechobee was dry; after Isaac, it was soaked.
“The flood plain after Isaac spread out wide, as it’s supposed to do,” Margasak said. “All that water is flowing into the lake. There’s a lot of water in the system, and it’s still coming.”
Cattlemen, farmers dominate updated Soil and Water Advisory Council
SunshineStateNews - by Jim Turner
September 17, 2012
Three cattlemen and three farmers were among Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam’s seven appointments Monday to help guide Florida’s new streamlined Soil and Water Conservation Council.
The council is expected to provide input to the state department on legal matters relating to statewide soil and water conservation.
In a release, Putman stated that the council “will also allow for a more focused advisory body that is better suited to provide guidance relating to soil and water conservation issues throughout Florida.”
In the 2012 session, legislators reduced the size of the council from 23 members -- of which only 11 were voting members and appointments came from federal and state agencies, the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida, the United States Department, the Florida Association of Counties, the Florida League of Cities, and two representatives of environmental interests -- to seven. The hope is that the smaller group would be able to provide better focus on Soil and Water Conservation Districts and the state.
The members appointed by Putnam:
• Wilbur Dean -- Cattleman and member of the board of Levy County Soil and Water Conservation District.
• Bud Crissafulli -- Cattleman and member of Brevard County Farm Bureau.
• Andy Jackson -- President of Association of Florida Conservation Districts.
• Eric Hjort -- General manager of Tater Farms.
• Jimmy Wohl -- Cattleman and chairman of the Highlands Soil and Water Conservation District.
• Cindy Eade -- Co-owner of Cindale Dairy Farm and member of the board of directors for North Florida Farm Credit.
• Nancy McDonald -- Owner of House Plants Inc. nursery and active in the Florida Farm Bureau and Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association.
Dan Rather's TV report on pythons in Everglades airs Tuesday
September 17, 2012
Veteran television journalist Dan Rather will air his special Tuesday night on the Burmese python in the Everglades.
“Dan Rather Reports” travels to Everglades National Park to investigate the infestation of the invasive reptile. These snakes, a threatened species in Asia, are attractive pets to some, but when they grow to their full size – sometimes over 20 feet long – they can overwhelm a household.
The report airs starting at 8 p.m. Tuesday on AXS TV.
And, what may have began as a few people releasing a single snake into the park has now become a population of an estimated 100,000 snakes – and in some cases, these pythons are depleting the park of indigenous species to the tune of 90 percent or more.
The program also features exclusive footage of a python being located and captured near the Everglades:
Click here to watch a video of a python being captured
AXS TV can be found online at www.axs.tv, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/axstv and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/axstv.
Former water district director points upstream for cause of Apalachicola Bay's seafood woes
FloridaCurrent – by Bruce Ritchie
September 17, 2012
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been keeping a big federal reservoir on the Chattahoochee River relatively full while Florida has been receiving minimum flows downstream on the Apalachicola River, according to a former Florida state official.
Gov. Rick Scott on Sept. 6 requested a fishery disaster declaration from federal officials. The governor says an ongoing drought and over-harvesting of undersized oysters has left few oysters in Apalachicola Bay, with 2,500 seafood worker jobs in Franklin County at risk.
Former Northwest Florida Water Management District Executive Director Douglas Barr points to Army Corps of Engineers operating procedures that hold back water in reservoirs.
Likewise, the Los Angeles Times on Monday reported that unlike the drought four years ago, Georgia officials are acting like the drought now doesn't exist -- and they are not ordering significant conservation measures.
Barr said the Apalachicola River has been at or below a near-minimum flow 52 percent of days since May 2011. Since 1928, that low flow occurred only 2.6 percent of the time.
At the same time, the big Lake Lanier reservoir on the Chattahoochee River was on average 81 percent of full capacity and has not dropped below 70 percent this year. The Army Corps of Engineers can continue to restrict flows to Florida under its operating procedures while the reservoirs are being refilled, Barr said.
"The current situation clearly illustrates the problems with the (Corps of Engineers) interim operating procedures," Barr wrote in the email to Apalachicola Riverkeeper. "Releases to Apalachicola River are limited ... while simultaneously all demands in Georgia are met and reservoir storage is preserved."
A Corps spokesman in Mobile, Ala. responded Monday that the federal agency is using water from reservoirs to prevent Apalachicola water flow from declining even more. He also said the storage of all reservoirs on the Chattahoochee River is down more than 40 percent.
"In drought operations, we use storage to balance both current and future requirements," wrote Pat Robbins, chief of legislative and public affairs at the Corps' district office. "One never knows how long the drought may last and how long flow augmentation may be required."
Apalachicola Riverkeeper has asked Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal to enact water-use restrictions. The group also is asking the Corps of Engineers to release more water as reservoirs rise rather than waiting for them to refill, said Dan Tonsmeire, the group's executive director.
"The people that are managing and using water upstream are affecting the conditions in the bay," Tonsmeire said. "And we need them to help us out."
Jud Turner, director of Georgia's Environmental Protection Division, said his state's residents are using less water as a result of midday watering restrictions and stricter local regulations that are allowed under a 2010 state law.
"We really think we are seeing changes in behavior -- habit changes," Turner said. "When people aren't out there watering like that, you want to encourage that and not punish them unnecessarily."
Retired consultant appointed to Swiftmud board
September 17, 2012
Gov. Rick Scott has appointed Wendy J. Giesy-Griffin of Lithia to the Southwest Florida Water Management District's governing board.
Giesy-Griffin, a retired environmental consultant, takes the place of Plant City's Hugh Gramling, whose four-year term recently expired. Giesy-Griffin's term ends March 1, 2016.
Giesy-Griffin's resume includes work as a consultant with Metis Environmental Services, environmental administrator with the Florida Department of Transportation and environmental technician and specialist with the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission.
Governing board members are unpaid volunteers who set policy for the water management district.
Water treatment plant project honored by Florida DBIA
September 17, 2012
PLANT CITY -- Sarasota, FL, Sept. 17, 2012 – The North Lee County Water Treatment Plant (WTP) Project recently won the 2012 Florida Section Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) Project of the Year Award - Water/Wastewater Category. Lee County Utilities (LCU) spearheaded the project alongside the design/build team of Mitchell & Stark Construction, Carollo Engineers, and Harn R/O Systems. The project expanded the plant’s capacity to 10 mgd permeate, allowing for more efficient performance and improved water quality.
Operating since October of 2006 out of Fort Myers, The North Lee County WTP treats brackish water using reverse osmosis. However, the plant staff ran into operational obstacles and reliability issues that reduced the plant’s capacity to produce a reliable flow of water. Unable to meet the plant’s name plate capacity of 5 mgd permeate, the plant needed to be expanded to 10 mgd permeate in just under 18 months. LCU was up to the challenge and, in 2009, they began work to rehabilitate the North Lee County WTP and address the plant’s and community’s needs.
In order to meet the aggressive deadline, LCU decided to move forward with a progressive design-build method that would help control costs and save valuable time. To ensure the highest quality design-build team, LCU utilized a qualifications-based selection process, rather than the typical low-bid process, which can lead to unsatisfactory performance from inexperienced contractors.
LCU implemented a Performance Guarantee element for the design-build team, which the County viewed as a critical element for complicated water plant construction as opposed to simple roadway or building construction. With this in effect, the team was required to meet construction deadlines and the plant had to meet specific performance criteria to ensure long-term reliable operation. A performance test was required to demonstrate the guaranteed conditions to meet substantial and final completion milestones.
The design development led to a Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) to build the project. As the design engineer, Carollo worked alongside Lee County and the design-build contractor Mitchell and Stark (and their subcontractors) to design the facility over a five month period leading to a GMP proposal. Carollo brought value-added contributions to the plant’s design, including the use of energy recovery and sulfuric acid elimination, which when the savings are all combined could reduce the plant’s operating cost by up to $500,000 per year. Carollo also created a hydraulic model that was used as a basis for the performance guarantee.
At the project’s completion, Carollo’s hydraulic calculations closely matched the final operation of the plant. Throughout construction, Carollo provided engineering services which included additional and final design engineering, approval of the project submittals, responding to contractor questions and administering the performance test to demonstrate that performance guarantee conditions were met.
“The acknowledgement by the Florida Section DBIA is a tremendous testament to the entire team who worked tirelessly to ensure the successful rehabilitation and expansion of the North Lee County Water Treatment Plant,” said Tom Seacord, Associate Vice-President, Carollo Engineers, Inc. “With a project heavily focused on guaranteeing the highest-quality results, providing value through design, and meeting aggressive deadlines, we were able to successfully meet or exceed all of the design and construction challenges. Using the North Lee County WTP, LCU was able to maintain production in their system at critical times while our project was under construction, including when the County’s Olga treatment plant was unavailable for use.”
The Florida Section DBIA works to promote the value of design-build project delivery and teaches the effective integration of design and construction services to ensure success for owners and design and construction practitioners. To learn more about the Florida Section DBIA or the award for Water/Wastewater projects, visit http://www.fldbia.org/.
Listen up on water resources
September 16, 2012
It's been a decade since the influential Florida Council of 100 issued its now-infamous report calling for an overhaul of the state's water policies. The centerpiece of that proposal was a massive plan to pipe water from so-called water-rich areas of Florida to indisputably water-poor ones so the big-time developers who dominated the Council of 100 at the time could continue overdeveloping coastal South Florida.
The response from folks herabouts, needless to say, was swift and spirited. So much anger bubbled up across North Florida that the Senate Natural Resources Committee actually got out of Tallahassee and conducted a series of seven public hearings around the state. In the end, public opposition was so irrefutable, even among everyday South Floridians who recognized a water grab by the state's most powerful business interests when they saw one, the plan disappeared.
Fast forward to today. Not a whole lot about Florida water policy has changed. Anyone and everyone who wants to pump massive amounts of water and can meet the state's vague standard that it's “in the public interest” gets a permit. While there are also environmental damage guidelines, they don't mean a whole — half of all Florida waterways are officially deemed polluted. If anything, since Gov. Rick Scott took office, there is pressure on water management districts to actually loosen up water permitting guidelines for tapping our aquifer. Scott calls it being “business friendly.”
Even as we speak, the St. Johns River Water Management District is working on “streamlining” the permitting process to make it easier.
It's not surprising, really.
Consider the groundswell of support for Florida's water resources that has grown out of the Adena Springs Ranch permit process. The protest has generated not only greater public awareness but an impressive statewide network of advocacy. The Florida Conservation Coalition, led by former Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham, is the most significant unification of Florida's major environmental groups, well, ever. Thousands upon thousands of citizens from Fort McCoy to Fort Lauderdale have signed petitions and joined the Save Florida's Waters cause.
Yet, there's deafening silence from our elected leaders. Not a word from city or county officials. Not a peep from Tallahassee. Heck, when Graham's group presented nearly 15,000 petitions signatures to Scott's office, the incumbent was too busy to take time to greet his predecessor.
The point is, the opposition to Adena Springs' permit isn't all about Adena Springs. It's about Silver Springs and the rest of Florida's increasingly distressed and diminishing waterways. That seems to be lost on our elected officials.
It's time the Senate Natural Resources Committee, now named the Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation, to take another road trip. I assure its members, including our own Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, who chairs the committee, the people of Florida are worried about their water supply and its safety and, make no mistake, about our elected officials' seeming indifference to those worries. Let the people be heard. Even better, listen to them. You might find out what they have to say to be illuminating.
Audit faults water district for loose management of its vast land holdings
Palm Beach Post - by Christine Stapleton, Staff Writer
September 15, 2012
The South Florida Water Management District — the largest public landowner in Florida — has no detailed inventory of the 1.4 million acres it owns and no formal process to sell or lease land it no longer needs, according to an audit by the district’s inspector general.
The audit was made public at the monthly meeting of the district’s governing board on Thursday. Board members were briefed before the meeting and there was no discussion or comment from the public about the findings.
The audit follows 18 months of questions — from the state, media and the district’s own inspector general — about the practices used to purchase and manage $2.8 billion the district said it needed for restoration, flood control and water storage projects.
Many projects for which land was bought have changed or been dropped in recent years, meaning some of the land — purchased for top dollar during the height of the real estate boom — is no longer needed. The district is now faced with selling at a loss, trading for land it needs, leasing its land for a small profit or letting it sit vacant, which means spending more money to take care of it. The predicament has brought into question the district’s real estate practices, dogged for years by complaints of cronyism and favoritism.
Among the audit’s other findings:
•Decisions to declare sites surplus are based on undocumented discussions among staff, Inspector General Timothy Biernes wrote in his 27-page audit. Relying on staff’s personal knowledge and discussions to justify selling or keeping land “does not ensure that all potential surplus lands will be identified.” And that knowledge could be lost when staffers get new jobs or retire, Biernes wrote.
•Only 7.85 of the 2,930 acres approved for surplus status since June 2010 have been sold.
•Most of the land approved for sale or lease does not appear on the district’s website, despite a policy requiring such publication. The governing board passed the policy in April to improve transparency in land deals after hearing complaints of cronyism.
•District staff spent $9,948 to appraise six of the properties before receiving final approval from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to sell the land. Because the appraisals are now dated, the district will need to pay for new appraisals if the DEP approves the sale.
“The agency has already taken action on most of these deficiencies,” said Gabe Margasak, a spokesman for the district. Margasak said the audit is not an investigation but a “management tool that provides us with an extra set of eyes.” The audit is part of an agency-wide review of operations initiated by Melissa Meeker when she was appointed Executive Director in June 2011.
A Palm Beach Post investigation this year found that the district often paid far above the appraised value for land and routinely renewed land leases without public bidding, including the cattle-grazing lease for the daughter of an Okeechobee official. In a deal with the family of Agriculture Commission Adam Putnam, the district agreed to pay $25.5 million for 2,042 acres of land — valued at just $5.5 million a year earlier — and allowed the Putnam family to continue grazing cattle on the land rent-free.
Other issues uncovered include claims that the agency’s second-in-command, Assistant Executive Director Bob Brown, was too cozy with landowners and ranchers regulated by the district. The inspector general is investigating allegations that Brown accepted gifts from a rancher who needs permits from the district to run his ranch and that Brown went hunting with others regulated by the district. Brown also conducted personal business with and accepted a loan from a close friend whose companies made millions selling land to the district. Brown has denied any wrongdoing.
The district, responsible for restoring the Everglades, embarked on a land-buying spree that left the district with a patchwork of more than 10,500 parcels in the 16 counties it controls. Among the most controversial purchases was the last major one, in which the district agreed to pay U.S. Sugar $197 million for 42 square miles in the Everglades Agricultural Area in August 2010. Then-candidate Rick Scott opposed the purchase.
In April 2011, four months after Scott became governor, he directed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to order the state’s five water management districts to inventory their holdings and collaborate with the department before selling or leasing land. On April 23, 2012, Meeker called for a more in-depth review and overhaul of the real estate responsibilities. Her first priority: “Hiring a qualified land management section administrator.”
Ruth Clements, the district’s long-time chief real estate specialist, announced her retirement. Clements had come under fire over accusations that an Okeechobee official was allowed to graze cattle on district land without a lease. Clements also defended five no-bid leases made to cattle ranchers a month after the district imposed a moratorium on leasing. The moratorium followed complaints about the district’s no-bid leases.
Clements did not return a phone call for comment for this report.
As for the status of the district’s surplus land inventory, 10 parcels in Miami-Dade, Martin and Highlands counties are listed for sale on the district’s website. None of the 1,838 acres approved for surplus by the governing board in December is listed on the site.
According to the audit, district officials estimated they would have all surplus lands listed on its website by this month.
Florida's Endangered Waters: Save Rainbow Springs
TheLedger.com - Editorial
September 15, 2012
Silver Springs has been at the heart of the latest round in Florida's ongoing water debate, largely because of the multimillion-gallon-a-day water permit being sought by nearby Adena Springs Ranch. Because of its iconic status as a Florida natural wonder, Silver Springs and the river it feeds have become a rallying point for water advocates and environmentalists statewide concerned about the health of all Florida's waterways.
But Silver Springs, just east of Ocala, is not the only first-magnitude spring in that area being threatened by the pressures of mankind. Rainbow Springs and the Rainbow River — to the southwest, also in Marion County — also are distressed for some of the same reasons as Silver Springs and the Silver River, but also for its own unique reasons.
Like Silver Springs, Rainbow Springs is being polluted by an overload of nitrates. Two major fractures in the Floridan Aquifer running northeast and northwest of the springs allow nitrate-laden runoff water to flow quickly into the springs from heavily agricultural and residential areas of Marion, Alachua and Levy counties, which make up the Rainbow Springs Basin, said Jeff Sowards, Rainbow Springs and Ocklawaha River Aquatic Preserve manager.
And while Rainbow Springs' flow level is not much less than historical levels — unlike Silver Springs — its ecosystem is steadily deteriorating because of the nitrates and heavy use by recreationalists who swim, dive, tube and boat the 5.7-mile Rainbow River from the headspring in the Rainbow Springs State Park and the county-run KP Hole to where it joins the Withlacoochee River. The Withlacoochee River's headwaters are in the Green Swamp. The river forms the northern border of Polk County where it meets with Sumter County.
The latest nitrate readings show Rainbow Springs with 2.24 milligrams of nitrates per liter, significantly higher than the 0.04 milligram that is considered the base level in nature. The high nitrate count is causing heavy algae and other plant growth, altering the river's ecosystem dramatically.
People pose the biggest threat to the Rainbow — both those whose fertilizers are polluting its water, and those who destroy the river's plant life when they swim, boat and dive in its crystal waters.
Large patches of the river bed are barren of plant life, and on days of heavy use, large islands of vegetation from the river banks and bottom cover the the Rainbow River where it meets the Withlacoochee. Online: www.youtu.be/BZHfVsQWxeA,
So, local water advocates want to bring attention to the Rainbow like they have the Silver.
RAINBOW RIVER IMPORTANT
"Rainbow Springs is every bit as important as Silver Springs," said Lisa Saupp, head of the Marion County Springs Festival.
To spread that message, the Marion County Springs Festival and the Southwest Florida Water Management District are hosting a daylong "Swimsuits to Hiking Boots" event on Saturday, Sept. 22, that will feature educational talks, canoe, kayak and diving tours, hikes, swimming, picnicking and workshops — all aimed at informing the public what we already know, that Rainbow Springs, like Silver Springs, is a Florida first-magnitude spring facing first-magnitude threats too.
Hoover Dike around
Reinforcing work continues.
Isaac's rains mean Lake Okeechobee may need lowering
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
September 14, 2012
One super-soaker storm, and Lake Okeechobee's water supply woes turned into a possible South Florida flooding threat.
Tropical Storm Isaac and the rain that followed boosted the lake that serves as South Florida's backup water supply nearly 2 1/2 feet — and it's still rising.
Now after months of lingering below normal levels, the lake has hit the range where the Army Corps of Engineers considers dumping lake water out to sea. Draining away lake water would ease the strain on the Herbert Hoover Dike — considered one of the country's most at risk of failure.
But dumping billions of gallons also wastes lake water relied on to back up South Florida water supplies during the typically dry winter and spring.
Also, dumping lake water out to sea can have damaging environmental consequences on coastal estuaries — leading to fish kills and harming delicate marine habitat.
"What a difference one month makes," said Daniel DeLisi, board member for the South Florida Water Management District board.
Lake Okeechobee on Friday was 14.9 feet above sea level, 4 feet higher than this time last year. So far, the Army Corps has opted to hold off on lake releases, but that could change if waters keep rising.
"The Corps continues to monitor the situation and adjust flows as needed to ensure we find the best solution that considers both public safety and environmental concerns," Corps Spokesman John Campbell said.
One big problem is that South Florida doesn't have enough water-storage facilities, which leads to flood control discharges with damaging environmental consequences, said Tom Van Lent, a scientist for the Everglades Foundation.
"We need to build more infrastructure," Van Lent said. "We just don't have the capacity to store the water that we need to."
Central and western Palm Beach County got socked with 15 inches of rain during Tropical Storm Isaac, flooding streets and some homes. High-water lingered for days in Loxahatchee.
For South Florida water managers, flood control needs outweighed environmental concerns during Isaac.
That resulted in more drainage than usual into Lake Okeechobee as well as stormwater at times getting diverted around pollution-treatment areas before being pumped into the northern reaches of the Everglades.
Also, Wellington was allowed to dump more of its stormwater runoff than usual into conservation areas.
The long-term effects of the increase in phosphorus and other pollutants reaching the Everglades aren't yet known, according to the South Florida Water Management District.
Isaac's flooding would have lasted longer if steps hadn't been taken to get more stormwater flowing south into the Everglades, according to the district.
"That water has to go somewhere," said Ernie Barnett, the district's director of Everglades policy. "This is one of those trade-offs … We did the right thing."
For much of the past year, West Coast communities have been lobbying for sending Lake Okeechobee water into the Caloosahatchee River to bring low-level infusions of freshwater that help water quality and coastal fishing grounds.
But that need went away after Isaac. And flood-control releases from the lake to the east and west bring much larger quantities of water that can hurt the estuaries.
Large infusions of lake water east into the St. Lucie River and west into the Caloosahatchee River can throw off the balance of fresh and salt water in coastal estuaries and bring pollution that can lead to fish kills and damage marine habitat.
If the Army Corps proceeds with lake releases, they should be low-level releases that "keep in mind the health of the estuaries," DeLisi said.
Increased water levels have been good for the environmental health of Lake Okeechobee; returning water to marshes rimming the lake that had dried out during recent droughts.
But as the water creeps up, it also raises safety concerns about the lake's dike. The dike is in the midst of repairs intended to strengthen the 70-year-old, earthen structure that protects lakeside communities from flooding.
The Army Corps of Engineers tries to keep lake levels between 12.5 and 15.5 feet. While the Corps last week projected that the lake's rise would stop at 14.5 feet, it's now approaching 15 feet.
With more than two months of hurricane season still to go, protecting the dike "is obviously a large consideration" when it comes to managing Lake Okeechobee levels, according to Lt. Thomas Greco of the Army Corps.
Before farming and development spread across South Florida, water from Lake Okeechobee used to naturally overlap the lake's southern shore and flow south to replenish the Everglades.
The lake's dike was built to corral that water, guarding against flooding and using the lake to supplement South Florida water supplies. With few other storage options, when lake water levels rise too high the main option for flood-prevention is to dump it out to sea.
One way to fight off an invasive plant in the everglades, a moth !
September 14, 2012
WEST OF BOYNTON BEACH, FL -- Heading out on an airboat, scientists and researchers make their way through Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, west of Boynton Beach.
This vast watery wilderness is the part of the Everglades that lies in Palm Beach County. The first stop, a tree island where Refuge staffers have successfully killed harmful Melaleuca trees that were taking over.
Now another plant is threatening here.. the Old World Climbing Fern. Lisa Jameson the Refuge's invasive species biologist says the Refuge has spent millions to keep non-native plants from destroying the Everglades habitat. Jameson says the climbing fern has easily become the Refuge's biggest problem.
But on the tree island the researchers see signs of hope. USDA researcher Dr. Ted Center shows CBS12 reporter Chuck Weber a caterpillar of a moth that eats Old World Climbing Fern. The caterpillar, so tiny, it's hard to see.
Center says "They kind of chew the outer layers of the leaves off so you kind of see these skeletonized leaves." The moth had been released on the Refuge a couple times in the past four years.
But now the moth and its caterpillars are starting to show up at Loxahatchee Refuge more often. Until the Refuge has the resources to treat the plants chemically, the moth is another tool in the arsenal.
Sugar industry seeks to use Everglades as toilet
Earthjustice Blog – by David Guest
September 14, 2012
It's an old story, but 'Sugar Daddy' governor offers new hope.
For decades, U.S. sugar barons have been dumping their polluted runoff into the Florida Everglades. Day after day, these politically powerful corporations send chemical fertilizers and pesticides into the great marsh—wrecking America’s only subtropical wilderness in the process.
It’s clearly wrong for sugar plantations to use our public natural resources as their private dumping grounds, and we here at the Florida office of Earthjustice fight many legal battles to stop it.
Recently, we got some curious news. A sugar plantation pollution scheme which was supposedly shelved 24 years ago is now rearing its ugly head again.
With polluter-friendly Rick Scott in the governor’s mansion, Big Sugar is making a move to pump its polluted runoff into one of the last remnants of the original Everglades. They are trying to put a smiley face on it and call it “restoration,” but we know better. We’ve seen this play before.
The area where Big Sugar wants to dump its chemical-laden runoff, in the northern part of the Everglades ecosystem, is colloquially known as the “Holeyland.”
It is not entirely pristine—in fact it is so named because it was used as a bombing range (with resulting “holes” in the limestone substrate) during World War II. But unlike most parts of the Everglades, this is one area which wasn’t drained and planted during the public-works frenzy of the mid-19th and 20th centuries.Experts reviewing ways to fix the Everglades’ extensive damage have long advocated for restoring the Holeyland area to native habitat, so that it can store and filter water the way it once did.
Instead, Big Sugar is wanting to pump its dirty runoff into the Holeyland, while insisting that this is “restoration.” This claim is ridiculous—the whole idea behind the multi-billion dollar Everglades restoration plan is to make sure that runoff is clean before it gets into the Everglades; not to use the Everglades as a cheap and handy dumping ground for well-connected corporate interests. In fact, sending pollution into the Holeyland would violate the provisions of Florida’s landmark 1994 Everglades Forever Act.
We’ll keep you posted on this. We are obviously making our objections to this plan known, and if this ridiculous notion goes any farther, be sure that we will be front and center, fighting against it.
Lawsuit filed to protect imperiled Florida bird, crayfish
BiologicalDiversity.org – Press Release
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to protect two Florida wildlife species, the black rail and the Big Blue Springs cave crayfish, under the Endangered Species Act. Both species are dependent on Florida’s freshwater and wetland habitats, which have been degraded by pollution, development and overconsumption of water resources.
“These unique Florida species are just a small sample of the fascinating, biologically important species native to Florida,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a Center attorney based in Florida. “The aquatic habitats they live in are urgently threatened by water demands and pollution, and they need Endangered Species Act protection to survive and recover.”
The black rail is a shy bird that, like Florida’s human “snowbird” population, winters in South Florida but spends the rest of the year farther north on the Atlantic seaboard. It favors coastal wetlands, where it is threatened by development and sea-level rise related to global climate change. The Big Blue Springs cave crayfish is blind and translucent and only lives in five places in north Florida along a single watershed, where it is threatened by groundwater depletion and pollution.
These two species, though geographically diverse, share the common threats of habitat destruction, water pollution and increasing water withdrawals.
“From north to south, Florida’s wild animals are suffering from the use and abuse of freshwater habitats,” said Lopez. “We’ve got to keep our water clean and make sure we don’t take more from our aquifers than can be replaced. That’ll not only help these two amazing wildlife species but also Floridians, now and in generations to come.”
In 2011, a year after the Center petitioned for their protection, the Service determined that black rails and crayfish “may warrant” federal protection as endangered or threatened species; yet it has failed to make the required 12-month findings to decide whether protection will be granted.
Black rails are secretive, rarely encountered migratory birds that winter in southern Florida. Often heard rather than seen, black rails prefer the higher parts of tidal marshes and can be found from the Gulf of Mexico to Volusia County, and coastal areas south. Continued habitat degradation and fragmentation via pollution, drought, wildfire, and changing water levels and land use threaten black rails, North America’s smallest rail. Because they nest in salt and freshwater marshes, water depth and quality are critical. Sea-level rise particularly threatens black rails. For example, breeding sites in Chesapeake Bay may be completely inundated by rising seas. In addition to their south Florida wintering sites, black rails occur year-round in Citrus, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.
The Big Blue Springs cave crayfish are a cave-dwelling species considered critically imperiled due to their relatively limited range as well as habitat degradation. These translucent crustaceans are found only in aquatic caves at the bottom of limestone springs in less than five sites within a 12-mile radius in Jefferson, Leon and Wakulla counties. Changes in water quality and quantity threaten these blind cave-dwellers because they have evolved to be highly specialized for fast-flowing freshwater cave conditions. Florida recognizes the Big Blue Springs cave crayfish as a “species of greatest conservation need.”
The Southeast supports more kinds of freshwater animals than anywhere else in the world, but the region has already lost more than 50 freshwater species to extinction in recent times. The Center is working to save more than 400 at-risk aquatic species in the Southeast.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Reservoir for Everglades restoration to get pumps to clear out its salty water
Palm Beach Post - by Christine Stapleton, Staff Writer
September 13, 2012
Water managers approved a contract Thursday for $64 million to install six massive pumps in the controversial L-8 Reservoir — a move that will finally put the 10-year-old water storage system to use and jump-start new Everglades restoration projects.
The reservoir at a rock mine on Southern Boulevard, which figured prominently in two Palm Beach County corruption scandals, has been dormant for lack of a way to get the water out of the 60-foot deep holes. The pits have not been used because the water in them contains unacceptable levels of chlorides. Without the pumps, the district cannot flush the chloride-laden water out of the pits to see if, as expected, the chloride levels drop when the pits refill.
Making the 15 billion gallon reservoir operational is included in a suite of projects in the state’s $880 million plan to improve water quality in the Everglades.
The District plans to start construction on the L-8 reservoir pumps in May 2013. Completion is expected to be March-April 2015
Swiftmud posts Lake Hancock project details
September 13, 2012
The Lake Hancock projects are a critical part of meeting minimum flows in the upper Peace River, improving water quality in the river and protecting Charlotte Harbor.
Lake Hancock is a 4,500-acre lake in the headwaters of the Peace River. From Lake Hancock, the Peace River extends 120 miles south to Charlotte Harbor.
The Lake Hancock projects are two initiatives that are critical to the District’s recovery strategy for meeting the minimum flows in the upper Peace River, improving water quality in the Peace River and protecting Charlotte Harbor.
The goal of the Lake Level Modification Project is to store water by raising the control elevation of the existing outflow structure on Lake Hancock and to slowly release the water during the dry season to help meet the minimum flow requirements in the upper Peace River between Bartow and Zolfo Springs.
The goal of the Outfall Treatment Project is to improve water quality discharging from Lake Hancock and throughout the entire Peace River and to protect Charlotte Harbor.
Over the last 150 years, the cumulative effects of land use changes and water withdrawals have altered the hydrology of the upper Peace River watershed.
These activities have significantly reduced the watershed’s ability to store and recharge rainfall, which, in combination with groundwater withdrawals, has resulted in lower local and regional groundwater levels, extended periods of low or nonexistent river flows in the upper Peace River during the dry months, degraded water quality and altered ecosystems.
To address problems with low flows in the upper Peace River, the District developed minimum flows and levels (MFLs) for the river in 2002. An MFL is the limit where reduced flows or further withdrawals will cause significant harm to the water resources of the area and the related natural environment. Currently, the upper Peace River from Bartow to Zolfo Springs does not often achieve the minimum flows.
The preliminary project schedule for the Lake Hancock projects is shown below. The schedule will be periodically updated as progress is made.
Lake Hancock Lake Level Modification Project
Step 1: Evaluation
May 2003–August 2004
Step 2: Preliminary design, engineering and conceptual permitting
Aug. 2004–June 2007
Step 3: Final design, engineering, permitting & construction documents
Oct. 2007–November 2011
Step 4: Construction
November 2011–April 2013
Lake Hancock Outfall Treatment Project
Step 1: Feasibility and selection of treatment method
February 2004–February 2006
Step 2: Engineering testing, design, permitting and construction documents
March 2006–October 2010
Step 3: Construction and startup
September 2011–May 2013
Water district initially OKs $600 million budget
Sun Sentinel – by Andy Reid
September 13, 2012
PALM BEACH COUNTY -- Property taxes take a slight dip in the nearly $600 million South Florida Water Management District budget given initial approval Thursday.
The district's new property tax rate would be about 43 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value.
At that rate for a home valued at $230,000 and eligible for a $50,000 homestead exemption, district taxes for a property owner in Broward or Palm Beach counties would be about $77 a year. That's about $2 less than the previous tax rate.
The final budget vote is Sept. 25.
Also on Thursday, the district approved a $64 million deal to build long-awaited pumps intended to move water from a reservoir built from rock mines west of Royal Palm Beach. That reservoir, which cost $217 million, now figures prominently into revamped Everglades restoration plans.
The district guards against flooding, oversees waters supplies and leads Everglades restoration in a 16-county region stretching from Orlando to the Keys.
Environmental groups have questioned the district lowering the tax rate in the wake of the district having its budget slashed by more than 30 percent last year. That cut more than $100 million from the district, with the agency facing a backlog of maintenance of flood-control structures and delays in Everglades restoration projects.
Because of the complexities involved in the state’s request, the review isn’t following the 60-day and 90-day review timelines that would typically have been set after the state’s paperwork was received on June 13, an EPA spokeswoman said Tuesday.
Florida's water standard request continues to tread water at EPA
Sunshine State News – by Jim Turner
September 12, 2012
Pointing to “devastating costs,” Florida mayors are backing state efforts to sway Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson to replace federal freshwater quality standards with one overseen by the state.
While the mayor’s call came on what they expected to be the eve of a decision, federal officials have noted that a ruling is going to take longer than normal to decide.
l Mayor of Lakeland Gow Fields,
l EPA Reg. 4 Administrator Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming
l EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson
The open-ended review isn’t a surprise to state leaders.
Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming, the EPA’s Region 4 administrator informed Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard on Aug. 22 that because the decision could have national implications the “review must be extremely careful and thorough.”
That means no firm timeline for a decision has been set for the state Legislature bipartisan effort to replace the standards promulgated by the Obama administration’s EPA.
The legislative bill was signed in the spring by Gov. Rick Scott and supported even by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando.
Nelson insisted, in a letter to Jackson in February, that “The FDEP has excellent water-quality data, and the state is uniquely positioned to develop a rule that is both practical to implement and based on substantial data."
The letter from the Florida League of Mayors asks for the EPA to drop the January 2009 determination that Florida needs federal numeric nutrient criteria and allow the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to run its own clean water program.
“We all support clean water and know the great importance it has in enhancing the quality of life in our communities. But we have been deeply concerned about the potential devastating cost increases the EPA’s litigation-driven rule would impose on Florida’s municipalities, employers and residents,” Florida League of Mayors President Gow Fields, mayor of Lakeland, stated in the letter.
“This rule creates the most comprehensive water quality standard for excess nutrients in the nation and accomplishes the EPA’s ultimate objective without misallocating resources and increasing costs. The Florida-driven solution up for your approval is strong and effective.”
The environmental law firm Earthjustice, representing groups such as the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club, has challenged the state’s effort, contending the EPA has failed to force the state to comply with the federal Clean Water Act.
Groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida have backed the Legislature’s request, claiming the change would remove regulatory barriers to job creation.
A state study has estimated that the legislative proposal would cost utility customers and impacted companies between $51 million and $150 million a year, while placing the federal impact between $298 million and $4.7 billion. While the EPA's own estimate for its costs is vastly lower than state projection, the numbers still significantly top the state's, with the federal agency putting its impacts between $135 million to $206 million a year.
FWC restricts Everglades access due to high water
Sun Sentinel - by: Steve Waters
September 12th, 2012 | 7:36 PM
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission issued an executive order to temporarily restrict public access to portions of the Everglades and Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area because of high water levels.
The closure was necessary because high water levels force area wildlife to take refuge on tree islands and levees, resulting in increased stress for the animals.
Effective immediately, the order prohibits vehicles, airboats, ATVs and other means of public access to the Everglades and Francis S. Taylor WMA, which is in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Access to Conservation Area 2A from the L-35B levee north to the east-west airboat trail is still permitted.
The order also prohibits the taking of game. However, this order does not apply to people permitted to participate in the statewide alligator and migratory bird hunts, frogging or people operating boats within the established canal systems and within one mile of marshes adjacent to canals within the wildlife management area. Boaters must maintain a minimum distance of 100 yards from any tree island or levee when operating a vessel or airboat to minimize disturbance to upland wildlife.
These special regulations remain in effect until rescinded by another executive order.
As panther population grows, so will territory
Tampa Tribune - by Keith Morelli
September 11, 2012
TAMPA -- Florida's favorite big cat may be on the prowl, heading this way from its established haunts in the swamps and hammocks of the Everglades.
The state agency that monitors wildlife says the population of Florida panthers is growing large enough to consider expanding its territory north from the million-acre refuge in South Florida into areas they roamed decades and, perhaps, centuries ago.
So the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is examining potential Central Florida locations to establish suitable populations of big cats. Among the places under consideration: Duette Park, a 21,000-acre preserve in eastern Manatee County.
There's a lot of work to be done before expansion takes place, including discussions with residents, farmers, ranchers and motorists about the habits of the panthers.
Conservationists admit that finding space north of the expansive Everglades could be an issue. Biologists with the state and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service figure each adult male needs 200 square miles of territory in which to feel comfortable, so panthers may hunt beyond the preserves on private land.
"Panther expansion northward is going to be, in large part, due to cooperation with private landowners," commission Chairman Kenneth Wright said during a meeting in Tampa last week.
Jim Strickland, who owns a ranch near Duette Park, said he would love to see panthers in the wild and he expected someday the big cats would migrate north.
However, panthers and cattle in the same area can only mean financial losses for the rancher, said Strickland, also a Florida Cattlemen's Association executive committee member.
"If you're a rancher losing $20,000 a year, then, you are supplying that habitat for the expansion," he said. "There's nothing I like better than a good glass of orange juice in the morning but a panther would rather have a big piece of red meat."
Ranchers are aware of the initiative and want a role in planning the panther's migration, he said.
"We are coming to table with open eyes and open arms on this," he said. "We supply a huge amount of habitat, but we still have to make a living and pay our taxes put our children through school."
Still, he said, he has no problem with panthers in the wild — beyond his barbed-wire fences.
"They are an indicator species," Strickland said. "It shows that humans are doing a good job with the Earth when these guys are surviving here. But do we need a panther in every tree?"
Panthers now prowl public preserves such as Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve and the Panther National Wildlife Refuge, all south of the Caloosahatchee River.
Male panthers have been known to venture into Central and North Florida, but biologists have no evidence there is breeding going on there.
No adult females have been documented north of the Caloosahatchee River or Lake Okeechobee since the 1970s.
There is room for panther population growth if the new areas are properly managed, said Commissioner Ronald Bergeron. Still, Bergeron said, the priority should be conserving the core population in its existing habitat.
In the coming months, commission staff will contact private landowners in Central Florida about the possibility of one day introducing panthers to a handful of tracts, including wildlife preserves near Avon Park and in Charlotte County.
Panthers once thrived across Florida and into seven other Southern states. Now, the panther population in South Florida is estimated between 100 and 160 adults and adolescents that have left their mothers but not yet reached sexual maturity.
One goal is to get the big cat off the endangered species list. To do that, the commission report said, two panther populations of 240 each have to sustain themselves for 12 years.
Removal from the threatened list, the next step up, requires the establishment of three populations of 240 or more. The 240 figure was agreed upon by biologists as the fewest cats needed to ensure the population would last the next 100 years.
Even though the population is doing remarkably well, "we won't be crating up any panthers and moving them up there today," said Darryl Land, who oversees the panther program with the commission.
Choosing preserves where panthers would do well depends on a variety of factors, Land said.
The landscape must be similar to wildlife preserves around the Everglades, paved roads or major highways must be at a minimum, and no dense populations of humans can be nearby, he said. Areas like the expansive Green Swamp, he said, have too many roads running near and through, including Interstate 4, sure to be a death trap for the big cats.
Living in Central Florida, Land said, means panthers would cross paths with ranchers.
"Some of the largest land ownings in that area are active cattle ranches," Land said. "So far, I haven't sensed any opposition, but there is a concern that having more large predators would impact their bottom line."
Incentives to get ranchers to cooperate have yet to be devised, he said. In some programs nationwide, cattlemen can be reimbursed for lost livestock if they provide proof panthers are to blame.
Expansion, he said, is inevitable, given the robust population in South Florida.
"It's very encouraging," he said. "The box down here is about full and … the only direction is north."
He said males tend to wander, citing a panther shot in Georgia that roamed all the way from Immokalee.
"They are capable of making huge movements," Land said. "When they pick a direction, they just keep going."
Despite revenue caps being lifted, water districts hold the line against tax increases
Florida Current – by Bruce Ritchie
September 11, 2012
All five the state's five water management districts have proposed further reducing their ad valorem tax revenues in the coming budget year despite legislation that lifted revenue caps imposed last year.
In 2011, the Legislature passed SB 2142 cutting water management district property tax revenues by $210 million. Environmentalists were especially critical of the cuts, with former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham calling on Gov. Rick Scott this year to restore funding for the districts.
This year, SB 1986 lifted the revenue caps while requiring legislative approval of some spending. The Florida Conservation Coalition, which Graham founded, supported the bill, which Scott signed on April 20.
Florida has five independent water management districts governed by appointed boards with the power to collect property taxes. Each of the districts holds hearings this week on their proposed budgets for fiscal year 2012-13, which begins for the districts on Oct. 1.
St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Hans Tanzler said during a July board workshop that DEP gave direction to his agency not to raise taxes, according to the Daytona Beach News Journal.
That has touched off concerns from some environmentalists that DEP is forcing the districts to keep their revenue low.
DEP spokesman Patrick Gillespie said this week that the department "collaborated" with the water management districts to help each of them "live within its means."
"DEP worked with and encouraged the water management districts to put forth budgets that allow them each to accomplish their core missions without increasing the cost of living to Floridians," Gillespie said.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District is the only one of the five to increase spending in its proposed fiscal year 2012-13 budget, according to a DEP analysis.
The proposed $159.7 million budget is 2.6 percent higher than the FY 2011-12 budget.
But the property tax rate will remain the same while revenue decreases from $103.4 million to $100.5 million. Spending will increase because of requests from local governments for water projects, according to an agency news release.
The cutting last year by the districts and continued low revenue collections this year is not good, Audubon of Florida's Eric Draper said.
The districts historically have used their budgets to support partnerships with water authorities to develop alternative water supplies.
"So the question is, why would you go to Tallahassee to take money away from education or health care to fund alternative water supply but ignore the capacity of the water management district to fund alternative water supply?" Draper said.
Lisa Rinaman of the St. Johns Riverkeeper in Jacksonville said her environmental group is concerned about plans by the St. Johns River Water Management District to reduce the number of monitoring stations on the Lower St. Johns River from 61 to 21, a 66-percent decrease.
"Our concern is you don't have to deal with what (water quality problems) you don't know," Rinaman said Tuesday.
Teresa Monson, a spokeswoman for the St. Johns River Water Management District, said 16 of the monitoring stations were being eliminated because they were no longer needed. They were used for a completed water supply study and to set pollution limits called TMDLs (total maximum daily loads) that have been set.
Related Research: Access an analysis of tentative 2012-13 budget proposals for Florida's five water management districts; and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's revenue, expenditure, and personnel comparison for water management districts for Fiscal Years 2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013.
Everglades access restricted
Sun Sentinel – by David Fleshler
September 11, 2012
Want to help wildlife? Keep your airboat out of the Everglades. High water in western Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties has driven deer and other wildlife onto tree islands and levees, so the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has temporarily banned airboats, all-terrain-vehicles and other vehicles from the area. The order doesn't apply to boats using the established canal system, provided they keep at least 100 yards away from levees and tree islands.
Everglades clean-up plan moves forward
Sun Sentinel – by David Fleshler
September 11, 2012
A pollution reduction plan for the Everglades moved forward this week, with the state's authorization of expanded treatment marshes and water storage sites for cleaning phosphorus and other pollutants from stormwater.
Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday announced the issuance of permits and other documents intended to formally resolve a long court fight over how best to clean the water flowing into the historic South Florida marshes. The $880 million plan calls for strict pollution limits and will be implemented over more than 10 years.
Jane Graham, of Florida Audubon, called the announcement "an important next step toward a cleaner Everglades, and it is both cost effective and firmly grounded in sound science."
The plans calls for 6,500 acres of treatment marshes that will draw phosphorus out of the water before it reaches the Everglades, including doubling the size of the water treatment area west of the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.
Restrictions In Everglades Due To High Water Levels
September 11, 2012
MIAMI (CBSMiami) — When Tropical Storm Isaac moved across South Florida, it brought some much needed rain to Lake Okeechobee which is South Florida’s back-up water supply. But at the time same time, it caused water levels to rise a bit too much in the Everglades which is bad for the wildlife.
Due to the current high water levels in the Everglades, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has issued an executive order temporarily restricting public access to portions of the Everglades and Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area.
They say high water levels have forced area wildlife to take refuge on tree islands and levees, resulting in increased levels of stress for the animals.
The order to restrict public access prohibits vehicles, airboats, ATVs and other means of public access to the Everglades and Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area. This area lies in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Access to Conservation Area 2A from the L-35B levee north to the east-west airboat trail is still permitted.
The order also prohibits the taking of game. However, this order does not apply to people permitted to participate in the statewide alligator and migratory bird hunts, to frogging, or to people operating boats within the established canal systems and within one mile of marshes adjacent to canals within the wildlife management area.
Boaters must maintain a minimum distance of 100 yards from any tree island or levee when operating a vessel or airboat to minimize disturbance to upland wildlife.
To report a violation of this order, or any fish and wildlife law violation, call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-3922.
As for Lake Okeechobee’s water level, it now stands at 14.81 feet above sea level.
The lake level rose nearly two feet since Isaac’s drenching.
The extra water in the lake will help South Florida water supplies during the upcoming winter-to-spring dry season.
At one point following Isaac, storm water flowed into Lake Okeechobee at 30,000 cubic feet per second. That’s enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every two seconds, according to the South Florida Water Management District.
State formally approves Glades clean-up plan
Miami Herald – by Curtis Morgan
September 11, 2012
Florida formally signed off on an $880-million slate of Everglades cleanup projects on Tuesday.
Gov. Rick Scott announced the state had signed water quality permits and a consent order negotiated with the federal government to expand efforts to stem the flow of polluted farm, ranch and yard runoff into the Everglades.
Scott, in a news release, called the plan he had championed during nine months of negotiations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “a historic step for Everglades restoration.’’
The plan commits the state to $880 million in new projects that will expand on an existing network of manmade marshes designed to reduce the flow of the damaging nutrient phosphorus into the Everglades. The state, under pressure from federal judges to speed up the pace of cleanup, has already spent some $1.8 billion to construct 45,000 acres of treatment marshes. The new plan calls for adding another 6,500 acres of marshes, along with large shallow water storage basins and other improvements.
Though most environmental groups have applauded the plan, the Miccosukee Tribe and Friends of the Everglades have been critical, arguing it will push back cleanup deadlines to 2025 — almost two decades beyond an original 2006 target — and questioning whether the state has a firm plan to pay for the work.
Scott, in the release, said the deal would be paid for with a combination of revenues from the state and South Florida Water Management District “without raising or creating new costs for Floridians.’’
Mecca Farms delivering flooding relief before taking on Everglades restoration role
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
September 10, 2012|
Palm Beach County’s Mecca Farms property is helping provide flood-control relief in the wake of Tropical Storm Isaac.
The 1,919-acre former citrus grove, once intended to become home to The Scripps Research Institute, has become a key part of a new $880 million Everglades restoration plan.
But now the taxpayer-owned land is being used to move water that threatens to flood homes in Loxahatchee.
On Saturday, emergency pumps started sending from the nearby J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area through Mecca Farms to the C-18 canal, north toward Jupiter, according to the county.
Isaac’s extended drenching on Aug. 26 and 27 flooded roads and homes in Loxahatchee and also raised water levels higher than normal in the Corbett wildlife area.
A potential breach of the berm lining the Corbett wildlife area threatens to send flood waters back to Loxahatchee.
Since the storm, water managers have been trying to lessen the strain on the berm by using emergency pumps to lower water levels in the Corbett. Now Mecca Farms is helping get “substantially more water” out of the Corbett, according to County Administrator Robert Weisman.
This comes as the county and South Florida Water Management District are negotiating a $55 million deal to allow the district to acquire Mecca Farms and use the land to store and treat water needed to replenish the Loxahatchee River.
That would replace water from the L-8 reservoir, once intended to restock the river. The district now proposes to send that reservoir water south to the Everglades as part of revamped restoration plans.
Palm Beach County invested more than $100 million of taxpayer money trying to turn Mecca Farms into a biotech hup anchored by Scripps that was supposed to lure spin-off businesses and new jobs.
Instead, environmental concerns about such intensive development on rural land moved Scripps to Florida Atlantic University’s Jupiter campus.
Acquiring Mecca Farms is part of the state’s attempt to settle more than two decades of litigation with the federal government and environmental groups over stalled water quality standards and Everglades restoration efforts.
The new plan calls for increasing stormwater storage and treatment, including the use of Mecca Farms, to clean up water headed to the Everglades
Toxic mercury in the
Read more - -
Nano-fibres to help mercury cleanup
September 10, 2012
Mercury occurs naturally but is a bigger risk as a byproduct of industrialisation and accumulates up the food chain.
Scientists say they had created a 'nano-velcro' textile that offers a swift, sensitive and low-cost way of detecting mercury, a toxic and accumulative pollutant, in water and fish.
The fibres are made out of gold nanoparticles that are coated with compounds called hexanethiol and alkanethiol, and bind to charged particles, also called ions, of heavy metal elements.
The more pollutants that are captured, the more conductive the fibres become, which means that a sample can be easily measured by passing an electrical current through it.
The technique has been tested on levels of methyl mercurcy in the waters of Lake Michigan, off Chicago, and in mosquitofish caught in the Everglades National Park in Florida.
In both cases, the samples had ultra-low levels of mercury and measurements tallied with analyses made separately by US environmental watchdogs.
Mercury, a heavy metal that affects the brain and nervous system, occurs naturally but is a bigger risk as a byproduct of industrialisation. It accumulates up the food chain.
Each nano-velcro testing tab costs 10 euros (US$12) at most, and the measuring equipment would cost several thousand euros, the scientists claim in a press release.
Samples can be tested in situ, which helps inspectors who need an on-the-spot, instant assessment. Levels of industrial pollution can vary hugely according to output and environmental conditions.
"With conventional methods, you have to send samples to a lab, where the equipment costs millions of euros," says Francesco Stellacci of the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne, Switzerland.
The study appears in the journal Nature Materials.
Biosensor detects nano-contaminates, Science Online, 04 Jun 2012
Banana peels help detect toxins in water, Science Online, 24 Mar 2011
Nanopaper soaks up oily spills, Science Online, 01 Apr 2009
Toxic mercury in the
Read more - -
Nano-velcro clasps heavy metal molecules in its grips
September 9, 2012
Researchers have devised a simple, system based on nanoparticles, to detect mercury as well as others pollutants. This technology makes it possible to easily and inexpensively test for these substances in water and, more importantly, in the fish that we eat. This will be published in Nature Materials.
Mercury, when dumped in lakes and rivers, accumulates in fish, and often ends up on our plates. A Swiss-American team of researchers led by Francesco Stellacci at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and Bartosz Grzybowski at Northwestern University has devised a simple, inexpensive system based on nanoparticles, a kind of nano-velcro, to detect and trap this toxic pollutant as well as others. The particles are covered with tiny hairs that can grab onto toxic heavy metals such as mercury and cadmium. This technology makes it possible to easily and inexpensively test for these substances in water and, more importantly, in the fish that we eat. Their new method can measure methyl mercury, the most common form of mercury pollution, at unprecedentedly small attomolar concentrations. The system is outlined in an article appearing September 9, 2012 in the journal Nature Materials.
Methyl mercury, toxic and difficult to monitor
Researchers are particularly interested in detecting mercury. Its most common form, methyl mercury, accumulates as one goes up the food chain, reaching its highest levels in large predatory fish such as tuna and swordfish. In the US, France and Canada, public health authorities advise pregnant women to limit fish consumption because mercury can compromise nervous system development in the developing fetus. "The problem is that current monitoring techniques are too expensive and complex," explains Constellium Chair holder at EPFL and co-author Francesco Stellacci. "We periodically test levels of mercury in drinking water, and if those results are good, we make the assumption that levels are acceptable in between those testing periods." But industrial discharge fluctuates.
A simple, inexpensive new technology
The technology developed by the Swiss-American team is simple to use. A strip of glass covered with a film of "hairy" nanoparticles is dipped into the water. When an ion – a positively charged particle, such as a methyl mercury or cadmium ion – gets in between two hairs, the hairs close up, trapping the pollutant. A voltage-measuring device reveals the result; the more ions there are trapped in the nano-velcro, the more electricity it will conduct. So to calculate the number of trapped particles, all one needs to do is measure the voltage across the nanostructure. By varying the length of the nano-hairs, the scientists can target a particular kind of pollutant. "The procedure is empirical," explains Stellacci. Methyl mercury, fortunately, has properties that make it extremely easy to trap without accidentally trapping other substances at the same time; thus the results are very reliable. The interesting aspect of this approach is that the 'reading' glass strip could costs less than 10 dollars, while the measurement device will cost only a few hundreds of dollars. The analysis can be done in the field, so the results are immediately available. "With a conventional method, you have to send samples to the laboratory, and the analysis equipment costs several million dollars," notes Stellacci.
Convincing tests in Lake Michigan and Florida.
The researchers tested the system in Lake Michigan, near Chicago. Despite the high level of industry in the region, mercury levels were extremely low. "The goal was to compare our measurements to FDA measurements done using conventional methods," explains Stellacci. "Our results fell within an acceptable range." A mosquito fish from the Everglades in Florida was also tested. This species is not very high on the food chain and thus does not accumulate high levels of mercury in its tissues. "We measured tissue that had been dissolved in acid. The goal was to see if we could detect even minuscule quantities." says Bartosz Grzybowski, Burgess Professor of Chemistry and Director of Non-Equilibrium Energy Research Center at Northwestern University. The United States Geological Survey reported near-identical results after analyzing the same sample.
From quantum to real applications
"I think it is quite incredible," Grzybowski adds, "how the complex principles of quantum tunneling underlying our device translate into such an accurate and practically useful device. It is also notable that our system - through some relatively simple chemical modifications - can be readily adapted to detect other toxic species" Researchers have already demonstrated the detection of cadmium with a very high femtomolar sensitivity. "With this technology, it will be possible to conduct tests on a much larger scale in the field, or even in fish before they are put on the market," says lead author Eun Seon Cho. This is a necessary public health measure, given the toxic nature of methyl mercury and the extremely complex manner in which it spreads in the environment and accumulates in living tissues.
Journal reference: Nature Materials Provided by Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne
Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-09-nano-velcro-clasps-heavy-metal-molecules.html#jCp
Warnings of future urban water crises featured in keynote at Florida Green Building Coaltion Conference
September 10, 2012
Sustainability planning, green building and water efficiency consultant, Jerry Yudelson will address the effects of the national drought and what to do about it in his keynote address at the Florida Green Building Coalition’s annual “GreenTrends” Conference.
TUCSON, AZ - - Sustainability consultant and green building book author, Jerry Yudelson likes to quote Mark Twain: “As Mark Twain once remarked, ‘whiskey’s for drinking and water’s for fighting.’ We going to see conflicts in the 21st century increasingly based on access to water. We must deal proactively with our vital but overstressed water resources, both in the US and in other countries.” In fact, according to Yudelson, water conservation is also the cheapest form of energy conservation, “so you get a two-for-one benefit.”
Warnings and what can be done about the potential for future urban water crisis will be the keynote focus of green building expert and sustainability consultant Jerry Yudelson at the annual Florida Green Building Coalition(Florida GBC) Conference on September 14th. Florida GBC is the state’s leading green building organization and the conference, GreenTrends 2012, to be held at the PGA National Resort in West Palm Beach, expects to draw more than 250 people for the all-day event.
Florida Green Building Coalition Executive Director Suzanne Cook said, “We chose Jerry Yudelson to keynote this year’s conference because of his leading role as an author and advocate in promoting efforts to prevent future urban water crises. We believe that green building professionals and public officials need to focus more attention on water, as it’s on the cusp of a major technological revolution and offers major green jobs potential.”
Yudelson’s presentation at the Florida GBC event deals specifically with strategies that green building professionals, public officials and public agencies can take in order to head off future water scarcities caused by droughts, climate change and population growth. He offers these strategies in a new three-part video series, “Water Wars.”
The green building and sustainability consultant said, “If we are serious about cutting our carbon emissions, we have to deal with water conservation. Most people know that Florida gets nearly two-thirds of its water from groundwater, but haven’t thought about the energy it takes to pump, treat and deliver that water and that a huge amount of natural gas is used for heating water. Because of this connection, we have found that water conservation is the cheapest form of energy conservation.”
Yudelson is the author of the seminal book presenting design and planning options for increasing water abundance, Dry Run: Preventing the Next Urban Water Crisis. While he advocates for technological solutions, Yudelson also claims, “We must change our approach to treating water as a free good and instead recognize it as a vital resource for our entire economy.”
A professional engineer and experienced sustainability and green building consultant, Yudelson trained at Caltech and Harvard in environmental engineering and water resources management. He believes that water will be the focus for much conflict in the next few decades and that water technology advances, along with creative policy measures, can provide the public sector with solutions to increasingly strained water resources.
About Yudelson Associates
Yudelson Associates is a leading international firm in sustainability consulting, designing with water and green building certification. The founder, Jerry Yudelson, a LEED Fellow, is widely acknowledged as one of the nation’s leading green building and sustainability consultants and is an internationally recognized keynote speaker. In 2011, Wired magazine dubbed him the “Godfather of Green.” He is the author of 12 green building books and served for two years as Research Scholar for Retail Real Estate Sustainability for the International Council of Shopping Centers, a 70,000-member international trade organization. Yudelson is a frequent green building speaker at industry and professional conferences and chaired the country’s largest annual show, Greenbuild, for six years through 2009.
Weird and expensive
US sugar policies
With sugar price supports, sour taste for consumers
CIRonline.com – Amy Green
Sep 10, 2012
BELLE GLADE, Fla. – Behind every candy bar and can of soda is a complex government program of import tariffs and farmer loans establishing the price of sugar. The program, which has been in place in one form or another since shortly after the founding of the United States, is responsible for the success of Florida's $616 million sugar industry, the nation's largest producer of sugarcane.
That success, according to government and independent studies, comes at a cost to consumers every time they shop at grocery stores. The studies, including a report by the Government Accountability Office, conclude the sugar program inflates the U.S. price of sugar, costing consumers about $2 billion annually in increased food prices.
Despite its adverse impact, the sugar program survives on the political largesse of sugar growers, who are among the most generous in the agribusiness industry. This election cycle, sugar growers spent $3.6 million in campaign contributions, outpacing the tobacco industry's $2.8 million. Big Sugar is as big as ever, spending millions to preserve a price support program that inflates the cost of groceries, including bread, fruit juice and ketchup.
The sugar program is part of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act, or the Farm Bill, which shapes U.S. policy on agriculture, rural development, environmental conservation, food aid and more. The Farm Bill comes up for renewal every five years and is set to expire this year on Sept. 30. Several high-ranking politicians now are trying to put an end to the program. At stake for Florida is a sugar industry with an estimated $4.5 million state economic impact.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is among the sugar program's critics. "We ought to get rid of subsidies and let markets work properly," Romney said in January.
Although sugar growers say the program should not be considered a subsidy, because it does not involve direct payments to farmers, lawmakers have introduced multiple measures intended to reform or end the program. A measure ending the program introduced last year by Sen. Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican and a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, garnered support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Kraft Foods, the Sweetener Users Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Everglades Trust and Americans for Tax Reform, an organization led by lobbyist and activist Grover Norquist, known for persuading 1,100 politicians nationwide to sign a no-new-taxes pledge. But Lugar’s bill, later revised to reform the sugar program rather than end it, failed along with others.
Both of Florida's senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, voted against ending the program. Nelson, whose re-election campaign against Rep. Connie Mack is considered among the races that will determine control of the Senate, is the Senate's second-largest beneficiary of sugar growers this election cycle, having received $42,000 in contributions. The greatest recipient is Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Agricultural Committee. Stabenow, who has received $49,986 in contributions, also voted against ending the sugar program. Rubio, who was vetted as a possible vice presidential candidate with Romney and who writes in a recently published autobiography about the support he received from sugar growers during his 2010 campaign, collected $5,000 from Big Sugar.
The Senate passed its version of the Farm Bill in June, protecting the sugar program. But now that the Farm Bill is in the Republican-controlled House, the sugar program might face more opposition.
Florida produces 2 million tons of sugarcane annually, constituting half of the nation's domestic supply of sugarcane. The industry is situated in the Everglades Agricultural Area, a 700,000-acre swath of fertile land south of Lake Okeechobee, including parts of Glades, Hendry, Martin and Palm Beach counties. The area represents 27 percent of what used to be the Everglades. The area is so compact and so remote that many Floridians have never seen a sugarcane field.
Here, the world's largest sugarcane mill, owned by U.S. Sugar Corp., grinds 42,000 tons daily, providing up to 10 percent of the nation's domestic sugar supply. During the crop season from October through April, harvesting and processing continue 24 hours a day. U.S. Sugar is the nation's largest producer of sugarcane, owning an independent short-line railroad, the South Central Florida Express, connecting fields with mainline railroads. About 36 percent of the nation's sugar comes from cane, 44 percent from sugar beets and the rest from imports. Sugarcane grows in Florida, Louisiana, Texas and Hawaii, while sugar beets are farmed in 11 states extending from the Great Plains to the West.
Politics and the sugar industry long have been linked, and in the narrative of U.S. politics, Big Sugar has played a supporting role at the highest levels. In 1996, for example, President Bill Clinton and intern Monica Lewinsky were in the Oval Office, in the middle of a conversation about their relationship, when the phone rang. The intern would later tell independent counsel Kenneth Starr the call was from a Florida sugar grower whose name she remembered as "Fanuli." Lewinsky was referring to Alfonso Fanjul, who with his brother Jose owns Florida Crystals Corp., a company that traces its roots to pre-communist Cuba. Including its subsidiaries, Florida Crystals is the world's largest sugar refiner, with an annual production capacity exceeding 7 million tons and operations in Florida, California, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Canada, Mexico, England and Portugal. That Clinton accepted a call in the Oval Office from a Fanjul brother during a meeting with someone who would partly define his presidency illustrates how much influence Big Sugar has in Washington.
The Fanjul brothers have maintained their influence through the years. Today, the Fanjuls, nicknamed Alfy and Pepe, are known for their wealth and political connections. Rubio, a Cuban American and Tea Party-backed politician who rails against government overreach, wrote about the Fanjuls in his autobiography, "An American Son," and described their role in his 2010 Senate campaign.
"The end of August saw a slight uptick in our fundraising,” Rubio wrote. “We were collecting more envelopes at my speeches. Some of our midsized events were raising as much as $20,000. The mail was starting to make money. The crown jewel of the quarter would be the fundraiser in New York in late September, hosted by the Fanjul family, a Cuban American family that owns a large sugar and real estate conglomerate. It sounded unbelievable, but if the event hit its target, we stood a good chance of posting a million-dollar quarter."
One reason for Big Sugar's political influence is its willingness to pool resources among competitors with common interests to keep the U.S. sugar program in tact. For example, U.S. Sugar's competitor-turned-ally is American Crystal Sugar Co., the nation's largest producer of sugar beets, with factories in the Upper Midwest. American Crystal Sugar is Big Sugar's biggest spender this election cycle and also the biggest spender in the agribusiness sector, a powerful special interest whose political spending outpaces the defense industry. American Crystal Sugar has spent $1.6 million this election cycle, followed by $1.2 million from Altria Group (formerly Philip Morris Companies), $577,000 from Weaver Popcorn Co. and $571,000 from the Fanjuls' Florida Crystals. U.S. Sugar has spent $166,300.
Together, American Crystal Sugar, U.S. Sugar and North Dakota-based Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative own Minnesota-based United Sugars Corp., which the companies describe as a marketing cooperative. The partnership reveals collaboration between the nation's largest producer of sugarcane, U.S. Sugar, and the nation's largest producer of sugar beets, American Crystal Sugar, making U.S. Sugar the country's first nationwide producer and distributor of refined sugar. It also places the Florida company’s product in congressional districts nationwide.
American Crystal Sugar's spending has ballooned from $300,000 to $600,000 in the early 2000s to $2 million in recent election cycles. So far this year, American Crystal Sugar has spent $1 million on federal lobbying. American Crystal Sugar also maintains a political action committee, which has collected $2.6 million this election cycle.
Florida lawmakers are among the principal beneficiaries of Big Sugar. In addition to Nelson, the U.S. senator, the largest benefactors this election cycle include Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos ($39,940), who last year dropped out of the Republican race for Nelson's seat; Rep. Tom Rooney ($31,250), a Republican whose district includes the region where sugarcane is grown; Connie Mack ($29,000), the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate whose father held the seat from 1989 to 2001; and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz ($24,500), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. Big Sugar tends to favor Democrats, who are more receptive to government programs, but the spending reveals an effort to curry bipartisan favor. President Barack Obama has received $22,700 from Big Sugar, for example, while his Republican challenger this year, Romney, has received $22,500.
For Florida, the sugar program makes growing sugarcane possible, according to Lance deHaven-Smith, a professor of public administration at Florida State University who studies state politics and history.
"It's called a collective action problem. The people who have a stake in it see their interest, and they are all over it. They are constantly working on it,” deHaven-Smith said. “But the other side, the people who are paying a little more for their cereal in the morning, they never see it, and so they never mobilize. That's the problem."
The sugar program guarantees growers a minimum price by controlling supply and limiting imports through tariffs. When the supply is high and the price low, the program goes further, allowing for loans that farmers can satisfy by forfeiting their crops to the government. Since the 1970s, as a result of the price supports, the U.S. price of sugar has been nearly double the world price most years. This price difference represents the program's most significant cost to food consumers, according to Michael Wohlgenant, a North Carolina State University agricultural economics professor who has studied the U.S. sugar program.
A report Wohlgenant wrote estimates the program costs food consumers $2.4 billion per year and provides sugar producers with $1.4 billion per year in benefits. Other studies support Wohlgenant's findings. A 2000 report from the Government Accountability Office, the most recent available, found the program cost domestic sugar and sweetener users $1.9 billion in 1998. A 2006 U.S. Department of Commerce report found higher domestic sugar prices were a major factor in the loss of more than 10,000 jobs between 1997 and 2002 at manufacturers using sugar in their products. The report estimates nearly three confectionery manufacturing jobs are lost for every sugar-growing job saved through the sugar program.
The inflated U.S. price of sugar also has contributed to widespread use of high-fructose corn syrup as a lower-cost alternative – though in recent years, the price of high-fructose corn syrup has risen with demand for corn ethanol, while the price of sugar has held mostly steady. Meanwhile, by limiting imports into the United States, the sugar program has depressed the world price of sugar by about 8.5 percent, Wohlgenant found, affecting the bottom lines of some of the world's poorest farmers.
Wohlgenant believes the world price of sugar today is high enough to sustain the current U.S. price, making the U.S. sugar program needless. "I think everybody would agree with this: If the program were done away with, the price would fall some from what it is in the United States, but it won't fall below that price support," Wohlgenant said.
Precedent exists for ending the sugar program. In 1974, when commodity prices boomed because of an energy crisis, inflation and global commodity shortages, lawmakers suspended the sugar price support. Wohlgenant estimated that if U.S. sugar were to compete on the global market without government supports, the world price of sugar would rise 8.5 percent, but the U.S. price would tumble 41.5 percent – a boon for food consumers but a bust for farmers in the economically depressed Everglades Agricultural Area.
"Given the present state of the economy in that area, any drop in sugar prices would be devastating," said Phil Bacon, vice president of neighborhood and regional initiatives at the Collins Center for Public Policy, a nonpartisan think tank. "If people can understand what U.S. Steel used to mean to Pittsburgh, when the steel mills closed down and so forth, they can understand what it would mean to this area. This area needs to diversify its economy, but as of now, because of the fact that the sugar business has had some price supports and done fairly well for the last year, year and a half to two years, it still makes a lot of sense for that region to be defined by sugar."
Belle Glade is one of a half-dozen communities in the Everglades Agricultural Area, where millions of perfectly aligned rows of sugarcane extend to the horizon in all directions, green and swaying.
"This is the most significant single area for growing food in the United States," said Rick Roth, president of Roth Farms, sitting in his modest Belle Glade office. "California as a state grows a lot more food, but they grow it over a 400-mile area. We're talking about farming in one area almost year-round. Nobody else does that."
Roth Farms is a mid-sized sugar and vegetable farm raising several thousand acres of sugarcane, radishes, lettuce, sweet corn, green beans and rice. Roth's father established the farm in 1948 after moving to Florida with his family from Ohio, but he didn't begin growing sugarcane until 1962. Today, Roth estimates two-thirds of his farm's production is cane.
Roth's father was a founding member of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, which harvests and mills sugarcane for the cooperative's 46 owners. Roth has served on the board of the cooperative since 1994. Together, the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative and the Fanjuls' Florida Crystals own New York-based American Sugar Refining, which as a Florida Crystals subsidiary bills itself as the world's largest sugarcane refiner with a production capacity of 7 million tons. The Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative also contributes to Big Sugar's political spending. The cooperative has given $51,750 this election cycle in political contributions.
Roth engages in politics, giving his money to candidates and his time to the Farm Bureau of Florida as an unpaid activist, because he said politics is a "contact sport."
"One of the biggest crimes is people complaining about politics, but they never get involved," he said.
Farming is a risky business dependent on weather and global markets, Roth said, and the sugar program helps growers mitigate that risk.
"What the sugar program does for me as a farmer, it gives me a stable plan I can go to a banker with and say, 'Look, I'm producing this many acres of vegetables and this many of sugarcane,' " he said. " 'Will you loan me $2 million to plant my crops?' And they go, 'Yeah.' They want the estimates: What are the costs, and what are you going to sell the sugar for? And having a sugar program means the banker knows with certainty I'm not going to sell the sugar below this price. He knows I'm going to get at least 18 cents, and he knows I'm going to sell all of my sugar. ...
"I can't sell farm land and get completely out this year, and then 10 years from now, go, 'Gee, the price of sugarcane went up. I've got to get back in the business,' " Roth continued. "That land is now more expensive. I can't get in and get out. That's not what we want. What we want is some type of safety net so that farmers keep farming."
Research for this story was funded in part by United Arts of Central Florida. The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting is a nonprofit news organization supported by foundations and individual contributions. For more information, visit fcir.org.
Aquifer levels above normal
Hernando Today - by Tony Holt
September 9, 2012
It took six years and nine months, but the region's main water source finally rose to above-normal levels again.
Boat ramp closings, dry riverbanks and prolonged water restrictions are in the past — for the time being.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly referred to as Swiftmud, released its aquifer resource results Friday and those results were met with a sense of long-awaited satisfaction.
"An increase in water supplies in the aquifer provides additional base flows to rivers and streams and an increase in spring flows," said Swiftmud spokeswoman Robyn Felix. "Our lakes should get recharged."
Aquifers are underground layers of rock and sand that hold water. In southwest Florida, more than 80 percent of the water supply comes from aquifers.
As of Wednesday, the aquifer level for the northern region of the water district — which includes Hernando, Citrus, Sumter, Lake, Marion and Levy counties — was 3.09 feet. The normal range for the region is 0 to 3 feet.
Swiftmud also reported rainfall for the year at 45.67 inches across the six-county region. The historical average during that span — from Jan. 1 through Sept. 5 — is 39.73 inches.
The 12-month average for the northern region is 53.51 inches.
Based on numbers from the Florida Automated Weather Network through the University of Florida, the Brooksville area already has exceeded the annual average.
As of Wednesday, the gauge — located between Brooksville and neighboring Nobleton — recorded a total of 54.62 inches of rainfall since the start of 2012. A tropical depression in early June, coupled with Tropical Storms Debby and Isaac, brought significant rain to Hernando.
The last time aquifer levels were above average was Dec. 9, 2005, according to Swiftmud.
"We're not aware of any negative effects that above-normal aquifers could cause, only benefits," said Felix.
On the agricultural side, there are some downsides to excessive rainfall — namely root rot — and some farmers have had to endure those pains. Nonetheless, Florida farmers need large amounts of rain during the summer, and that's what they've been getting, said Hernando County Extension Director Stacey Strickland.
There are two hurricanes in the Atlantic basin — Leslie and Michael — being monitored by meteorologists and emergency management officials. The storms are not expected to directly impact Florida, but the local forecast is showing a likelihood of greater-than-average rainfall during the next five days.
The heaviest rains will be on Sunday and the Hernando County Sheriff's Office has announced that river flooding in Trilby could continue throughout the weekend.
Isaac’s heavy rain blew past officials in Palm Beach County
Palm Beach Post - by Pat Beall and Jennifer Sorentrue, Staff Writers
September 9, 2012
By the predawn hours of Monday, Aug. 27, Tropical Storm Isaac had squalled through the area in fits and bursts. It was looking like Palm Beach County had escaped the brunt of the storm.
The call had been made to keep schools open.
But watching TV weather reports in the middle of the night, school officials were getting nervous, and they let the Palm Beach County Emergency Operations Center know.
Vince Bonvento, the assistant Palm Beach County administrator who oversees emergency operations, picked up the phone. He wanted an update from the National Weather Service.
“I called them at 12:30 in the morning,” he said. The prediction wasn’t comforting. “They said that some of the feeder bands had intensified unexpectedly. It was feeding off of the warm water and created these massive rain cells.”
By 2 a.m., Boynton Beach had gotten 10 inches of rain. Radar showed the downpour blanketing Palm Beach County.
As Isaac took a bead on Florida, local emergency officials had braced for a brush with the storm. Now it was becoming clear they had braced for the wrong thing — wind. Not for rain.
“Everything was predicated on tropical force winds impacting our area,” Bonvento said.
So, did officials and weather forecasters get fooled by a tricky tropical storm, or was someone just not paying attention? And how did a forecast of between an average 4 to 8 inches of rain translate into as much as 16 inches of rain and weeklong flooding?
To begin with, Isaac pulled a fast one. Further, rain still is not deemed threatening by many. After all, the famed Saffir-Simpson scale used to gauge a storm’s wind strength offers no comparable warning about rainfall.
And county emergency operations officials acknowledge they underestimated the rain’s impact, partly because they didn’t see it coming.
In fact, by Sunday afternoon, they had reason to feel relieved.
For one thing, the National Weather Service had issued an advisory stating that only about 2 to 4 more inches of rainfall, on top of what had fallen, was expected through Monday. Although a flood watch remained in effect, the possible inland flooding impact for Palm Beach County was downgraded to “low.”
That would turn out to be premature.
Just a mile down the road, at the emergency operations center of the South Florida Water Management District, that agency’s two meteorologists forecast 10 inches of rainfall.
But Bonvento said the county was repeatedly briefed by forecasters at the National Weather Service as Isaac’s outer rain bands approached, and every time they were told to expect 4 to 8 inches.
“We felt 4 inches of rain — that is no big deal,” Bonvento said. By 5:40 p.m. on Sunday, the county was ready to ratchet down its alert level to only monitoring the situation.
Bonvento and top managers went home, leaving behind a skeleton crew.
Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Wayne Gent had set up his own makeshift weather center. His TV was tuned to Channel 5, which had suspended regular programming for storm coverage. His home computer was refreshed with the latest updates from the National Hurricane Center, the tropical storm tracking arm of the National Weather Service.
“Sunday evening, in your head, you kept thinking conditions would improve,” Gent said. “But as the evening was going later and later… you could see it just didn’t appear to be improving.”
Gent made his decision at 1 a.m.: Schools would close, after all.
He made that decision based on Isaac’s wind speeds, not rain. Buses cannot operate when winds reach 40 mph. Keeping people off the road in windy conditions, Bonvento said, “pretty much dictates our decision.”
At about that time, the National Hurricane Center still was still predicting total rainfall of 4 to 8 inches but, noting the rainfall in Boynton, added that 10 inches was possible.
Canal waters were rising. The water district’s sophisticated telemetry allowed it to gauge water levels in its canal system, readings available to county officials on the district’s web site. But county officials were not at the district’s emergency operations center during this storm and the district had no one stationed at the county’s center.
In any event, the telemetry didn’t start registering increases in canal levels until Monday morning. Bonvento said those water level reports were monitored on the district’s web site and through the county’s own emergency system, plus in conference calls with the district. However, that only provided information on what areas likely had already flooded, and estimates of how long it would take those areas to dry out.
A matter of wind
With the rains still raging, the National Weather Service canceled its tropical storm warning at 5 a.m. Monday. Tropical storm warnings address wind only.
And although schools were closed, county offices remained open. Thousands of workers headed to government offices Monday morning in the downpour. Other employers, both public and private, typically follow the county’s lead.
That all changed at 1 p.m. Monday, when the hurricane center issued a vastly different forecast — up to 20 inches of rain in some areas. Two hours later, the county closed offices and told workers to go home.
By Monday evening, the county’s emergency operations center was inundated with calls about rain and flooding.
By then, much of the water damage had been done — more than $93 million is the latest estimate for road and government building damage, drainage system trouble and cleanup costs. That doesn’t include damage to homes and private businesses, which is still being tallied.
“Nobody could predict that a storm whose eye was 435 miles away would have that (rain) band stall and remain over the western communities,” said Michelle Damone, president of the Indian Trail Improvement District’s governing board, which oversees drainage in The Acreage.
“I don’t think anybody could have predicted those 15 inches. Those things are an act of God.”
Added just-retired schools police chief Jim Kelly: “Nobody has any right to be angry. If you want to be angry, be angry at Mother Nature. She pulled a fast one.”
Isaac ‘A Storm for the Record Books’ in South Florida
BrowardNet.com - by Mark Young
September 8, 2012
Historic Magnitudes of Water
Water Moved to Tide and Storage Areas 105 billion gallons
Water Moved by Emergency Pumps 2.3 billion gallons
72-Hour Rainfall Maximum 14.85 inches
C-51 Canal’s Record Flow Rate 10,300 cubic feet per second
Water Moved to L-8 Reservoir 3.1 billion gallons
West Palm Beach, FL — As the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) continues recovery operations from Tropical Storm Isaac, a post-storm analysis shows the agency moved an estimated 105 billion gallons of water away from residents in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties during and immediately after the storm.
Water coursing through the District’s C-51 primary canal in Palm Beach County reached its highest recorded rate of 10,300 cubic feet per second, as water control gates remained open and pump stations operated at maximum safe capacity for many days following the 1-in-100-year storm event. Field crews continuously checked for erosion or structural damage in the system and ensured canals stayed free of trees and other debris that would block the massive flow of water.
“Isaac was unprecedented in the sheer volume of water the District had to move,” said Tommy Strowd, SFWMD Director of Operations, Maintenance and Construction. “By maximizing our pre-storm and post-storm operations, the 60-year-old regional system did its job and prevented widespread impacts.”
The District’s preparation and response—coupled with operations by local drainage districts and municipalities—minimized the extent of flooding for Palm Beach County’s 1.3 million residents. While many neighborhoods had excess water in swales, ponds, roadways and backyards, fewer than 50 residences were reported to be directly impacted by flooding. Rural areas with local drainage systems unable to handle the historic quantities of rainfall saw the most flooding impacts and longest recovery times.
Ongoing Recovery Operations
Engineering calculations show that a total of 44.2 billion gallons of water was released to tide in Palm Beach County alone.
Canals, pump stations, gates and culverts moving the remaining water from the most heavily impacted areas, including The Acreage and Loxahatchee, operated around the clock for many days following the storm. These operations included:
•Directing water into the L-8 Reservoir at a sustained rate of 540 cubic feet per second (cfs), which raises the water level about 1 foot a day (Since emergency operations began, 3.1 billion gallons of water have flowed into the reservoir, raising its water level by about 10 feet.)
•Operating pump stations at full capacity around the clock to move water into Stormwater Treatment Area 1 East, 1 West, 2 and 3/4
•Moving water through the massive S-5A and S-319 pump stations off Southern Boulevard into Stormwater Treatment Area 1 West and 1 East
•Discharging more than 1,500 cfs during the peak of the event into Lake Okeechobee from the 10A Culvert at the northwest end of the L-8 Canal, the main drainage canal for The Acreage
•Diverting water into Water Conservation Area 1
•Maximizing flow at three major water control structures on the C-51 Canal, helping to move water from the impacted areas
•Deploying nine temporary pumps to help improve drainage from impacted communities
•Gates in the three water conservation areas (WCAs) were fully opened by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The SFWMD is moving water to tide from WCA-1 via S-39 (560 cfs), WCA-2 via S-38 (500 cfs) and WCA-3A via S-31 (300 cfs), depending on local rainfall and drainage conditions.
Staff in the District’s Operations Control Room continue to work with the Palm Beach County Emergency Operations Center, Indian Trail Improvement District and local communities to coordinate water operations and bring as much flow as possible from these parts of the system into the appropriate District canals and facilities.
The primary SFWMD flood control system, including pump stations, gates and locks, has fully recovered from the storm and returned to normal wet season operations.
Following a dry July, Tropical Storm Isaac and wet season rains helped boost District-wide water levels by nearly 4 inches more than the average for the month. An average of 11.43 inches of rain fell from Orlando to the Florida Keys, representing 152 percent of average for the month.
All 16 counties in the District received above average rainfall in August, with the east coast recording the highest numbers. Rainfall in key areas included:
Total Rainfall Above Average
Location (Inches) (Inches )
Martin/St. Lucie 13.11 5.30
Eastern Palm Beach 16.20 8.40
Eastern Broward 12.45 5.02
Eastern Miami-Dade 12.01 3.75
Lower Kissimmee 12.28 5.36
Southwest Coast 10.40 1.34
East Caloosahatchee 10.44 1.66
As a result of Tropical Storm Isaac and rainfall throughout the month, the water level in Lake Okeechobee rose from 12.12 feet NGVD on July 31 to 13.95 feet NGVD on August 31. The lake level today is 14.55 feet NGVD.
In fact, if a hurricane’s path is tough to predict, calculating the action of a cyclone’s accompanying bands of thunderstorms is even more challenging. “These storms are complex,” said Robert Molleda, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Miami. “They don’t always have nice, neat, predictable structures.”
Take 2008’s Tropical Storm Fay. It moved westward over Tallahassee — all of it but a single rain band, said Jay Baker, associate professor of geography with Florida State University and an expert on how emergency managers use forecasts to implement evacuation plans.
Fay’s lone rain band lingered, drenching the city. Evacuations were necessary. On the Treasure Coast, Fay settled in over Lake Okeechobee as its most destructive side targeted the area: An estimated 500 to 750 homes either had standing water inside or water up to the doors. In some cases, the water was chest-high.
Isaac, too, had tricks to play.
“The same rain band can track over the same location for hours and hours and hours, and that’s exactly what happened in Palm Beach County. There’s no way to predict that ahead of time,” said Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate with the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.
And while Isaac wasn’t an especially slow-moving tropical storm, at roughly 410 miles across, it was big — very big. As a result, “it took a long time to crawl out of there,” said Steven Leatherman, co-director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University’s International Hurricane Research Center.
No serious threat
Complicating matters, said Leatherman, is that “everybody tends to treat a tropical storm like a thunderstorm.”
Even those anticipating the worst a tropical storm can dish out may get surprised. “Since it came with the name of tropical storm, I did expect less rain than with the ‘canes,” said Wellington resident Dr. James Belden. That wasn’t the case. The gauge on Belden’s Palm Beach Point property showed 11.7 inches of rainfall. Hurricane Jeanne had shown more than 8 inches.
“Some of the worst flooding ever has come from tropical storms,” McNoldy said. That was the case with Tropical Storm Allison, which hit Houston in 2001 with devastating results. Forty inches of rain fell. Twenty-three people died in that city alone.
Closer to home, Tropical Storm Gordon pummeled the area in 1994 with more than 17 inches of rain in 72 hours.
Hurricane-turned-tropical-storm Irene got to Palm Beach County in 1999, where it drenched the region: 17.5 inches of rain in Boynton Beach, 10.9 inches at Palm Beach International Airport. Rains overwhelmed canals. Waterlogged roadways filled with fish in some areas, sewage in others.
So why were county emergency officials so focused on wind?
That’s typical, said Leatherman. “Wind gets the headlines,” said Molleda.
“Unless people are in flood areas which flood recurrently and people know what 8 inches of rain can mean, unless they know the consequences, it will be a lot harder to get people to take action, even if you tell them,” FSU’s Baker said. “And if you don’t tell them, you certainly can’t expect them to act.”
But if residents don’t pay close attention to rain, Leatherman said, neither does the meteorological community. Forecasters depend on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which rates hurricane wind speed from category 1 to category 5, to warn of the strength of hurricanes. But the Saffir-Simpson scale has a glaring omission: It doesn’t offer a comparable warning for rainfall.
True, National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center briefings always include data on the likelihood of rain, and how much might be expected. That’s not enough, said Leatherman, who for years has pushed for a rain gauge similar to the Saffir-Simpson scale that would give people in the path of storms a regional guide to what amount of rain may be dangerous.
“What does 6 to 8 inches of water really mean?” Leatherman asked. Simply providing inch counts “does not translate to whether your house floods or your horses drown.”
He hasn’t gotten a warm response to his idea. After making a pitch to a high-ranking hurricane center official a few years ago, the official briskly replied: “We already have a gauge. It’s called inches.”
Had they known what they know now about the rainfall, said Bonvento, the county likely would have tried to warn residents. And administrators probably would not have opened county offices on Monday.
However, Palm Beach County Commissioner Jess Santamaria, whose district includes the communities that saw the worst flooding, said he was pleased with the county’s response to the storm — although he also thinks communication between the county and cities, towns and drainage districts could be improved.
“There will be a next time,” Santamaria said. “This is a learning experience.” And hurricane season isn’t over: “We better learn quick.”
Palm Beach Post staff writer Allison Ross and staff researcher Michelle Quigley contributed to this report.
Water is pumped out of
the J.W. Corbett Wildlife
Management Area into
a canal next to 94th
Water managers cut new spillway to lessen flooding risk near Corbett Wildlife Management Area
Palm Beach Post - by Christine Stapleton, Staff Writer
September 7, 2012
After 11 days of pumping water, putting band-aids on an aging levee and hoping it would not breach and re-flood The Acreage, cautious water managers Friday cut through a slice of Seminole Pratt Whitney Road to allow floodwaters from the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area to spill into a nearby canal.
The decision came after a week of fortifying weak spots in the 94th Street North levee and round-the-clock pumping by nine large pumps. With water levels in the Corbett still 18 inches higher than they should be and the height of hurricane season approaching, officials at the South Florida Water Management District took additional steps to protect local residents, homes and roads.
“We want some help mitigating the damage in the event of another storm,” said Jeff Kivett, chief of the district’s engineering and construction bureau. “This is more of a long term concern.”
A large swath of Seminole Pratt Whitney, an artery through the rural area north of the Acreage, was closed after more than a foot of rain fell on the dirt road during Tropical Storm Isaac’s record-setting rainfall two weeks ago. Traffic has been re-routed to a dirt road on top of the C-18 Canal to Bee Line Highway.
Fearing a break in the levee, the district began stockpiling tons of rocks and boulders. District workers have been patrolling the levee around the clock, filing reports every four hours.
“I’ve been waiting for that call in the middle of the night,” said Lisa Tropepe, the engineering consultant for the Indian Trail Improvement District, a taxing district that is responsible for flood control, canal and levee maintenance, drainage and roadways in the area.
There have been no breaches, but residents who live along the levee are wary. Nothing but a dirt road and a swollen canal separates them from the levee. Looking over the canal beyond the levee, the water level in the Corbett is noticeably higher. At certain locations, the discrepancy between the water level in the canal and the Corbett is at least 10 feet.
“I’m extremely concerned,” said a woman who has lived along the levee for 10 years but asked not to be identified. “On Wednesday I could see washouts and seepage. No one in an official capacity has spoken with us.”
On Wednesday, about a mile away on the Corbett’s eastern edge, construction began on the Seminole Pratt Whitney spillway. Using a crane, workers began driving 15-foot interconnected metal panels 12 feet into the ground. Working from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. over two days, nearly 180 feet of panels had been installed. Across the road bulldozers dumped boulders on the slope of the canal that will receive the floodwaters. After a swath of road is dug out and filled with large rocks, floodwater will spill over the road and into the canal.
The canal, formerly used as an irrigation canal on Mecca Farms, will carry the water north to the C-18 Canal. Pumps will push the water east, then north, then eventually to the coast, where the water will dump into the Intracoastal Waterway.
The crisis in the Corbett has brought to a head decades worth of finger-pointing over who is responsible for water levels and levee maintenance there. The levee, also called a berm, was built with the fill excavated when the canal was dug. It was never meant to be used as a dam, said Tanya Quickel, Indian Trail’s administrator. Indian Trail occasionally mows the top and south slope of the levee. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission takes care of the other side, she said.
Indian Trail has wanted lower water levels in the Corbett or a better berm for a couple of decades, Quickel said. “That’s been the point of contention and here we are, kind of in a nightmare situation.”
The FWC says the Corbett’s water levels need to be kept higher for wildlife. Michael Anderson, its regional wildlife biologist, said the FWC complied with its permit to control water levels in the Corbett. Once water reaches a certain level, FWC officials must contact the South Florida Water Management District for permission to release water. The FWC did so but the pipes carrying water from the Corbett were not nearly large enough to handle the deluge, Anderson said.
At that point, the South Florida Water Management District — which does not own and is not responsible for maintaining the levee, canal or roads — took charge.
“It was the right thing to do,” said SFWMD spokesman Randy Smith. “We’ve got the equipment and we’ve got the expertise.”
Quickel praised the SFWMD for coming to its aid.
“The South Florida Water Management district — they’re a big machine,” Quickel said. “It’s been great to have their resources to help us.”
Secretary of the
Florida Department of
DEP chief: State's water districts now appropriately sized
Orlando Sentinel - by Kevin Spear
September 6, 2012|
The state's top environmental official said Thursday he doesn't expect more of the job and budget cuts that have significantly reduced the size and scope of Florida's regional water-management districts during the past two years.
Speaking at a water-policy forum in Orlando, Herschel Vinyard, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, said the state's five water districts are now spending about $1 billion a year to regulate and protect surface and aquifer waters
"That's probably an appropriate amount, given that we have kind of cut down on some of the frills," Vinyard said.
Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature chopped district budgets during the past two years by more than 20 percent, triggering concern among environmentalists that the agencies would no longer conduct needed scientific analysis and restoration work.
"The various water-management districts are focused now on their core missions, and everything that we are seeing is that the money has been diverted into appropriate places," Vinyard said. "I don't see from the governor's office any direction on the budgets in the water-management districts."
The forum, sponsored primarily by Associated Industries of Florida and the American Water Works Association, had a pro-business tone. Several speakers denounced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to impose water-pollution standards in Florida.
Tom Feeney, Associated Industries' president, called the EPA's rules "unintelligible from a scientific standpoint and completely unworkable from the standpoint of growing business in Florida."
Florida has proposed its own set of water-pollution rules and wants the EPA to drop its proposed rules in favor of the state's approach.
Other speakers at the forum suggested that, even if EPA approves Florida's rules this year, they expect lawsuits to be filed that would keep the state rules in limbo for some time.
Fertilizer bill among those expected to return in 2013, House subcommittee chairman says
Florida Current – by Bruce Ritchie
September 6, 2012
Legislation restricting local government fertilizer ordinances is among the bills expected to be back before the House again in 2013, Rep. Steve Crisafulli, chairman of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee, said Thursday.
He was among four legislators and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. who spoke at the third annual Florida Water Forum in Orlando. The forum was hosted by Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Section of the American Water Works Association.
The groups say an adequate water supply remains key in attracting new industry to Florida and to ensure there is adequate water supply for cities.
Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said other bills also are expected to be back after they died in the Senate. They include HB 7045 to extend the length of some water use permits to 30 years and another HB 157 to encourage cooperation among neighboring water management districts. Both bills died in the Senate without being heard in committees.
Last session, SB 604, exempting certified landscaping professionals from local ordinances, was killed by the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation by a 4-3 vote. Crisafulli says a conversation on the legislation still is needed to find "common ground," acknowledging support from the landscaping industry and opposition from counties.
"This is an issue that is starting to take legs nationwide," he said. "I believe there are 26 states now around the country that have gone in this direction, including as of recently Virginia and New Jersey."
Other legislation from last session that could be back, Crisafulli said, includes HB 115, which would repeal a ban starting in 2016 on spreading septic tank waste on land.
He also said there should be legislation encouraging public-private partnerships in the development of wastewater projects and legislation establishing a statewide water quality credit trading system.
Rep. Dana Young, a Tampa Republican who introduced HB 639 that passed this year encouraging the use of treated wastewater known as "reclaimed water," said she had met after the legislative session with representatives of agriculture and utility groups in Tampa to talk about other problems and solutions. She said there was no understanding or proposed legislation to come out of the meeting.
"To the extent as policymakers we can facilitate that type of conversation that is what we need to be doing," she said.
Other legislators who spoke were Rep. Elizabeth Porter, R-Lake City and sponsor of HB 157, and Rep. Steve Perman, D-Boca Raton. Sen. Chris Smith, D-West Palm Beach, provided a recorded video address because he was in North Carolina for the Democratic National Convention.
Vinyard outlined initiatives being undertaken by DEP to ensure that the state's five water management districts are working together. They include statewide environmental resource permit rulemaking, consumptive use permitting consistency, and regional water supply planning, including an effort under way with the Suwannee and St. Johns districts to help protect springs in North Central Florida.
"Obviously the springs in our state are an iconic part of our ecosystem," Vinyard said. "It is one of the things that attracts visitors to our state. And it is so, so important that we protect springs."
is the new president of
the Audubon Society
of the Everglades.
She counts birds every
day. She was the librarian for South
Florida Water Management District for
40 years. Her favorite
bird is Florida’s state
bird — the mockingbird
New Audubon Society of the Everglades president aims to maintain, nourish the area’s environmental habitat
Palm Beach Post - by Mary Thurwachter
September 6, 2012
A passion for Florida and the environment is deeply ingrained in Cynthia Plockelman, the new president of the Audubon Society of the Everglades.
A fourth generation Floridian, she was born in West Palm Beach, as was her mother, and her dad was an architect and an outdoorsman who liked to play tennis and whose favorite Sunday pastime was taking the family for rides in the country.
“I recall, from our house on Ellamar Road, carrying around a couple of rattlesnakes,” she said. “My father always said ‘look where you put your foot down.’ ” Fortunately, she never was bitten by one of the fanged vipers, but she did learn a healthy respect for them and hasn’t been toting any rattlesnakes since.
Today, Plockelman, a charter member of the Florida native Plant Society, lives only a few short blocks from her family home with a yard stocked with native plants. “It is a bird oasis,” she said. “I have birds all yearlong because I have food supply.”
She makes a bird list every day.
“Palm Beach County is a critically important bird area because of migration and the Lake Worth Lagoon,” she said. About 40 different species can be found each season.
“A lot depends on what happens in the rest of the world,” Plockelman said. “It has to do with food supply. A lot of what we’ve planted in the last 50 years is not very encouraging to birds.”
Her favorite bird is also the Florida state bird – the mockingbird.
“They have a resiliency,” she said. “They are very determined, smarter than other birds, and boy can they sing.”
Plockelman, 74, retired from the South Florida Water Management District in 2003 after 40 years there. She started as an administrative assistant, but quickly became the district’s librarian.
“I took it on (the library) and moved it four times, and each time it was larger,” she said.
While working for the SFWMD, she had a chance to meet many notable environmentalists, from Marjory Stoneman Douglas to the Reno sisters, Janet and Maggy (Hurchalla).
She is a graduate of Palm Beach High School, has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Florida State University, and a master’s in government from Emory University.
Wildlife officials prepare to smooth path for panther into Central Florida
Tampa Bay Times - by Craig Pittman, Staff Writer
In Print: Thursday, September 6, 2012
TAMPA — Because scientists say the rebounding Florida panther has filled nearly all the available habitat in Southwest Florida, state wildlife officials Wednesday told their staff to start working on expanding its population into Central Florida.
The first step: begin this year meeting with big landowners and community groups to prepare them for what life will be like with the state's biggest predator again prowling nearby.
Panthers once ranged across the Southeast, but since at least the 1970s, Florida's official state animal has been largely confined to the wilderness south of the Caloosahatchee River near Fort Myers.
Occasionally a male panther has swum across the river and wandered north — one making it as far as Georgia before being killed by a frightened hunter — but no females have ever been documented crossing the river. The closest one has ever come to the river is 3 miles away.
For the past 35 years, the federal plan for saving the panther from extinction has called for creating at least two more panther colonies somewhere else —— even if it's outside Florida. All three populations need to have at least 240 panthers to be viable, the plan says.
But no other state that has prime panther habitat has wanted to take the big cats, and federal and state officials have shied away from trying to relocate any into another part of Florida because of the potential controversy.
Now the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is ready to take that step.
"Our goal should be to target what the second area is going to be for establishing a second breeding population," wildlife Commissioner Liesa Priddy said, and her fellow commissioners agreed. However, Priddy expressed doubts that the goal of creating 240-panther colonies is "realistic."
Still, she said, the staff should figure out what resources would be needed for moving panthers into Central Florida, "and if it's going to include the relocation of a female." But at this point, state and federal wildlife agency officials say, that's not contemplated.
Priddy, appointed to the commission by Gov. Rick Scott nine months ago, knows this subject better than some of her more experienced colleagues. She and her husband run a cattle ranch near Immokalee that lost at least six calves to hungry panthers this year.
Taking this step comes "at a real critical moment in panther history," Commissioner Brian Yablonski said.
The panther, a Florida icon popular on both license plates and school uniforms, nearly went extinct before 1995. The population had dwindled to about 20 to 30 animals. Because there were so few, interbreeding had led to fatal genetic defects.
But in 1995 state and federal officials tried a bold experiment, bringing in eight Texas cougars — a cousins of the panther — to breed with the endangered cat. Hybrid cats showed a resistance to the genetic defects, which led to a population boom. State biologists estimate there are now 100 to 160 panthers slinking through the swamps and forests.
While the panther population boomed, though, no one stopped development, so now more panthers than ever are squeezed into a smaller area than ever. As a result, the state's panther experts say, the habitat has hit its carrying capacity.
"There's only so many panthers you can pack into a box," explained longtime panther biologist Darrell Land. "Something's got to give."
Because people have moved into what was panther territory, the panthers — nocturnal creatures normally leery of people — have begun showing up in suburban back yards, preying on pets such as goats and chickens, as well as killing calves on ranches such as Priddy's.
In hopes of avoiding controversy over expanding panthers north into Central Florida, the wildlife commission wants to make sure no one is surprised by what that might mean, which means holding meetings to pave the way and reassuring everyone it won't hurt hunting in traditional hunting areas.
"So far the panther story has been a good story, and we don't want to take the success and turn it into a bad story," Yablonski said.
That's also likely to mean offering various government incentives for large landowners to preserve their land as panther habitat and setting up a series of steps to deal with any potential conflicts, wildlife officials said.
The wildlife agency recently set up a Web-based system allowing anyone in Florida to report seeing a panther, said Kipp Frohlich, who's in charge of imperiled species management for the commission. They hope someone in Central Florida will provide them with photos showing a female panther has already crossed the Caloosahatchee, he said.
Several of the wildlife commissioners mentioned that they had accompanied the state's panther capture team in tracking the big cats through the South Florida wilderness. Commissioner Kathy Barco said the one she saw trapped was a female "and I was going to throw her in the back of my car and take her north of the Caloosahatchee. But we found out later she was pregnant with two kittens, so that wouldn't have been a good idea."
Lake Okeechobee gets big boost from Isaac
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
September 5, 2012
South Florida's backup water supply rose nearly two feet
Lake Okeechobee's waters are still rising thanks to Tropical Storm Isaac, delivering a welcome boost to South Florida's back-up water supply.
The lake level has risen nearly two feet since Isaac's drenching; on Tuesday hitting 14.24 feet above sea level.
The Army Corps of Engineers projects that the lake will keep rising to about 14.5 feet, thanks to stormwater still draining into the lake.
As a result, the storm that made a mess of Palm Beach County by swamping roads and homes, could end up delivering an infusion of water that helps South Florida water supplies during the upcoming winter-to-spring dry season.
Also, the remnants of Isaac's rains should also continue to help the environmental health of the lake, which before the storm lingered for months at below-normal levels.
"What happened was really good for the lake," said Paul Gray, a scientist for Audubon of Florida who monitors Lake Okeechobee. "There are still big flows coming in."
Of course, the benefit of an influx of water from Isaac can turn into a flooding threat if another tropical storm or hurricane takes aim at Lake Okeechobee.
Should lake water levels threaten to push too far past 15.5 feet, safety concerns about the flood control dike that surrounds the lake could prompt the Army Corps to start dumping billions of gallons of water out to sea.
In addition to wasting water that could be tapped during future droughts, those high-level lake water discharges through the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers can have damaging environmental effects on coastal estuaries.
The Army Corps tries to keep Lake Okeechobee water levels between 12.5 and 15.5 feet, balancing water supply needs with efforts to ease the strain on the lake's more than 70-year-old dike.
"We will continue to monitor [weather] situations," Army Corps spokesman John Campbell said. "No releases are planned at this time."
Tropical Storm Isaac on Aug. 26 and 27 soaked central and western Palm Beach County with about 15 inches of rain, flooding streets and homes with high water that on Tuesday remained in some parts of Loxahatchee.
Isaac dropped about 9 inches of rainfall directly on Lake Okeechobee, with more stormwater draining in through the Kissimmee River from areas north of the lake.
At one point following Isaac, stormwater flowed into Lake Okeechobee at 30,000 cubic feet per second. That's enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every two seconds, according to the South Florida Water Management District.
More water in the lake now means more lake water to share among South Florida's competing water needs when dry times return.
South Florida sugar cane growers and other farmers south of the lake rely on its water for irrigation.
The lake is also relied on to back-stop South Florida drinking water supplies during droughts.
Additionally, West Coast communities lobby for sending low-level lake releases into the Caloosahatchee River during droughts to help protect water quality and vital fishing grounds.
Before development and farming got in the way, the lake used to naturally overflow its banks and replenish the Everglades.
The water draining in from Isaac's rains are helping breath new life into the marshes rimming Lake Okeechobee.
Those marshes are vital breeding grounds for fish, shrimp, frogs and other vital links in the lake's food chain.
About 70 percent of the lake marshes were dry before Isaac and now the rising lake level has shrunk that number to about 20 percent or less, according to Gray of Audubon.
Wildlife, ranging from the endangered Everglades snail kite to bass prized by fishermen, relies on the aquatic plants in the marshes along Lake Okeechobee's edges.
"It will take a little while for the marshes to get back to normal, but this will help," Gray said.
With water levels rising, construction continues on the slow-moving rehab work intended to strengthen Lake Okeechobee's dike.
The lake's Herbert Hoover Dike is considered one of the nation's most at-risk of failure.
While the Army Corps contends that no Lake Okeechobee water releases are planned, that could change if water levels keep going up and another storm approaches.
"They are right on the verge of being too wet or too dry," Gray said. "Mother Nature can make a fool of you very quickly."
Flood control a false hope for many South Florida residents
Palm Beach Post – Letter by Charles Lee, director of advocacy for Audubon of Florida
September 2, 2012
With regard to your editorial “In Isaac’s wake, evaluate all drainage systems,” it should have been easy to see this coming.
In the late ’90s, after a big rainfall event, Audubon of Florida published photos showing a relatively dry Everglades Agricultural Area contrasted with severe flooding in The Acreage, Loxahatchee and other areas of South Florida. After Isaac, the South Florida Water Management District has been back-pumping 4,711 cubic feet of water per second into Lake Okeechobee, as much water as is flowing down the St. Johns River, the Withlacoochee River, and from Silver Springs combined.
Other than the drainage systems in the EAA that serve the sugar industry, the water district’s drainage system overpromises with regard to flood relief capacity. Your editorial is correct that these systems perform generally well in “normal times,” but by marginally draining land to make it developable, the systems have invited people to build homes in large areas the system cannot protect in “difficult times.”
Land-use controls never kept up with the marginal drainage that the system appeared to be providing. The apparently dry conditions provided by the canals became a green flag to local governments to let development proceed. If the land had remained shallow cypress swamps, flooded much of the time, that would not have happened.
The difficulty now is that the people are there, and the cost of providing them the same kind of flood protection that serves the sugar industry would be tens of billions of dollars. The only reasonable solution is to:
Raise some of the roads in the most flood-prone neighborhoods; impose restrictions to limit additional residential building in these areas, which is unlikely in today’s political climate; identify “unprotectable” areas on a map and widely publicize it to let the buyer beware; and educate existing and future homeowners in these areas that their lands are essentially marginal and unprotectable as far as flooding in big events is concerned, and encourage them to manage their expectations according to this reality.
Knowing no boundaries
Ocala.com, Star Banner - by Pat Hawk, a retired jeweler and marketing professional, Reddick, FL
September 2, 2012
How does water know if it is St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) water or Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud) water or Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) water?
At the Adena Springs Ranch public relations meeting Aug. 21, SJRWMD water was discussed. Adena reduced their consumptive-use permit request from 13.2 million gallons per day to 5.3 million gallons per day. To achieve this, some cattle would be moved to Levy County and other locations around North Florida where there is Swiftmud water and SRWMD water.
Swiftmud recently issued a permit to two bottling companies to suck up 76,700 gallons of groundwater a day from a former lumber yard property they own in Crystal River. This water will be trucked to Ocala for bottling. Swiftmud likes to give permits.
Clearly, our water is under attack from all sides.
The Adena Springs Ranch model is based on overhead irrigation with a large percentage of evaporation waste. Adena representatives insisted rainwater collection was too expensive and evaporation was a problem. Seems like the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, to which Adena Springs owner Frank Stronach recently donated $1 million, is supportive of agricultural cistern systems. Since Adena is touted as a state-of-the art operation, why haven't cisterns been explored to further reduce groundwater use? This wouldn't change that Adena Springs Ranch is still the wrong operation for the proposed Fort McCoy site.
Expect Adena Springs to request water-use permits from Swiftmud. Nothing has changed unless SJRWMD water can be convinced not to mingle with Switftmud water.
Adena Springs Ranch tries to keep us thinking of prime beef steak when we'll end up getting "tube steaks" for our water. Wells have already gone dry in the Orange Lake area. Dry wells are not always reported.
Groundwater levels were greatly affected when The Villages went into operation and continued expanding. I had to replace my own well that had been in place since 1953 at a cost of nearly $4,000. Other wells in north Marion County also had be replaced at that time. Water sucked out of the ground anywhere affects us all.
Residents have water restrictions, while Adena Springs requests millions of gallons per day. How fair or logical is that?
We get sinkholes and foundation cracks, while Adena Springs sprays water into the air where much of it evaporates?
What happens to Silver Springs, the Silver River, our lakes, water recreation and water-related jobs?
Where were Marion County commissioners during the Adena Springs meeting ?
Some folks still don't know what is going on with our water future. Discuss this with those you meet. Get word out before we have to buy back what is rightfully ours.
Everglades still threatened by excess nutrients
September 1, 2012
Since 1985, a state agency has constructed and continues to maintain hundreds of square kilometers of wetlands built to regulate the amount of nutrients reaching the Everglades in southern Florida. But this is proving to be ineffective in controlling concentrations of phosphorous, a key nutrient, in the surface waters of the wetland, a new study by Zapata-Rios et al. shows.
Historically, the Everglades have been a nutrient-poor environment, a characteristic that determines the delicate ecological balance and distinct flora and fauna in this region.
Agricultural development and urbanization since the 1800s have not only claimed two-thirds of the natural Everglades (only 6,000 square kilometers (2,300 square miles) now exist in their natural form) but have also dramatically increased phosphorus levels in surface water, at times exceeding the acceptable limit of 10
micrograms per liter by severalfold.
Using a database containing more than 360,000 individual measurements of water quality from various sources between 1985 and 2007, the authors demonstrate that over the long term (about 13 years), phosphorus levels in surface waters have decreased by 5 percent during the dry season in several protected areas, as well as
in Everglades National Park. Yet on shorter timescales (approximately 4 to 5 years), the levels continue to increase in Everglades National Park. In fact, the highest phosphorus concentrations were in the dry and wet seasons of 1999 and 2003, when levels reached 200 micrograms per liter. In 65 percent of the natural Everglades, phosphorus levels in surface water remain above 10 micrograms per liter. The study shows that measures undertaken thus far have been insufficient in
regulating phosphorus and nutrient levels in the surface waters of the Everglades.
The authors emphasize the need to further increase the area of constructed wetlands that help regulate nutrient flow into the Everglades.
Xavier Zapata-Rios, Rosanna G. Rivero, Ghinwa M. Naja: Everglades Foundation, Science Department, Palmetto Bay, Florida; Pierre Goovaerts: BioMedware, Inc. Ann Arbor, Michigan.Spatial and temporal phosphorus distribution changes in a large wetland ecosystem, Water Resources Research, doi:10.1029/2011WR011421
Rising sea come at a cost for South Florida cities
Miami Herald - by Curtis Morgan
September 1, 2012
A proposed $206 million overhaul of Miami Beach’s antiquated drainage system is just the first of many big-ticket bills South Florida faces.
Climate change may be the subject of debate in some places but in South Florida it’s become a costly reality.
In Miami Beach, where prolonged flooding in low-lying neighborhoods has become the norm after heavy storms, city leaders are weighing a $206 million overhaul of an antiquated drainage system increasingly compromised by rising sea level.
The plan calls for more pumps, wells to store storm runoff, higher sea walls and “back-flow’’ preventers for drain pipes flowing into Biscayne Bay. Those devices are intended to stop the system from producing the reverse effect it often does now. During seasonal high tides, the salty bay regularly puddles up from sewer grates in dozens of spots, such as near the local westside bar Purdy Lounge. Extreme high tides — like one in October 2010 — can push in enough sea water to make streets impassable, including blocks of the prime artery of Alton Road.
“It’s the first time, as far as I know, that any community in South Florida and actually in the entire state of Florida is taking into account sea level rise as they plan their storm water infrastructure,” said Fred Beckmann, the city’s public works director, during a public hearing on the plan earlier this month.
It won’t be the last time.
South Florida counties and cities, as well as the South Florida Water Management District which oversees flood control for the region, all are beginning to draw up projects for keeping the coastline dry as sea level creeps up. The potential costs could be staggering.
The district alone has identified three flood control gates along coastal Northeast Miami-Dade — critical to draining storm water from Pembroke Pines and Miramar in southwestern Broward — in fast need of retrofitting with massive pumps. Rising seas threaten to reduce the capacity of a system that now depends on gravity, the storm water flowing downhill into the Atlantic. Cost estimates run $50 million or more for each pump alone and buying land for them could double or triple the bill. Nine other gates could need similar work down the road.
Fort Lauderdale, where high tides also push salt water up storm drains in the ritzy Las Olas Isles section, is also planning to install back-flow preventers, said Jennifer Jurado, director of Broward’s environmental protection and growth management department. Hallandale Beach already had to install pumps on storm-water injection wells, at about $10 million each, to combat increasing back-pressure, she said.
“The overall issues are so much greater, I think we’re easily looking at hundreds of millions of dollars,’’ she said. That’s just for the next 20 to 30 years, to handle a moderate three to seven inch rise.
A study last year by the Florida Atlantic University Center for Environmental Studies found that the projected rise over the next 70 to 100 years would require one city alone, Pompano Beach, to spend from $500 million to $1 billion to overhaul drainage and water supply systems, as well as coastal roads and facilities.
“If 50 years from now we’re looking at a foot and a half or two feet and rising, our region is going to be confronted with some very serious problems,’’ said Barry Heimlich, an FAU researcher who co-authored the study. “It’s going to cost hundreds of billions of dollars.’’
Lawmakers in some states have blithely dismissed the threats of global warming, most notably those in North Carolina, where state lawmakers earlier this year passed a law ordering that only historic trends, not projections, be considered in coastal planning.
In South Florida, political leaders and planners aren’t in denial. In 2009, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties formed a climate change “compact’’ to work together to confront a problem South Florida will see sooner than just about anywhere.
A string of studies by insurers, environmental groups and government and university researchers have singled out Miami-Dade County at the top of the list of at-risk cities, with tens of billions of dollars of property that could be damaged by heightened storm surge or flooding.
Earlier this year, a report from Climate Central, an independent research and journalism organization, suggested Miami-Dade and Broward counties alone have more people vulnerable to flooding than any state except Florida and Louisiana. Other studies suggest some of the lowest-lying Florida Keys may be the first to be inundated.
The compact’s draft projection of sea level in Southeast Florida — based on local trends and global forecasts — calls for a rise of three to seven inches by 2030 and nine to 24 inches by 2060. From there, many scientists predict the trend could accelerate.
Miami Beach and other low-lying barrier islands are particularly vulnerable to drainage problems but those are spreading to the mainland, said FAU’s Heimlich. The FAU study found a sea level rise of about six inches could cut flood-control capacity by more than half — with higher tides bottling up canals and structures that now drain with gravity as runoff flows downhill to the coast.
“This is a problem that is not far away,’’ said Heimlich. “It is already being experienced and will get worse in the next few years.’’
Broward and Miami-Dade counties both are doing more detailed analysis of how existing drainage systems might have to be retro-fitted or expanded.
Doug Yoder, deputy director of the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department, said sea level rise will also push more salty and brackish water into surface drainage and sewer systems, adding to the costs and volume of treating runoff. Worsening salt water intrusion, which can shrink and taint the underground Biscayne Aquifer, the county’s main source of drinking water, will also require more expensive treatment systems in the future.
Potentially, Yoder said, the county could have to move sewage treatment plants like the aging facility on Virginia Key inland and build them at higher elevations. Monroe County is already planning to do that with a new fire station in Key West, adding several feet to the ground-floor elevation.
While there are a wide range of potential costs, including raising roads, Yoder said solving drainage was critical. Without it, he said, “you wonder how long people will continue to live in a place that floods routinely.’’
James Murley, executive director of the South Florida Regional Planning Council, said Miami Beach is out front in accounting for sea level rise. On-going budget challenges could make it tough sell for some communities worried about spending too much to address impacts that might not come as soon as anticipated. Forecasts differ on the pace and impact
The plan crafted by Miami Beach’s engineering consultant, CDM Smith, is intended to address sea level rise for just 20 years.
Environmentalists and other critics said that relatively short window, at least in terms of climate change impacts, seemed intended to minimize costs. But Mike Schmidt, a vice president with CDM Smith, said projects could be altered to account for faster or higher rises. More or larger pumps, for instance, could be added to force storm water out against the higher pressures of rising sea levels.
Much of Miami Beach’s drainage system dates back to the 1940s and there is limited data about how many outfalls were designed to remain above high tide or for how long. But an analysis performed by Coastal Systems International, another contractor assisting in the project, showed the ends of the drain pipes are spending more time submerged, with the mean high water elevation creeping up by about 1.68 inches over the last 14 years. The plan, which still must be approved by the Miami Beach Commission, is designed to handle another six inches by 2030
Beckmann, the public works director, said the city only needed to two pumps for stormwater when he started 11 years.
“Right now, we have 17 and we’ll probably call for another 14,’’ he said.
Schmidt said rainfall still accounts for 95 percent of the flooding in Miami Beach but in century or two, the city could be more like New Orleans, sitting below sea level with its safety dependent on sea walls and pumps. “Eventually, if the projections are true, you’re facing a position where the sea level rise would go above the land surface and then you’re raising critical infrastructure,’’ he said. “Your sea walls are going higher, you’re putting in locks and dams and you’re pumping almost everything.’’
For now, Miami Beach Mayor Matti Bower said her biggest concern was figuring out how to pay for the projects, saying she didn’t think it was fair for the city alone to be tackling the expense.
Normally, the city would issue a bond and raise stormwater rates to cover costs but because the drainage project is also designed to reduce environmental impacts to the bay, the city will explore options including seeking federal grants or money from other state or county agencies.
“I’m not even worried about 25 years from now because I’ll be 100 then,’’ Bower said, “but I do worry for the children and grandchildren.’’
Why so much of Isaac’s rainfall had nowhere to go
Palm Beach Post - by Christine Stapleton, Staff Writer
September 1, 2012
In many neighborhoods throughout the county, Tropical Storm Isaac’s floodwaters followed the laws of nature — but not the billion-dollar plumbing system engineered to drain and direct the flow of water in South Florida.
Alligators and drivers shared flooded roads. Front yards became water parks, and brown water lapped at the front steps of many homes. But in very few cases did water advance any farther.
While Mother Nature deserves much of the blame for the flooding after Isaac’s record-setting, double-digit rainfall, the limitations of the man-made, three-tiered regional flood-control system also shaped the disaster. Because each of the three tiers relies on the others’ success in storing and transferring storm water, when one tier becomes overwhelmed, performs poorly or fails, the consequences can be catastrophic.
“I use the metaphor of a highway system,” said Tommy Strowd, director of Operations, Maintenance and Construction at the South Florida Water Management District. Streets in neighborhoods and towns carry traffic to larger county roads, which in turn connect to highways. Strowd is the man who decides when, where and how much the small water systems can dump into the district’s large, regional canals that discharge flood waters to tide and to large storage areas, such as reservoirs.
“We’re the main thoroughfare that all traffic has to flow through,” Strowd said of the district’s role in the three-tier system. “If there is a traffic jam on I-95, it backs up into the communities.”
Just as local roads are maintained by cities, county roads by the county and highways by federal or state agencies, the three-tier flood control system also divvies up responsibilities for upkeep and improvements. Although the district is blamed for a smorgasbord of problems from leaves blocking neighborhood storm drains to failing to lower local canals in advance of heavy rainfall, it is not responsible for maintaining the region’s entire flood control system.
At the neighborhood level, property owners’ associations or developers own the lakes, ponds, yard swales and culverts needed to store and move stormwater. The associations are responsible for maintenance, including cleaning stormwater grates, clearing excess vegetation and sediment from swales, maintaining the proper slope along ditches and canals and stabilizing eroded areas.
This private, primary system is referred to as passive flood control, meaning it does not use pumps or other mechanical equipment to move water. If the system is properly maintained, storm-water slowly drains to community lakes and ponds from streets, culverts, ditches and canals. Some seeps into the ground or drains into the second tier — larger canals and underground pipes that are owned and operated by cities or local drainage districts.
These governmental authorities levy their own taxes and use canals, pumps and other flood control structures to move water through their larger canals to the large regional canals, owned and operated by the South Florida Water Management District. The district, in turn, pumps the water to storage areas or to the coast, where it is discharged into the Intracoastal Waterway. The district’s flood control system covers 16 counties and includes 2,000 miles of canals. Water levels are controlled by floodgates and massive pumps.
Water managers say the system worked well during Tropical Storm Isaac.
Isaac brought on a rare confluence of natural phenomena, including a feeder band that developed over central and western communities and refused to budge, drenching ground already saturated from heavy rains throughout the summer. Had the heaviest rains fallen on the coast, the rainfall would not have had to travel so far before being dumped into the Intracoastal and there likely would have been less flooding.
Still, many residents and drainage officials criticize the district for not letting flooded communities dump water into the C-51 Canal, a 40-mile-long artery that begins on the southeast corner of Lake Okeechobee and discharges into the Intracoastal along the border of West Palm Beach and Lake Worth. With swales and retention ponds full and the ground saturated, the water had nowhere to go.
That’s what happened in Alden Ridge, a development of 215 homes at Jog Road and Boynton Beach Boulevard.
Russell Locandro, president of the homeowners’ association, said it took several phone calls to figure out who is responsible for opening a valve to discharge floodwaters that became so deep that bass from the community pond were swimming in the street. Locandro said the Lake Worth Drainage District told him the developer who no longer owned Alden Ridge but had built another community nearby was responsible for opening the control valve.
“This is just ridiculous,” Locandro said. “It’s like the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”
The developer, John Kennelley, said the control valve was open but because the district did not allow storm water from Alden Ridge and his other development, Boynton Waters, to flow into the C-51 Canal, storm water began flowing back into the communities.
“The problem was the canal was up so high because Water Management did not open the gates and allow the water to flow to the sea,” Kennelley said. “The point is, if there is no where for the water to go, it can’t go anywhere.”
A similar request to discharge into the C-51 Canal made by the Indian Trails Improvement District was also initially turned down.
“We asked,” said Lisa Tropepe, the drainage district’s engineering consultant. Tropepe said water managers told her they were moving storm water through the C-51 faster than ever before and that the C-51’s limited capacity must be shared among other communities. Eventually, as flooding worsened in The Acreage, the district relented and gradually allowed incremental discharges into the C-51, Tropepe said. “We continually asked.”
Discharge restrictions are the byproduct of more than 100 years of draining the Everglades and building communities on once-submerged land. The task of developing and administering them falls to the water management district, which issues permits for nearly any development that intends to use or discharge water. Those permits are based on engineering standards developed to protect the system from collapse.
In the case of the C-51 Canal, if every development, city and drainage district had been allowed to discharge as much floodwater as they wanted, whenever they wanted, the velocity and volume of unchecked flood waters could have damaged or destroyed the canal. That is why the storm-water discharge permits issued by the district restrict discharges or, in the case of the Indian Trails drainage district, require advance permission to discharge during a storm.
“You can’t make the C-51 wider for one event,” said John Bonde, Wellington’s deputy manager, who has been involved in flood control for more than 20 years. “People think it’s like a bathtub and that there must be a plug you can pull. But if you do that, you flood your neighbor.”
Without permits, many homes would have flooded. For example, in Wellington, homes must be built on pads with a 17.5-inch finished-floor elevation — well above a 1-in-100-year rainfall, which is 12 inches of rain in 24-hours. At the height of flooding in Wellington last week, floodwaters reached 17.3 inches, Bonde said. Although there were reports of flooding in several homes, none could be confirmed, Bonde said. Roads are built to a 1-in-10-year flood elevation (6 inches of rain in 24 hours) and yards are usually at a lower elevation than roads, meaning they flood first.
The standards for finished-floor elevations and rain events vary among communities. Some neighborhoods are at higher elevation. Others are lower. But the engineering permits coupled with lowering water levels in canals before the storm prevented catastrophic flooding in Wellington, Bonde said.
“Did the system work as designed? It worked better than designed,” Bonde said. “Had we not prepared there would have been more flooding.”
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