FULL TEXTS OF ARTICLES
David Trudell, of Port St. Lucie, died July 20 from an infection caused by an undetermined bacteria after being stuck in the foot by a fish fin. About the same time, Treasure Coast Newspapers uncovered a death certificate showing Bill Benton, of Fort Pierce, died from an infection caused by the natural bacteria Vibrio vulnificus in October 2014 after swimming in the lagoon.
Dear Snowbirds: Read this before dipping a toe in the Indian River Lagoon
December 31, 2015
With winter cold finally arriving in the Northeast, you may be anxious to wet a hook, paddle a kayak or take a swim once again in the beautiful Indian River Lagoon.
But before you hit the water, there's something you should know ...
A potentially lethal bacteria had people afraid to dip a toe in the lagoon this year, especially after a man died from a fin prick while fishing north of Fort Pierce.
Your chances of getting a deadly Vibrio infection is about the same as being hit by lightning. To make them even rarer, stay out of water with low salinity. To check the salinity at your favorite spots, go to TCPalm.com/indianriverlagoon.
Click here to view the Infogram in a full window.
411 on Vibrio vulnificus
Create your own infographics
If there was a common theme running through the lagoon's year, it would have to be — I hope you're finished with breakfast — sewage.
In St. Lucie County, a proposed composting facility that would use sewage sludge in the mix to make potting soil drew howls of complaints from nearby residents concerned about the smell. But what really caused CompostUSA to nix the plan was a report by the Tetra Tech Inc. engineering firm predicting runoff with nasty chemicals would flow into the nearby C-24 Canal, a major tributary of the St. Lucie River.
Meanwhile, Fellsmere officials gave the go-ahead for a 21-acre composting facility in western Indian River County. NuTerra Southeast Florida Organics Recycling's plant could begin operations as soon as next summer. Unlike CompostUSA's outdoor composting piles, NuTerra's will be under a roof; and no runoff water will leave the site.
Deficiencies exist in proposed water policy
News-Press.com – by Ray Judah
December 31, 2015
In the 2016 legislative session, the Florida legislature has a unique and unprecedented opportunity to enact comprehensive water policy that ensures sufficient water supply for population growth, economic expansion, natural systems and reduce nutrient pollution entering our waters.
While SB 552 and HB 7005 propose sweeping changes to current water law, there are still critical deficiencies in the legislation that require amending in order to produce the much needed balance in the use and proper management of our precious water resources for human and environmental needs.
The proposed diminishment of Water Management District (WMD) autonomy in water use and planning decisions and granting the Department of Environmental Protection oversight of Consumptive Use Permit decisions will lead to needless additional expenditures of taxpayers dollars and curtail the ability of WMD's to appropriately consider Consumptive Use Permit applications and conditions.
WMD's should retain the authority to modify permitted allocations under consumptive water use permits to avoid water reservation legal challenges and flexibility to meet the end users actual water withdraw levels and reallocate water surplus for critical environmental releases to restore springs, rivers and estuaries.
Given the uncertainty of seasonal fluctuations and increasing use of ground and surface water due to anticipated population growth, water conservation is a more cost effective and sustainable alternative to developing new water supplies. Several water conservation measures, including low volume drip irrigation, plugging abandoned free
flowing and improperly cased wells and a state wide graduated rate system for public and private water utilities will significantly enhance the availability of future water supplies.
The proposed replacement of the regulatory permitting process that includes performance standards to address potential pollutant loading of freshwater riparian systems and coastal estuaries with the sole reliance on ineffective Basin Management Action Plans (BMAP) will lead to a reactive, ineffective and costly approach to management of the state's water resources.
BMAP's only go into effect after water bodies are severely polluted, with the costs paid by taxpayers, instead of those responsible for the pollution. It is also especially imperative that the Works of the District be retained in the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program to ensure compliance with target pollution levels and restore the Lake Okeechobee and Caloosahatchee watersheds, rather than eliminated as currently proposed.
The water bill also proposed to delay Lake Okeechobee clean up by eliminating a January 2015 deadline - which the state didn’t meet - for compliance with nutrient levels without creating a new deadline. More than 400 tons of phosphorus enter the lake each year and the state was supposed to reduce it to 105 tons. Water quality is under the purview of the state, so it is incumbent upon the state to enact proactive measures to restore Lake Okeechobee and downstream rivers and estuaries with timely enforceable deadlines for compliance.
To prevent excessive pumping of water from the state's aquifers, it is critical that WMD's monitor all permitted consumptive water uses of more than 100,000 gallons per day due to the significant drawdown of groundwater levels.
The water bill is noticeably silent on enacting deadlines for compliance with Total Maximum Daily Load's and Minimum Flows and Minimum Level's, except those waterbodies designated as Outstanding Florida Springs. Measurable goals and effective enforcement are essential to ensure the health of Florida’s water resources and to protect the interests of the public.
The requirement that “priority focus areas” for Outstanding Florida springs include only the “most vulnerable areas” with “known connectivity” will delay the creation of “priority focus areas” and exclude areas essential to water quality restoration.
Finally, numerous local governments have implemented effective fertilizer ordinances to prevent nutrient loading of waterways. The Water bill's reference to state sanctioned urban fertilizer regulation standards could severely diminish the ability of a local government to adequately address sources of pollution-laden stormwater runoff. The bill
language should be revised to clarify that this should not be the case.
Let growth galvanize conservation
December 31, 2015
Last week the U.S. Census Bureau made it official: Florida's population burst through the 20 million mark in 2015. That's quite a milestone, considering the Census counted only about half that number of people in the state in 1980.
That wave of new residents isn't expected to ebb anytime soon. University of Florida researchers predict Florida's population will reach 26 million by 2030.
For state lawmakers, convening in 10 days for their 2016 session, rapid growth lends urgency to a pair of critical goals they've shortchanged in recent years: protecting land and water. Unless lawmakers step up, irreplaceable land will be lost forever to development, while the condition of ailing waterways will further decline and groundwater supplies will be depleted.
In 2014, Floridians made sure lawmakers had the resources to turbocharge environmental protection. Seventy-five percent of voters approved a constitutional amendment to reserve a third of revenues from documentary-stamp taxes on real-estate transactions for land and water conservation for the next 20 years. That gave lawmakers about $740 million in putting together the spending plan for the first year alone, which began July 1.
But the plan lawmakers passed used $237 million in Amendment 1 funds to cover salaries, vehicle purchases and other operating costs in state agencies that would normally be bankrolled through general tax revenue. It also set aside only about $50 million to acquire environmentally sensitive acreage — a fraction of the $300 million that lawmakers used to provide annually before the Great Recession to the state's signature land-buying program, Florida Forever.
For the next budget year, lawmakers will have more money — a projected $928 million — from Amendment 1. Gov. Rick Scott has proposed at least $73 million to buy land, $188 million to restore the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee and $50 million to restore the state's natural springs. But Scott also would spend about $200 million in Amendment 1 funds on salaries and other operating expenses in state agencies associated with the projects, repeating lawmakers' bad example from the current budget.
Some lawmakers have argued Florida has enough state-owned land, and does a poor job managing it. While better management is needed, and more than 700,000 acres have been acquired under Florida Forever, the program has identified another 2 million acres in need of purchase or protection. Acquiring that land sooner rather than later will be cheaper, and prevent more property from being bulldozed for subdivisions and strip malls in the meantime. It'll preserve more of the state's natural beauty, wildlife habitat and recreational land — things that make Florida special.
Amendment 1 will provide plenty of funds to shield more land from development and better manage state property — if lawmakers don't divert the dollars again to agency operating expenses.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are on the verge of passing a long-delayed bill to rewrite water policy in Florida. As we recently argued, their bill is weak.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has warned that the state is facing a water shortage of at least 1 billion gallons a day by 2030. In Central Florida alone, the shortage could reach 250 million gallons a day.
Given Florida's population surge, the bill needs a stronger emphasis on water conservation. It needs to support, not undermine, regional water management districts that limit excessive groundwater pumping.
The bill also needs more-ambitious deadlines for cleaning up impaired waterways and keeping other waterways healthy. It needs stronger measures to rein in polluters.
Lawmakers need to take advantage of the money made available through Amendment 1 to conserve precious land and water. They need to seize the opportunity they have through legislation to protect the state's waterways and preserve the state's drinking water supply. They need to do both before those goals get swamped by a demographic tsunami.
New water policy expected to flow in session
SouthEastAgNet.com – by Dan
December 30, 2015
Shortly after the 2016 legislative session goes through its opening rituals, the House and Senate will take up a statewide water-policy proposal more than two years in the making.
The proposal (SB 552 and HB 7005), which sped through legislative committees, has attracted some last-minute opposition from environmental groups that contend it wouldn’t go far enough to ensure clean waterways.
But the package, a priority of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, is expected to quickly win approval from the House and Senate.
The proposal seeks to establish water-flow levels for the state’s natural springs and set guidelines for the Central Florida Water Initiative, which is a regional water-supply planning effort that involves the Department of Environmental Protection, the St. Johns River Water Management District, the South Florida Water Management District, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and regional water utilities.
The identical bills also include further management action plans for Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee Estuary and inland portions of the Caloosahatchee River watershed, and the St. Lucie River and Estuary.
The package also would require the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research to provide an annual assessment of the state’s water resources and conservation lands.
Lawmakers will take up the issue during the annual 60-day session, which starts Jan. 12. The House and Senate also put together major water-policy bills during the 2015 session but could not reach agreement on a final version.
“This bill is a heavy lift,” Putnam said. “It fell apart last year because it is a significant water policy that is comprehensive in nature and statewide in nature. If it were easy, it would be sailing through.”
However, unlike in the 2015 session the measure has been given a much simpler path heading into 2016.
Many bills go before three committees in each chamber before reaching the floor. The water-policy proposal was put before two Senate committees in November — where it received no votes in opposition — and a pair of House committees in October and November.
One of the House panels, the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, spent less than 30 minutes debating and taking public input on the proposal. Only Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, voted against the measure.
House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, expects the measure to face a little more scrutiny when it’s heard on the floor.
“It’s geared for ag, and water quality will be looked over,” Pafford, a critic of the package, said. “If you’re in the Apalachicola area, if you’re in Florida Bay, there is no relief coming.”
That is not a view shared by Republican leaders.
Crisafulli noted that groups such as The Nature Conservancy generally voiced support for the legislation at the committee meetings, as did groups such as the Florida Farm Bureau, the Florida Realtors, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida.
“I think you will find them cherry-picking the things they do like in it, and then finding other things that they don’t,” Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said of the late round of opposition. “At the end of the day, I think we’ve got a good product in the policy piece.”
The most vocal opposition arose in early December, when 106 environmental organizations and businesses — including the Sierra Club, 1000 Friends of Florida, the Florida Wildlife Federation and Friends of the Everglades — signed a letter seeking 12 changes to the proposal.
Among the desired changes were stricter deadlines for cleaning waterways, stronger enforcement language against polluters, wider authority for regional water-management districts to review water-use permits and the ability of local governments to impose stronger restrictions on the use of fertilizer.
In the letter, the groups also raised questions about the Central Florida Water Initiative, which they said plans “surface water withdrawal projects that total nearly $1.8 billion, to be paid for with tax dollars and implemented and operated by private companies. … This represents a massive transfer of public money to private pockets.”
David Guest, managing attorney of the nonprofit environmental law organization Earthjustice, argued in a letter to newspaper editors that the water bill — “written by lobbyists for agricultural corporations” — is “a major rewrite of hundreds of clean water regulations that Florida has on the books.”
Guest objected to what he calls the mostly voluntary “best management practices” regulations for Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades and the state’s natural springs.
“The changes are artful and subtle, and — if the bill passes — the effects are going to come back to haunt us all,” Guest said.
Putnam said the package is just a step in Florida meeting future water needs, as demand is expected to grow by more than 1.3 billion gallons a day by 2030. One-third of the growth is expected in the Orlando region.
“This builds on Florida’s strong tradition of water policy that dates back to the early ’70s,” Putnam said. “And it won’t be the end. I think there are things we need to continue to do, but in that march toward progress. This appears to be moving and I hope it goes all the way, unlike last year.”
Over the summer and fall, the House and Senate resolved differences that scuttled efforts to enact the statewide policies during the 2015 session.
The Senate’s push to include an oversight council to rate potential water projects was one of the sticking points earlier this year. The House agreed to have state economists perform some oversight, easing concerns from the Senate.
The policy doesn’t dictate funding, but provides some direction for spending money from a 2014 voter-approved constitutional amendment that requires 33 percent of an existing real estate tax to go toward land and water preservation and maintenance.
Palm Beach County flooding fix running out of money
Sun Sentinel – by Andy Reid
December 30, 2015
hree years after Tropical Storm Isaac flooded western Palm Beach County, a levee fix intended to protect nearby neighborhoods remains unfinished.
Now, county officials are asking the Florida Legislature to provide at least $3 million to complete the upgrade of a 6.4-mile span of levee holding back water in the 60,000-acre J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area in Loxahatchee.
Concerns arose during Isaac's soaking in 2012 that the levee could give way and worsen flooding that had already swamped roads, surrounded homes and closed schools for days in Loxahatchee and the Acreage.
Since then, work to beef up about half of the levee has already cost taxpayers $4 million, but remains incomplete.
The Legislature, which meets in January, is now being asked to pick up the additional $3 million construction tab.
"There is no money (in the budget) to do Phase Two," said Ken Todd, county water resources manager.
Isaac's three-day deluge dropped 18 inches of rain on central and western Palm Beach County. The influx of too much water, too fast, overwhelmed South Florida's drainage canal system, flooding low-lying areas from neighborhoods west of Boynton Beach to Loxahatchee.
The J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area, located at the north end of Seminole Pratt Whitney Road, includes cypress swamps filled with water that could have added to the flooding problems during Isaac if its aging levee had failed.
"The structural integrity ... was in question," Todd said. "It reached a critical point for public safety."
After touring Palm Beach County flooding from Isaac, Gov. Rick Scott in 2012 called for beefing up the levee beside the Corbett.
The South Florida Water Management District proposed raising and widening the levee, which includes lengthening and improving the north-side slope to stabilize the structure.
The idea is to limit water seeping through the earthen levee, which can lead to erosion and a breach.
About half of the levee upgrade is nearing completion, according to the district. Getting another $3 million to $4 million would pay for more levee upgrades, along with replacing culverts and making other water-related improvements within the Corbett.
The first phase of repairs improved the portion of the levee "most susceptible to breaching" and getting Phase Two done will fully address the flood-control concerns, according to Gabe Margasak, South Florida Water Management District spokesman.
Michelle Damone, a board member for the Indian Trail Improvement District, which oversees Loxahatchee roads and drainage, said she is confident that the work will get done.
"We are better than before. It has been moving forward," Damone said. "Government is slow."
Floridians and environment would lose if smelly water bill passes
TBO.com – by David Guest, managing attorney for the Florida office of Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law organizatio
December 29, 2015
In Tallahassee political circles, people are fond of talking about “win-win” situations. But we all know the truth, right? When somebody wins, that means somebody loses.
Early next year, all of us who want to keep polluters from ruining our water supply might end up as the losers.
The threat comes from the Legislature’s massive water policy bill, a major rewrite of hundreds of clean water regulations that Florida has on the books. You’ll hear politicians and their lobbyist friends talking about how the water policy bill balances competing interests. No, it does not.
This bill was written by lobbyists for agricultural corporations. It’s telling, isn’t it, that the go-to political leader on the water policy bill is not an environmental protection official but Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam?
Big Agriculture is a campaign cash rainmaker for these politicians, and it looks like the ag lobby is getting its money’s worth.
Environmental regulations on Florida agriculture are notoriously weak already. To write this water policy legislation, polluter lobbyists went through clean-water regulations with a fine-toothed comb, teasing out any and all rules that require them to clean up their acts.
The changes are artful and subtle, and — if the bill passes — the effects are going to come back to haunt us all.
Every day, we already see the damage: dead fish littering closed beaches, tainted drinking water, and green slime outbreaks on our rivers, springs and lakes. You’d think that, seeing the evidence at hand, that it might be prudent to strengthen clean water rules. But that’s not what’s happening.
For one thing, the legislation would do away with water pollution permits entirely for agricultural corporations around Lake Okeechobee. That’s right — no permits required. Agricultural operations are only asked to do voluntary “best management practices” to keep pollution from fouling our drinking water.
It’s as if the Highway Patrol said it was OK for some of us to voluntarily report our speed on Florida highways. Nobody would ever get a speeding ticket.
I think we can all agree that protecting our public drinking water supplies should always be one of government’s core functions. Lake Okeechobee is a drinking water source for several small towns and for West Palm Beach, Fort Myers and the entire Lower East Coast metropolitan area. Getting rid of permits for polluters there is unconscionable and unwise.
One of the other disturbing aspects of the legislation is that it further liberalizes the rules that spell out how much groundwater private interests can take from our public supplies.
Groundwater withdrawal permits used to expire after five years; now they can last for dozens of years, even if circumstances change. The water policy bill has lots of water supply giveaways to big-bucks operators: It includes nearly $1.8 billion in tax dollars to give to private interests that will stick straws in our rivers to feed more development in Central Florida, and directs our public water management districts to hand out tax dollars for “cost-share” projects so agricultural companies get paid to do the voluntary “best management practices.”
I advise everybody reading this to contact their legislator and tell them you want this legislation amended so it doesn’t loosen the rules for polluting industries. If this legislation is not amended during the legislative session that starts Jan. 12, our rivers, springs, lakes and beaches lose. We lose.
Will Florida’s 2016 bounty of cash cover all Florida leaders’ wants ?
Palm Beach Post - by John Kennedy, Capital Bureau
December 29, 2015
Memories of the recession years are fading, but Gov. Rick Scott and Florida lawmakers will still open the 2016 legislative session in the familiar place of scrapping over money.
This time, however, it involves a bounty of cash.
For starters, the Republican governor and his fellow GOP leaders in the Legislature are divided over the size of the state’s budget surplus, with Scott arguing that $1.6 billion extra is available — more than double what lawmakers think could be spent responsibly in the year ahead.
Another potential conflict is the proposed gambling compact Scott recently crafted with the Seminole Tribe – a deal requiring legislative approval. It would draw $3 billion into the state treasury over the next seven years but remains a tough sell.
Finally, when it comes to what to spend state money on – well, everyone has a slightly different idea going into the two-month session, set to start Jan. 12.
Scott’s wish list is topped by $1 billion in tax cuts – mostly aimed at helping corporations.
Pushing the Legislature hard to go along, Scott even took the rare step of testifying recently before the House Finance and Tax Committee, arguing that tax breaks will further power the economy by spurring more companies to move to the state.
But Scott’s idea would permanently drain $1 billion a year from Florida’s stream of tax dollars. And that’s clashing with the ambitions of other leaders.
“There certainly are competing priorities,” said Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, whose district includes northern Palm Beach County and is set to become Senate president following next year’s elections.
He has already outlined plans to push $1 billion more toward state universities by 2018.
Meanwhile, current Senate President Andy Gardiner, a leading advocate for Florida hospitals, is raising alarms about them losing about $400 million in federal funding in the coming year.
Gardiner, an Orlando Republican who records show earned $189,329 in 2014 as a vice-president at the Orlando Health hospital network, is certain to go to bat for the industry again when budget talks renew.
A standoff over hospital funding stalled budget negotiations last spring, forcing a special session to finalize the state budget. Scott and the House reluctantly went along with the Senate’s demand that $400 million in taxpayer money go to ease hospital losses.
Few expect Scott and the House to support anything like that in 2016. For one thing, any money sent to hospitals would limit what’s available for Scott’s coveted tax breaks.
The governor has honed in on deriding what he sees as excessive profits at Florida hospitals. A health-care commission he formed also has solicited public testimony on what the administration labels “price-gouging” by hospitals.
But it gets more complicated.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli’s has his own, newly unveiled spending priority — Legacy Florida, an initiative to provide dedicated annual funding for restoring the Florida Everglades and associated waterways.
Legacy Florida would dedicate $200 million a year toward the wide-ranging waterways cleanup effort from the more than $740 million a year that the voter-approved Amendment 1 is expected to raise for environmental spending during the next 20 years.
The state-federal Everglades project would draw $100 million annually, while the South Florida Water Management District would get another $32 million each year to support waterway work. Remaining funds would be used for easing water discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.
Negron, whose district includes the St. Lucie Estuary and the southern half of the connecting Indian River Lagoon, is sponsoring the proposal in the Senate.
Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, is a seventh-generation Floridian and part of a Central Florida ranching family whose district includes the northern half of the Indian River Lagoon, and he appears committed to shepherding the water project home in his final year as speaker.
Crisafulli also is skeptical about delivering all the tax cuts that Scott wants.
“It’s just not possible based on the funding commitments we’ve seen,” the speaker said about $1 billion in recurring tax cuts.
But Crisafulli has given himself an out. He said mid-December that the Republican-controlled House wants “significant” tax cuts heading into the election year.
“The reality is we have to sit down and do the math on the proposed budget and figure out where we land,” he said.
The proposed Seminole compact could be a source of cash for financing many of the ideas on the table.
But approving the compact will involve its own political jiu-jitsu, with supporters needing to get competing tracks, frontons, gambling opponents, casino advocates and the tribe to all join in an agreement.
Crisafulli said he was wary of giving Scott his tax cuts on the premise the gambling money would cover the resulting budget.
“I think you have to hold the two issues separate from one another,” he said.
WHO WANTS WHAT
Gov. Rick Scott: A $1 billion tax cut package — mostly aimed at helping corporations — tops his 2016 wish list.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island: He recently unveiled Legacy Florida, a plan to improve the Everglades and Florida waterways with dedicated funding of $200 million a year.
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart: The Senate president-designate has outlined a push to spend $1 billion more on state universities by 2018.
Disappearing coastlines and rising seas: How the GOP is killing Florida
Grist.org - by Katie Herzog
December 28, 2015
Florida is disappearing. For those who think of the state only as a swampy backwater populated by alligators and meth heads, this may seem like a good thing. But it’s not a joke: Florida is disappearing.
Elizabeth Kolbert wrote about visiting Miami Beach in a recent issue of The New Yorker. What she saw there was frightening: city streets that regularly flood with the high tide, with residents marooned on stoops and porches watching their trash cans bob in the street. “For the past several years,” Kolbert wrote, “the daily high-water mark in the Miami area has been racing up at the rate of almost an inch a year, nearly ten times the rate of average global sea-level rise …. Talking about climate change in the Everglades this past Earth Day, President Obama said, ‘Nowhere is it going to have a bigger impact than here in South Florida.'”
South Florida, unfortunately, is also saddled with a state government that is unwilling to address climate change. Tristram Korten from the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR) looked at how the state’s leaders have dealt with this monster in their midst, and it’s an excellent — though terrifying — example of how bad leadership in the face of climate change can damage both the land and the people: Today, Florida is well-known for its ineffectual approach to climate change and sea level rise, but things could have gone much differently. Korten writes that in 2005, then-state attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist sat down with presidential candidate John McCain, who told him that he needed to start paying attention to climate change, that it was a big deal:
That brief conversation in Miami would result in Florida becoming, however briefly, a pioneer in grappling with the effects of climate change — such as flooding and freshwater drinking supplies contaminated with saltwater. After Crist was elected governor, he convened a summit, appointed a task force and helped usher in new laws intended to address a future of climate change and rising sea levels. Crist and the Florida Legislature set goals to reduce emissions back to 1990 levels.
The effort didn’t last, and in a short amount of time, the U.S. state with the most to lose from a warming planet became a global laughingstock and a symbol of the polarized debate surrounding climate change.
After just one term as governor, Crist ran for senate as an independent in 2011, and lost to Mark Rubio, who is currently seeking the GOP nomination for president. Republican businessman and Tea Party favorite Rick Scott replaced Crist as governor, and the Florida climate policies passed under Crist were quickly rolled back. “In 2011,” writes Korten, “Sen. Alan Hays, a Republican from Umatilla, sponsored legislation to repeal the cap-and-trade program in the law. A Climate Change Commission charged with implementing the new laws was disbanded and its powers transferred to the Department of Agriculture, where it is now called the Office of Energy.”
Perhaps most notoriously, Scott actually banned officials from discussing climate change after taking office, and when the FCIR analyzed the Office of Energy’s website, it found that “in 2010, the year before Scott was inaugurated, there were 209 references to climate change in documents on the website. By March of this year, there were zero new references.”
With no state leadership on climate change, local governments have had to take action. Four South Florida counties — Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach — came together in 2010 to form the bipartisan Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact to “coordinate mitigation and adaptation activities across county lines,” according to their website. Practically, the group works on sea-level projections, protecting public infrastructure, setting goals for community-wide greenhouse gas reduction, and monitoring other threats from climate change like increased disease, drought, and flooding, writes Korten. The four-county partnership is one of seven regional climate change organizations in the U.S., and “Florida is in many respects the most advanced, most well known and admired,” Steve Adams of the Institute for Sustainable Communities told the FCIR.
But it’s not enough. Without state, national, and global action on climate change, Florida will continue to disappear. And with Scott and Rubio in office, action seems unlikely. “When the governor of the state is a full-out climate denier, the irony is just excruciatingly painful,” Al Gore told Kolbert. And it’s the people of Florida — to say nothing of the species they share the land with — who will pay the price.
Swamped - Jeb Bush’s fight over the Everglades
The New Yorker - by Dexter Filkins
December 28, 2015 (January 4, 2016 Issue )
On the afternoon of December 11, 2000, Jeb Bush, the forty-third governor of Florida and a member of the most dominant American political family since the Kennedys, stood in the Oval Office with President Bill Clinton to mark the signing of a landmark law intended to restore the Everglades, the majestic swamp that spans the interior of southern Florida. The legislation, overwhelmingly approved by both parties, envisioned spending eight billion dollars to revive the wetland, which, thanks in large part to heedless development, had been shrunk, chopped, polluted, and drained to the point of terminal decline. That same afternoon, the Supreme Court was hearing Bush v. Gore, the case that ended the vote-counting dispute in Florida between Clinton’s Vice-President and Jeb’s brother. But, if the occasion was awkward for Bush and Clinton, it marked a seeming triumph of federal and state coöperation. The Everglades legislation was the result of years of coördinated planning. The State of Florida and the federal government had promised to share the expense. “This is the restoration of a treasure for our country,” Bush said after the ceremony.
Less than three years later, Bush returned to Washington, this time to justify to a group of skeptical Republican members of Congress why he was dismantling one of the central provisions of Everglades restoration. Just days before, Florida lawmakers had endorsed a bill to drastically weaken pollution regulations—the result of an extraordinary lobbying blitz by the sugar industry, the largest polluter in the Everglades and one of the largest political donors in the state. Newspaper editorial boards around Florida condemned the proposal as a gift to Big Sugar, the nickname for the major interests in the state: Florida Crystals, U.S. Sugar, and the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative. In a private meeting room at the Capitol, the congressmen who had summoned Bush said the bill was so egregious that it could threaten federal funding for the restoration. Bush insisted that he would not change his mind.
In the Presidential primaries, Bush has spoken little about his record on the environment. As he struggles to revitalize his ailing campaign, he has preferred to talk broadly about his experience as governor—an attempt to contrast himself with insurgents like Donald Trump and Ben Carson, and also with Barack Obama, who, even after seven years in the White House, is described by many Republicans as a political neophyte. (The Bush campaign declined to comment for this article.) In a speech following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Bush announced, “We are living in serious times that require serious leadership.” In a campaign video, recorded in what appears to be a comfortable suburban living room, he presents himself as a tough, decisive manager. “This is what leadership’s about—it’s not just about yapping about things,” he says, as an image of the White House comes on the screen. “We need to start fixing things. I said I was going to do these things, and I did them. And the result was, Florida’s a lot better off.”
What lingers in Florida is the memory of a governor who liked to announce “big, hairy, audacious goals”—often shortened to BHAG, pronounced “bee-hag”—and to pursue them zealously. Much of the time, in a state with natural bipartisan coalitions, it worked. But when it didn’t Bush pushed on, even at the price of gruelling and expensive political conflict. Nowhere was his style more evident than in his protracted struggle with the federal government over the fate of the Everglades—a fight that, according to people in both parties, could well have been avoided with a less autocratic approach. Nathaniel Reed, an Assistant Secretary of the Interior in the Nixon Administration, a friend of President George H. W. Bush, and a prominent Florida environmental activist, told me, “Jeb wouldn’t listen to anyone. He’s the most thin-skinned son of a bitch I’ve seen. If you criticize him, he never forgets it.”
The Everglades—the River of Grass, as it is called—covers nearly four million acres across southern Florida in a slow-moving sheet of water, as wide as fifty miles and, in places, only a few inches deep. The swamp is environmentally unique: home to alligators, panthers, manatees—seventy-seven endangered and threatened species in all, many of them unknown in the rest of the United States. For much of the twentieth century, as Michael Grunwald recounts, in his deeply researched book “The Swamp,” the residents of Florida waged an undeclared war on the Everglades, draining and diverting it to provide more space for development and agriculture. By the nineteen-eighties, the water flow had been so diminished that the wading birds—white ibises, egrets, herons—that had once descended by the thousands to hunt fish, had all but disappeared.
In 1988, Dexter Lehtinen, then the acting U.S. Attorney in southern Florida, sued the state regulatory body that oversaw the Everglades for failing to enforce clean-water laws. The suit was politically brazen: Lehtinen, the husband of a soon-to-be Republican congresswoman and an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, was so sure that he would not get permission from the White House that he brought the suit to court only when Reagan’s term was effectively over. The suit infuriated powerful agricultural interests, but federal officials reluctantly allowed it to go forward. Lehtinen recalled, “They ordered me to withdraw the lawsuit, and I said that would be fine, but that I was going to hold a press conference the same day and it would be on the front page of the Washington Post.”
For almost three years, lawyers representing the State of Florida fought the federal suit. Finally, in 1991, a newly elected governor, Lawton Chiles, showed up at a court hearing in Miami and astonished the audience by capitulating. “We want to surrender,” he said. “I want to find out who I can give my sword to.” The federal-state partnership that resulted would be governed by a consent decree—a legal agreement that ends a dispute without acknowledging fault—and enforced by a United States judge. In 1994, with Chiles leading the way, the Florida legislature passed the Everglades Forever Act, committing the state to reach the clean-water standards set in the decree.
That year, Jeb Bush launched his first campaign for governor. He was not quite a carpetbagger; he had come to Florida to support his father’s 1980 Presidential campaign there, then joined a real-estate and construction firm run by a prominent Miami developer named Armando Codina. But he had few local ties and an undeveloped ear for local politics. In his first campaign, he described himself as a “head-banging conservative,” and paid little attention to environmental concerns. “The environment is a big deal in Florida—every politician learns that sooner or later,” Estus Whitfield, an adviser to half a dozen Florida governors, said. Bush narrowly lost to Chiles. When he ran again, in 1998, he toned down his rhetoric and laid out specific plans to protect the environment. This time, he won.
In 2000, when an ambitious state program to acquire environmentally sensitive land was due to expire, Bush set up another one. It provided three hundred million dollars a year, enabling the state to acquire 1.2 million acres during his tenure, which helped make Florida one of the largest holders of land that is off limits to developers. “That’s big money,” David Guest, a lawyer for the environmentalist group Earthjustice, who often opposed Bush’s administration in court, said.
The Everglades presented a more complex challenge. An environmental restoration like the one in the Everglades has four main components: the quality of the water; the amount of it; the way it is distributed; and the timing of its arrival during the annual cycles of wet and dry weather. By law, only water quality was Florida’s problem exclusively; the other problems were to be addressed by both the state and the federal government. When Bush took office, a multibillion-dollar plan, drawn up by federal and state regulators, was in the works to restore the swamp’s flow. Bush picked up the discussions and, sixteen months later, reached a deal on a landmark law that committed the state to pay for half of the restoration. The bill passed the state legislature unanimously. Congress passed a tandem bill, committing four billion dollars to the initiative, known as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan; that was the bill that Bush celebrated in the Oval Office with President Clinton. Terrence (Rock) Salt, a retired senior official with the Army Corps of Engineers who helped oversee the plan’s early phases, credited Bush with securing support and funding for the law, saying, “If not for Jeb Bush, we would not be proceeding with Everglades restoration.”
The swamp’s ecosystem depends on unusually clean water. The main source of pollution is runoff from farms, especially the sprawling sugarcane farms that rim the northern tier of the Everglades. The runoff carries fertilizer rich in phosphorus, which even in tiny amounts can fuel explosions of growth—of algae and, especially, of invasive plants like cattails, which smother native plants and animal life. When Lehtinen sued the state, the levels of phosphorus were high enough to push the ecosystem to the verge of collapse. In Lake Okeechobee, at the northern boundary of the Everglades, algae blooms had become so stifling that huge groups of crawfish and snails crawled out of the water in search of oxygen. Cattails were expanding across the swamp by as much as nine acres every day.
The Everglades Forever Act, the law that Bush inherited from Chiles, divided the cleanup into two phases. The first one called for constructing storm-water treatment areas—artificial wetlands that capture and filter farm run-off—and encouraged farmers to adopt “best management practices,” like refraining from spreading fertilizer just before a rainstorm. By 2003, with the first phase under way, phosphorus levels had dropped dramatically.
The second phase promised to be much more difficult. In 2001, Bush, after consulting with his environmental regulators, had committed the state to an aggressive goal set by the Everglades Forever Act: in five years, phosphorus in the swamp would be reduced to its natural level, no higher than ten parts per billion. Soon afterward, the Audubon Society of Florida sent Bush a letter, saying, “We appreciate your wise and strong support.”
But in 2003, as Bush began his second term, scientists for the state, along with the sugar industry, concluded that Florida was likely to miss the deadline. Paul Schwiep, a lawyer who represented environmental groups, said, “Everyone started panicking.” The panic had as much to do with money as with science. State regulators had estimated that meeting the deadline would require seven hundred million dollars of additional spending. In the original plan for the cleanup, sugar farmers were required to pay a tax, but ordinary taxpayers bore the bulk of the cost. Florida voters subsequently approved a constitutional amendment requiring polluters—with sugar companies first among them—to pay far more, and, though the amendment was never enforced, it remained on the books.
To get a sense of the ecological challenges facing the Everglades, drive along the top of the levy that encircles the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, a teardrop-shaped enclave on the swamp’s northeastern boundary. Saw grass sweeps to the horizon, in a marshy expanse broken by islands of slash pines and gumbo-limbo trees. The water in the interior of the refuge, accessible only by airboat, is virtually pure; the effects of pollution come into view at the refuge’s fringe, as cattails bloom and the saw grass disappears. As you turn onto the western border, the source of that pollution presents itself: mile after mile of sugarcane fields, with runoff flowing through drainage canals directly into the refuge.
Since the nineteen-sixties, sugar has been a dominant force in Florida agriculture, with several hundred thousand acres ringing the northern reaches of the Everglades. The industry is controlled by a small number of people, principal among them Pepe and Alfy Fanjul, brothers from a Cuban family whose sugar farms were nationalized by Castro after the revolution. The Fanjuls preside over one of the world’s largest sugar empires, including Florida Crystals, which grows and refines sugar on some hundred and fifty thousand acres in the state. Their companies’ revenues, bolstered by federal price supports, have been estimated at five billion dollars a year, and the Fanjuls live in ostentatious luxury. Pepe’s eight-thousand-square-foot Palm Beach mansion is valued at about six million dollars; his yacht, the Azucar (Spanish for “sugar”), is often used for parties and charity events, following the social circuit from Palm Beach to Sag Harbor.
In addition, the Fanjuls own the largest sugar producer in the Dominican Republic, Central Romana, whose holdings also include interests in tourism, manufacturing, and real estate. A resort they own there—Casa de Campo, a seven-thousand-acre estate with its own international airport, polo grounds, and yacht basin—has hosted both Bush Presidents. In January, Hillary and Bill Clinton visited the Fanjuls there.
According to classified American diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in 2011, the State Department blamed Pepe Fanjul and representatives of Central Romana for much of the opposition to a regional free-trade agreement, fearing that it would harm their holdings. Fanjul, one cable said, spread rumors that the United States was revoking visas of those who opposed the trade deal—“a patent absurdity,” the cable said.
Over the years, the Fanjuls’ operations in the United States have been fined numerous times for endangering their workers, most of whom, until the mid-nineties, were brought in from Jamaica and often housed in Third World conditions. In 1992, a Florida judge awarded a group of guest workers fifty-one million dollars, ruling that companies owned by the Fanjuls and others had dramatically underpaid them. (The ruling was overturned on appeal.) Since then, many of the farmworkers have been replaced by machines, which eliminate the potential for abuse but also reduce the number of jobs that sugar creates.
The need to keep federal tariffs in place and pollution standards at bay makes for a potent incentive. “Given the choice between buying a tractor and hiring a lobbyist, the sugar industry is going to hire a lobbyist every time,” Guest, the environmental lawyer, told me. The result is that sugar, despite its relatively limited ability to create jobs, has made itself perhaps the most powerful political force in Florida. Since 1998, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, the sugar industry has given at least twenty-one million dollars to Florida candidates, political parties, and PACs. Estus Whitfield, the environmental adviser, said that, after each gubernatorial election, representatives of the industry sit down with the new governor to give him a list of their legislative priorities. “In almost every instance when an Everglades law, rule, or even attitude has changed, it was influenced by the sugar-cane industry,” Whitfield said.
The Fanjuls’ clout in Washington is legendary. Since 2004, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Fanjuls and their relatives have donated nearly four million dollars to federal candidates, parties, and PACs; last year, they spent a million dollars lobbying Congress and other branches of the federal government. The Fanjuls are scrupulously bipartisan; in 2004, Pepe raised more than two hundred thousand dollars for George W. Bush’s reëlection effort, and in 1992 Alfy was the Florida co-chair for Bill Clinton’s campaign. (In one notorious episode, President Clinton received a call from Alfy Fanjul during a tryst with Monica Lewinsky.) When Bush ran for governor in 1998, Florida law limited individual campaign contributions to five hundred dollars a person, and Super PACs were not yet legal. According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, the sugar industry contributed only ninety-four hundred dollars to Bush in 1998 and eighty-nine hundred in 2002—but, during those years, it gave three-quarters of a million dollars to the Republican Party of Florida. Close observers of Florida politics say that, even then, the real numbers, for candidates running for statewide office, were much higher than reported, with the industry arranging support from affiliated companies and law firms that it hires. “It’s difficult to pin down, but, for a candidate like Jeb, sugar’s contribution easily approaches a half million dollars,” Bernie Parrish, a longtime lobbyist in Tallahassee, said. (Other veterans of state politics gave me similar estimates.) “As a result, Big Sugar gets what it wants out of the legislature and out of the governor’s office,” Parrish said. “It doesn’t matter who the governor is.”
Halfway through the spring, 2003, session of the Florida House of Representatives, a new bill appeared on the schedule without warning. The legislation proposed to amend the Everglades Forever Act: it pushed back the phosphorus deadlines to 2016, with another extension available after that. Its most lenient provisions allowed the deadlines to be evaded indefinitely; all that was required was that the state and the sugar industry show that they were making their best efforts. “It was basically a license for polluters to keep polluting for years and years,” Don Jodrey, a senior policy adviser at the Department of the Interior, who works on Everglades issues, said. Representatives of the Audubon Society of Florida, who had saluted Bush’s efforts on phosphorus less than two years before, said that they had no idea the legislation was coming. “We were caught completely off guard,” Eric Draper, a lobbyist for the organization who is now its executive director, said. “One hearing, and it was up for a vote.”
A reporter for the Palm Beach Post named Robert King tried to determine who had drafted the bill, but could find no one—in the legislature or in Bush’s administration—who would own up to it. But Bush and his staff appear to have had a hand in it. The bill was introduced two weeks after Bush met privately in his Miami office with Pepe Fanjul, one of Fanjul’s lobbyists, and an executive from U.S. Sugar. According to documents that I obtained from the Florida Department of State, the agenda of the meeting was “phosphorus ruling/polluter pays.”
A lobbyist for U.S. Sugar, Mac Stipanovich, told me that the Governor led a collaboration between his staff and the industry. “Jeb was very active,” he said. “He brought people to the table.” Richard Harvey, the former chief E.P.A. regulator in South Florida, said that the sugar manufacturers had agreed to draft the bill and to move it through the legislature—allowing Bush to remain out of the public glare. “The sugar industry was carrying the ball for Bush,” Harvey, who is now retired, said. “They said, ‘We are going to orchestrate this thing. We are going to get the language we want, and make sure it passes.’ Bush went along.”
David Struhs, Bush’s chief environmental regulator at the time, told me that the legislation shouldn’t have caught anyone by surprise. In 2001, when Bush declared that the new phosphorus limit would be ten parts per billion, he and his environmental team anticipated that they would fail to meet the deadline. In Struhs’s explanation, even if pristine water was flowing into the Everglades, phosphorus from previous years would keep the levels high: “The laws of man, no matter how vigorously enforced, do not trump the laws of nature.” Bush decided on the deadline, anyway, to avoid federal sanction, Struhs told me. “We couldn’t come out and say, ‘We can’t do this,’ ” he said.
Federal and state regulators, as well as environmentalists, argued vigorously that “legacy phosphorus” would not be insurmountable. “We could have met the deadlines, but it would have required a huge effort,” Guest told me. The problem, these people said, was political: the obvious likely solution was to take land being used by the sugar farmers out of cultivation. Struhs told me the industry was terrified that federal regulations would force the farmers to fallow land: “They said, ‘We’re going to be out of business in three years.’ ”
To make sure that the legislation passed, the sugar industry deployed forty-six lobbyists, according to press accounts from the time—more than one for each of the forty senators. Draper, the Audubon Society lobbyist, said that environmentalists had little hope of stopping the bill. When he heard about the legislation, he went to Ron Klein, a Democrat who was the senate minority leader, “to help us stop this thing.” Klein sent him to Screven Watson, the former executive director of the Florida Democratic Party. Watson was also a lobbyist for the sugar industry. “That’s when I knew we were doomed,” Draper said.
In the end, the bill passed the Florida senate unanimously, with the clear understanding that Bush was behind it. “We did this bill because the Governor said it was a good bill,” the senate president, Jim King, said. In the house, a small group of legislators mounted an effort to stop the bill, but they were overwhelmingly defeated. The new law marked such a departure from the original Everglades Forever Act that environmentalists devised a bitter nickname for it: the Everglades Whenever Act.
For Bush, the summons to Washington came even before he had signed the bill. In the ornate, high-ceilinged splendor of Capitol Conference Room H-140, he was met by a group of Republican congressmen, three of them from Florida, who helped oversee federal spending on the Everglades. They wanted to tell him bluntly that the legislation awaiting his signature could explode the partnership between Florida and the federal government.
According to two congressional staffers who attended the meeting, Bush made it clear that he had already decided. “He wasn’t really tolerating any sort of questions,” a former aide said. When the congressmen told Bush that he could be allowing an amount of pollution that would continue to harm the Everglades, he angrily dismissed their concerns. The other staff member said, “I served in government for thirty-four years, twenty on the Appropriations Committee, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone act like that. Bush was angry. He was in my face. He slapped us around. He had absolutely no thought about compromising. I remember thinking, If this guy becomes President, this is not going to work.”
Struhs, Bush’s environmental aide, told me that as the Everglades legislation took shape Bush and his staff consulted with the E.P.A. to make sure that it was legal. “I had a high degree of confidence that the E.P.A. viewed this the same that we did,” he said. But, according to Jodrey, senior officials at the Department of the Interior, which is deeply involved in Everglades oversight, were mortified by the legislation. Jodrey told me his superiors decided that it was necessary to ask President Bush to intercede with his brother. “I was told to write a note in sixth-grade English asking the President to call Jeb,” Jodrey recalled. It’s unclear whether the memo went to the White House, but the President apparently never made the call.
In Miami, though, the judge who oversaw the consent decree summoned state and federal officials to explain themselves. According to Jodrey and Terrence Salt, the former Corps of Engineers official, Justice Department lawyers representing the E.P.A. were ordered not to volunteer any information to the judge. “They were muzzled,” Salt said.
After the hearing, the judge, William Hoeveler, an eighty-year-old senior judge in the Southern District of Florida, released an extraordinary court order, arguing that the law not only potentially violated the consent decree but had been passed in a shamelessly undemocratic way. “The treatment of the bill seemed calculated to avoid federal participation or public scrutiny,” he wrote. As for Bush, he said, “Apparently, he has been misled by people who do not have the best interests of the Everglades at heart.” Hoeveler was so angry that he called several reporters to expand his remarks. When his comments appeared in print, lawyers for the sugar industry pushed to remove him from the case, and he was eventually forced to step aside. Governor Bush was unfazed by the court order. “It is quite an unusual legal statement,” he said. “It didn’t have a lot of law in it.” He signed the Florida legislation a week and a half later.
Two groups sued to block the law’s implementation: a nonprofit called Friends of the Everglades, and the Miccosukee Tribe, Native Americans whose reservation lands sit inside the Everglades. Officials at the E.P.A. are obliged to decide whether local changes in water-quality standards comport with the Clean Water Act. The plaintiffs charged that the regulators, by ruling that Florida’s legislation did not amount to a substantive change in standards, had failed in their duty.
Federal officials say that the new law had been approved in a politically charged atmosphere. Harvey, the E.P.A.’s chief regulator in South Florida, said that when he raised objections he was ignored. Developers seeking permits to build on environmentally sensitive land, he said, were told to bypass him and go to E.P.A. officials in Atlanta, who were appointed by the White House. “You had a Bush in Washington and a Bush in Florida, and together they felt like they could do whatever they wanted,” Harvey said. Salt said that he and his colleagues were ordered not to speak publicly without approval from the Secretary of the Interior. “They absolutely shut us down,” Salt said. “I felt like I was getting squished.”
Federal officials and environmental activists involved in the dispute saw the new legislation as a larger effort by Jeb Bush to cut out the federal government’s role in the Everglades restoration. In 2004, he unveiled a new program to allow Florida to take greater control. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan had produced few results, and Bush blamed the federal government for not providing funds quickly enough. “Unfortunately, Congress did not live up to the promise it made,’’ he wrote in the Miami Herald. In his new plan, called Acceler8, he pledged $1.5 billion to fund eight Everglades infrastructure projects that had been part of the original CERP.
Acceler8 produced a rush of activity but modest results. Several of the projects were beset by delays, corruption, and inflated costs. A pump station in rural Collier County cost $617 million—almost twice what was budgeted. The owner of a hundred and sixty acres of scrubland, designated for flooding, refused to sell; after Bush threatened eminent-domain proceedings to force a sale, the state ended up paying nearly five million dollars. In the end, only two of the eight projects were completed, while the rest were either cancelled or given back to the federal government.
As Acceler8 got under way, Bush asked the federal government to withdraw from the consent decree that set the parameters for the Everglades restoration. The debate went all the way to the office of Gale Norton, the Secretary of the Interior. Ultimately, the department declined to release Florida from the decree. “President Bush refused to call his brother to stop the Everglades bill, but he also refused to give in to his brother’s request,” Jodrey said. “It cut both ways.”
In 2008, four years after the environmentalists and the Miccosukee Tribe sued, a federal judge sided with them in sweeping fashion. Calling the bill “an adroit legislative effort to obscure the obvious,” U.S. District Judge Alan Gold found that the Florida legislature had “violated its fundamental commitment and promise to protect the Everglades.”
The issue remained on hold until 2012, when federal and state regulators, after long negotiations, settled on a revamped plan to clean up the polluted water. Public officials, if not environmental activists, say that they are confident that the Everglades are now back on track. “We are doing very well now,” an official who works on restoration told me. “Charlie Crist ? Rick Scott ? No problem.”
But federal and state officials of both parties look back on Bush’s administration as a time of stalemate and lost opportunity, largely because Bush derailed the effort to clean up the water in the Everglades for nearly a decade. Under the settlement that resolved the long dispute, the clean-water standard will not need to be met until 2025. The cost of the restoration will be borne primarily by taxpayers, not by the sugar industry. “The goal of Big Sugar is always to put off the day of reckoning,” Draper said.
During the primary campaign, Bush’s few statements about the environment have been carefully tailored to disparate audiences. At a meeting of farmers in Iowa earlier this year, he called the E.P.A. a “pig in slop” and vowed to “rein in” its regulations. This fall, his campaign sent an e-mail inviting conservation leaders to join his advisers in a private conversation. “Jeb Bush values the many contributions environmental and conservation organizations make every day,” it said. “Governor Bush prioritized these issues in Florida when he was Governor and believes they deserve understanding and focus during the important policy debate that will occur in the Presidential election.”
A President who wants to aid the environment without empowering the E.P.A. will need to find an innovative way of enforcing the nation’s ecological rules. When it came to restoring the Everglades, Bush’s efforts to carve out his own path pleased almost no one. It was no surprise that delaying water-quality standards enraged environmentalists. But conservatives have also expressed displeasure with Bush’s environmental record. The Club for Growth and other proponents of smaller government have decried his efforts to buy environmentally sensitive land and to spend taxpayer money to restore the Everglades. And the G.O.P.’s libertarian wing, which sees propping up sugar prices as corporate welfare, was angered by his work on behalf of Big Sugar. Bush has been trying to square the circle. His Super PAC, Right to Rise, received half a million dollars from U.S. Sugar in the first half of this year. But in October his campaign announced that the candidate now favored a “phase-out” of the price-support system.
In April, the Fanjul family hosted a fund-raiser for Senator Marco Rubio, of Florida, another candidate for President and, despite his ties to the Tea Party, a staunch backer of price supports for sugar. The cost of entry was twenty-seven hundred dollars a person. And yet it is Bush, for now, who is forced to dispel the assumption that he is beholden to moneyed interests. Asked at one primary debate about the hundred-plus million dollars he has raised so far, he insisted that his donors have given that money only because of his conservative record. In contrast, he pointed to Donald Trump, who, as a contributor to Bush’s gubernatorial campaign, sought permission to bring casinos to Florida. Jeb said that he refused to let him. “I’m not going to be bought by anyone,” he said.
Trump, squinting at the audience, insisted that he would have found a way to get Bush to make a deal on the casino. “I promise I would have gotten it,” he said. ♦
A fragile environment pays the price for Miami's growth spurt
USA Today - Voices: by Alan Gomez
December 27, 2015
The ever-growing skyline of downtown Miami Skyscrapers in downtown Miami sit right on Biscayne Bay, which with canals and the Miami River running through it as well. Aerials of the flood zones around Miami, Miami has not been hit by a major, flood-producing storm in decades. So what happens when that day finally comes? We will take a close look at the flood prevention and flood recovery systems that protects more than 5.5 million people living from Miami to Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach. Water managers have an incredibly difficult task, trying to strike a balance in a region that is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the water-soaked Everglades to the west and more than 2,000 miles of canals criss-crossing the residential area. Making matters even more difficult is that the flood control system was designed in the 1950s for a far smaller population. Water managers say that if interior portions of the region flood, the water system can remove less than 2 inches of water a day. That means some regions could be underwater for days or weeks as the water is slowly sent back into the Atlantic or to a couple of water retention fields to the west.
MIAMI — It's sometimes difficult to realize that my hometown is such a young city.
In the late 1890s, as New Yorkers welcomed the newly installed Statue of Liberty and Chicago hosted its World's Fair, the city of Miami was incorporated with more than 300 people living amidst the swamps.
Much has obviously changed since then as Miami became an international mecca for tourists, artists, models, business owners — and the occasional miscreant. Today's gleaming, glass-lined skyline is unrecognizable from the modest one I grew up with in the 1980s. You can't drive around this sun-soaked city without crossing under the shadow of a massive construction crane as the city core grows higher each day.
In our rush to grow, I worry that we're losing what made this place so special to begin with: its fragile environment.
Miami rests on one of the most complicated ecosystems in the country: an ocean to the east, the Everglades to the west, our drinking water in an aquifer a few feet below us. Far too often, in our hurry to become bigger and better, we've watched as those precious gifts have been plowed over in the name of progress.
At PortMiami, government officials just completed a deepening of the channel to accommodate giant cargo ships that will soon cross through an expanded Panama Canal. Business and political leaders say the deeper channel will lead to an economic boom. It comes at a heavy cost underwater, damaging coral reefs critical to the health of marine species and popular with divers.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers led the complicated process of excavating portions of the seabed and dumping sediment farther out to sea. Before work started in 2011, the corps agreed to move nearly 1,000 corals out of the danger zone. After environmental groups sued, claiming a wider area was being damaged, the corps agreed in 2014 to spend $400,000 to relocate more coral colonies and closely monitor the area.
As the digging neared completion this year, more bad news: The National Marine Fisheries Service warned that the damaged area "greatly exceeds" what was predicted, a blanket of silt and clay covering more than four times the expected seabed.
Things don't look much better above the waterline.
Across Biscayne Bay, workers have been prepping a piece of shoreline for February's Miami International Boat Show. The annual event has become world-renowned, drawing buyers and builders of yachts, fishing boats and all kinds of pleasure crafts. This show has become the source of intense controversy because of its new location on Virginia Key, an island that not only offers a glorious view of the Miami skyline but also serves as protection for the bay.
This year, workers illegally tore down more than 1,700 square feet of mangrove trees next to the site of the show. For you Northerners who've never heard of a mangrove, they are incredibly important trees that grow mostly along coastal shorelines, half in the water, half out. I'm not exaggerating when I say that even my 7-year-old niece understands their importance, from slowing water erosion to serving as a safe place for wildlife to reproduce.
In recent weeks, citizens and environmentalists have complained at public hearings about the damage that could result from hundreds of boats and thousands of people gathered on the island. Water taxis shuttling people to the show will travel so close to manatees, dolphins and other protected species that a "spotter" boat will be on hand to keep them on the right path. More than 1,000 pilings will be driven into the seafloor to create temporary boat slips for the show, only to be removed and replaced each year.
The boat show organizers and Miami officials say they can put on the show, help the economy and minimize environmental damage. From what we've seen, I'm not so sure.
Lee Hefty, assistant director of Miami-Dade County's Division of Environmental Resources Management, told me he doesn't have the manpower to monitor the vast stretches of coastline, marshes and waterways that make Miami so unique. "We rely on residents to keep an eye on things and help us," he said.
As Miami continues its march toward mega-metropolis, I hope all of us here do just that.
Proposed state water bill full of giveaways
Ocala.com - by David Guest, managing attorney for the Florida office of Earthjustice
December 27, 2015
In Tallahassee political circles, people are fond of talking about “win-win” situations. But we all know the truth, right? When somebody wins, that means somebody loses. For instance, early next year, all of us who want to keep polluters from ruining our water supply might end up as the losers.
The threat comes from the Legislature’s massive water policy bill, a major rewrite of hundreds of clean water regulations that Florida has on the books. You’ll hear politicians and their lobbyist friends talking about how the water policy bill balances competing interests. No, it doesn’t.
This bill was written by lobbyists for agricultural corporations. It’s telling, isn’t it, that the go-to political leader on the water policy bill is not an environmental protection official but Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
Big Agriculture is a campaign cash rainmaker for these politicians, and it looks like the ag lobby is getting its money’s worth. Environmental regulations on Florida agriculture are notoriously weak already. To write this water policy legislation, polluter lobbyists went through clean-water regulations with a fine-toothed comb, teasing out any and all rules that require them to clean up their acts.
The changes are artful and subtle, and — if the bill passes — the effects are going to come back to haunt us all.
Every day, we already see the damage: dead fish littering closed beaches, tainted drinking water, and green slime outbreaks on our rivers, springs and lakes. You’d think that, seeing the evidence at hand, it might be prudent to strengthen clean water rules. But that’s not what’s happening.
For one thing, the legislation would do away with water pollution permits entirely for agricultural corporations around Lake Okeechobee. That’s right, no permits required! Agricultural operations are only asked to do voluntary “Best Management Practices” to keep pollution from fouling our drinking water. It’s as if the Highway Patrol said it was OK for some of us to voluntarily report our speed on Florida highways. Nobody would ever get a speeding ticket.
I think we can all agree that protecting our public drinking water supplies should always be one of government’s core functions. Lake Okeechobee is a drinking water source for several small towns and for West Palm Beach, Fort Myers and the entire Lower East Coast metropolitan area. Getting rid of permits for polluters there is unconscionable and unwise.
One of the other disturbing aspects of the legislation is that it further liberalizes the rules that spell out how much groundwater private interests can take from our public supplies. Groundwater withdrawal permits used to expire after five years, now they can last for dozens of years, even if circumstances change.
The water policy bill has lots of water supply giveaways to big-bucks operators; it includes nearly $1.8 billion in tax dollars to give to private interests that will stick straws in our rivers to feed more development in Central Florida, and directs our public water management districts to hand out tax dollars for “cost-share” projects so agricultural companies get paid for to do the voluntary “Best Management Practices.”
I advise everybody reading this to contact their legislator and tell them you want this legislation amended so it doesn’t loosen the rules for polluting industries. If this legislation is not amended during the legislative session that starts Jan. 12, our rivers, springs, lakes and beaches lose. We lose.
Putnam seeks money for rural lands, firefighter raises
December 27, 2015
Florida’s agriculture commissioner wants raises next year for state forestry firefighters, as well as money to buy and maintain active farm land — items not included in Gov. Rick Scott’s recommended budget.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, outlining his priorities to reportersk, said he is lobbying lawmakers to include $25 million to keep the Rural and Family Lands Protection program active. Also, he wants lawmakers to provide $2,000 raises for the nearly 1,000 forestry firefighters and support staff, an idea that Scott vetoed earlier this year.
“They are deserving of this pay increase,” Putnam said during a meeting with reporters Wednesday at the Capitol. “They put themselves at risk to protect lives and property in our state. And I hope we can work that through the process.”
The raises are part of a $10 million request regarding the forestry department. The majority of the money would help the agency update firefighting equipment.
Overall, Putnam’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has made a request for a 4 percent increase in funding, which includes $18.7 million to help the citrus industry and $26 million for water-quality projects and to implement and monitor agricultural “best management practices” statewide. The request also seeks to add the equivalent of eight full-time employees to oversee the agricultural “best management practices.”
Putnam is also seeking $25 million for the Rural and Family Lands Protection program, which allows farmers and ranchers to continue using their land while the state is able to keep those parcels from being developed.
“It really has accounted for the bulk of the conservation purchases that have been made the last several years,” Putnam said.
The current year’s budget includes $15 million for the rural lands program, but Scott didn’t include the program in his proposed $79.3 billion budget for the fiscal year that will start July 1.
Scott is asking for $62.8 million for the land-acquisition program Florida Forever, $188 million for work to improve the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee and another $50 million to help maintain the state’s natural springs.
Earlier this year, the Legislature put about $1.6 million in the 2015-16 budget for forestry raises, but the line item was cut by Scott.
Scott told reporters after signing the overall budget in June that he has advocated for performance bonuses for state employees. However, at the same time, Scott defended $2.6 million in pay increases that were included in the budget for employees of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles as “they’re seeing a shortage of applicants, and so that was the rationale.”
Putnam, who is widely expected to run for governor in 2018, said he doesn’t take vetoes personally.
“(Scott’s) got to make a lot of difficult decisions,” Putnam said. “Sometimes you like them. Sometimes you’re disappointed in them. And we’re just going to continue to work hard and make our case.”
Putnam is backing a compromise water-policy proposal (SB 552 and HB 7005) that is expected to be among the first issues brought up for votes in the House and Senate when the regular session begins Jan. 12. He also is seeking $15 million to help improve water coming into and out of Lake Okeechobee and $7 million for the northern Everglades and the state’s natural springs.
The northern Everglades and springs funding would be tied to cost-sharing programs with farmers to better manage runoff and to conserve water, Putnam said.
Putnam also defended the Legislature’s plan this year for carrying out a voter-approved initiative that calls for setting aside money for land and water conservation.
The initiative, known as Amendment 1, requires 33 percent of an existing tax on real-estate documents to go to land buying and maintenance.
Two lawsuits have been filed that contend the legislature’s use of $237 million of the Amendment 1 money in the current year was improperly diverted from conservation purposes to agency staffing and operational expenses.
Putnam said Amendment 1 shouldn’t be “a candy jar,” but that people should expect that some money will be used for the upkeep of public lands.
“In managing a world-class state park system, there is an expectation that the bathrooms will work, that the roads will be in passable shape for the average minivan not to get stuck, that hiking trails will be safe, that bridges — where there are bridges — will be safe,” Putnam said. “Those are legitimate Amendment 1 expenses.”
Conservation money, seismic testing big issues for 2016
News-Press.com – by Chad Gillis
December 26, 2015
A swallow-tailed kite shakes off in the Big Cypress National Preserve, where a Texas company plans to conduct seismic testing for natural gas and oil.(Photo: File photo by Andrew West/ The News-Press)Buy Photo
Floridians will continue to fight the state in 2016 over billions of dollars spent to control water and sprawling development while also protecting endangered species and getting rid of invasive animals.
State funds for land purchases and water quality projects have been slashed under Gov. Rick Scott, so much so that voters passed an amendment in 2014 intended to force legislators to buy more green space.
That money was instead sent mostly to service debt and pay for existing operations, against the wishes of the groups who wrote the language for the bill and pushed for its passing. More than 75 percent of voters said 'yes' to the land and water conservation amendment.
The same group that pushed the amendment filed suit earlier this year against Sen. Andy Gardiner and House of Representatives Speaker Steve Crisafulli over the appropriations. That case is being reworked by the complainants and will be refiled soon.
The state also went against public desires when it held Florida's first black bear hunt in more than 20 years, and no indications, so far, have suggested the hunt will be a one-year event.
Residents have also been outspoken against fracking and gas and oil exploration. A Texas company is waiting for a public comment period to end in early January before it uses 60,000 pound vehicles to send sound waves thousands of feet below ground.
Oil speculators on the move
Burnett Oil Company Inc. of Fort Worth, Texas, will conduct seismic testing in the heart of Big Cypress National Preserve once public comments on the project are received.
An environmental assessment by the National Park Service released in November said the project will not result in adverse, long-term damage to the Collier County preserve or the plants and animals that live there.
Park officials and Burnett representatives held a public information meeting earlier this month, drawing dozens of emotional Floridians who are against the project.
Oil speculators first drilled here in the 1940s, and there are dozens of drill sites throughout the Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park.
Python hunt returns
Florida got the world's attention in 2013 when it held a Burmese python hunt, and the wacky event is back for 2016.
Television crews from across the country, Canada, Europe and Asia dawned on South Florida three years ago to get a glimpse of the 1,600 or so "python hunters." Although the state succeeded in bringing attention to the problem of invasive species, only 68 snakes were caught during the hunt.
Florida also took a public image pummeling in editorial cartoons, columns and letters to the editor -- most of which depicted the hunt as a way to gather slack-jawed, machete-wielding rednecks in what looked like a traveling Bass Pro Shops traveling circus.
The 2016 Python Challenge starts Jan. 16. and runs through Feb. 14.
Online training is encouraged but not required. Prize money will be awarded for longest python and most pythons collected.
Land and legacy lawsuit
Can voters force their government to buy green space?
That's the basic gist of a lawsuit filed against state lawmakers that says about $750 million in next year's budget has been misappropriated. More than half of the revenue -- generated by a tax on real estate transactions -- will be spent on debt and existing services.
The groups that wrote and pushed the Florida Land and Legacy Act say the money should be used to purchase and restore conservation land.
Will bear hunt continue ?
Florida held its first black bear hunt in more than 20 years this past October, and hunters quickly dispatched 298 bears.
Tens of thousands of people wrote and spoke against the hunt, but the state proceeded.
Although the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said hunting bears is a difficult, long process, the hunt was closed after only two days.
The original goal was to allow hunters to kill 320 bears, or about 10 percent of the estimated population, over the course of seven days.
Protests were staged at FWC meetings and in cities across the state.
Some people hunted without a bear permit or any hunting license. One hunter shot a 40-pound cub, which is illegal as hunters are only supposed to take bears that are 100 pounds and larger.
The 2011 U.S. Census shows that 215,000 Floridians hunted that year, which is a participation rate of about 1 percent.
Reservoir construction to start soon
Construction on the most important Everglades restoration project for Lee County will start soon.
Called the Caloosahatchee reservoir, or C43, the $600 million reservoir is designed to capture about 55 billion gallons of stormwater run-off that would otherwise flow into the Caloosahatchee River.
Large pulses of freshwater flowing down the river kills sea grasses and oyster beds, some of the most important oceanic habitat in the Gulf of Mexico.
The reservoir will not store water directly from Lake Okeechobee, once the headwaters of the Everglades, but will instead capture water in the Caloosahatchee watershed.
Huge Cypress oil drilling: a couple of spills, numerous tanks and pumps
December 25, 2015
Deep in a pine forest of Big Cypress National Preserve, past a locked gate and up a rugged 11-mile road, stand a series of cleared fields full of pumps, storage tanks, generators and other equipment.
The Raccoon Point oil field, one of two operated at Big Cypress by BreitBurn Energy Partners of Los Angeles, offers a glimpse of what could be in store for more of the Everglades, under two pending oil exploration applications. The Kanter family of Miami has applied for a permit to drill in the Everglades about six miles west of Miramar. At Big Cypress, Burnett Oil Co., of Fort Worth, Texas, has submitted an application to engage in seismic operations, using specially equipped trucks to generate vibrations in the earth, to look for oil across 110 square miles.
At Raccoon Point, about 10 miles south of Interstate 75, BreitBurn runs an industrial operation involving dangerous fluids, heavy equipment and rumbling generators among forests and wetlands inhabited by deer, panthers, bears, turkeys and other creatures.
The five multi-acre pads at Raccoon Point support 17 oil wells, although not all are active. Workers, who occupy three trailers at the main pad, put in seven straight 12-hour days and then take seven days off, a schedule designed to accommodate the time involved in reaching the remote area.
"It operates pretty much like offshore, except you drive here," said Ed Blake, area superintendent for BreitBurn.
The wells yield what’s called production fluid, a combination of oil and salt water. The fluid goes through pipes along the ground to a row of tanks as high as upended school buses. These tanks separate the oil and water. The oil flows through a pipeline under western to the Devil’s Garden Truck Loading Facility on Snake Road, where it’s pumped onto trucks, driven to Port Everglades and taken by ship to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.
There have been eight spills in and around the Big Cypress fields since 2011, totaling 15 barrels of oil, or 630 gallons, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Cleanup crews recovered all but four barrels, or 168 gallons. They also removed 53 cubic yards of soil. In addition, there were spills of 434 barrels, or 18,228 gallons, of saltwater, with all but 13 barrels recovered.
In one spill at Raccoon Point, for example, a break formed in a flow line, discharging two barrels of oil and water onto the ground, said Bob DeGross, spokesman for the preserve. In another, a vehicle struck a flow line, with one barrel discharged. For that incident, the company had to pay $7,000 for the damage and recovery work.
Preserve and company officials say the safety record has been good, with only minor spills that have been contained by safety systems, such as automatic shutoff valves and earthen berms.
"The safety record, as far as I know, has been very good," DeGross said. "Oil and gas production is considered to be of no substantial longtime impact. Although there’s noise, wildlife doesn’t seem to avoid the area. The staff has seen panthers, deer, a variety of wildlife passing through the area."
BreitBurn vice president Antonio D’Amico said the company constantly conducts maintenance of the system, running internal monitoring devices through the pipes, keeping work crews busy checking on production systems, flying over the pads and receiving frequent visits from state environmental inspectors.
"We’re very proud of our safety record," he said. "We run a very clean ship."
Production has been down at the company’s fields, largely due to the fall in gas prices. The Raccoon Point field, in operations since 1978, produced 25,842 barrels of oil in October, the most recent month for which figures are available. This represents a significant decline from the 44,342 barrels produced in October of 2011. It costs more to produce oil from Big Cypress than from many of the company’s other fields because of the expense of transporting it over land and by water to the far-off Gulf refineries.
"Our production in Florida is some of our most expensive in our portfolio," D’Amico said.
Oil drilling has taken place at Big Cypress since the 1970s. BreitBurn operates the fields under a lease agreement with Collier Resources Co., which represents the descendants of southwest Florida pioneer Barron Collier, who retained the mineral rights when the preserve was created in 1974.
Oil drilling in Florida goes back more than 60 years, when Florida’s governor and cabinet offered $50,000 to the first person or company to find oil. Humble Oil and Refining Co., a predecessor of Exxon, won the prize, striking oil near Immokolee in 1943, in the first of many wells to be drilled along a narrow geologic feature called the Sunniland Trend. Running diagonally across the peninsula from Fort Myers to Miami, the Sunniland Trend is a 150-mile-long, 20-mile-wide formation that contains oil deposits about two miles underground.
The latest exploration proposals for South Florida come from Burnett Oil Co, and the Kanter family. Burnett has submitted an application to look for oil across 110 square miles of Big Cypress using vehicles called vibroseis trucks, which vibrate a steel pad against the ground to generate the vibrations to allow the company to gauge the presence of oil. The Kanter family, major South Florida landowners, has applied for permits to drill an exploratory well in the Everglades of .
A review of the Burnett plan by the National Park Service released last month says it would cause only temporary and minor disturbance to wildlife and the preserve’s landscape. The review addressed only the proposal for seismic exploration, not any future drilling that could result.
Caitlin Weber, policy analyst for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, called on the park service to conduct an environmental impact statement on the Burnett proposal, rather than the less rigorous environmental review that was done. She said both the seismic operations and any resulting drilling would have "significant impact" on the preserve’s wildlife, water and natural beauty.
Karen Dwyer, of the Stone Crab Alliance, a Collier County environmental group, said the prospect of heavy trucks rumbling through the preserve and the industrial activities that would come with oil drilling would cause extensive damage to irreplaceable natural resources.
"We don’t want crushed nests or collapsed burrows or more road kill," she said. "Nature has a right to live undisturbed, especially in a preserve."
Lake Apopka phosphorus removal eyed
Daily Commercial – by Livi Stanford
December 26, 2015
A pilot project to remove phosphorus from Lake Apopka is one of several that may prove beneficial to restoring the lake in the next decade, according to state Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla.
“We are having good results, and we are learning a lot and are still searching for the best method or the best combination of methods to clean up (Lake Apopka),” Hays said. “It is highly unlikely there will be one single methodology that works out there. But once we settle the method of cleanup it is a matter of time. A 10-year timeline is not out of the question.”
The state’s fourth largest lake previously was a “world-class bass fishery but impacts to the lake over many decades led to the lake to be named Florida’s most polluted large lake,” the St. Johns River Water Management District reported.
Lake Apopka is located south of State Road 48 — two thirds in Orange County and a third in Lake County. It is best known as the headwaters of the Harris Chain of Lakes.
The decline of Lake Apopka can be traced to “the loss of 20,000 acres of wetlands along the lake’s north shore to farming operations beginning in the 1940s; agricultural discharges laden with phosphorus until the late 1990s; treated wastewater discharges from shoreline communities prior to the 1980s; and discharge from citrus processing plants prior to the 1980s,” according to the St. Johns River Water Management District.
In early October, Ferthaul Florida RS, the contractor, kicked off the pilot project that involves dredging water from the bottom, separating the solids from the water using a parabolic filter and treating the water with enhanced cavitation, according to information on the project. Cavitation is the formation of bubbles in a liquid, typically by movement of a propeller, according to its definition.
Bill Hooper, president of Ferthaul Florida RS, said cavitation “produces heat, which will kill the bacteria.”
“When the cavitation event implodes on itself, it produces a violent shockwave, resulting in extreme heat and therefore killing the bacteria,” Hooper said. “We are doing it with water and not using any chemicals. We end up with water that is actually clean. You can actually drink it. We are capable of removing in a day what takes most people a year to do.”
After the cavitation procedure is completed, the phosphorus is then separated from the treated water in holding tanks and the phosphorus water and mud is then applied on an adjacent test site to measure the impact on vegetation growth.
Based on independent laboratory results for the first 3.5 million gallons of "processed dredged canal water and mud, the system has removed over 2,000 pounds of phosphorus from the canal."
Hays said the cost for the phosphorus removal through this pilot project — $80 a pound — is “considerably more economical than anything else we have looked at.”
Lake County Commission Chairman Sean Parks said the project could be a game changer for Lake County.
“I applaud Sen. Hays’ effort to clean up Lake Apopka,” Parks said. “If we can get this cleaned up, the sky’s the limit when it comes to ecotourism and recreational opportunities for Lake County.”
While encouraged by efforts to clean up phosphorus from Lake Apopka, Skip Goerner, chairman of the Harris Chain of Lakes Restoration Council, said it is only one piece of the puzzle to restoring the lake as a whole.
Goerner said there are no efforts being made to reconnect the North Shore marsh to Lake Apopka.
“The marsh is essential to the restoration of Lake Apopka,” he said. “The marsh acts as a natural kidney. It slows down the surface flow of water from rainfall and it allows the water to clarify itself. We are now up to 60 billions of gallons of water per year that is never returning.”
But Ed Garland, public communications coordinator for the St. Johns River Water Management District, wrote in an email that “reconnecting the marshes would prevent the district from properly managing water levels in different areas of the North Shore, and a reconnection could potentially expose Lake Apopka to higher nutrient/pesticide levels.”
Hays said water remains one of the most prominent issues in the 2016 Legislative session.
“We will pass a water bill, and it will go to the governor, and I am confident he will sign it before the session ends,” he said.
Water Hyacinth: Playing the blame game
RecordNet.com - by Alex Breitler, Staff Writer
December 26, 2015
It’s tempting to spin a simple story for the water hyacinth “devil weed” that once again frustrated Delta boaters in 2015.
It’s the drought, some say. Or, it’s our warming climate. Or, it’s an inefficient, or even incompetent, state government.
In reality, the causes of the explosion seen over the past few years are complex and interwoven, with both nature and humans playing a role, experts say. Some factors we can control, and others we cannot.
But make no mistake: Water hyacinth can be better managed in California. Just ask Florida, where enormous infestations that once shag-carpeted 125,000 acres of lakes and waterways now normally are limited to about 2,500 acres at any one time — one-tenth of 1 percent of the state’s public waters.
It's almost enough to make one optimistic for the Delta.
“I’m not quite ready to throw up my hands and give up,” said John Madsen, a research biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Davis. “But it’s a large complex of issues. If we’re unwilling to address these issues, we will just have to get used to hyacinth. I’m hoping we can address them without just saying, 'We’re not going to go boating on the Delta,' because that’s a very high price to pay.”
It might not have looked like it from your neck of the Delta this year, but overall, the hyacinth headache did subside a bit.
State officials sprayed more acres than ever before — almost as much as the past two years combined. Not only did they spray the maximum acres allowed under their permit, but they got special permission to exceed that total.
And, for the first time, at least in recent years, they started work on time. They put their boats out in early March as soon as their permits allowed spraying to commence.
During the summer, the hyacinth looked like it would be as bad as ever — perhaps even worse than last year. But as summer turned toward fall, NASA scientists who are using satellites to track hyacinth accumulations noticed the floating mats were decreasing in size earlier than in past years. The hyacinth declined about 20 percent from Oct. 31 through Nov. 16, NASA reported.
“I think most people are breathing a little bit of a sigh of relief in that there should be a little less impact compared to last year,” David Bubenheim, a senior scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center, said in early December.
That doesn't mean it was noticeably better everywhere. Stockton's holiday boat parade was canceled for the second consecutive year. The city's boat launch at Buckley Cove was closed for the first time.
Earlier this fall, a customer reserved a spot at the RiverPoint Landing Marina campground at the west end of March Lane. He wanted to bring his RV and boat. As a courtesy, staff at the marina called back to warn him that if, indeed, he came, he would be met by an expanse of green hyacinth rather than open water.
The customer canceled.
“It’s disheartening,” marina owner Richard Dunn said.
Who's to blame?
So, back to the question: What can we control, and what can’t we control?
The drought is out of our hands, though it is exacerbated by manmade climate change and — some would argue — state water policy. Either way, less flow in rivers means less flushing action to push the hyacinth from the upper freshwater tributaries to saltier water where the plant will die.
The warming climate, too, is to blame. Stockton saw its warmest year on record in 2014. The city is on pace to break that record again this year.
“We’re really treading on new terrain,” said Chris Conlin, who oversees the Division of Boating and Waterways, the state agency responsible for controlling aquatic weeds and keeping waterways clear.
“All of the tools that are available for us to use, we’re maximizing them,” Conlin said earlier this fall. “But with drought and climate change issues, what we’re seeing is an ideal condition for an Amazonian plant to flourish in the Delta. Mother Nature always gets the final vote.”
That may be true, but we’ve given her an extra boost at times.
Mechanical harvesters — those boats on the water that collect hyacinth — were supposed to be brought in much earlier this year to supplement the spraying. State officials accepted bids from companies starting in March. But the process failed because the applicants didn’t provide enough information, Conlin said. The outcome of a second bid process was protested. Finally a contract was awarded and the harvesters hit the water earlier this month.
“Believe me, we’ve been trying,” Conlin said.
Even with the harvesters at work, challenges remain with pulling the hyacinth out of the water. Some Delta landowners have been reluctant to allow allow heavy equipment on their levees. But most experts don’t consider harvesters a silver bullet anyway, because they are slow-moving and inefficient, and can be environmentally destructive.
Meanwhile, the state’s herbicide-spraying armada, while much more aggressive this year, still was not fully staffed as of late November. Last spring, Boating and Waterways was awarded an additional $4 million as part of emergency drought legislation to buy more boats and hire more spray technicians; the money — a 40 percent boost to the division's budget — was available by July. But as of November, the tail end of the spraying season, only three of the eight new employees who will man the boats had actually been hired, with two more expected soon, Conlin said at the time.
It’s not a simple recruitment because the technicians need special training, and the outdoors work environment can be harsh, Conlin said. The good news is that once the hiring is done, the permanent employees will be ready to go for next year. The harvesters, too, will be ready now that a three-year contract has been inked.
Of course, the hyacinth outbreak might never have gotten this bad in the first place if the state had sprayed consistently in past years.
The difficulty started in 2000 when environmentalists sued to force the state to get a permit to protect endangered fish from the chemicals.
The permit is strict. Most of the year crews can use only a slower-acting chemical. The north Delta can’t be sprayed at all until June to protect fish, which allows hyacinth to grow unabated there, then break free and float into the central and south Delta.
Crews can’t spray near bushes where endangered beetles live. Harvesters must chug along at no more than a couple of knots in order to protect rare snakes. In the back-end sloughs where hyacinth nurseries sprout, crews can spray only 30 percent of the weeds at one time. And in the rivers they must leave 100-foot buffer corridors for migratory salmon.
Meanwhile, until recently the yearly permit renewals got bogged down in bureaucracy. In 2012, spraying didn’t begin until August — well into the growing season — because federal fish experts said the state had provided inadequate information. The previous year, spraying hadn’t started until September.
Longer-term permits now are in place. But every year that the hyacinth went unchecked ensured that the following year would be worse. Hyacinth flowers deposit seeds that sink in the water and can stay viable in the river bottom for 15 years or longer; the massive stems also help the plant to reproduce.
One bad year is likely to breed another.
“You’ve got this train going down a hill and going faster and faster,” the USDA’s Madsen said. “We’re trying to catch this train and slow it down or stop it, when it’s going faster than it is in Florida.”
Conlin likens the hyacinth problem to a bell curve. Last year was the very top.
“This year,” he said, “we’re hoping to start backing off the top of that bell curve.”
No easy answer
Experts contacted in California and Florida told The Record that both regulatory issues and natural conditions such as drought play a role. Shruti Khanna, a post-doctoral scholar at the University of California, Davis, who has studied hyacinth distribution in the Delta, confirmed in an email this week that a number of factors are to blame and said there isn’t enough information to say which factor plays the biggest part.
A more holistic search for solutions involving multiple agencies still is in its early stages. They’re looking at ideas such as introducing bugs that will munch on the plants.
The recent, more aggressive action should have happened long ago, said Douglass Wilhoit, president of the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce. Wilhoit’s office overlooks the Stockton channel head, a dead-end that predictably collects hyacinth each summer and fall.
Wilhoit posted pictures and sent emails to state officials on almost a daily basis this year, sharing his frustration. He’s not alone: “DBW, where are you?” was the frequent refrain from angry boaters on social media. A Facebook group, Enemies of the Delta Water Hyacinth, brews discontent over the state’s efforts and conspiracy theories about whether the state is committed to clean this mess up in the first place. (Boating and Waterways once was an independent state agency; in 2013 the Brown administration brought it under the umbrella of Parks and Recreation.)
“They are using the drought this year as a convenient excuse, with a capital ‘E,’ ” Wilhoit said. “There are scientists and hydrologists and climatologists that have known for years that this is a problem. We’re not in the Stone Age, and we’re not sending smoke signals — we could have researched Florida and Louisiana’s (solutions).
“But they didn’t even think about it.”
Conlin asked for patience. It’s not the first time.
“We understand and we empathize,” he said. “Their voices are still being heard and we’re trying to do absolutely everything we can.”
Growth vs. environment conflicts resumed in 2015 as feared
Naples Daily News - Editorial
December 25, 2015
2015: How did we do?
Editor's note: A year ago, the Daily News identified seven priorities for Southwest Florida for 2015. Today's editorial looks back at progress on one of those issues. The final installment Sunday focuses on an issue carrying over as a priority for 2016.
One of our greatest concerns going into 2015 was whether growth, beginning to escalate a year ago, would lead to a renewal of an age-old clash between development and environmental protection.
That conflict arose throughout the year in ways beyond what we'd expected. Too often in 2015, the balance tipped against the environment and its inhabitants.
The evidence that development had a good year is evident in widespread sprouting of new rooftops. At a November Market Trends program, the industry heard projections that 12,200 single- and multifamily housing permits will be issued this year in Collier, Lee and Charlotte counties. That's a 34 percent increase over 2014 and nearly double the 6,908 permits in 2013. However, the number pales to 44,000 permits in 2005 when growth vs. environmental protection issues previously surfaced.
At this time a year ago, we were encouraged by the strong message voters had sent in approving constitutional Amendment 1, backed by 75 percent of Southwest Florida voters, so the state could buy land for preservation.
This past summer, however, the Legislature decided the state already has enough preserve land and allocated as it saw fit the estimated $750 million that Amendment 1 called for setting aside from a fee on real estate transactions. That included only about $17.5 million for the land-buying Florida Forever, far less than Gov. Rick Scott requested and a program which received $300 million yearly before the recession.
Amendment advocates and environmental organizations sued. Lawmakers insist the amendment had much broader meaning than acquiring land; the organization that crafted the ballot language disagrees. The dispute remains in court, unresolved.
That's concerning because the 2016 legislative session gets an early start, in about three weeks, and already the budget is taking shape. Unless there's a sudden reversal of attitude by the Legislature or swift final action by the courts, both of which are unlikely, the first two years of a 20-year commitment to land preservation will go by.
The state also missed an opportunity to use Amendment 1 money to exercise its option to acquire U.S. Sugar land south of Lake Okeechobee to aid in Everglades restoration.
On the plus side, early this year Lee County commissioners renewed a commitment to their land-buying program and recently resisted the idea of carving off previously acquired conservation land as a site for a south Lee high school.
Panthers and bears
This was a grim year for Florida panthers and black bears.
Eastward marching growth brought more development and vehicles into habitat historically occupied by the species, leading to more carnage and conflicts.
This week, a record annual death toll for panthers mounted with the discovery of the 40th dead cat of 2015 on State Road 29, south of Immokalee. Scientists had estimated 180 panthers remained in the wild, so 22 percent of that population was lost in a year.
Florida conducted its first hunt of black bears in more than two decades, following mounting conflicts that sent the creatures into neighborhoods foraging for food. Too much went wrong in the hunt however, with kill-limit allocations off across the state, mother bears shot when they weren't supposed to be and a few hunters ignoring rules against baiting.
Energy would have been better spent toward greater advocacy for bear-proof containers and educating people moving into the creature's habitat, at least until ongoing bear population counts are completed.
Squeezing them in: Florida’s growing population will come at a price
TBO.com - by Christopher O’Donnell, Tribune staff
December 25, 2015
Twenty million and counting.
Florida leaped over another population milestone this year, according to U.S. census figures, and is now the nation’s second-fastest growing state behind Texas.
Most of those new Floridians — some 1,000 per day — are arriving not in the delivery room but by one-way trips in ports and airports and along interstates 75 and 95 with trailers in tow.
That influx is not expected to slow down anytime soon with the state’s population predicted to rise to 26 million by 2030, according to the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida.
That pace of growth could bring a host of problems, experts warn. Without investment, the state’s environment, roads and other infrastructure may be overburdened. Increased demand for land and homes likely will drive up prices, making it tougher to find affordable homes. Demand for water could outstrip supply over the next decades.
Of all those issues, water may be the biggest. Florida faces a projected daily water shortfall of 1 billion gallons a day by 2030, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, widely expected to run for governor in 2018, has made preservation of water a top priority and is pushing state lawmakers next year to pass the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act to preserve supplies.
“Florida’s increasing population will continue to stress our critical water resources,” Putnam spokesman Aaron Keller said in an email. “We must invest more in water supply planning and alternative supply development to meet the needs of this growing population and continue to support a thriving economy while balancing the needs of our natural environment.”
The situation is less acute in Tampa Bay, where existing sources, mainly reservoirs, lakes and other surface water, will provide enough potable water until about 2040, said Damann Anderson, vice president with Hazen and Sawyer, a consultant that provides estimates for Tampa Bay Water.
The company is working on a five-year master plan that will include an analysis of potential new water sources including desalination, groundwater and the cleaning and recycling of wastewater, which some Tampa Bay communities already use for irrigation.
“By the 2030s, we may need to have new water supplies constructed and ready to go,” he said.
The most critical water shortage may be in the Orlando area, where five central Florida counties are predicted to have a shortfall of 250 million gallons per day of groundwater by 2030, in part because of pumping limits.
The region will have to invest in developing surface water supplies, Anderson said. The Central Florida Water Initiative, a coalition of three water management districts, estimates it will cost about $3 billion to address the demand shortfall.
“They’re going through the same thing we went through 20 years ago,” Anderson said. “It’s a big issue over there.”
❖ ❖ ❖
No surprise, Florida’s new residents are helping to fill up the state’s already overburdened road network.
The state was already on course for gridlock before the 2006 real estate collapse derailed thousands of development projects, said Steve Polzin, director of mobility policy research at the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida.
The subsequent recession also dampened appetites for long road trips.
“We’ve had almost a decade of catch your breath where we’ve had slower travel demand than before,” Polzin said. “We’re fortunate because had demand continued to grow, people would have been in a real pickle from congestion.”
But with the recession in the rearview mirror, new car sales increasing and gas prices at their lowest since 2009, residents are driving more and making longer trips. While the number of vehicle miles traveled rose about 3.6 percent across the nation in 2015, that number rose by about 6 percent in Florida, according to Federal Highway Administration data.
That trend will only continue as the state adds more people.
State and local governments are still playing catch-up on road maintenance and new road construction projects that were put on hold during the recession, Polzin said.
Under the urging of Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Department of Transportation has focused on toll and paid express lane projects. Locally, that includes the $454 million Gateway Express, which will link Interstate 275 to U.S. 19. The state is also moving ahead with the $3 billion Tampa Bay Express, which will widen I-275 through downtown Tampa and redesign its interchange with Interstate 4, commonly known as “malfunction junction.”
The state is now funding road and other transportation at record levels, and even more money will be needed to keep up with demand, Polzin warns. That could be especially true in the Tampa Bay area, where the region’s unusual geography — a huge metropolitan area linked by just three bridges — will make it difficult to solve traffic woes.
The region has the second-lowest number of freeway miles of any major metropolitan area in the nation, he said. Attempts in the past to build ring roads to alleviate the burden on I-275 failed to materialize because of environmental concerns.
More people also will mean more cars on the road during events such as hurricane evacuations.
“Virtually everything in the region needs to go on I-4 and I-275; there aren’t good alternatives that would help relieve pressure on that critical link,” Polzin said. “It foretells some pretty serious congestion and traffic problems.”
❖ ❖ ❖
Many of the residents who will head to the Sunshine State over the next two decades are expected to be baby boomers.
Some 75 million Americans were born between 1946 and 1964, a group that will swell the ranks of retirees seeking smaller homes.
The challenge for Florida will be to accommodate that increased demand without land and property prices spiraling out of the reach of working- and middle-class families, said Jack McCabe, chief executive of McCabe Research & Consulting of Deerfield Beach and an independent housing analyst.
In the past, Florida was a natural destination for retirees with many becoming snowbirds, living in mobile homes in the mild Florida winters before returning north for the summer.
Many of the residential towers recently completed or under construction are luxury-priced and aimed at affluent retirees or millennials. Prices of condos and downtown apartments are already out of reach for many residents in places like South Florida and downtown Tampa, he said.
“That was always one of Florida’s biggest selling points in the past — that it was affordable,” he said. “That isn’t the case anymore.”
Availability of land will also be a problem, McCabe said. South Florida, hemmed in by the Everglades and the Atlantic Ocean, already is close to being built out.
The likely spread of urban and suburban areas to accommodate the state’s burgeoning population will further squeeze wildlife habitat and put more pressure on natural resources like beaches.
Florida’s climate makes it home to many wildlife habitats, including pine rockland, cypress swamp and wet prairie.
After Florida’s population surpassed New York a year ago, leaders of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Population and Sustainability warned that habitat is increasingly under threat from encroaching development.
Phil Compton, senior organizing representative for National Sierra Club, said it will be critical for the state to rein in sprawl and make it more attractive for developers to focus on urban markets and build communities that are safe for pedestrians and bicyclists.
The passage of Amendment 1 should mean lawmakers will have to spend more money from documentary stamp taxes to buy and preserve environmentally sensitive land and water supplies, he said.
“If we continue to grow the way we have with building new suburbs to accommodate people, we will lose every reason why people come to Florida,” Compton said. “On the other hand, if we use the money we voted to use with Amendment 1 and preserve wildlife corridors for bears and panther and other critters, we can share Florida with them.”
Related: 20 million and counting: Florida growing faster than California Florida Courier
Florida population tops 20 million Tampa Bay Business Journal (blog)
Florida remains the land of hope and dreams Tampabay.com - Editorial
Dike restoration moves forward
News-Press.com – by Chad Gillis
December 24, 2015
The Army Corps of Engineers says rehabilitation work on the Herbert Hoover Dike will cause minimal environmental damage, and that repairing the structure is the best way to address concerns over one of the most vulnerable water control structures in the world.
Repairing the dam and preventing a future breach is the most expensive project in Army Corps history at $1.5 billion.
A draft report released Thursday outlines how the project is expected to impact water control and movement, downstream preserves and tens of thousands of people who could be killed if the dike were to fail.
The final environmental statement on the project is expected in the spring of 2016, after which the public will have time to comment before the final stage of projects are approved and funded.
"It (the report) will definitely allow us to go forward with the final construction phases," said Tim Willadsen, Army Corps project manager, during a conference call Monday. "(Work on this phase) is scheduled to begin in 2019. There’s a delay in the time it gets approved and we get funding because of multi-year federal budgets."
The assessment says the stretch of dike between Clewiston and Belle Glade is most at risk, followed by Moore Haven and the Fisheating Creek area.
Florida International University's International Hurricane Research Center lists Lake Okeechobee as the No. 2 threat of catastrophic flooding from a natural disaster, behind only New Orleans.
"Those risks should not be greater than living anywhere else in the country," Willadsen said of people living south of the lake.
Lake Okeechobee is drained mostly through the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. Both were connected to the lake as a way to drain the Everglades for development.
One past alternative was for the government to purchase lands south of the lake and restore the area to historic conditions. That process would basically involve a controlled breach and would be too costly, the report says, at $1.6 billion to $1.9 billion.
Doing nothing would cost even more as the dike is little more than a mound of dirt and rocks.
"(The dike) s a heterogeneous mixture of lightly compacted to dense, fine to medium carbonate, quartz clayey, and silty sands, shells, organic soils, and peat. Other materials encountered are limestone and sandstone gravels, cobbles, and occasional small boulders," the report says, describing the structural integrity of the dam. "Pockets with high concentrations of limestone cobbles and boulders can be found within the embankment. These coarse pockets vary in length and thickness, and can have voids between the cobbles or be filled with a matrix of sand and gravel. These pockets are highly permeable."
Southwest Floridians hope the lake repairs will allow more water to be stored in the lake, which could cut down on harmful freshwater releases from the lake. The releases can kill sea grass and oyster beds and fuel algal blooms.
To replace water control structures, engineers must dig more than 35 feet (the height of the dike) to the bottom of the old structure — which is usually below the lake. The old structure is removed and a larger, more substantial one is built in its place. Replacing a single water control structure takes about 18 months.
Historically, Lake Okeechobee was the heart of the Everglades, and the lake swelled each summer before toppling and sending sheet flow all the way to Florida Bay.
That natural process stopped about a century ago, when early farmers first started piling muck in the mounds in hopes of redirecting the summer rains. The first large levee was constructed in the 1930s. Another storm breached the dike in 1947, and the state and federal government, in response, built extra canals and levees to tame the lake and the hurricanes that upset it.
People in the Fort Myers area want fewer releases from the lake during high-water periods, mostly late summer. Lake releases from 2013 were blamed, partly, for algal blooms in the Caloosahatchee River. Some swimming beaches were closed, and freshwater plumes were flushed 15 miles or more into the Gulf of Mexico.
The current project is aimed at improving the structural integrity of water release points, sometimes called culverts.
The Army Corps keeps lake levels at 12.5 to 15.5 feet above sea level. The lake has been kept higher in past decades, but water levels of 17 or 18 feet can destroy vegetation in the lake and kill the fishery. Higher water levels also mean more pressure on the dike. More pressure, in turn, leads to seepage, leaks, and, eventually, a breach.
Called a schedule, the protocol could be changed, eventually.
"High lake levels have resulted in integrity issues and concerns with the Herbert Hoover Dike (HHD), high volume releases to the estuaries, and impacts to Lake Okeechobee littoral zones," the report reads. "Hence, a new Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule was developed. (The current schedule) is intended to be an interim schedule."
Environmentalists target excess Phosphorus with $10 million prize
WMFE - by Amy Green
December 24, 2015
Environmentalists are taking aim at excess phosphorus in Florida waterways and beyond.
The Everglades Foundation is offering $10 million dollars for a cost-effective way of removing the damaging nutrient from freshwater bodies.
The foundation will launch the multi-year, international competition in 2016.
Spokeswoman Maria Garcia says the foundation was moved to action by water releases from Lake Okeechobee that sent polluted water to coastal estuaries.
“That kind of inundated these freshwater estuaries with phosphorus pollution, which then in turn spawned toxic algae blooms, which aside from being smelly are incredibly damaging to the environment and the economy.”
Similar blooms in Lake Erie left Toledo without water in 2014, shutting down the city. Phosphorus is common in fertilizers and organic wastes. In large amounts it damages water quality.
The Environmental Protection Agency describes nutrient pollution as among the nation’s most challenging and costly environmental problems.
Red tide present but not blooming
Florida Today – by Jim Waymer
December 23, 2015
SATELLITE BEACH — At this point, it could be a red herring, but red tide has turned up at background levels in ocean waters tested Monday off Satellite Beach.
But state wildlife officials can't say at this point whether or not the toxic algae killed thousands of fish from Cape Canaveral to Sebastian Inlet over the past week.
"It's background levels. Typically, that's not really going to cause a problem," said Frank McCloy, spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg.
"Water samples showed no organisms in bloom concentrations with Karenia brevis present in background level concentrations," McCloy said. "Cause of fish kill is still undetermined."
Thousands of herring have been washing up along Space Coast beaches since last week.
The fish appear to be mostly Atlantic threadfin herring. When only one species of fish is involved, biologists often suspect a virus.
But other species reported dead this week to the state's Fish Kill Database include menhaden, scaled sardines, pilchard and Atlantic croaker.
The research institute has been monitoring a red tide at low to medium concentrations in Northwest Florida and Southwest Florida. Recent satellite images and water samples show patchy blooms of red tide along Okaloosa, Bay,
Gulf and Franklin counties in Northwest Florida, as well as Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties in Southwest Florida.
Red tides on Florida's west coast have in the past spread to eastern Florida, as happened in 2007.
But forecasts show western movement of red tide bloom waters off Okaloosa County, but little net movement of bloom waters along Bay and Gulf counties in Northwest Florida, and little net movement of bloom waters in Southwest Florida.
Fish kills and respiratory irritation have been reported throughout Northwest Florida and are possible in all bloom areas.
Red tide can cause varying degrees of eye, nose and throat irritation, including sore throat and cough similar to the common cold.
The algae can kill fish by depleting oxygen in the water and as the direct result of a toxin the algae emits, called brevetoxin.
Symptoms usually vanish shortly after leaving the red tide area, but can persist for days in people with chronic or severe respiratory conditions, such as emphysema or asthma. People with those and other chronic breathing problems should avoid beach areas and contact with sea spray during red tide.
A rash sometimes develops after contact with affected water, but usually goes away within a day.
Swimmers should rinse off with fresh water, health officials say. Swallowed water is unlikely to cause health effects.
Two Water Research Foundations plan to merge
Florida Water Daily – from the WERF/WaterReuse Press Release
December 22, 2015
The Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) and the WateReuse Research Foundation (WRRF) Boards of Directors have unanimously agreed to take the steps necessary to merge and integrate.
The two organizations recognize and value their history and respective missions, and believe that merging will create synergies, reduce future water research redundancy, further the evolution toward a unified voice for water, and increase the value proposition to their respective subscribers by enhancing and leveraging investments.
“The water industry is currently at a critical juncture as it relates to acceptance and implementation of reuse – driven by demand, environmental needs, and the creation of a local, sustaining water supply,” said Doug Owen, Chairman of the WateReuse Research Foundation. “The merger has the opportunity to strengthen the value of water that was historically used only once.”
To date, both organizations conduct research in a clearly-defined and complementary niche. WateReuse focuses on water reuse and desalination, while the Water Environment Research Foundation focuses on resource recovery and water quality impacts from wastewater and stormwater.
“Our organizations share a common commitment to making the most of the water we use,” said Kevin Shafer, Chairman of the WERF Board of Directors. “Merging will strengthen that commitment as well as increase the return on investment in research for our members and the industry as a whole.”
The WateReuse Association, as well as other critical partners including Water Environment Federation (WEF), American Water Works Association (AWWA), National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), and Water Research Foundation (WRF), among others, will continue to play a critical role in advancing research-based policy that turns scientific discovery into common-sense laws and regulations for water reuse and resource recovery, and in helping establish the research needs of the industry.
$1B security project to keep Lake Okeechobee waters contained delayed
December 21, 2015
The rehabilitation process on Lake Okeechobee's Herbert Hoover Dike, a security structure that keeps the lake inside its banks, continues and likely won't be finished for some time. On Monday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimated the entire containment project would not be finished until 2025.
"There's no overflow or emergency overflow capability, so containment is once again key to these large events," said Project Manager Tim Willadsen.
Katerin Artola lives across the street and underneath the enormous embankments that help keep Lake Okeechobee contained. To see the construction of the dike, all she has to do is walk outside, but the project has never really worried her except once.
"There was this one moment where it seemed that it was going to fall or break or something," said Artola. "It was making really loud noise, and that was the only time that we ever got worried."
Artola is not alone in wondering about what's keeping the water at bay. There are 895 dams across Florida and 78 are classified as 'high hazard' -- meaning there would be casualties if the dam were to fail.
We asked the South Florida Water Management District which dams in our area were categorized as high hazard, but they denied our request for information.
Since 2002, hazard classification for dams has been kept confidential for security reasons.
Those dams are also supposed to have an Emergency Action Plan or EAP. When we asked SFWMD for the EAPs, we were also denied. Our request for information proving EAPs existed for those dams was not returned.
Most of the dams in Southwest Florida have not been inspected in the last five years. Records obtained by ABC7 show of the 33 dams in Southwest Florida maintained by SFWMD, 22 have not been inspected since 2011.
Repairing them can be costly. They plan on adding another 24 miles of walls to the lake. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expects to finish rehabbing the Herbert Hoover Dike at a cost of $1.5 billion.
Concern over inland oil drilling in Southwest Florida, is all well now ?
Naples Daily News - Editorial
December 21, 2015
Editor's note: A year ago, the Daily News identified seven priorities for Southwest Florida for 2015. This is the first of a series looking back at progress on those issues.
A year ago, all was not well in Southwest Florida when it came to inland oil drilling.
The Legislature was gearing up for its 2015 session and the mere mention of the Dan. A. Hughes Co. or the Collier-Hogan well near Immokalee made Southwest Florida's collective blood pressure rise.
While Hughes Co. had left Florida, studies were under way of whether procedures the Texas company conducted in late 2013 and early 2014 at Collier-Hogan amounted to unauthorized fracking, or fracturing of rock layers to enhance production, and whether underground water had been tainted by injection of chemicals described publicly only as "a gel."
The industry pushed back that we needed more oil to reduce our global reliance. At the time of the Collier-Hogan procedures, gasoline was about $3.50 per gallon compared with $2 today, according to price-tracking website GasBuddy.com.
A year ago we wrote that "the state will have failed Southwest Florida if there aren't significant changes made in oil-drilling regulations in 2015."
The state Legislature left a lot of unfinished business when it adjourned this past spring, including oil drilling reforms proposed by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, and Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero. Their bills, including a still-necessary study of how modern drilling techniques interact with Florida's hydrology and geology, were a step from the finish line when the House quit early.
Now, their bills have been revised, but not improved, for 2016.
Today, however, the Collier-Hogan well isn't causing the community to erupt as it did a year ago. Gas prices are down and there's a diminished need to drill for the lower quality oil this region produces. These two key factors that created a sense of urgency a year ago don't exist today.
The need to protect our water supply from contamination remains.
What may have changed, however, is how legislators view the urgency of reforming drilling laws in 2016, given the market supply of oil today and two reports issued by state-hired consultants about what happened at Collier-Hogan.
The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) hired Tulsa, Oklahoma,-based ALL Consulting to evaluate what occurred at Collier-Hogan.
In a December 2014 report, "ALL Consulting concluded that it was highly unlikely that there was any groundwater contamination caused by the workover," DEP says.
The report was questioned by those who pointed out it focused on shallow monitoring wells. Critics were concerned whether injected chemicals could have migrated through nearby improperly plugged wells. Yet the DEP consultant's work wasn't done; monitoring of a deeper well continued.
A 2,600-page report quietly delivered to DEP in October leaves us wondering if state lawmakers will be more dismissive of this as a high priority for 2016. According to the report, a deep monitoring well was drilled about 1,600 feet into the aquifer at the site. A recent DEP newsletter calls it "the deepest well ever drilled for environmental assessment of oil and gas operations."
The October report concluded test well sampling showed only "naturally occurring water quality in the Upper Floridan Aquifer" and "there is no evidence of an impact to the underground source of drinking water." The October report also concludes there was no water supply harm "from other active oil and gas wells nor from plugged and abandoned historic oil and gas wells in the area."
In revised legislation for 2016, Rodrigues and Richter unfortunately remove local control over decisions about whether fracking is allowed. Bans were passed by Bonita Springs and Estero councils. Collier commissioners also asked for revisions to the 2016 bills.
We believed oil drilling reform was an urgent issue to address in 2015. Given all that's transpired in the past year, we'll be surprised if it rises to the surface in 2016.
Costly Lake O dike fixes could take another 10 years
Sun Sentinel – by Andy Reid
December 21, 2015
Shoring up Lake Okeechobee's troubled dike could cost taxpayers $500 million more and take another decade to finish, according to federal estimates released Monday.
That would boost the total cost to $1.5 billion for slow-moving work started in 2007 to strengthen the erosion-prone dike that protects lake side communities from flooding.
The 143-mile dike surrounding the lake is considered one of the country's most at risk of failing.
The current state of the dike poses a public safety threat to communities such as Pahokee, Belle Glade, South Bay and Clewiston. It also limits how much water can be held in the lake to back-up South Florida drinking water supplies and to replenish the Everglades.
The Army Corps of Engineers' latest repair plan would "reduce the risk" and "complete the fixes that we would need to do," said Timothy Willadsen, project manager for the dike repairs.
Yet even with the repairs, "there will always be risks associated with living downstream of a dam or levee," Willadsen said.
The Army Corps already built about 21 miles — between Port Mayaca and Belle Glade — of a reinforcing "cutoff" wall that extends down through the middle of the earthen dike. That five-year project, completed in 2012, cost about $10 million per mile to build. Portions of the wall go 70 feet deep into the dike.
The updated construction plan continues to target the southern portion of the dike, considered the area most vulnerable to failing. The Army Corps' latest plan includes:
•Closing gaps left in portions of the previous wall construction. That's expected to last from 2016 to 2018 and cost $10 million.
•Extending the stretch of wall nearly 7 miles to the west, between Belle Glade and John Stretch Memorial Park. Work would start in 2017 and last until 2020. That would cost about $75 million.
•Building another almost 25-mile-long cutoff wall from Lake Harbor, near South Bay, to Moore Haven. Construction is projected to start in 2019 and take 5 to 7 years. This stretch of wall could go 35- to 50-feet deep. Other improvements call for reinforcing embankments to keep water from overlapping the dike. The total cost would be about $400 million, according to the Army Corps.
•Also, construction continues to replace or remove all of the dike's 32 culverts. The culvert work on the southern end could be done by 2020 and culverts on the north end of the dike would be completed by 2020, according to the Army Corps.
The lag time in construction is due to the wait to line up federal money for the repair work, according to the Army Corps. That involves getting congressional approval for the money and competing with other levee projects across the country.
A backlog of projects on the Army Corps’ to-do list could mean even more delays for the Lake Okeechobee dike, despite the latest proposal.
“There’s only so much money,” South Florida Water Management District Board Member James Moran said during the board’s Dec. 9 Lake Okeechobee update.
Until South Florida farming and development got in the way, Lake Okeechobee's waters once naturally overlapped its southern shores and flowed south to replenish the Everglades.
Massive South Florida flooding from hurricanes in 1926 and 1928 that killed more than 3,000 people prompted the federal government to build the earthen dike around the 730-square-mile lake.
Dikes and levees across the country started getting more federal scrutiny after the flooding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Since then, efforts to combat erosion and beef up Lake Okeechobee's dike have been slowed by design problems and federal funding delays.
To ease the strain on the dike, the Army Corps periodically drains lake water out to sea. The draining to the east and west coasts wastes water that could boost South Florida supplies. Also, dumping large amounts of lake water into normally salty estuaries can harm coastal fishing grounds and fuel toxic algae blooms that make waterways unsafe for swimming and scare away tourists.
The Army Corps has been keeping the lake levels about a foot lower year round to ease the strain on the dike, but may study holding more water in the lake while dike construction continues, Willadsen said.
No changes in lake draining regulations are expected to occur before 2020, he said.
Related: More Lake Okeechobee draining begins Friday
High water levels in Lake Okeechobee are triggering a new round of lake water draining to the east coast to lower South Florida flood risks.
Draining away water eases the strain on the lake's troubled dike, considered one of the country's most at risk of failing.
At 15.03 feet above sea level, Lake...
High water levels in Lake Okeechobee are triggering a new round of lake water draining to the east coast to lower South Florida flood risks.
Draining away water eases the strain on the lake's troubled dike, considered one of the country's most at risk of failing.
At 15.03 feet above sea level, Lake...
St Lucie Audubon presents expert on Lake Okeechobee issues
TCPalm.com - by Ellen Lynch
December 21, 2015
PORT ST. LUCIE — St. Lucie Audubon Society presents a special guest speaker to its monthly meeting on Thursday, Jan. 7, at the Oxbow Eco-Center, 5400 S.E. St. James Drive, at 7 p.m.
Dr. Paul Gray is a science coordinator for Audubon Florida's Everglades Restoration Program. He is a leading expert on Lake Okeechobee and the issues that surround it.
He works regionally on water, land and bird management with an emphases on the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow and Everglades Snail Kite.
The meeting is open to the public and free. His topic is "Human and Natural History of the Kissimmee and Okeechobee Regions."
Legislature's water plan needs strengthening: Where we stand
December 20, 2015
Florida wouldn't be Florida without clean, plentiful water. Our state's environment, economy — especially tourism — and quality of life depend on it.
Yet in recent years, legislators have repeatedly failed to agree on a comprehensive plan to update and strengthen water protections — even with many of Florida's precious springs and other waterways in decline, and groundwater supplies at risk. A state assessment in 2010 found that 80 percent of streams and rivers, 90 percent of lakes and 97 percent of bays and estuaries weren't meeting minimum water-quality standards for safe public use.
Now state Senate and House leaders have teed up a water plan for approval soon after the Legislature reconvenes next month for its 2016 session. While there are some positive elements in the plan, overall it's far too weak. Legislators shouldn't pass it before making it much stronger.
Last week House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican, issued a statement touting the water plan — known as House Bill 7005 in his chamber. He insisted it would "improve the quality and supply of water in our state." But as more than 100 leaders from environmental organizations, civic groups and businesses pointed out in a letter to the speaker and other legislators, the plan is riddled with flaws. Fortunately, the flaws can be fixed, if lawmakers are truly serious about protecting Florida's most critical natural resource.
The flaws in the legislation spotlighted by the leaders include:
•Failing to make water conservation a priority, even though it is cheaper than having to tap new water sources.
•Inhibiting regional water management districts from fulfilling their missions as stewards of water protection by subjecting them to costly state reviews if they deny water-use permits.
•Restricting local governments in regulating the use of fertilizer, a major contributor to runoff that taints waterways.
•Leaving out deadlines for setting limits in impaired waterways on so-called total maximum daily loads of nitrogen and phosphorous. These nutrients are degrading springs and other waterways throughout Florida by feeding harmful algae growth.
•Omitting deadlines for action plans to protect and restore impaired waterways other than springs.
•Delaying targets from 20 to 32 years for achieving minimum flows and nutrient limits in many waterways.
Any requirements without deadlines, or with targets after mid-century, can't be taken seriously. Nor can instructions for agricultural users to follow best management practices without any enforcement mechanism. These and other flaws show legislators yielded to pressure from lobbyists for agriculture and other big water users.
At the same time, there are key elements in the plan worth maintaining, including:
•A requirement for legislative researchers to issue an annual report on the state's progress in reaching its water restoration goals. A regular accounting should help keep this environmental imperative on legislators' agenda and help Floridians judge their representatives' effectiveness.
•A parallel reporting requirement on the money needed to meet restoration goals. Legislators will be more easily exposed for shortchanging water protection if their investment falls short of the mark.
As the plan's critics point out in their letter, "Ensuring a clean [water] supply costs money; doing the job incorrectly costs more." In other words, protecting waterways is cheaper than restoring them. Floridians need look no further for confirmation than the ongoing multibillion-dollar state and federal effort to restore the Everglades. Closer to home, the effort to restore Lake Apopka has cost hundreds of millions of tax dollars.
Legislators need to pass a plan that will pick up, not slow down, the pace for restoring impaired waterways, while it protects and conserves Florida's water supply for generations to come.
Let’s work together to remove harmful nutrients from our waterways
TCPalm - by Chuck Gerardi, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Council of Martin County
December 19, 2015
The Economic Council of Martin County hosted a panel discussion this fall on the science and politics of clean water — part of our continuing commitment to educate our members on the topic.
At our Rivers Symposium, we were reminded of the significant impact clean water has on our economy — $639 million — and quality of life.
However, the negative impact that septic systems continue to have on our local basin is of great concern. As business leaders, we will continue to keep the health of our local waterways atop our priority list. We think it's time we follow the science and get to work together as a community in creating a solution.
Cleaning up our own backyard from harmful nutrients is not the only water quality issue facing Martin County. The economic council continues to advocate for completion of the approved and funded Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and Central Everglades Planning Project, and for restoration efforts that impact Lake Okeechobee and the Herbert Hoover Dam.
Stopping the harmful discharges from Lake O must remain a priority as well.
Risks from excessive nutrient loads aren't unique to Martin County. In the 1970s, Tampa Bay was experiencing a similar dilemma from poorly treated sewage, unrestricted dredging and untreated stormwater runoff. The common pollutant: nitrogen.
A "60 Minutes" segment eventually brought national attention to the situation. Citizens there demanded action and 45 government, regulatory and industry entities, along with local residents, collaborated to develop voluntary caps on harmful nitrogen loads from septic tanks, fertilizer and other sources.
Decades later, 90 percent of the nitrogen has been eliminated. Water quality in Tampa Bay has been dramatically improved.
At the Economic Council symposium, panelist Anthony Janicki, a Ph.D. and expert on the Tampa Bay recovery efforts, warned, "If you're going to get things done, you're going to have to work together."
Florida Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers and another symposium panelist, added, "You have to have a shared vision, a common vision, of how to solve these issues. If you disagree on what success is, you'll never get it done."
It's time for us all to admit that we're at least part of our own problem and get to work before it's too late for our lagoon.
Since the 1990s, the county's utilities department has made good progress in reducing the number of septic systems polluting our basin. Recently, Martin County Commissioner Ed Fielding invited residents to join in the conversation on the septic-to-sewer conversion issue.
All parties — government, business and industry leaders, environmental activists and citizens — must work collaboratively to develop a common vision, define a realistic goal and get to work on a long-term solution.
How to fund this effort will be a key issue. County staff has been charged with drafting a mandatory implementation policy for the septic-to-sewer conversion over the next decade. Commissioner Fielding wants to find a way to "level the playing field" for all residents who would be affected — with special consideration for those who have recently installed a new septic system. We applaud this decision and agree we should explore all potential funding options to relieve as much of the burden as possible for taxpayers.
Martin County is fortunate to have a strong track record of support for waterway restoration efforts from Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Reps. MaryLynn Magar, R-Tequesta, and Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart. Our best chance to garner their continued support will come if we can put down our swords and speak with one voice on the septic-to-sewer conversion issue.
As South Florida Water Management District Governing Board Vice Chair Kevin Powers said at our Rivers Symposium, "This community is too small, and this issue too big, for us not to work together to solve it."
What are we waiting for ?
Sea-level rise will drown Hialeah too, and this artist is showing how
Miami New Times - by Jessica Weiss
December 18, 2015
Spurred by articles in publications from Vanity Fair to the New Yorker, the nation finally seems to be waking up to the fact that Miami is slowly being swallowed by the sea. Predictions ranging from eight inches to six feet of sea-level rise over the next century make it clear that our tropical paradise is going under, and it’ll be expensive to deal with.
No sweat, though. You and your children (and their children) can avoid this whole mess by simply staying away from the coast — right? Wrong.
“This is going to affect people in West Dade more than it affects people on the coastline,” says Xavier Cortada, a painter and artist-in-residence at FIU, whose work focuses largely on environmental science. “If sea levels rise four feet as predicted, 70 percent of Hialeah is going underwater.”
While the city of Miami Beach spends millions on pumps and other short-term solutions to sea-level rise, Cortada wants officials and residents on the mainland to grasp how it will affect them too. His latest project, "Clima," is an exhibition of works and interactive events concentrating on climate change. It's on display through the end of January at the Milander Center for Arts and Entertainment in Hialeah.
“We’re talking about people who have everything to lose,” Cortada says of Hialeah residents. “This isn’t a population that has a second home or a diverse investment portfolio. Many residents came to the U.S. and built this up over years, and now they risk losing it all.”
In Hialeah, homes stand on what was once part of the Everglades, where fresh water flowed south, all the way to Florida Bay. The land was dredged and drained through a series of canals, which made it habitable and prepped for development. But as the sea level rises around the coast, salt water is seeping into porous underground rock, shoving fresh water toward the surface. That means increased flooding and threats to Hialeah’s drinking water supply.
So Cortada asks, “How do we plan for widespread destruction of neighborhoods and farms across Miami-Dade County?”
"Clima" aims to “inspire, educate, and engage” people about climate change. His works are rendered in a variety of mediums, including paintings, drawings, videos, and digital art. For 12 days, beginning November 30, Cortada convened panel discussions and performance art addressing climate-related themes.
Experts and scientists discussed topics ranging from saltwater intrusion to solar technology and infectious diseases. Residents made paper boats out of their property records to float in a fountain, and paper airplanes out of their FPL bills to see if they could "make them soar as high as their fossil fuel-based utility rates.” So far, thousands of people have visited and interacted with the exhibit.
On December 11, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez signed a "Climate Action Pledge" at "Clima" to support local action on climate change. Marla Alpizar, Hialeah’s director of education and community services, said the mayor’s signature showed that planning for climate change is a priority to the city.
“We want to be at the table as we work together to save and protect South Florida and our cities and homes,” Alpizar said. “Hialeah is not like the coast; our planning needs and resiliency steps will be different.”
For Cortada, the commitment is a welcome and gratifying consequence of "Clima," especially given that many state and national politicians still refuse to lead on the issue, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott. It shows the power of art, he says, to reframe the issue for people.
“My job as an artist is to explore the issues so people don’t allow themselves to be manipulated by those who want to deceive them,” he says. “We're not even supposed to say the words ‘climate change’ in the state of Florida. So I’m not just gonna say it, but I’m gonna show people how this will affect their property and the lives of their grandchildren. Then they'll care, and then maybe they'll act.”
Related: Dade County Needs 50-Year Sea-Level-Rise Plan, Democrat's Letter Urges
Dutch Sea Level Rise Expert: Miami Will Be "the New Atlantis," a City in the Sea
Miami Truly Has No Idea How to Deal With Sea-Level Rise
Sugar bad for Floridians in many ways
News-Press.com – by Rick Plummer
December 18, 2015
Quietly at midnight on Oct. 12, a travesty occurred in Florida. That’s when a 7 year old agreement to purchase sugar lands in the Everglades expired. In 2008 Florida reached a deal to take over 300 square miles of cane fields and reclaim it for our majestic swamp for $1.75 billion. Then anti-environmentalists chewed on it until the option became $300 million for 46,800 acres. That would still have had significant positive impact. But by failing to act on the option, our short-sighted politicians have cost us a fabulous amount of money. They’ve levied a huge tax on all Floridians. On Oct. 13 that land, which we will surely buy at some point if we want to save the Everglades, has doubled in price. What a shame our legislators are so short sighted and so much in Big Sugar’s bag. As Floridians we all suffer this insult, but I hope we do more than just whimper about it.
My own perspective is unique because I am a dentist and sugar is evil (small joke). I have witnessed excruciating pain and enormous costs to the American public as a direct result of sugar. While water fluoridation in the 1960s changed the pattern of disease so that teeth are less vulnerable, sugar intake also causes obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. We are both a weaker nation and a poorer one as a result. The healthcare burden might bankrupt us. Additionally, young adults are so enfeebled by obesity that 34 percent couldn’t qualify for the military if we needed them. Right now we couldn’t fight our way out of a wet paper tea bag.
Here’s the kind of cases being seen by our physicians: a 44-pound, 1-year-old girl, a 242-pound, 13-year-old girl, an 8-year-old girl weighing over 200 pounds, a 15-year-old boy at 400 pounds, another 15-year-old boy at 340 pounds, and an 11-year-old boy, weighing 255. Our children are having bariatric surgery! I talked to a radiation oncologist in Gainesville this summer who reported that she had just spent $5,000 on a new scale for her office. The old one didn’t go over 400 pounds.
There’s plenty of irony here. Instead of trying to solve this mess, we are striving mightily to make it worse. The US Congress, and especially Tea Party Senator Marco Rubio, have designed our agricultural subsidy program to pay Big Sugar 40 percent of all Ag handouts. Yet sugar accounts for less than 15 percent of all agri-business. Why should we support sugar? Big Sugar turned our river into a gutter, causes red tide blooms sending thousands of dead fish onto the beaches, generates algae blooms in the canals of Cape Coral and has made the entire country sick to death. We are paying big bucks to have our environment destroyed and to make us unhealthy, weak, and poor?
Incompetent, self-serving legislators who dip in the sugar bowl are bulldozing Florida toward catastrophe. Tea Party-ish Matt Caldwell routinely runs pseudo-science cover with claims that the Caloosahatchee is doing just great. Tea Partier Rick Scott, who ran for governor promising to protect the environment fired water management scientists and appointed members from Big Ag King Ranch instead. The entire Tea infused legislature refuses to spend Amendment 1 money on the Everglades in direct defiance of the public will.
It is easy to see why we are disgusted with our government but less easy to understand why we don’t vote the bums out.
So, cut out that sweet Tea, vote, and then go floss ! Or watch Florida die.
Water quality problems steeped in old policies, politics
Cape Coral Daily Breeze - Guest Opinion:by Kevin Ruane, mayor of the city of Sanibel
December 18, 2015
In reviewing Mr. Judah's Dec. 11 guest opinion in the Cape Coral Daily Breeze, he failed to address the challenge-to provide a comprehensive plan to address water storage and treatment, including within the Caloosahatchee basin where on average more than 50 percent of the damaging flows originate.
Instead, he continues to provide rhetoric and innuendos about policy changes that he in his 24 years as Lee County Commissioner failed to implement.
Mr. Judah also criticizes the Mayors of Lee County for their support for the C-43 Reservoir Project and the benefits that the project will provide. However, he must have forgotten how strongly he supported the project as the former Chairman of the Lee County Commission, when in 2008 he signed a resolution *(Resolution No. 08-08-03) "urging the South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expedite Congressional Authorization of the Caloosahatchee West Basin Storage Area (C-43) Project, an essential component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP)". I did not see any mention in that Resolution of the need for a water quality treatment component. How quickly things change!
The City of Sanibel and the Mayors of Lee County have consistently advocated for a water quality treatment component for the C-43 Reservoir. If Mr. Judah would have read the Caloosahatchee Regional Water Management Issues White Paper he would have seen that this was in fact included in our comprehensive strategy.
Mr. Judah's all or nothing approach is bad policy and will prolong the low-flow impacts to our estuary. Personally, I will continue to rely on the scientists that have an intimate understanding of what is needed to restore the Everglades and freshwater flows to the Caloosahatchee. Mr. Judah, when you are ready to provide a meaningful plan on how to address our water quality and water storage issues, rather than pursuing a personal vendetta, give me a call and we can sit down at the table and discuss your plan.
I would be happy to compare my record on implementing water quality projects and policies to Mr. Judah's any time. In fact, during my tenure on Council the City of Sanibel has successfully implemented a fertilizer ordinance, partnered with Lee County and the Fertilizer Consortium to launch the "Don't Feed the Monster Campaign," adopted fertilizer and lake management BMPs for Sanibel golf courses, eliminated all of the wastewater treatment package plants on Sanibel, implemented the final phase of the City's central sewer project, adopted a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan for Sanibel, developed a partnership between the Mayors of Lee County to advocate for projects that will help restore the Everglades and estuaries, developed the Caloosahatchee Regional Water Management Issues White Paper in partnership with Lee County and the Mayors, advocated for the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) 2014 in Washington D.C. to get authorization for the C-43 Reservoir and other important CERP projects. Presently, we are advocating for the "Legacy Florida" bill proposed by the Florida House, which will provide a dedicated funding source for Everglades Restoration.
Restoration of the Everglades and our estuaries will take a massive partnership and cooperation between local, state and federal agencies and number of different stakeholders. I have a clear record of building partnerships with diverse stakeholder groups and local, state and federal agencies. Mr. Judah, on the other hand, is a polarizing figure who in his 24 years on the Lee County Commission has divided stakeholders at the expense of the environment and the taxpayers of Lee County.
* * *
Below is a link to resolutions and letters provided to the SFWMD in support of the River of Grass Project, which was discontinued in 2010. In the list of documents you will also find Lee County Resolution No. 08-08-03, as well as a number of letters and a resolution from the City of Sanibel supporting the acquisition of the U.S. Sugar lands.
Gayle Harrell, Joe Negron file legislation to pump $200 million into Everglades restoration
Sunshine State News - by Allison Nielsen
December 17, 2015
State Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, and incoming Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart filed bills Thursday to funnel $200 million annually to restore the Florida Everglades and nearby waterways.
The bills, HB 989/SB 1168, would set aside funding from voter-approved Amendment 1 funds from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund towards Legacy Florida, a $200 million a year project to clean up the Florida Everglades and associated waterways in the South Florida Area.
Negron filed companion legislation in the Senate and state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, will cosponsor the bill.
According to a press release from Harrell’s office, the funding is key to completing projects included in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, which provides a plan to restore the Everglades as well as giving a foundation for protecting and preserving the water resources in central and southern Florida, which make up over 18,000 square miles in the Sunshine State.
"Cleaning up the St. Lucie River, Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee River, the Indian River Lagoon and the Everglades has been a priority for me since I was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives," Harrell said. "The future of our way of life is linked directly to the health of our rivers, the Indian River Lagoon, Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. 'Legacy Florida' will provide the resources to make it possible for our children and grandchildren to enjoy these natural treasures."
Under the legislation, the South Florida Water Management District will receive a significant portion of the funds. From the $200 million, $32 million will be distributed each fiscal year through the 2023-2024 fiscal year to the SFWMD.
The Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District will give preference to Everglades restoration projects that reduce harmful discharges of water from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie or Caloosahatchee estuaries.
Legacy Florida has already gathered widespread support from many environmental groups like the Everglades Foundation, which said the legislation was not only good for restoring the environment, but for providing jobs in the Sunshine State.
“As an economic engine for the State of Florida and an important source of drinking water for Floridians and tourists alike, this bill is a sound investment in Florida’s future,” said the Everglades Foundation in a statement. “In fact, restoration projects, like the ones that this funding will go toward, create a significant amount of jobs for the state.”
The proposal will be considered during the 2016 regular legislative session, which begins next month. If approved, the law would go into effect July 1, 2016.
Related: $200 million in state land-buying funds may help restore Everglades Sun Sentinel
Joe Negron, Gayle Harrell file bills to give $200 million boost to ... Florida Politics (blog)
Hillsborough County threatens legal action against SWFWMD if plan to pump Morris Bridge Sink moves forward
WMNF.org - by Sean Kinane
December 17, 2015
Hillsborough County Commissioners oppose a plan to pump water from a sinkhole near Thonotosassa as one source to restore flow to the Lower Hillsborough River; meeting as the county’s Environmental Protection Commission Thursday morning, commissioners unanimously voted to ask the region’s water management district for an extension to challenge the permit to pump. And if that fails, the EPC’s general counsel Rick Tschantz says they’re prepared to take legal action to stop the Southwest Florida Water Management District from pumping.
“So what we want to have happen is to not let it go final and not have to file a petition by Christmas Eve. So if they allow an extension we can have some time to talk to them, dig into the terms and technical issues of the permit and then make our decision perhaps in January about whether we should challenge it or whether it can be worked out.”
And by ‘challenge’ do you mean a legal challenge?
“Yes. It’s a petition administrative hearing, it’s not in circuit court. It’s an administrative hearing that would be before a DOA, Division of Administrative Hearings hearing officer.”
And would you go ahead with that if you either don’t hear back from them by the 24th deadline or if they decline the extension?
“Yes. I think the commissioners today indicated that if we don’t hear back from them they were in favor of filing a petition challenging this permit. So if we do not get the extension, we will be filing the challenge.”
The Hillsborough EPC isn’t the only group threatening legal action against SWFWMD if an extension isn’t granted by next Thursday’s deadline for a challenge to pumping Morris Bridge Sink. John Ovink is an attorney with Friends of the River who brought the 1999 lawsuit to restore fresh water flow to the Lower Hillsborough River in the first place. He says the EPC’s opposition to pumping may be enough. But if not, Friends of the River could sue the water management district.
“If the SWFWMD is not ready to put off this decision, postpone their decision, and sit around the table then we have no choice. … Even though we are a citizen action group we are not a part of government. And sometimes one branch of the government has a lot more pull on another branch than a couple of hundred citizens.”
Ovink was one of five members of the public who encouraged commissioners to stop the plan to pump water from Morris Bridge Sink.
Commissioner Stacy White is concerned that the fragile wetlands could suffer and drinking water wells could be damaged if the sinkhole is pumped.
“My input would be that we act swiftly and be prepared to file this challenge if that’s what it’s going to take.”
Opponents of pumping water from Morris Bridge Sink say the other sources to augment water to the Lower Hillsborough River are enough under most conditions. Commissioner Kevin Beckner pointed out that there are other sources of drinking water than the river.
“I think there’s many other solutions that can be sought out.”
Commissioners voted 6-0 to oppose pumping water from Morris Bridge Sink. Ken Hagan was not at the meeting.
Protect taxpayers when paying farmers to hold water
TCPalm.com - Editorial
December 17, 2015
Water farms are a relatively new way of keeping polluted water away from our rivers and estuaries. Holding excess water — particularly from Lake Okeechobee — on agricultural land could help save the beleaguered Indian River Lagoon.
The farms also have been touted as a way for farmers to make money on fallow land, especially former citrus groves.
For the past three years, the state has been evaluating pilot water farms around the lake to determine their effectiveness. Reporter Tyler Treadway outlined the pluses and minuses of two of those projects — Caulkins Citrus Co. and the Alico Inc. property — in stories published this month.
The takeaway: Some water farms are better than others, and locating them close to the source of polluted water can boost effectiveness. As the state Legislature grapples with the issue of funding more of these farms in the next session, it should pay close attention to these findings.
Already, the South Florida Water Management District is paying farmers to lease land for water farming. Costs on privately owned land average $317 per acre for each million gallons of water stored. Yet, according to a state auditor's 2014 report to the water management district, those costs could be as low as $25 if publicly owned land was used instead.
We urge the district and lawmakers to consider siting water farms on public land wherever feasible.
Where private land is a better choice, the ease of pulling water out of polluted rivers and canals improves the closer the storage area is to the source. In the case of Caulkins, for instance, the site is next to a main waterway out of Lake Okeechobee. In the case of Alico, water will have to be pumped 13 miles to the storage site.
Water managers approved the 11-year, $124 million Alico project before assessing details of its effectiveness.
The politically connected landowner will get paid $14 million a year for 10 years — regardless of how much, or how little, water it stores. In fact, that's how all of the state's water farms are set up.
That means taxpayers may pick up the tab for benefits never realized.
That's not acceptable.
One of the biggest questions to be answered — once the effectiveness of water farms has been determined — is who pays.
Senate President-elect Joe Negron R-Stuart, has indicated he will advocate for state appropriations for water farming in the 2106 session, "because I have seen firsthand the benefits that enhanced water storage provides to our community."
Negron said he'll recommend the state pay for land and leave the ranking and contracting of water farms to the water management districts, which have the scientific expertise to do so.
Others, including Gov. Rick Scott, believe the opposite. Last year Scott vetoed $30 million in state expenditures for seven more water farm projects, saying the money should instead come out of the districts' budgets rather than burdening taxpayers across the state.
Water farming shows a great deal of promise if the costs can be controlled, if the projects are in feasible locations and if the question of who pays can be resolved.
So far, water farms have been assessed and contracted on an individual basis. It would behoove the state to devise a standardized system.
We all want cleaner water; let's make sure water farming is executed in an effective way that protects taxpayers.
Sugar farmer runs for Murphy’s U.S. House seat
TCPalm.com – by Isadora Rangel
December 17, 2015
Sugar farming is a hot topic of debate in local, state and federal races. Now a sugar farmer is throwing his hat in the ring to replace U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy.
Rick Roth, owner of Roth Farms in Belle Glade, filed Thursday to run for the House District 18 seat. The Wellington resident also cultivates rice and vegetables on his 5,000 acres.
He never has held elected office, but has been involved with groups with a lot of sway in Florida politics. He served as vice president of the Florida Farm Bureau and on the boards of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association and the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida.
Roth spoke in favor of the controversial federal sugar price supports in a 2012 interview to WUSF. The program approved by Congress sets a minimum price by controlling supply and imports through tariffs. Environmentalists and some politicians, including presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, have spoken against the program that keeps the price of products such as bread and ketchup artificially high while benefiting mostly big sugar growers. Supporters say it helps farmers stay in business and provide jobs.
Congress last approved the program in the 2014 Farm Bill, a massive piece of legislation that also includes food stamps and others and for which Murphy voted.
Roth has also been involved in environmental issues and in 1995 helped create so-called Best Management Practices, measures farmers can take to reduce phosphorus pollution in their runoff, according to his profile on the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association website. Yet, he said, a federal judge's ruling to reduce pollution in the Everglades — 10 parts of phosphorus per 1 billion part of water — is unrealistic, and they are trying to push human activity out of the Everglades Agricultural Area.
Murphy has made helping the lagoon part of his platform and many of his constituents villainize the sugar industry because its farms stand in the way of Lake Okeechobee water moving into the Everglades, as it was naturally intended. Instead, lake water is released into the St. Lucie and Calosahatchee rivers, harming the estuaries.
Environmentalists say the sugar industry, led by giant Florida Crystals and U.S. Sugar Corp., controls politicians and calls the shots on how Lake Okeechobee water is distributed and its farm runoff gets treated before excess lake water.
The industry also invests millions in campaign donations and lobbying to push its interests in the state Legislature and Congress.
Roth and his company have donated more than $40,000, mostly to Republicans, since 2002, including his District 18 competitors' previous state races: Republican Carl Domino for state Senate and Democrat Priscilla Taylor for state House.
He didn't return calls for comment Thursday afternoon.
He joins eight other Republicans in the primary for Murphy's seat. There are also three Democrats in the race.
Murphy, D-Jupiter, isn't seeking re-election to run for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by presidential candidate Marco Rubio.
U.S. House District 18 covers Martin, St. Lucie and northern Palm Beach counties.
The two-year position pays $174,000 annually.
Water quality consortium targets red tide
News-Press.com – by Chad Gillis
December 17, 2015
Part-time Sanibel Island resident JV Katz documents dead fish on Sanibel Island after a recent red tide outbreak. A network of water quality scientists are building an early detection system they hope will better protect people, animals and coastal habitats.(Photo: File)
Marine scientists are building a monitoring system they hope will better protect humans, animals and ecosystems from toxic algal blooms in the Gulf of Mexico.
The top target is red tide, caused here by Karenia brevis, but water quality scientists involved with the project have also documented previously unknown species that are potentially harmful to the marine ecosystem and people living along the Gulf Coast.
The Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System is working with Gulf Coast states, Mexico and various universities and laboratories to better predict blooms, which are fed by agriculture and urban stormwater run-off.
Algae is a natural part of the marine ecosystem and is an important part of the food chain, but some species can cause harm when their numbers get too high.
Excess nutrients from developed landscapes feed these blooms and make them more frequent and intense, water quality scientists say.
Large outbreaks kill fish and even dolphins and manatees. Once airborne, red tide can cause adverse impacts to humans – especially infants, the elderly and people with compromised immune or respiratory systems.
The University of Texas and Texas A&M University participate in the project by monitoring plankton species with high-resolution video cameras and identifying harmful species. The early-warning system is used to warn the public of toxic blooms and to document the presence of species like Dinophysis, which can cause shellfish poisoning and was first identified in 2008.
Red tide and other water quality issues can deliver staggering economic losses to recreation and tourism industries, according to the group and other economic studies.
A recent outbreak killed thousands of fish and other marine creatures, many of which washed up on beaches at places like Sanibel Island.
Climate change, the group says, will make harmful algal blooms more frequent and intense in the future.
Feds extend comment period on seismic testing
The National Park Service is giving the public more time to contemplate and comment on an environmental assessment that says seismic testing in Big Cypress National Preserve will not cause adverse impacts to the park or its wildlife and users.
Burnett Oil, of Fort Worth, wants to drive 12-foot wide industrial trucks weighing about 60,000 pounds through the preserve to map out underground features, which may contain deposits of oil and natural gas.
Burnett Oil and federal representatives gave a presentation about the testing last week at the preserve headquarters in Ochopee. Dozens of people at the meeting said the testing should not be allowed because it will disrupt plants and animals, as well as the 800,000 or so people that visit the preserve each year.
An environmental assessment conducted by the NPS says Burnett will do no significant harm to the preserve and that federal workers will often be at the sites to ensure the seismic speculating doesn't adversely impact South Florida's fragile ecosystem.
After reviewing all public comments, NPS will either issue a finding of no significant long-term harm to the ecological system or the project will need further scrutiny during what's called an Environmental Impact Statement – a more stringent, comprehensive review.
Comments are due by Jan. 4 and can be made here. For more information, call (239) 695-1150.
EPA reverses stance on Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline project
Palm Beach Post - by Susan Salisbury, Staff Writer
December 16, 2015
Just seven weeks after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a 30-page letter stating its “very significant concerns” about the potential for environmental harm from a proposed 685-mile natural gas pipeline, the agency has reversed its stance.
The $3.2 billion pipeline is slated to traverse from Alabama through Georgia and North Florida to Florida Power & Light Co.’s Martin County plant by 2017. From there it will also transport gas to FPL’s Riviera Beach and Port Everglades plants.
A 480-mile portion of the pipeline, the Sabal Trail Transmission Project, is a joint venture of a subsidiary of Juno Beach-based FPL’s parent company, NextEra Energy Inc., and Houston-based Spectra Energy. The southern 126-mile leg is proposed by Florida Southeast Connection, another NextEra subsidiary.
Frank Jackalone, senior organizing manager, Sierra Club of Florida, questioned the “about face” in such a short time and said, “I smell a skunk.”
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, funded by fees from the industry it regulates, must issue a permit before construction can begin.
“This was really bold. There was a very detailed analysis of why the pipeline was flawed in the 30-page letter by the EPA to FERC. Now suddenly in a five-page letter, James Giattina (an EPA administrator) throws it all out the window,” Jackalone said Wednesday.
An Oct. 26 letter from the EPA to the FERC called for an alternative route to avoid affecting the Floridan Aquifer, environmentally sensitive wetlands, conservation areas and geologic formations as well as to certain low-income communities.
But a Dec. 11 letter, a different division of the EPA known as water protection, states that after a Nov. 17 meeting with Sabal Trail Management officials as well as correspondence, it has received additional information and that it looks forward to reviewing the final mitigation plan.
EPA spokeswoman Davina Marraccini said Wednesday that based on the new information and more recent technical review, EPA has concluded the project as proposed addresses wetland-related issues.
EPA has multiple roles in reviewing the Sabal Trail project in accordance with the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
In the earlier letter, the EPA said the pipeline would impact 1,255 acres of wetlands, but it now understands that the numbers were not correct. The total number of wetlands impacted will be 882 acres, and a large percentage will be allowed to revegetate. The total acres of wetlands permanently impacted is approximately 235 acres.
The most recent letter also says that if a pipeline rupture occurs, it’s highly unlikely that it will impact groundwater.
“EPA expects that the potential wetlands impacts will be addressed in more detail during the permit process and looks forward to reviewing the final mitigation plan during that review,” Marraccini said.
Why the Florida Keys are in trouble
Weather.com - by Ada Carr
December 16, 2015
Extreme high tides lately have swamped the streets of the Florida Keys, attracting hordes of mosquitoes and causing homeowner anxiety.
Residents are worried that the rising sea levels will decrease property values in the area, reports AFP. Though flooding is expected in the low-lying region, locals were taken aback when some of the streets remained flooded for almost a month with about 16 inches of water.
“We’re all concerned about our property values,” said Nacelle Prew, who has lived on Adams Drive, a waterfront lane, for the past 20 years. She estimates her home currently has a market value of about $1 million.
Florida Keys resident Kathy Snow gestures to standing flood waters at an intersection in her neighborhood. (Screenshot via AFP)
Property values aren’t the only thing being threatened by flooding. Farmers in South Florida have lost significant amounts of crops due to the inundation.
According to county agricultural manager Charles LaPradd, at least 60 farmers have said they lost 40 to 100 percent of their crops, reports the Miami Herald.
This also means bad news for consumers, who will see the price of domestic vegetables go up this winter, according to farmer John Alger, who lost at least 80 acres of his crops due to flooding.
(MORE: Massive Sinkhole Forces Evacuations in Ocala, Florida)
Though scientists can't pinpoint exactly how fast sea level will rise in the future, they can broadly predict that there will be an increase of up to 10 inches above the 1992 average within the next 15 years, and 26 inches by the year 2060, according to the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact Sea Level Rise Work Group.
The kind of sea level rise predicted by 2060 would take out 12 percent of the property value in the Keys. By 2100, 68 percent of the property value could be erased by a five-foot water rise in the area.
For now, South Florida real estate continues to sell well.
“So far we have not been seeing buyers being concerned with sea level rises, which I’m a little surprised given all the media attention it has garnered lately,” said Marathon and Lower Keys Association of Realtors president Lisa Ferringo.
MORE ON WEATHER.COM: Florida Flooding and Rain
Miami-Dade commissioners block effort to expand western development
Miami Herald - by Douglas Hanks
December 15, 2015
Bid to redraw Urban Development Boundary fails in narrow vote
Developers said commercial project would have shortened West Kendall commutes
A plan to expand Miami-Dade’s western development boundary narrowly failed Tuesday as supporters of a commercial project fell one vote short of moving the proposal onto state regulators for review.
More county commissioners voted for the project than against, but moving the Urban Development Boundary required at least seven votes and only six commissioners landed on the yes side. Chairman Jean Monestime had left the dais for the discussion and didn’t return for the vote, even as the developer asked someone to go find him. That left the developer, Neighborhood Planning Co. LLC, with a 6-5 loss and environmentalists with another win in the long-running battle over how far west to expand the construction frontier known as the UDB.
“There is no need for the urban expansion at this time,” Mark Woerner, county planning chief, told the commission. “There is an adequate supply of land within the UDB.”
Joseph Goldstein, the developer’s lawyer and lobbyist, described the 61-acre bean farm as a wedge of rural land being encircled by the consequences of a growing county. It sits at the juncture of Krome Avenue and North Kendall Drive, two of the busiest roads in western Miami-Dade, and is bordered by a planned apartment complex. “This is not the Everglades,” Goldstein said. “But, rather, farmland being encroached upon by very significant activities.”
Knowing the political reluctance to expand the UDB — a larger project outside of the boundary called Green City was rejected last month — Neighborhood Planning offered several restrictions, including that no residences be allowed to go up on the land. The property overlaps with the county’s western wellfield protection zone, home to one of the county’s largest sources of underground drinking water. Developers pledged to ban hazardous materials from the property in order to protect the aquifer.
A group of politically connected owners backed the project, including Rodney Barreto, an owner of the Floridian Partners lobbying firm, and Sergio Pino, one of Miami-Dade’s top builders. Pino and Barreto are significant donors to commission races and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, whose administration opposed the development proposal.
In urging commissioners to reject the proposal, the county’s planning department said developers wanted a commercial venture outside the UDB while there are still ample supplies of land inside the development zone for at least the next four years. Environmentalists who spoke against it emphasized the drinking-water supplies in question were even more vulnerable given the risk of contamination from sea-level rise. “This is an industrial site on top of our wellfield,” said Julie Dick, of the Everglades Law Center.
Goldstein said the project, a mix of retail and industrial businesses, was designed to ease congestion in the suburbs, where housing is plentiful but jobs aren’t. “Part of the solution to address the imbalance is to create employment opportunities,” he said.
Commissioner Juan C. Zapata, whose district includes the project site, asked commissioners to send the proposal on to state regulators for comment, but with a negative recommendation. It would then come back to the commission for a final vote. He criticized the proposal for seeking industrial space that’s not needed, but argued that the push by environmentalists for low-density development in the west has led to bedroom communities with grueling commutes. “There were lots of mistakes made in that area,” he said. “And we’re paying for it.”
Zapata’s proposal failed 6-5, with Monestime absent and Commissioner Sally Heyman not in attendance for the start of the meeting. Voting with Zapata were commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Esteban “Steve” Bovo, Jose “Pepe” Diaz, Barbara Jordan, and Javier Souto.
As Florida Keys flood, property worries seep in
Star Beacon Herald - by Herald Staff
December 14, 2015
As Florida Keys flood, property worries seep in
Extreme high tides have turned streets into canal-like swamps in the Florida Keys, with armies of mosquitoes and the stench of stagnating water filling the air, and residents worried rising sea levels will put a damper on property values in the island chain.
On Key Largo, a tropical isle famous for snorkeling and fishing, the floods began in late September.
While people expected high tides due to the season and the influence of a super moon, they were taken by surprise when a handful of streets in the lowest-lying neighborhoods stayed inundated for nearly a month with 16-inches (40-centimeters) of saltwater.
By early November, the roads finally dried up. But unusually heavy rains in December brought it all back again.
“Like a sewer,” said Narelle Prew, 49, who has lived for the past 20 years in her four-bedroom home on Adams Drive, a waterfront lane lined by boat docks.
Residents have signed petitions, voiced anger at community meetings and demanded that local officials do something, whether by raising roads or improving drainage.
Sometimes, they clash over whether the floods are, or are not, a result of man-made climate change.
“We get vocal residents who show up and argue,” said Dottie Moses, president of the Island of Key Largo Federation of Homeowners Association, who has never seen such high waters — or high tempers — in her 30 years of living here.
“There seems to be a mix of responses — whether they think it is sea level rise, and what they think the government should be doing about it.”
Residents tend to agree on one thing, which is for many their life’s biggest investment.
“We are all concerned about our property values,” said Prew, the mother of 11-year-old twins, who estimates her home’s market value at about a million dollars.
– The future –
“It is like taking a peek at the future,” said Henry Briceno, a geologist at Florida International University, of the Key Largo floods, which he says were driven by abnormal tides and made worse by rising seas.
Scientists cannot predict exactly how fast sea levels will mount in the years ahead as the oceans warm and glaciers melt.
But they can broadly predict how much more water to expect — up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) above the 1992 average in the next 15 years and 26 inches (0.6 meters) by 2060, according to the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact Sea Level Rise Work Group.
Absent measures to adapt the properties, that amount of sea level rise by 2060 would wipe out 12 percent of property value in the Keys, a string of 1,700 small islands built on porous, prehistoric coral reefs, said a 2011 report by Florida scientists.
Forecasts for 2100 are more dire. Since most of the islands are less than six feet (two meters) above the current sea level, a five-foot (1.5 meter) water rise in the Keys would erase 68 percent of property value in the area.
For co-author Chris Bergh, 44, who grew up on Key West and owns a home on a nearby island, the findings hit home.
“Let me put it this way. In planning for my seven-year-old child’s future, I can’t count on him inheriting a valuable piece of property on Big Pine Key,” said Bergh, south Florida conservation director at the Nature Conservancy.
– Billions at risk –
For now, south Florida real estate is booming.
More than half of transactions are paid for in cash, a sign of the powerful influence of foreign investors on the real estate market.
“Our entire market area continues to experience record level sales activity and significant price growth, consistently since 2011,” said Lynda Fernandez, senior vice president of public relations at the Miami Association of Realtors.
Even in the Keys, sales are up 17 percent and the average home sale price is $512,000, up three percent from last year.
“So far we have not been seeing buyers being concerned with sea level rise, which I’m a little surprised given all the media attention it has garnered lately,” said Lisa Ferringo, president of the Marathon/Lower Keys Board of Realtors.
But experts warn that plenty of cash and land stand to disappear in the next 15 years.
As much as $15 billion could be lost in Florida property by 2030, according to Risk Management Solutions (RMS), a leading catastrophe risk modeling company which advises insurance companies.
– Gentrification of the shore –
While many homeowners fear plummeting prices, some experts say they foresee the opposite.
“One thing we have expected to see is a gentrification of the shore, where people who can’t afford to rebuild are selling out to people who can,” said Clinton Andrews, a professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers University.
To a certain extent, keeping home buyers oblivious to the risks of living on the shore can help fuel the marketplace — generating higher tax revenues to pay for upgrades to roads, power and wells, according to Robert Meyer, professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania.
“If there are scare tactics to discourage people from moving into the area and accelerate people to start moving out, then there simply isn’t going to be the money to make the adaptations,” Meyer told AFP.
In the Keys, local officials are still studying ways to address the floods, and are planning a pair of demonstration projects to showcase the possibilities, said Rhonda Haag, Monroe County Sustainability Director.
But sea walls are impractical for the 113 miles (182 km) of islands. Pumps can’t keep up with water that comes in from all sides and also up through the porous ground. Simply raising roads could send excess water into people’s yards.
“We are going to try to be creative,” Haag told AFP.
“We don’t want to rule out anything because we don’t know yet what will or won’t work.”
Red tide persists in and alongshore Pinellas County
TBN Weekly – by Suzette Porter
December. 14, 2015
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission continues to alert the public to signs of Karenia brevis, the Florida red tide organism in, alongshore and offshore Pinellas waters.
In its latest report released Dec. 11, red tide was detected in low to high concentrations in six water samples collected in and alongshore in locations around the county. The biggest concentrations were found in samples from southern parts of the county.
Red tide is a type of harmful algae bloom caused by an abnormal increase in the concentration of certain microscopic algae, according to information posted by the county’s environmental experts at Pinellascounty.org. Karenia brevis is the species that causes red tide in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico says FWC. K. brevis is a naturally occurring algae and has been reported offshore the state’s waters since the 1800s.
Background to low concentrations of red tide is detected fairly frequently in local waters; however, problems can occur when the concentrations reach high enough proportions to be considered a bloom.
FWC researchers announced Oct. 30 that they were monitoring two blooms along Florida’s Gulf Coast, one located in northwest Florida and the other in southwest Florida, which includes Pinellas.
Since that time, water samples have continued to show varying concentrations of the organism and FWC continues to receive reports of fish kills and respiratory irritation where concentrations are highest.
However, no problems have been reported by municipalities along the county’s beaches or the local health department.
The latest report from the Collaboration for Prediction of Red Tides, which is a partnership between the University of South Florida and FWC, shows the surface bloom moving offshore, while the concentrations in the bottom waters are expected to move inshore. The predictions are only for a few days at a time.
Nine water samples were collected alongshore and inshore Pinellas Dec. 7. One sample taken on St. Petersburg Beach, east of Boca Ciega Bay contained high concentrations. One sample taken east of Boca Ciega Drive contained medium concentrations, as did a sample taken at St. Pete Beach community dock and a sample taken at Gulf Pier at Mullet Key. Low concentrations were found in samples taken at Maximo Park and Pass-A-Grille Island.
Red tide also was detected in samples alongshore and inshore Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte and Lee counties in southwest Florida.
FWC’s most recent report of water samples taken offshore Pinellas was released Nov. 20. In 20 samples taken Nov. 17, background concentrations were found in one sample taken 7.7 miles west of Indian Rocks Beach, three samples taken 7.7 miles west of Redington Shores and one sample taken 3.8 miles west of Redington Shores with another sample showing low concentrations 3.8 miles west of Redington Shores.
K. brevis produces a neurotoxin that directly affects animals that contact it by breathing or ingesting it through food sources. The neurotoxin shuts down the nervous system. It can kill fish, birds and marine mammals; cause health problems for humans; and adversely affect local economies.
Red tide is feared in coastal communities like Pinellas that have a successful tourism industry. Blooms in 1971 and 2005-06 cost local governments thousands of dollars just to cleanup dead fish on the beaches. Thousands more dollars were lost as tourists fled the county due to the smell. Large numbers of marine animals died. The fishing industry suffered.
Humans can suffer eye, nose and throat irritation. People with severe or chronic respiratory conditions, such as asthma or chronic lung disease are advised to avoid places where the bloom is more concentrated. Beachgoers are advised not to swim in water where dead fish are present. Skin irritation and rashes have been reported by people who have swam in red tide, and some swimmers have reported eye irritation from the sea foam.
Pets also should stay out of the water that contains red tide. If a pet does contact water with red tide, FWC advises to rinse off the fur and paws with fresh water right away. Do not let your pet eat the dead fish or drink the water.
In the Miami area, the
daily high-water mark
has been rising almost
an inch a year.
The Siege of Miami
The New Yorker - by Elizabeth Kolbert
December 13, 2015
As temperatures climb, so, too, will sea levels.
In the Miami area, the daily high-water mark has been rising almost an inch a year.Credit Illustration by Jacob Escobedo
The city of Miami Beach floods on such a predictable basis that if, out of curiosity or sheer perversity, a person wants to she can plan a visit to coincide with an inundation. Knowing the tides would be high around the time of the “super blood moon,” in late September, I arranged to meet up with Hal Wanless, the chairman of the University of Miami’s geological-sciences department. Wanless, who is seventy-three, has spent nearly half a century studying how South Florida came into being. From this, he’s concluded that much of the region may have less than half a century more to go.
We had breakfast at a greasy spoon not far from Wanless’s office, then set off across the MacArthur Causeway. (Out-of-towners often assume that Miami Beach is part of Miami, but it’s situated on a separate island, a few miles off the coast.) It was a hot, breathless day, with a brilliant blue sky. Wanless turned onto a side street, and soon we were confronting a pond-sized puddle. Water gushed down the road and into an underground garage. We stopped in front of a four-story apartment building, which was surrounded by a groomed lawn. Water seemed to be bubbling out of the turf. Wanless took off his shoes and socks and pulled on a pair of polypropylene booties. As he stepped out of the car, a woman rushed over. She asked if he worked for the city. He said he did not, an answer that seemed to disappoint but not deter her. She gestured at a palm tree that was sticking out of the drowned grass.
“Look at our yard, at the landscaping,” she said. “That palm tree was super-expensive.” She went on, “It’s crazy—this is saltwater.”
“Welcome to rising sea levels,” Wanless told her.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea levels could rise by more than three feet by the end of this century. The United States Army Corps of Engineers projects that they could rise by as much as five feet; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts up to six and a half feet. According to Wanless, all these projections are probably low. In his office, Wanless keeps a jar of meltwater he collected from the Greenland ice sheet. He likes to point out that there is plenty more where that came from.
“Many geologists, we’re looking at the possibility of a ten-to-thirty-foot range by the end of the century,” he told me.
We got back into the car. Driving with one hand, Wanless shot pictures out the window with the other. “Look at that,” he said. “Oh, my gosh!” We’d come to a neighborhood of multimillion-dollar homes where the water was creeping under the security gates and up the driveways. Porsches and Mercedeses sat flooded up to their chassis.
“This is today, you know,” Wanless said. “This isn’t with two feet of sea-level rise.” He wanted to get better photos, and pulled over onto another side street. He handed me the camera so that I could take a picture of him standing in the middle of the submerged road. Wanless stretched out his arms, like a magician who’d just conjured a rabbit. Some workmen came bouncing along in the back of a pickup. Every few feet, they stuck a depth gauge into the water. A truck from the Miami Beach Public Works Department pulled up. The driver asked if we had called City Hall. Apparently, one of the residents of the street had mistaken the high tide for a water-main break. As we were chatting with him, an elderly woman leaning on a walker rounded the corner. She looked at the lake the street had become and wailed, “What am I supposed to do?” The men in the pickup truck agreed to take her home. They folded up her walker and hoisted her into the cab.
To cope with its recurrent flooding, Miami Beach has already spent something like a hundred million dollars. It is planning on spending several hundred million more. Such efforts are, in Wanless’s view, so much money down the drain. Sooner or later—and probably sooner—the city will have too much water to deal with. Even before that happens, Wanless believes, insurers will stop selling policies on the luxury condos that line Biscayne Bay. Banks will stop writing mortgages.
“If we don’t plan for this,” he told me, once we were in the car again, driving toward the Fontainebleau hotel, “these are the new Okies.” I tried to imagine Ma and Pa Joad heading north, their golf bags and espresso machine strapped to the Range Rover.
The amount of water on the planet is fixed (and has been for billions of years). Its distribution, however, is subject to all sorts of rearrangements. In the coldest part of the last ice age, about twenty thousand years ago, so much water was tied up in ice sheets that sea levels were almost four hundred feet lower than they are today. At that point, Miami Beach, instead of being an island, was fifteen miles from the Atlantic Coast. Sarasota was a hundred miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico, and the outline of the Sunshine State looked less like a skinny finger than like a plump heel.
As the ice age ended and the planet warmed, the world’s coastlines assumed their present configuration. There’s a good deal of evidence—much of it now submerged—that this process did not take place slowly and steadily but, rather, in fits and starts. Beginning around 12,500 B.C., during an event known as meltwater pulse 1A, sea levels rose by roughly fifty feet in three or four centuries, a rate of more than a foot per decade. Meltwater pulse 1A, along with pulses 1B, 1C, and 1D, was, most probably, the result of ice-sheet collapse. One after another, the enormous glaciers disintegrated and dumped their contents into the oceans. It’s been speculated—though the evidence is sketchy—that a sudden flooding of the Black Sea toward the end of meltwater pulse 1C, around seventy-five hundred years ago, inspired the deluge story in Genesis.
As temperatures climb again, so, too, will sea levels. One reason for this is that water, as it heats up, expands. The process of thermal expansion follows well-known physical laws, and its impact is relatively easy to calculate. It is more difficult to predict how the earth’s remaining ice sheets will behave, and this difficulty accounts for the wide range in projections.
Low-end forecasts, like the I.P.C.C.’s, assume that the contribution from the ice sheets will remain relatively stable through the end of the century. High-end projections, like NOAA’s, assume that ice-melt will accelerate as the earth warms (as, under any remotely plausible scenario, the planet will continue to do at least through the end of this century, and probably beyond). Recent observations, meanwhile, tend to support the most worrisome scenarios.
The latest data from the Arctic, gathered by a pair of exquisitely sensitive satellites, show that in the past decade Greenland has been losing more ice each year. In August, NASA announced that, to supplement the satellites, it was launching a new monitoring program called—provocatively—Oceans Melting Greenland, or O.M.G. In November, researchers reported that, owing to the loss of an ice shelf off northeastern Greenland, a new “floodgate” on the ice sheet had opened. All told, Greenland’s ice holds enough water to raise global sea levels by twenty feet.
At the opposite end of the earth, two groups of researchers—one from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and the other from the University of Washington—concluded last year that a segment of the West Antarctic ice sheet has gone into “irreversible decline.” The segment, known as the Amundsen Sea sector, contains enough water to raise global sea levels by four feet, and its melting could destabilize other parts of the ice sheet, which hold enough ice to add ten more feet. While the “decline” could take centuries, it’s also possible that it could be accomplished a lot sooner. NASA is already planning for the day when parts of the Kennedy Space Center, on Florida’s Cape Canaveral, will be underwater.
The day I toured Miami Beach with Hal Wanless, I also attended a panel discussion at the city’s Convention Center titled “Eyes on the Rise.” The discussion was hosted by the French government, as part of the lead-up to the climate convention in Paris, at that point two months away. Among the members of the panel was a French scientist named Eric Rignot, a professor at the University of California, Irvine. Rignot is one of the researchers on O.M.G., and in a conference call with reporters during the summer he said he was “in awe” of how fast the Greenland ice sheet was changing. I ran into him just as he was about to go onstage.
“I’m going to scare people out of this room,” he told me. His fellow-panelists were a French geophysicist, a climate scientist from the University of Miami, and Miami Beach’s mayor, Philip Levine. Levine was elected in 2013, after airing a commercial that tapped into voters’ frustration with the continual flooding. It showed him preparing to paddle home from work in a kayak.
“Some people get swept into office,” Levine joked when it was his turn at the mike. “I always say I got floated in.” He described the steps his administration was taking to combat the effects of rising seas. These include installing enormous underground pumps that will suck water off the streets and dump it into Biscayne Bay. Six pumps have been completed, and fifty-four more are planned. “We had to raise people’s storm-water fees to be able to pay for the first hundred-million-dollar tranche,” Levine said. “So picture this: you get elected to office and the first thing you tell people is ‘By the way, I’m going to raise your rates.’ ”
He went on, “When you are doing this, there’s no textbooks, there’s no ‘How to Protect Your City from Sea Level Rise,’ go to Chapter 4.” So the city would have to write its own. “We have a team that’s going to get it done, that’s going to protect this city,” the Mayor said. “We can’t let investor confidence, resident confidence, confidence in our economy start to fall away.”
John Morales, the chief meteorologist at NBC’s South Florida affiliate, was moderating the discussion. He challenged the Mayor, offering a version of the argument I’d heard from Wanless—that today’s pumps will be submerged by the seas of tomorrow.
“Down the road, this is just a Band-Aid,” Morales said.
“I believe in human innovation,” Levine responded. “If, thirty or forty years ago, I’d told you that you were going to be able to communicate with your friends around the world by looking at your watch or with an iPad or an iPhone, you would think I was out of my mind.” Thirty or forty years from now, he said, “We’re going to have innovative solutions to fight back against sea-level rise that we cannot even imagine today.”
Many of the world’s largest cities sit along a coast, and all of them are, to one degree or another, threatened by rising seas. Entire countries are endangered—the Maldives, for instance, and the Marshall Islands. Globally, it’s estimated that a hundred million people live within three feet of mean high tide and another hundred million or so live within six feet of it. Hundreds of millions more live in areas likely to be affected by increasingly destructive storm surges.
Against this backdrop, South Florida still stands out. The region has been called “ground zero when it comes to sea-level rise.” It has also been described as “the poster child for the impacts of climate change,” the “epicenter for studying the effects of sea-level rise,” a “disaster scenario,” and “the New Atlantis.” Of all the world’s cities, Miami ranks second in terms of assets vulnerable to rising seas—No. 1 is Guangzhou—and in terms of population it ranks fourth, after Guangzhou, Mumbai, and Shanghai. A recent report on storm surges in the United States listed four Florida cities among the eight most at risk. (On that list, Tampa came in at No. 1.) For the past several years, the daily high-water mark in the Miami area has been racing up at the rate of almost an inch a year, nearly ten times the rate of average global sea-level rise. It’s unclear exactly why this is happening, but it’s been speculated that it has to do with changes in ocean currents which are causing water to pile up along the coast. Talking about climate change in the Everglades this past Earth Day, President Obama said, “Nowhere is it going to have a bigger impact than here in South Florida.”
The region’s troubles start with its topography. Driving across South Florida is like driving across central Kansas, except that South Florida is greener and a whole lot lower. In Miami-Dade County, the average elevation is just six feet above sea level. The county’s highest point, aside from man-made structures, is only about twenty-five feet, and no one seems entirely sure where it is. (The humorist Dave Barry once set out to climb Miami-Dade’s tallest mountain, and ended up atop a local garbage dump nicknamed Mt. Trashmore.) Broward County, which includes Fort Lauderdale, is equally flat and low, and Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys, is even more so.
But South Florida’s problems also run deeper. The whole region—indeed, most of the state—consists of limestone that was laid down over the millions of years Florida sat at the bottom of a shallow sea. The limestone is filled with holes, and the holes are, for the most part, filled with water. (Near the surface, this is generally freshwater, which has a lower density than saltwater.)
Until the eighteen-eighties, when the first channels were cut through the region by steam-powered dredges, South Florida was one continuous wetland—the Everglades. Early efforts to drain the area were only half successful; Northerners lured by turn-of-the-century real-estate scams found the supposedly rich farmland they’d purchased was more suitable for swimming.
“I have bought land by the acre, and I have bought land by the foot; but, by God, I have never before bought land by the gallon,” one arrival from Iowa complained.
Even today, with the Everglades reduced to half its former size, water in the region is constantly being shunted around. The South Florida Water Management District, a state agency, claims that it operates the “world’s largest water control system,” which includes twenty-three hundred miles of canals, sixty-one pump stations, and more than two thousand “water control structures.” Floridians south of Orlando depend on this system to prevent their lawns from drowning and their front steps from becoming docks. (Basement flooding isn’t an issue in South Florida, because no one has a basement—the water table is too high.)
When the system was designed—redesigned, really—in the nineteen-fifties, the water level in the canals could be maintained at least a foot and a half higher than the level of high tide. Thanks to this difference in elevation, water flowed off the land toward the sea. At the same time, there was enough freshwater pushing out to prevent saltwater from pressing in. Owing in part to sea-level rise, the gap has since been cut by about eight inches, and the region faces the discomfiting prospect that, during storms, it will be inundated not just along the coasts but also inland, by rainwater that has nowhere to go. Researchers at Florida Atlantic University have found that with just six more inches of sea-level rise the district will lose almost half its flood-control capacity. Meanwhile, what’s known as the saltwater front is advancing. One city—Hallandale Beach, just north of Miami—has already had to close most of its drinking wells, because the water is too salty. Many other cities are worried that they will have to do the same.
Jayantha Obeysekera is the Water Management District’s chief modeller, which means it’s his job to foresee South Florida’s future. One morning, I caught up with him at a flood-control structure known as S13, which sits on a canal known as C11, west of Fort Lauderdale.
“We have a triple whammy,” he said. “One whammy is sea-level rise. Another whammy is the water table comes up higher, too. And in this area the higher the water table, the less space you have to absorb storm water. The third whammy is if the rainfall extremes change, and become more extreme. There are other whammies probably that I haven’t mentioned. Someone said the other day, ‘The water comes from six sides in Florida.’ ”
A month after the super blood moon, South Florida experienced another series of very high tides—“king tides,” as Miamians call them. This time, I went out to see the effects with Nicole Hernandez Hammer, an environmental-studies researcher who works for the Union of Concerned Scientists. Hammer had looked over elevation maps and decided that Shorecrest, about five miles north of downtown Miami, was a neighborhood where we were likely to find flooding. It was another hot, blue morning, and as we drove along, in Hammer’s Honda, at first it seemed that she’d miscalculated. Then, all of a sudden, we arrived at a major intersection that was submerged. We parked and made our way onto a side street, also submerged. We were standing in front of a low-slung apartment building, debating what to do next, when one of the residents came by.
“I’ve been trying to figure out: Where is the water coming from?” he said. “It’ll be drying up and then it’ll be just like this again.” He had complained to the building’s superintendent. “I told him, ‘Something needs to be done about this water, man.’ He says he’ll try to do something.” A cable-repair truck trailing a large wake rolled by and then stalled out.
The water on the street was so deep that it was, indeed, hard to tell where it was coming from. Hammer explained that it was emerging from the storm drains. Instead of funnelling rainwater into the bay, as they were designed to do, the drains were directing water from the bay onto the streets. “The infrastructure we have is built for a world that doesn’t exist anymore,” she said.
Neither of us was wearing boots, a fact that, as we picked our way along, we agreed we regretted. I couldn’t help recalling stories I’d heard about Miami’s antiquated sewer system, which leaks so much raw waste that it’s the subject of frequent lawsuits. (To settle a suit brought by the federal government, the county recently agreed to spend $1.6 billion to upgrade the system, though many question whether the planned repairs adequately account for sea-level rise.) Across the soaked intersection, in front of a single-family home, a middle-aged man was unloading groceries from his car. He, too, told us he didn’t know where the water was coming from.
“I heard on the news it’s because the moon turned red,” he said. “I don’t have that much detail about it.” During the past month, he added, “it’s happened very often.” (In an ominous development, Miami this past fall experienced several very high tides at times of the month when, astronomically speaking, it shouldn’t have.)
“Honestly, sometimes, when I’m talking to people, I think, Oh, I wish I had taken more psychology courses,” Hammer told me. A lot of her job involves visiting low-lying neighborhoods like Shorecrest, helping people understand what they’re seeing. She shows them elevation maps and climate-change projections, and explains that the situation is only going to get worse. Often, Hammer said, she feels like a doctor: “You hear that they’re trying to teach these skills in medical schools, to encourage them to have a better bedside manner. I think I might try to get that kind of training, because it’s really hard to break bad news.”
It was garbage-collection day, and in front of one house county-issued trash bins bobbed in a stretch of water streaked with oil. Two young women were surveying the scene from the driveway, as if from a pier.
“It’s horrible,” one of them said to us. “Sometimes the water actually smells.” They were sisters, originally from Colombia. They wanted to sell the house, but, as the other sister observed, “No one’s going to want to buy it like this.”
“I have called the city of Miami,” the first sister said. “And they said it’s just the moon. But I don’t think it’s the moon anymore.”
After a couple of minutes, their mother came out. Hammer, who was born in Guatemala, began chatting with her in Spanish. “Oh,” I heard the mother exclaim. “Dios mío! El cambio climático! ”
Marco Rubio, Florida’s junior senator, who has been running third in Republican primary polls, grew up not far from Shorecrest, in West Miami, which sounds like it’s a neighborhood but is actually its own city. For several years, he served in Florida’s House of Representatives, and his district included Miami’s flood-vulnerable airport. Appearing this past spring on “Face the Nation,” Rubio was asked to explain a statement he had made about climate change. He offered the following: “What I said is, humans are not responsible for climate change in the way some of these people out there are trying to make us believe, for the following reason: I believe that climate is changing because there’s never been a moment where the climate is not changing.”
Around the same time, it was revealed that aides to Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, also a Republican, had instructed state workers not to discuss climate change, or even to use the term. The Scott administration, according to the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, also tried to ban talk of sea-level rise; state employees were supposed to speak, instead, of “nuisance flooding.” Scott denied having imposed any such Orwellian restrictions, but I met several people who told me they’d bumped up against them. One was Hammer, who, a few years ago, worked on a report to the state about threats to Florida’s transportation system. She said that she was instructed to remove all climate-change references from it. “In some places, it was impossible,” she recalled. “Like when we talked about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has ‘climate change’ in the title.”
Scientists who study climate change (and the reporters who cover them) often speculate about when the partisan debate on the issue will end. If Florida is a guide, the answer seems to be never. During September’s series of king tides, former Vice-President Al Gore spent a morning sloshing through the flooded streets of Miami Beach with Mayor Levine, a Democrat. I met up with Gore the following day, and he told me that the boots he’d worn had turned out to be too low; the water had poured in over the top.
“When the governor of the state is a full-out climate denier, the irony is just excruciatingly painful,” Gore observed. He said that he thought Florida ought to “join with the Maldives and some of the small island states that are urging the world to adopt stronger restrictions on global-warming pollution.”
Instead, the state is doing the opposite. In October, Florida filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency, seeking to block new rules aimed at limiting warming by reducing power-plant emissions. (Two dozen states are participating in the lawsuit.)
“The level of disconnect from reality is pretty profound,” Jeff Goodell, a journalist who’s working on a book on the impacts of sea-level rise, told me. “We’re sort of used to that in the climate world. But in Florida there are real consequences. The water is rising right now.”
Meanwhile, people continue to flock to South Florida. Miami’s metropolitan area, which includes Fort Lauderdale, has been one of the fastest growing in the country; from 2013 to 2014, in absolute terms it added more residents than San Francisco and, proportionally speaking, it outdid Los Angeles and New York. Currently, in downtown Miami there are more than twenty-five thousand new condominium units either proposed or under construction. Much of the boom is being financed by “flight capital” from countries like Argentina and Venezuela; something like half of recent home sales in Miami were paid for in cash.
And just about everyone who can afford to buys near the water. Not long ago, Kenneth Griffin, a hedge-fund billionaire, bought a penthouse in Miami Beach for sixty million dollars, the highest amount ever paid for a single-family residence in Miami-Dade County (and ten million dollars more than the original asking price). The penthouse, in a new building called Faena House, offers eight bedrooms and a seventy-foot rooftop pool. When I read about the sale, I plugged the building’s address into a handy program called the Sea Level Rise Toolbox, created by students and professors at Florida International University. According to the program, with a little more than one foot of rise the roads around the building will frequently flood. With two feet, most of the streets will be underwater, and with three it seems that, if Faena House is still habitable, it will be accessible only by boat.
I asked everyone I met in South Florida who seemed at all concerned about sea-level rise the same question: What could be done? More than a quarter of the Netherlands is below sea level and those areas are home to millions of people, so low-elevation living is certainly possible. But the geology of South Florida is peculiarly intractable. Building a dike on porous limestone is like putting a fence on top of a tunnel: it alters the route of travel, but not necessarily the amount.
“You can’t build levees on the coast and stop the water” is the way Jayantha Obeysekera put it. “The water would just come underground.”
Some people told me that they thought the only realistic response for South Florida was retreat.
“I live opposite a park,” Philip Stoddard, the mayor of South Miami—also a city in its own right—told me. “And there’s a low area in it that fills up when it rains. I was out there this morning walking my dog, and I saw fish in it. Where the heck did the fish come from? They came from underground. We have fish that travel underground!
“What that means is, there’s no keeping the water out,” he went on. “So ultimately this area has to depopulate. What I want to work toward is a slow and graceful depopulation, rather than a sudden and catastrophic one.”
More often, I heard echoes of Mayor Levine’s Apple Watch line. Who knows what amazing breakthroughs the future will bring?
“I think people are underestimating the incredible innovative imagination in the world of adaptive design,” Harvey Ruvin, the Clerk of the Courts of Miami-Dade County and the chairman of the county’s Sea Level Rise Task Force, said when I went to visit him in his office. A quote from Buckminster Fuller hung on the wall: “We are all passengers on Spaceship Earth.” Ruvin became friendly with Fuller in the nineteen-sixties, after reading about a plan Fuller had drawn up for a floating city in Tokyo Bay.
“I would agree that things can’t continue exactly the way they are today,” Ruvin told me. “But what we will evolve to may be better.”
“I keep telling people, ‘This is my patient,’ ” Bruce Mowry, Miami Beach’s city engineer, was saying. “I can’t lose my patient. If I don’t do anything, Miami Beach may not be here.” It was yet another day of bright-blue skies and “nuisance flooding,” and I was walking with Mowry through one of Miami Beach’s lowest neighborhoods, Sunset Harbour.
If Miami Beach is on a gurney, then Mowry might be said to be thumping its chest. It’s his job to keep the city viable, and since no one has yet come up with a smart-watch-like breakthrough, he’s been forced to rely on more primitive means, like pumps and asphalt. We rounded a corner and came to a set of stairs, which led down to some restaurants and shops. Until recently, Mowry explained, the shops and the street had been at the same level. But the street had recently been raised. It was now almost a yard higher than the sidewalk.
“I call this my five-step program,” he said. “What are the five steps?” He counted off the stairs as we descended: “One, two, three, four, five.” Some restaurants had set up tables at the bottom, next to what used to be a curb but now, with the elevation of the road, is a three-foot wall. Cars whizzed by at the diners’ eye level. I found the arrangement disconcerting, as if I’d suddenly shrunk. Mowry told me that some of the business owners, who had been unhappy when the street flooded, now were unhappy because they had no direct access to the road: “It’s, like, can you win?”
Several nearby streets had also been raised, by about a foot. The elevated roadbeds were higher than the driveways, which now all sloped down. The parking lot of a car-rental agency sat in a kind of hollow.
I asked about the limestone problem. “That is the one that scares us more than anything,” Mowry said. “New Orleans, the Netherlands—everybody understands putting in barriers, perimeter levees, pumps. Very few people understand: What do you do when the water’s coming up through the ground?
“What I’d really like to do is pick the whole city up, spray on a membrane, and drop it back down,” he went on. I thought of Calvino’s “Invisible Cities,” where such fantastical engineering schemes are the norm.
Mowry said he was intrigued by the possibility of finding some kind of resin that could be injected into the limestone. The resin would fill the holes, then set to form a seal. Or, he suggested, perhaps one day the city would require that builders, before constructing a house, lay a waterproof shield underneath it, the way a camper spreads a tarp under a tent. Or maybe some sort of clay could be pumped into the ground that would ooze out and fill the interstices.
“Will it hold?” Mowry said of the clay. “I doubt it. But these are things we’re exploring.” It was hard to tell how seriously he took any of these ideas; even if one of them turned out to be workable, the effort required to, in effect, caulk the entire island seemed staggering. At one point, Mowry declared, “If we can put a man on the moon, then we can figure out a way to keep Miami Beach dry.” At another, he mused about the city’s reverting to “what it came from,” which was largely mangrove swamp: “I’m sure if we had poets, they’d be writing about the swallowing of Miami Beach by the sea.”
We headed back toward Mowry’s office around the time of maximum high tide. The elevated streets were still dry, but on the way to City Hall we came to an unreconstructed stretch of road that was flooding. Evidently, this situation had been anticipated, because two mobile pumps, the size and shape of ice-cream trucks, were parked near the quickly expanding pool. Neither was operating. After making a couple of phone calls, Mowry decided that he would try to switch them on himself. As he fiddled with the controls, I realized that we were standing not far from the drowned palm tree I’d seen on my first day in Miami Beach, and that it was once again underwater.
About a dozen miles due west of Miami, the land gives out, and what’s left of the Everglades begins. The best way to get around in this part of Florida is by airboat, and on a gray morning I set out in one with a hydrologist named Christopher McVoy. We rented the boat from a concession run by members of the Miccosukee tribe, which, before the Europeans arrived, occupied large swaths of Georgia and Tennessee. The colonists hounded the Miccosukee ever farther south, until, eventually, they ended up with a few hundred mostly flooded square miles between Miami and Naples. On a fence in front of the dock, a sign read, “Beware: Wild alligators are dangerous. Do not feed or tease.” Our guide, Betty Osceola, handed out headsets to block the noise of the rotors, and we zipped off.
The Everglades is often referred to as a “river of grass,” but it might just as accurately be described as a prairie of water. Where the airboats had made a track, the water was open, but mostly it was patchy—interrupted by clumps of sawgrass and an occasional tree island. We hadn’t been out very long when it started to pour. As the boat sped into the rain, it felt as if we were driving through a sandstorm.
The same features that now make South Florida so vulnerable—its flatness, its high water table, its heavy rains—are the features that brought the Everglades into being. Before the drainage canals were dug, water flowed from Lake Okeechobee, about seventy miles north of Miami, to Florida Bay, about forty miles to the south of the city, in one wide, slow-moving sheet. Now much of the water is diverted, and the water that does make it to the wetlands gets impounded, so the once continuous “sheet flow” is no more. There’s a comprehensive Everglades restoration plan, which goes by the acronym CERP, but this has got hung up on one political snag after another, and climate change adds yet one more obstacle. The Everglades is a freshwater ecosystem; already, at the southern margin of Everglades National Park, the water is becoming salty. The sawgrass is in retreat, and mangroves are moving in. In coming decades, there’s likely to be more and more demand for the freshwater that remains. As McVoy put it, “You’ve got a big chunk of agriculture, a big chunk of people, and a big chunk of nature reserve all competing for the same resources.”
The best that can be hoped for with the restoration project is that it will prolong the life of the wetland and, with that, of Miami’s drinking-water system. But you can’t get around geophysics. Send the ice sheets into “irreversible decline,” as it seems increasingly likely we have done, and there’s no going back. Eventually, the Everglades, along with Shorecrest and Miami Beach and much of the rest of South Florida, will be inundated. And, if Hal Wanless is right, eventually isn’t very far off.
To me, the gunmetal expanse of water and grass appeared utterly without markers, but Osceola, who could read the subtlest of ridges, knew exactly where we were at every moment. We stopped to have sandwiches on an island with enough dry land for a tiny farm, and stopped again at a research site that McVoy had set up in the muck. There was a box of electrical equipment on stilts, and a solar panel to provide power. McVoy dropped out of the boat to collect some samples in empty water-cooler bottles. The rain let up, and then started again.
Environmentalists sound alarm on proposed drilling close to Florida Everglades
Star Daily Standard Times
December 12, 2015
Florida’s Everglades has an ecosystem known for its sawgrass, cypress trees, alligators — and perhaps soon, oil wells.
Oil drilling isn’t allowed in the 1.5 million-acre Everglades National Park, but the ecosystem extends far beyond they park’s the boundaries — and drilling is allowed in , an adjacent protected area about half the size of the park.
Environmental groups are concerned that the testing may harm endangered plants and animals, and that it may open sensitive areas to drilling and fracking.
Betty Osceola, a member of the Miccosukee tribe, has lived her whole life in the Everglades. During the Seminole Wars of the 19th century, her ancestors hid from federal troops in the Everglades swamps and cypress forests.
“This land, the Everglades, they protected us in our time of need — she provided us shelter, she provided us food, she provided us water,” Osceola says. “As indigenous people, it’s our turn to take up and speak for her.”
Osceola is part of a group protesting plans for seismic testing on 70,000 acres in a key part of the ecosystem inside Big Cypress National Preserve.
Don Hargrove, the preserve’s minerals management specialist, says there’s nothing new about the efforts to drill there.
“Oil drilling and oil fields were here when Big Cypress was created; as a condition of the establishment of the preserve, oil and gas was to continue,” he says.
There are over a dozen active wells in Big Cypress now, Hargrove says, and that number may increase. The Burnett Oil company wants to look for oil by crisscrossing the Preserve with large, 60,000-pound trucks that vibrate large plates against the ground to generate seismic signals. The first phase of the survey would take about 8 weeks.
In an environmental assessment, the National Park Service said it believed the activity likely would have only a minor impact on endangered wildlife; animals like the Florida panther, for instance, are expected to move away from the trucks.
Matthew Schwartz, with the South Florida Wildlands Association isn’t so sure.
“They have no idea when they’re going through an area if there’s a denning panther, maybe a female panther with kittens in an area,” he says. “And that panther may abandon a den when it hears the intrusion.”
The staff at Big Cypress National Preserve held a public meeting this week to answer questions about the seismic testing, where they played a video of one of the large thumper trucks in action.
“Where’s the bang?” one audience member asked. Dave Wisniewski, who conducts the seismic surveys for Burnett says that’s a common misconception.
“It’s an engine noise is all you hear,” he says. “When it’s shaking, you can actually hear it shake up a little different pitch, but there’s no boom.”
For environmental groups and others who live near Big Cypress, the bigger concern may be what the survey reveals. With new techniques like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing — fracking — oil companies have begun taking a new look for reserves in Florida, and they’re particularly interested in a geological area called the Sunniland Trend that runs far beneath the preserve.
Wisniewski says that’s where the seismic survey comes in.
“So this identify, hopefully reserves, for Burnett and then minimize the amount of drilling they have to actually do,” he says.
Matthew Schwartz of the South Florida Wildlands Association says a large chunk of the Everglades could see drilling — Burnett Oil Company has rights to look for oil on more than half of the preserve’s 730,000.
“They’re probably going to find oil, because this is smack in the middle of the Sunniland Trend,” Schwartz says. “And then comes what? New access roads, oil pads, drill rigs — fracking ? I mean, all of that is on the horizon for the most biodiverse piece of federal land, public land, in the continental United States?”
Before it approves the survey and possibly more drilling, Schwartz is calling on the National Park Service to prepare a full environmental impact statement. If necessary he says, he’ll go to court to force the issue.
Local water ample for 20 years
Pensacola News J. – by Thomas St. Myer
December 12, 2015
The supply of secure, safe drinking water is steadily declining as the population grows and developments pop up in South Florida like wildflowers.
Is Northwest Florida destined for the same fate?
A man paid to know that answer says no.
"We're a lot better off than down south. They have millions of people, and we don't," says Brett Cyphers, executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District. "Folks in South Florida are making up for challenges, and for us, it's more of how do you manage the system to make sure that doesn't happen to us?"
Shallow, cheaper freshwater aquifers in South Florida are nearly tapped out, and the decline of freshwater leaves the region vulnerable to saltwater intrusion.
An aquifer is a layer that contains or transmits groundwater held in place by other layers. Some coastal cities are switching to deeper, brackish aquifers that sometimes cost billions to build and operate.
Tim Haag, Emerald Coast Utilities Authority director of governmental affairs, says some in the water industry foresaw the South Florida plight coming some 30 years ago.
"Back in the '80s, there was an ungodly amount of people moving to the state of Florida on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. The influx of population into central and southern parts of the state got way ahead of what some of the utilities had to provide in water."
Northwest Florida is seeing population growth, too, but at an incomparably smaller rate, and the region benefits from what Cyphers and Haag describe as a tremendous water source.
The primary water source for Escambia and Santa Rosa counties is the sand-and-gravel aquifer. The thickness of the aquifer in Escambia ranges between 350 and 530 feet and measures at about 400 feet in Santa Rosa. The Floridan aquifer is the source for a small portion of Santa Rosa and all of Okaloosa and Walton counties.
Cyphers says concerns about water levels and the threat of saltwater intrusion prompted legislators to implement initiatives in the late 1990s to stabilize the coastal Floridan aquifer. First and foremost, they moved wellfields inland away from the coast.
A water supply assessment by the district in 2010 revealed massive improvements since the initiatives. At that time, the assessment indicated water supply will be ample in Northwest Florida for the next 25 years.
"It's a case of folks thinking about it and putting their money where their mouths are," Cyphers says.
The assessment factored in significant population growth and water use in Santa Rosa. The district forecasted the population to increase by about 70,000 and its water use to increase from 24.76 millions of gallons per day in 2010 to 38.45 mgd in 2035.
The Escambia population is projected to increase only about 22,000 in that same 25-year span, and the projected water use increase will be minimal, rising from 95.38 mgd in 2010 to 95.99 in 2035.
Northwest Florida is perhaps safe in terms of water supply, but the cleanliness of its groundwater is a concern, particularly in Superfund Site-laden Escambia.
"The greatest risk is that of contamination, and we've seen plenty of that south of Fairfield Drive, in particular, and maybe more south of Brent Lane," says Keith Wilkins, who just completed his first week as assistant city administrator after previously serving as county director of natural resources management.
Remediation of sites is all too common in Escambia. Wilkins says the number of remediated sites is in the 600 ballpark.
ECUA supplies water to approximately 80 percent of the population in Escambia, and Haag says the utility company has never found saltwater intrusion in any of its 32 wells. Eleven of the wells include a granular activated-carbon filter to remove certain chemicals, particularly organic chemicals, from the water.
Haag says the utilities company uses a three-dimensional model of the aquifer to conduct 'What if?' scenarios. ECUA acts in accordance with the Wellhead Protection Ordinance to further minimize risks.
Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1986 established the Wellhead Protection Program, which requires each state to develop a comprehensive groundwater protection program and encourage local water systems to develop wellhead protection plans.
"If we find out a contamination source is too close to the well or there's contamination, then we're not drilling the well there," Haag says.
ECUA is taking measures to conserve water locally with reclaimed water irrigation systems in the northern portion of Escambia County for Gulf Power and International Paper, and in the southern portion for Santa Rosa Island Authority. Haag says the utilities company is constantly searching for new water conservation techniques.
Another local water concern is the condition of creeks. Wilkins says layers of sediment cover water in some portions of Carpenter Creek, for example.
Four creek revitalization projects, including one for Carpenter Creek, top the Escambia County RESTORE Act Advisory Committee rankings. The county commissioners will determine how the initial $10.6 million will be dispersed among the proposed projects.
Barbara Albrecht, director of the Panhandle Watershed Alliance, blames an increase in construction in the area for decreasing creek water levels and filling them with sediment.
"What's happening now is we're building like banshees and we've got absolutely no chance for water to hold and (percolation) in these systems," Albrecht says. "A lot of those creeks in those areas used to be very deep, 10-, 12-, 15-feet deep and be very narrow, so you could actually touch the bank to the creek if you spread your arms out."
The water supply in Northwest Florida is overflowing in comparison to that in South Florida, but Albrecht fears for future generations throughout the state. She says rapid commercial development along with rising sea levels and the state population increasing by 3 million-plus in each of the last four decades indicates trouble.
Albrecht says there is a lesson to be learned from a declining supply of freshwater in South Florida, but she questions if profit-motivated legislators will bother to pay attention and act in the best interest of Mother Earth.
"If you have (young) children, your children are going to be valuing water more than oil. That's kind of frightening because nobody sees this coming," she says. "We're all considered, 'Oh, these tree-huggers, blah, blah, blah. They don't know what they're talking about.' No, I don't have kids, but I'm trying to protect what we have here so that seven generations out, those kids will be able to catch a minnow and a horny toad and learn about native species.
"There's a handful of us trying to get the word out, but it's falling on deaf ears, because the people making decisions are all based on money."
Primary water source: sand-gravel aquifer
2010 population: 297,619
Total water use: 95.38 millions of gallons per day
Projected 2035 population: 319,300
Projected water use: 95.99 mgd
Santa Rosa County
Primary water source: sand-gravel aquifer
2010 population: 151.372
Total water use: 24.76 mgd
Projected 2035 population: 218,800
Projected water use: 95.99 mgd
Source: Northwest Florida Water Management District
WATER MANAGEMENT DISTRICT AWARDS
The District will provide $165,000 to Molina Utilities to replace aging and undersized water lines with upgraded mains and appurtenant structures.
The District will provide $151,020 to Moore Creek Mount Carmel Utilities to install a filtration system to remove dieldrin and other contaminants from two sand-and-gravel water supply wells.
The District will provide $204,733 to the Town of Jay for the construction of a looped water system with an existing water main to improve pressures and system reliability.
C-43 reservoir is filling -
Challenge the status quo
Cape Coral Daily Breeze - Guest opinion by Ray Judah, a former Lee County commissioner
December 11, 2015
Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane's recent commentary "The Facts about Water Quality" issued a challenge to "any advocate to come to the table and propose an alternative approach that addresses both the high- and low-flow challenges in the Caloosahatchee."
I accept the challenge!
Mayor Ruane portrays to know the facts concerning restoration of the Caloosahatchee and our coastal estuaries. In fact, he represents the status quo of policy makers at the local and state level that have ignored or failed to understand the water budget in the Lake Okeechobee watershed to responsibly manage the quality and quantity of water in our south Florida environment.
The Central South Florida Flood Control project model used as the basis for Everglades restoration under the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) is seriously flawed because the model incorporated data collected from a historic 30-year dry cycle in Florida, from 1965 to 1995. The South Florida Water Management District underestimated the need for water storage to restore the Everglades. An evaluation of the water budget for Lake Okeechobee, including inflow, rainfall and evaporation reveals a need for an additional one million acre feet (AF) (325 billion gallons) of storage during the wet season in excess of the 900,000 AF of water storage in the planned reservoirs, including C-43, under (CERP).
The C-43 reservoir was promoted as an Acceler8 project in CERP to alleviate excessive releases of water from Lake Okeechobee. C-43 is designed to only store 170,000 AF of water (55 billion gallons or less than 5 inches off Lake Okeechobee) and is now being touted as beneficial to provide dry-season flows. Unfortunately, the C-43 reservoir does not include a water quality component, and will serve as an incubator for bacteria and toxic blue-green algae that is creating public health concerns in the Caloosahatchee. Heavy nutrient loading of phosphorus and nitrogen, warm water, and limited circulation in the reservoir creates an optimum environment for harmful bacteria and algae.
Mayor Ruane refers to the Caloosahatchee Watershed Regional Water Management Issues White Paper as the document "to align all of our local stakeholders so we can advocate with one voice to improve the quantity, quality, timing and distribution of freshwater water reaching our coast." The Mayor is recommending that the west coast stakeholders support the expenditure of approximately $1 billion dollars of taxpayers' money to construct a reservoir that will not alleviate excessive wet season flows from Lake Okeechobee and with no water quality component to prevent the release of harmful bacteria and algae to our coastal estuaries.
There is no credible peer reviewed cost benefit analysis comparing CERP to the purchase of land south of Lake Okeechobee for storage, treatment and conveyance of water necessary to rehydrate the Everglades, recharge the Biscayne aquifer and stop the excessive releases of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee to downstream coastal estuaries. This is not surprising, since the sugar industry would prefer that taxpayer dollars and attention be focused on the expenditure of approximately $16 billion dollars over the next 30 years on CERP in lieu of restoration of the historic flow way between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.
The west coast stakeholders should speak with one voice, but the unified voice should be directed to our Governor and state legislature to use Amendment One funds to purchase land south of Lake Okeechobee to restore the hydrological connection between the Lake and the Everglades.
The Mayor's White Paper includes an extensive list of local and regional water resource projects to be constructed in the Caloosahatchee watershed, yet the most cost efficient and effective solution to ensure that the Caloosahatchee and coastal estuaries receive minimum flows is through appropriate changes in water policy. Water reservation for environmental release, equitable water conservation practices for agriculture, utilities and the environment and reallocation of surplus water in the Lake Okeechobee Service Area to comply with minimum flows and levels would address low flow challenges in the Caloosahatchee.
SFWMD completes upgrade of levee protecting East Coast population
Florida Water Daily - from the SFWMD Press Release:
December 11, 2015
The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has completed work to strengthen a 20.5-mile Palm Beach County portion of a levee that protects tens of thousands of people from Palm Beach to Miami.
Stretching 105 miles, the East Coast Protective Levee serves as a buffer between three vast Everglades Water Conservation Areas and portions of the most populated regions in South Florida. Improvements to the levee in Palm Beach, known as the L-40, spanned from Wellington to west of Boca Raton.
“This rehabilitation effort was important for the flood control system to continue operating as designed well into the future,” said Jeff Kivett, SFWMD Director of Operations, Engineering and Construction. “Along with flood protection, the work may benefit residents and businesses in the federal flood mapping and insurance process.”
With a nearly $8.5 million investment, crews accomplished an array of work, including:
Completing a comprehensive study and analysis
Grading and restoring 9.5 miles along the top of the of levee
Utilizing 62,810 tons of material
Removing a pump station and water control structure
Replacing several water control structures
Removing vegetation and encroachments
As the levee owner, the District is required to provide data and documentation to show that the levee meets the requirements of the National Flood Insurance Program. With construction complete on the L-40, the SFWMD will submit detailed engineering reports to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is expected to accept the documentation as proof the levee meets requirements and accredit the levee for flood protection.
The District has actively maintained South Florida’s extensive network of earthen levees since they were constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950s and 1960s. The agency continues to make significant investments in improvements and routine maintenance of the levees, including those that border some of the region’s most populated areas.
Annual inspections conducted jointly by the District and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers consistently indicate the East Coast Protective Levee is performing as intended. During the years, the District has made improvements to address maintenance items identified by regular inspections.
Along with the regular assessments, a pair of federal evaluations recommended further improvements. In 2007, the Corps initiated a nationwide inventory and inspection of federally sponsored levee systems, including the East Coast Protective Levee.
The District completed work in 2013 to strengthen a 38-mile portion of the East Coast Protective Levee in western Broward County. Documentation was accepted by FEMA as proof the levee met requirements and it was accredited for flood protection.
Click here for more information.
SFWMD's Melanie Peterson has a point
Sunshine State News - by Nancy Smith
December 11, 2015
If you remember public meetings before they were televised, you can appreciate why boards desperately want to limit so-called "public" comment.
And why members of the South Florida Water Management District Board bit the bullet Thursday and launched a new policy to limit theirs.
Once upon a time -- in the 1980s and before -- only aggrieved homeowners, parents or stakeholders with a proposal or a beef came before a public commission, council, committee or board. Officials understood the importance of hearing them out.
For better and worse, television in the public meeting place changed everything.
Meetings grew longer and more repetitive.
The good news was, anybody with a television had access to every public meeting.
The bad news: Under the glare of TV lights, public meetings evolved into political demonstrations and sophisticated, histrionic-filled dramas, opportunities to publicly embarrass officials and affect community opinion by stacking the deck with lobbyists, lawyers and other paid participants -- so-called experts who show up week after week with prepared remarks.
What the SFWMD did on Thursday was to give every participant three minutes -- not three minutes on every issue on the agenda, as it was in the past, but three minutes total on a single issue of their choice.
The Miami Herald's "Naked Politics" took up the banner and wrote about it.
"(The new policy) did not go over well with regular attendees, mostly environmentalists, who often drive many miles to reach the West Palm Beach headquarters for a district spread over 16 counties," said the Jenny Staletovich story.
Newspapers take protection of the First Amendment seriously, as indeed they should. But this story is noticeably one-sided, quoting appalled environmentalists on the attack -- Laura Reynolds from Tropical Audubon, Drew Martin from the Sierra Club and Tabitha Cale from National Audubon -- and leaving SFWMD Board Chairman Dan O'Keefe in a defensive posture at the end.
No explanation of why the new policy. The one line O'Keefe got? "Nothing is set in stone and I’m going to look at how our resources are managed and time is managed."
The story isn't over.
State Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, posted the Herald piece on her Facebook page. Which is all it took to attract a response from hot-to-trot SFWMD board member Melanie Peterson.
Peterson was not impressed with the story. She had something to say:
"THIS ...is what they write about ... not about projects completed under budget and on time ... not about successful BMP (Best Management Practices) programs ... not about the amazing results from the STAs (stormwater treatment areas) ... not about the hugely successful wildlife habitat and water-quality results from restoration efforts ...
"The people quoted in this article are PAID to attend our meetings. They say the exact same thing after each other at every chance at Public Comment.
"When we have had the 'actual' public there to comment, they of course have their due time. In addition, each of us can be reached via email should the public wish to share their thoughts and ideas with the board before the meeting.
"WE are volunteers who spend numerous hours each month with staff on issues that are before the board and we listen to the public who does reach out and who does attend meetings. I have said it before and I will say it again ... Journalism is DEAD."
Certainly the Herald isn't obligated to reach out to Peterson. But, be honest, she makes some points that beg to be addressed. If I were one of the Herald's editors, I would want to hear more of her side of the story, and take the opportunity to explain mine.
I really hope that happens.
Inland salt water
South Florida is progressive
Water woes lurk as saltwater moves inland, upward
News-Press.com – by Chad Gillis
December 11, 2015
West Virginia has coal. Colorado has snow. Florida has lots of water, at least it did.
The Sunshine State gets nearly 5 feet of rain each year, which is just a few inches shy of what Arizona, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming receive combined.
But a century of drainage and development has crippled freshwater flows in the historic Everglades, possibly even changed summer weather patterns. Some scientists speculate that so much water runs off the landscape so quickly that there's not enough moisture in the air – during the wet season – to create daily afternoon rains.
"To a large extent (water) was thrown away to turn South Florida into what I call terraform upland, turning wetlands into (dry) lands," said Jim Beever, with the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council. "Florida was a paradise and we tried to turn into the Midwest."
All that would be bad enough, but Florida's rapid growth means demand for fresh water to drink, not to mention clean, flush and sprinkle lawns with, is increasing even as supplies fall. The state's population is pushing 20 million, with most of those people centered on the coast. What was once a common, cheap commodity is now becoming harder to find, or getting much more scarce and expensive.
How bad is it? South Florida was once home to one of the most productive freshwater systems on the planet. Today, park biologists are scrambling to find enough water to keep alligators in the Everglades alive.
Groundwater levels have dropped nearly 7 feet in Lee County over the past 20 years, according to data recorded by the United States Geological Survey. Some coastal cities are moving from freshwater aquifers that provide relatively inexpensive water to much deeper, brackish aquifers that often cost billions to build and operate.
That's because the shallow, cheaper freshwater aquifers have been nearly tapped out.
In Florida, freshwater is needed not only for drinking water and to feed wetland systems that support protected wildlife but also to help battle saltwater intrusion, when saltwater moves from either an ocean or deeper, brackish aquifers into drinking water supplies.
State water managers say the resource is sustainable, even in the face of saltwater intrusion in cities like Bonita Springs and Naples. The South Florida Water Management District, which oversees water supply in the 16-county area, started documenting the movement of saltwater below ground in 2009 and has detected intrusion in Lee and Collier counties.
"We’re not seeing rampant inland movement of the saltwater into the aquifers, but saltwater intrusion is still occurring," said Pete Kwiatkowski, with the district's water supply bureau. "It looks like those well water withdrawals (in Bonita Springs) are contributing to inland movement, and we’ll be working with the water utility supplies to see if they’re increasing water usage or if they need better monitoring wells."
Bonita Springs, though, may soon allow higher density development in a part of the town specifically set aside to recharge drinking water aquifers.
More development means more water usage, which is only adding to the problems, critics say.
"It’s a Band-Aid we’re stuck with and a Band-Aid that’s never coming off," Beever said. "And you’re going to see more of it."
Florida has the third largest population in the nation, and the Sunshine State is in the midst of another growth boom.
With cheap and easy drinking water sources already in use or no longer in existence, water managers are increasingly considering expensive technologies and deeper aquifers with saltier water as a local drinking water source.
Some older wells in Southwest Florida are 20 feet or less in depth, but newer wells are 800 feet or more below the surface. Salt left over from the reverse osmosis process is pumped down about 3,000 feet.
"Now that many of these freshwater aquifers are tapping out we’re encouraging water treatment facilities to tap into the upper Floridan aquifer for their water supply, which is brackish," Kwiatkowski said.
While there are ways to conserve water on the user end, an increased population will put even more strain on freshwater aquifers. Technologies like desalination, reverse osmosis and recycled water (sewage that's treated and sent back to consumers) are used across the world, but are expensive.
Cape Coral already operates the oldest continually used reverse osmosis system on the planet while also using treated stormwater and sewage for outdoor uses.
The city has invested heavily (it costs homeowners about $17,000 to connect to the system) in reverse osmosis to provide drinking water for the town's expected build-out of about 500,000 people. About 170,000 people live there now.
"We're kind of in a no-man's zone, and we're surrounded by (salt) water on three sides," said Kirk Marin, a water use consultant with Water Science Associates in Fort Myers. "There was a tremendous amount of draw-down in that aquifer and you can trace it around the city."
The aquifer Martin is referring to is the Mid-Hawthorn, which is about 700 feet beneath the surface of Southwest Florida. Water levels in that aquifer dropped anywhere from 30 to 80 feet in the Cape Coral area during heavy use periods in the early 2000s.
Those levels have risen 50 feet or more since the city's newest reverse osmosis plant became operational in 2010, Martin said.
"That's mostly a result of (people) abandoning private wells and hooking up to the city system," he said.
Currently pumping 12 million gallons a day, the plant was designed to expand even further, allowing the utility to produce 30 million gallons a day of drinking water when the city reaches half a million residents.
About 30 miles to the south and east, Bonita Springs may soon increase the allowable building density in an area of the town specifically set aside to recharge drinking water aquifers.
Their (density-reduction groundwater recharge area) would be much better for their long-term supply" said Beever, a state planner out of Fort Myers. "As much as they can keep of that for recharge, the better it will be in the long run. Lee County should do the same."
Beever said roadway extensions to the east are only adding to the problem, and that Lee County and other local governments should be focused more on retaining what's left of Florida's shallow groundwater aquifers than building roads and new communities.
"We should be using the Florida Forever funds (generated by Amendment 1 from last year's election) to purchase recharge area and make sure nothing is done there," Beever said. "Large areas in the central part of the state set aside for recharge. That could actually help the supply for urban users in South Florida."
Saltwater on the move
Providing safe drinking water for Florida's 20 million residents is only part of the water management equation.
The state's wild lands and life evolved on a saturated landscape, and various parts of the ecosystem would benefit from higher groundwater levels.
"As the groundwater levels drop, the vegetation on the land will dry up," said Linda Young, with the Florida Clean Water Network. "Trees and native shrubbery won't thrive during dry periods because their root systems cannot access the water table. Without this land cover, when the rains come, the rain will wash away the land more quickly as there is less vegetation to hold the water and release it slowly."
Saltwater intrusion can ruin all of that, possibly contaminating aquifers to a point that they cannot be cleaned of the brackish mixture. In Florida, saltwater pushes from the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico inland, and brackish water from deep aquifers push up against the shallower freshwater aquifers.
The South Florida Water Management District started monitoring the below-ground movement of the salt and freshwater interface in 2009. Recent reports (2014) from Collier and Lee counties show intrusion in the Marco Island area and in Bonita Springs.
"It looks like those well water withdrawals (in Bonita Springs) are contributing to inland movement, and we’ll be working with the water utility supplies to see if they’re increasing water usage or if they need better monitoring wells" Kwiatkowski said.
Sea level rise is yet another concern as the higher sea waters will pushing inland against the freshwater aquifers. Removing water from those aquifers makes it easier for saltwater to push into the valuable freshwater systems.
Water managers expect Everglades restoration projects will help Florida fend off sea level rise to some degree. But the future of freshwater in Florida is uncertain, at best.
"There will be less water available and what is available will be more costly," Young said. "Less food will be available to the fisheries, so do they decline or crash? All of these will be devastating to the economy, especially the tourism, real estate and agriculture."
Connect with this reporter: ChadGillisNP on Twitter.
Fresh water demand in Florida
By the numbers (2010)
131: Million gallons used daily in Lee
212: Million gallons used daily in Collier
15: Billion gallons used daily across state
8.5: Billion gallons of saline water used daily for power generation
526: Thousand users in Lee
277: Thousand users in Collier
70: Gallons per capita use in Lee
132: Gallons per capita use in Collier
Source: United States Geological Survey
Related: South Florida water suppliers face unique challenges The News-Press
Pumped beyond limits, many U.S. aquifers in decline
What we learned from the Indian River Lagoon
Florida Today – by Jim Waymer
December 11, 2015
MERRITT ISLAND — The “perfect storm” began here, in the shallow waters that surround NASA’s premier launch pads.
Extreme cold, drought and decades of pollution enabled a tiny algae to explode with cataclysmic consequences in the Indian River Lagoon.
Scientists first discovered the algae in the Banana River after heavy rains in March 2011. The plankton soon enveloped Merritt Island and spread beyond what biologists had ever seen, stretching 70 miles south to Melbourne.
They dubbed it a “superbloom.”
It was unprecedented. The bloom would nearly wipe out the lagoon’s seagrass, ultimately killing a combined 73 square miles of the vital bottom plant — the linchpin of the marine food web. Other casualties included hundreds of manatees, pelicans and dolphins.
Now an army of scientists, conservationists and volunteers are racing to restore the lagoon, a $3.7 billion annual economic engine, and to figure out what went wrong.
What began as a perfect storm defies perfect solutions, they say. The answers, like the problems, are complex. There’s no one smoking gun, but a cumulative shotgun-blast of impacts from 1.7 million people who live in the five main counties along the lagoon — one of the most biologically diverse estuaries in North America.
Biologists say the lagoon can be rescued.
They point to multiple efforts, including dredges, oysters, volunteers, tax dollars, but most of all — stewards.
Here’s what those who study and make their livings from the lagoon say must happen to heal the waterway.
Stormwater is the No. 1 problem
EAU GALLIE — The lagoon looked greenish-brown this hot August day at Eau Gallie Fishing Pier.
“That’s not the way it should be, and it’s been like this too much in recent years,” said John Windsor, a professor of marine and environmental sciences at Florida Institute of Technology. “It’s from the runoff from the mainland. It’s from development activity. It’s from the sewage runoff.”
Agricultural runoff and yard fertilizers contribute, too, said Windsor, who’s studied the lagoon for more than three decades.
By the mid 1990s, a state law phased out most sewer plant discharges into the lagoon, solving one of the estuaries biggest problems, or so scientists thought. But the lagoon failed to improve as much as they’d expected, Windsor said, and runoff was the reason. “That’s why we had to change our focus to stormwater,” he said.
Decades of farming and development more than doubled the land area that drains to the lagoon, via canals, ditches and stormwater pipes. Now heavy rains send excess fresh water that dilutes salt content below what marine life requires. Runoff also carries fertilizers that spur fish killing algae, toxic heavy metals, pollutants and sediments that block sunlight from reaching seagrass.
So what's being done?
Brevard and other lagoon-area governments want more than $300 million in state money for lagoon cleanups next year. That includes $75 million to increase funding for competitive grants that pay for local projects that reduce pollution from stormwater runoff. They’re also asking for another $75 million to increase a state grant program that lessens water pollution from farms, using better water and fertilizer practices.
Studies show buying more conservation lands to buffer waterbodies from runoff is cheaper in the long term than new ponds, street sweeping and many other typical stormwater solutions.
A 2013 study of the Chesapeake Bay area in Maryland, found that when measured over 20 years, an acre of forest buffer costs about $88 per pound of nitrogen removed per year. By comparison, stormwater ponds can cost more than $1,000 per pound and street sweeping more than $6,000 per pound.
Conservationists are suing to force the state to use more money from taxes on real estate documents to buy green space, rather than for salaries, equipment and other uses. Residents and officials search for a solution to the growing problem of the muck in the Indian River lagoon.
First, the muck must go
MELBOURNE — From a dock at Melbourne Harbor Marina, John Trefry probes the lagoon’s deepest, darkest problem — a primary symptom of the estuary’s disease. He dips a small metal clam-shell grabber on a rope, lets it sink, closes the grabber and yanks up a dripping heap of black, viscous muck, which he likens to “black mayonnaise.”
“Oh, wow,” Trefry said, holding a handful of the oozing organic gunk up to his nose, as a rotten-egg smell permeates. “It’s really rich in hydrogen sulfide. Nobody wants to live in there but bacteria.”
Muck is the buildup of soils, rotted vegetation and clay that runs off yards and roads.
It’s a ticking time bomb of pent-up nitrogen, phosphorus and cloudiness stirred up with every storm, blocking sunlight that seagrass needs to grow.
“Nutrients are constantly coming up out of those sediments,” said Trefry, a geochemist with Florida Tech. “And so they really are a good overview of the problems we have in the lagoon, because they represent all the things that have washed into the lagoon over time that we the people have introduced to the lagoon.”
It took five decades for the estimated 5 million to 7 million cubic yards of muck to build up in the Brevard and Indian River County portion of the lagoon. That’s enough to cover a football field 1,000 yards high, Trefry said. Muck is 10 feet thick or more in some spots of the lagoon and its tributaries, such as Eau Gallie River in Melbourne.
So what’s being done ?
A locally driven campaign to dredge out the muck culminated with Trefry outlining the problem to Florida legislators in 2013 at the state capital, handing out small plastic bags of muck.
The Legislature responded, allocating $46 million over the past two years to Brevard County for lagoon restoration, most of which will go toward muck dredging. That included $20 million toward dredging the Eau Gallie River, expected to begin in mid 2016 and to be completed by the end of 2017 or early 2018.
The project will remove up to 750,000 cubic yards of muck from the Eau Gallie River and its tributary, Elbow Creek.
Dredges will pump the watery muck to containment areas on public land, where it dries out and remains or is hauled off and used to cover trash heaps at landfills.
Brevard plans to ask the Legislature for more than $30 million for muck dredging, according to a county document of legislative priorities. Research is underway to identify and map the worst muck deposits in the lagoon.
Combined, Brevard’s five priority dredging projects will remove 1.4 million cubic yards, enough muck to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool 437 times.
New inlets an answer ?
VOLUSIA COUNTY — George Sweetman yanks up a metal trap from the Mosquito Lagoon and shakes loose a half dozen blue crabs. They claw the wire trap and each other as Sweetman dumps them into a wooden crate. A sole pelican splashes to a crash landing beside the boat, floating as it waits for jettisoned scraps of bait.
These waters Sweetman fishes — surrounding the Canaveral National Seashore and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge — are a baseline by which to gauge the health for the rest of the lagoon.
Some 140,000 acres of undeveloped land buffers rocket launches from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Usually, lush seagrass nearby fosters more sea trout, red fish, oyster larvae and other marine life that migrate into surrounding, more urbanized areas of the lagoon, increasing fish and crab populations there beyond what they otherwise would be.
Not so much anymore. Even the lagoon’s most pristine regions couldn’t withstand the algae onslaught of the past four years.
Sweetman, 70, of Cape Canaveral, witnessed a blue craB exodus as algae thickened and the crustaceans fled.
“They’re going to go where there’s more tide, more flow,” said Sweetman, from the helm of his crab boat. “That’s one of the reasons I don’t understand why the government don’t open up the (Canaveral) locks with all the pollution in that area of the river.”
That’s been tried before, with costly consequences. To reduce flooding during Tropical Storm Fay in 2008, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers left open the locks, which connect the Banana River to the Atlantic Ocean via Port Canaveral. The port’s main shipping channel filled with sand and had to be dredged.
So what's being done ?
Florida Tech researchers are exploring ways to improve flushing of the lagoon via weirs, small inlets or culverts and pump systems.
At 72 miles long, Florida’s Space Coast encompasses almost half the lagoon’s length and 71 percent of its surface area. But Brevard lacks sufficient outflow into the Atlantic Ocean that other counties get from large inlets.
The main risk of new inlets with jetties is down-drift beach erosion that results in costly beach renourishment projects.
Recent research at Florida Tech showed that simply keeping the lock open wouldn’t do much to improve the lagoon. But small inlets or culverts along the most narrow strips of barrier island,coupled with pumping stations, seem to work best, the study found.
A pump or baffle system in the area of the port and Banana River Lagoon would be the more likely option for any future project to improve water quality near the port, scientists say. Another idea would be a weir, or low dam structure, at the port that lets the tides do all the work in cleansing the lagoon.
What about nudging nature along ?
STUART — Vincent Encomio slogs knee deep near the mouth of St. Lucie River, where fish sometimes grow nasty lesions and high-bacteria counts often close the river to swimming.
This recent windy fall morning, Encomio, director of scientific research at the nonprofit Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart, is leading other researchers and volunteers to monitor oyster reefs at Flagler Park.
Algae blooms that killed more than half the lagoon’s seagrass in recent years only reached as far south as Fort Pierce. Here, another menace plagues the lagoon. In 2013, local urban runoff from heavy rains and large releases of fresh water from Lake Okeechobee sent huge pulses of nutrient-rich water into the St. Lucie River, which flows to the lagoon.
Excess fresh water reduces salt content in the lagoon to levels far below what seagrass, fish larvae and other marine life need to survive. In general, levels of about 2.5 percent salt are ideal for seagrass growth and fish larvae. Ocean water is around 3.5 percent salt.
So what’s being done ?
State and federal agencies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to store Lake Okeechobee water in large reservoirs, instead of sending it to coastal waters east and west, and to mimic the natural north-south flow of the Everglades.
Efforts to use oysters to help cleanse the lagoon in St. Lucie tie in with similar restorations in Brevard.
Volunteers in St. Lucie use oyster shells from local restaurants, seed them with baby oysters, put them in mesh bags, then place the bags in the lagoon.
Brevard County and Brevard Zoo officials hope the filter feeders can naturally restore water quality in the lagoon. Each adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons per day.
So far, more than 900 oyster gardening volunteers have helped to raise more than 180,000 oysters, building 60 sections of oyster reef and 15 control areas at reef sites in Port St. John, Melbourne Beach and Merritt Island.
In Brevard, volunteers also grow live oysters at their docks, to put later on pilot reefs throughout the county. They hope oyster larvae will settle out onto some hard surface, preferably other oysters, creating reefs.
Brevard wants $1.2 million from the state in 2016 to develop a “living shoreline” master plan, including $700,000 to build living shorelines of oysters and natural vegetation.
PALM BAY — Lori Morris ducked underwater, reaching inside protective plastic cages to run strands of shoal grass through her fingers.
The water is so cloudy this July day that the thin blades of grass can’t be seen from the surface in water only a few feet deep.
“This was a gorgeous bed,” said Morris, a scientist with the St. Johns River Water Management District, in waist deep water.
Biologists run into a Catch-22 when trying to grow back seagrass. The plant needs clear water so that sunlight it requires to grow reaches the bottom. But without seagrass, more sediment stirs up from the bottom, clouding up the water and blocking sunlight.
So what’s being done ?
A three-year, $110,000 experiment by the water management district has offered hints of hope that the lagoon’s seagrass can recover.
In still-barren spots where scientists transplanted seagrass from healthier areas of the lagoon, grass grew back, but often, not for long.
By 2013, seagrass acreage had grown back 12 percent since the 60 percent loss from the previous two year’s algae blooms, on average spreading 82 feet farther from shore. The seagrass beds maintained those gains through this past summer.
“So we’re kind of holding the line for now,” Morris said this month. “No big gains, but no big losses either.”
Wean off septic tanks
MERRITT ISLAND — On a recent day in the Banana River, between Merritt Island and Cocoa Beach, a pair of dolphins cut the water’s glassy surface. They’re herding mullet — a good sign.
Laura Herren, a biological scientist at FAU-Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce, and FAU graduate student Alison Feibel are sampling the water and phytoplankton to search for the chemical hallmarks of human waste.
They find the markers of that waste here and at 19 other sites they test in the lagoon, but worse near Merritt Island than elsewhere.
The St. Sebastian River also delivers a heavy dose of nitrogen and phosphorus from septic tanks along the watershed, they say.
67,000 to 95,000 septic tanks in Brevard. Thousands of those are more than 20 years old, the average lifespan of a septic tank. Most of Brevard’s oldest septic tanks are in the outskirts of Palm Bay, Port St. John, Merritt Island and other places lacking sewer lines, such as most of the homes south of Melbourne Beach.
Septic tanks contribute an estimated 2 million pounds or more of nitrogen per year to the lagoon.
Palm Bay is at the center of the problem, with 27,000 septic tanks. Almost 2,000
of the tanks fall within the city’s sewer service area, so those homeowners could get hooked up to sewer. But in most cases, cities can only force new homes to do so.
Sewer systems aren’t a cure-all. In many sewage spills, groundwater and sand infiltrate and clog old cracked pipes, leading to overflows elsewhere in the system. Or roots intrude. Saltier soils — especially beachside — tend to wear more on sewer pipes. Joints of older clay pipes pull apart.
So what’s being done ?
Several counties are pursuing local and state money to ease the cost of hooking up to sewer.
Rockledge plans soon to use $775,000 from the Legislature to take 154 homes off septic tanks in one of the city’s oldest subdivisions, Breeze Swept, just off U.S. 1. The entire project will cost close to $2 million.
Martin County plans a more than $30 million project — assisted by state money — to convert more than 2,000 homes from septic tanks to sewer.
Volusia County is asking the state for $100,000 to eliminate septic tanks in the Oak Hill area along the Mosquito Lagoon and extend its sewer system.
St. Lucie County wants $4.75 million from the state next year to switch 578 septic tanks on Hutchinson Island to sanitary sewer.
And Brevard plans to spend $110 million over five years on sewerage improvements, including upgrades to sewer plants, replacing old pipe and making other improvements.
The county also plans to ask the Legislature for $1.7 million next year to identify critical areas of septic tank groundwater pollution. They’d use the money to launch a $2.3 million program to help homeowners pay to upgrade their septic systems to advanced aerobic treatment. The volunteer pilot program would pay half the cost to install upgraded systems, which can run up to $12,000. Some of the funding could also be used for repairing or extending sewer lines.
But it will take much more than new sewers, dredging and other government approaches, experts say. The long-term fixes fall mostly in our own backyards.
About “From the Water”
FLORIDA TODAY spent six months traveling the 156-mile estuary to tell the lagoon’s story from the water itself. We shadowed the scientists, conservationists and fishermen who know the waterway best. We slogged waist-deep with biologists in transplanted seagrass beds, tagged along with fishermen to bear witness to their dwindling catches, and even tasted the invasive lionfish gaining a foothold in the lagoon that activists hope our appetites can help keep in check.
What can you do?
- Limit your fertilizer use and lawn and landscaping watering.
- Keep storm drains clean.
- Blow grass clippings back into the yard, instead of into the street. Don’t let any grass clippings or pet wastes get into the water.
- Maintain a 10-foot “maintenance-free zone” from the water, where you don’t mow, fertilize or apply pesticides.
- To prevent soil erosion, which contributes to muck buildup, follow Florida Friendly Yards landscaping guidelines.
- Get you septic tank inspected every three to five years and consider hooking up to the sewer system if available.
- Get involved. Volunteer to become an oyster gardener through Brevard Zoo’s oyster gardening program. For information, visit http://brevardoystergardens.org.
- The Marine Resources Council also offers volunteer opportunities to help monitor lagoon water quality, plant native shoreline plants and remove invasive plants and trees. Contact them at 725-7775 or visit http://www.mrcirl.org.
- The Florida Oceanographic Society also has a volunteer oyster restoration program in the St. Lucie area and southern lagoon. For information, call 772.225.0505 ext. 104 or email email@example.com.
Contact your state legislators and push for stronger water quality policy and programs.
- Report sick, dead or injured wildlife. Sick or dead birds or other wildlife should not be handled. Instead, report them by calling the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Wildlife Alert Hotline at (888) 404−3922 or visiting the FWC website. Entangled, injured or dead manatees can be reported by sending a text to Tip@MyFWC.com.
Source: FLORIDA TODAY research; For information, go here.
Why care ?
•The Indian River Lagoon generates $3.7 billion in economic activity annually, including almost a $1 billion annual increase to property values for anyone who lives within 0.3 miles of the lagoon. Even property not on the lagoon benefits. The lagoon is a major draw for newcomers moving here, helping to bolster property values throughout the region.
•The lagoon contributes $47 billion to the property values in the five counties along the estuary. This impact is 22 percent of the market value of all property in the area.
Source: Indian River Lagoon Economic Assessment and Analysis Update, Hazen and Sawyer
Meet environment reporter Jim Waymer, executive editor Bob Gabordi and publisher Jeff Kiel from noon to 3 p.m. today, at Kiwanis Island Park, 951 Kiwanis Island Park Road, Merritt Island. This Brevard: Next will shine a spotlight on FLORIDA
TODAY’s 30-minute “From the Water” documentary on the Indian River Lagoon. It will air at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 13, 8 p.m. Dec. 14 and 10:30 p.m. Dec. 16 on WEFS-TV.
The event is free and family-friendly. We will have two food trucks there – Taco City and Kona Shaved Ice – as well as live music from the Hemingways (featuring our news columnist John Torres). Kids can look forward to a visit from the Parkchester Santa, too. Our FLORIDA TODAY photographers will take free photos of Santa and the kids.
Environmentalists sound alarm on proposed drilling near Florida Everglades
WCBE.org - by Greg Allen
December 10, 2015
Florida's Everglades has an ecosystem known for its sawgrass, cypress trees, alligators — and perhaps soon, oil wells.
Oil drilling isn't allowed in the 1.5 million-acre Everglades National Park, but the ecosystem extends far beyond they park's the boundaries — and drilling is allowed in Big Cypress National Preserve, an adjacent protected area about half the size of the park.
Environmental groups are concerned that the testing may harm endangered plants and animals, and that it may open sensitive areas to drilling and fracking.
Betty Osceola, a member of the Miccosukee tribe, has lived her whole life in the Everglades. During the Seminole Wars of the 19th century, her ancestors hid from federal troops in the Everglades swamps and cypress forests.
"This land, the Everglades, they protected us in our time of need — she provided us shelter, she provided us food, she provided us water," Osceola says. "As indigenous people, it's our turn to take up and speak for her."
Osceola is part of a group protesting plans for seismic testing on 70,000 acres in a key part of the ecosystem inside Big Cypress National Preserve.
Don Hargrove, the preserve's minerals management specialist, says there's nothing new about the efforts to drill there.
"Oil drilling and oil fields were here when Big Cypress was created; as a condition of the establishment of the preserve, oil and gas was to continue," he says.
There are over a dozen active wells in Big Cypress now, Hargrove says, and that number may increase. The Burnett Oil company wants to look for oil by crisscrossing the Preserve with large, 60,000-pound trucks that vibrate large plates against the ground to generate seismic signals. The first phase of the survey would take about 8 weeks.
In an environmental assessment, the National Park Service said it believed the activity likely would have only a minor impact on endangered wildlife; animals like the Florida panther, for instance, are expected to move away from the trucks.
Matthew Schwartz, with the South Florida Wildlands Association isn't so sure.
"They have no idea when they're going through an area if there's a denning panther, maybe a female panther with kittens in an area," he says. "And that panther may abandon a den when it hears the intrusion."
The staff at Big Cypress National Preserve held a public meeting this week to answer questions about the seismic testing, where they played a video of one of the large thumper trucks in action.
"Where's the bang?" one audience member asked. Dave Wisniewski, who conducts the seismic surveys for Burnett says that's a common misconception.
"It's an engine noise is all you hear," he says. "When it's shaking, you can actually hear it shake up a little different pitch, but there's no boom."
For environmental groups and others who live near Big Cypress, the bigger concern may be what the survey reveals. With new techniques like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing — fracking — oil companies have begun taking a new look for reserves in Florida, and they're particularly interested in a geological area called the Sunniland Trend that runs far beneath the preserve.
Wisniewski says that's where the seismic survey comes in.
"So this identify, hopefully reserves, for Burnett and then minimize the amount of drilling they have to actually do," he says.
Matthew Schwartz of the South Florida Wildlands Association says a large chunk of the Everglades could see drilling — Burnett Oil Company has rights to look for oil on more than half of the preserve's 730,000.
"They're probably going to find oil, because this is smack in the middle of the Sunniland Trend," Schwartz says. "And then comes what? New access roads, oil pads, drill rigs — fracking? I mean, all of that is on the horizon for the most biodiverse piece of federal land, public land, in the continental United States?"
Before it approves the survey and possibly more drilling, Schwartz is calling on the National Park Service to prepare a full environmental impact statement. If necessary he says, he'll go to court to force the issue.
Related: Oil testing draws big crowd to Big Cypress The News-Press
Big Cypress fest brings nature lovers together Naples Daily News
Is South Florida doing enough to address climate change ?
Miami Herald - by Chabeli Herrera
December 10, 2015
Highlights: Locals are divided on the issue of climate change
Some argue it’s not a real threat
Others feel it should be addressed immediately and say local officials aren’t doing enough
As part of Community Conversations, we asked the following question to readers on social media and the Public Insight Network recently: Is South Florida doing enough to address climate change? Thanks for all of your responses. Below is a sampling of your comments, some of which were edited for length and clarity. Learn more about the Public Insight Network and comment on previous discussions at MiamiHerald.com/community and select Community Conversations:
● There is much talk but in my opinion little definite planning. Pumps are useless. We must consider building levees and raising the level of our streets — not building in flood zones. The temperature is at least 10 degrees warmer here than when I was boy. I am saddened when I see 150 world leaders meeting to control climate change and a major political party denies it. When I recently visited Asia the pollution from fossil fuels was terrible. William Ingraham, Miami Shores
● As a native of Miami Beach, I have noted numerous extra high tides throughout my 50+ years of living here. It has only been in recent times that they are now called “king” tides and people are focusing on them. They were extra high this year in South Florida, not because of global warming, but because the moon was 10 percent closer to the Earth that it normally is this time of year, causing the increased sea level rise. I live on a tidal ocean-access canal. When I moved into my house 33 years ago, I noted a horizontal crack running along a portion of my sea wall and I noted the water line distance from the crack. In 33 years, the high tide and low tide marks are still relatively the same distance from the crack in the seawall. Bruce Lamberto, North Miami Beach
● I live in Miami Beach, and we are really working on developing the necessary strategies to address the situation. I think the city is doing several improvements to avoid the constant flooding but still a long way to solve the problem. Climate change is real and we the people of South Florida are already being affected by this situation. I think all mayors of our coastal areas have to work in conjunction with the experts and scientists to be able to take the right measurements, quickly, to fight the future sea level rising. I will organize a summit every year to assess the progress and the situation. Domenica Brazzi, Miami Beach
● If sea level is rising, why are the sea ports being dredged? If sea level is rising, why is the Everglades being restored, in spite of the “fact” that it will soon be under salt water? The frenetic pace of construction in Miami and along the beach is proof prima facie that no one believes that sea level is rising. The wealthy, well-informed, well-connected people of the world are pouring money into Miami, which will soon be under salt water according to the friends of Al Gore. Climate change is fraud, a make-work cause to squander money. South Florida should not join the stampede of lemmings running off the cliff. The climate is not changing and sea level is not rising. Hallett Stiles, North Miami
● I think that we are doing a lot of things reactive rather than proactive. Although South Florida is working slowly to address sea level rise, not too much is being done to control the emissions that are adding to the global warming. There seems to be no push for reliable rapid transit to areas where we live and work. Not only are most of the highways in a constant state of “rush hour,” but new lanes are being built. The bottom line is Florida is one of the most vulnerable states for climate change, Our politicians can deny this “...’til the high tides rise,” but, reality will get us in the end. Charles Peters, Miami
● Florida isn’t doing nearly enough to address climate change. We need to be relying more on solar and wind power, natural sources of energy for us in South Florida. Here in the Keys, we need to be composting our yard waste to use as new earth with which to increase the elevation of Keys roadways and land areas. We’re doing none of these things. Stephen Ragusea, Sugarloaf Key
● We may have some local politicians who have this on their radar but unfortunately we have others who are more interested in their own pockets and agenda. I have lived on the beach for almost 13 years. These past two summers have not only been the longest, but also the hottest summers. The temperature when I moved here in 2003 rarely went above 90 degrees, ever. Now, it was 10 days ago that the temperature actually went below 80 degrees overnight. There always used to be a breeze — no more. The climate has changed and in this state the top people are so filled with greed and power that they cannot turn their myopic eye in a direction to save what will one day (sooner than later) return to a swamp. Philip Berry, Miami Beach
● According to the Tide Gage at Virginia Key, the sea level is rising at one inch a year. In a few years we will start loosing land to the sea like the southern end of the Mississippi delta. At the Miami-Dade delegation public hearing there were several government officials asking for funds to help deal with flooding as a result of the rising sea. I spoke to them as the representative from 350 South Florida and told them that we are going to need money from the state in a few years to help cities and county governments deal with climate change here in Southern Florida. Robert Mandell, Miami
● I think we are doing a better job than Gov Scott. He is a good businessman but a lousy interpreter of the science. I think we clearly have in Miami-Dade County an administration that takes global warming seriously. I do see the beginning of attempts to address the issue but we are still a long, long way from implementing a unified and thorough approach to the inevitable. Hopefully we will get our acts together before it is too late. Michael Troner, Miami
● South Florida has some leaders, like the mayor of South Miami, civic leaders and academics at its universities, who are voicing their concerns and appealing to state and national leaders. However, residents of South Florida must do their part by organizing and hitting politicians and corporations where it hurts on this issue: the ballot box, procurement and sales. Our hope remains with citizens and their mayors and city councils for real leadership on this issue, since state and national governments are gridlocked. Nelson Abreu, Coral Gables
Large sinkhole forces officials to evacuate neighborhood
December 10, 2015
Authorities evacuated a Florida neighborhood after a large sinkhole opened Wednesday night, CBS Orlando affiliate WKMG-TV reports.
The hole in Ocala was estimated to be 40 feet wide and 20 feet deep.
A water main break appears to be what caused the hole, Marion County Fire Rescue told the station.
Authorities shut off power and water for the neighborhood.
The hole doesn't appear to be growing, a contractor told the station.
570 acres set aside for conservation in Palm Beach County may be sold
Sun Sentinel – by Skyler Swisher
December 9, 2015
Palm Beach County purchased 570 acres of property about 15 years ago with voter-approved money intended to preserve agricultural land.
Now, those acres used to grow vegetables could be deemed surplus land and sold to the highest bidder. That has environmentalists and preservationists crying foul.
Selling the property could eventually lead to more development in the Agricultural Reserve, a 21,000-acre area west of Boynton Beach and Delray Beach prime for growing vegetables, said Drew Martin, a representative of the Sierra Club.
"It violates the trust of the voters," said Martin, who has declared his candidacy for the Palm Beach County Commission. "No one voted for that and thought the land would be sold down the road."
The land is jointly owned by the county and the South Florida Water Management District, which has the majority 60 percent ownership stake.
The water management district is investigating whether to make the property available for sale, but nothing has been decided, said Randy Smith, a water management district spokesman.
Thousands of new homes and more shopping centers could join the spread of development in Palm Beach County's Agricultural Reserve after rule changes approved Monday.
County commissioners agreed to ease building limits in the 21,000-acre farming region west of Boynton Beach and Delray Beach, where...
Thousands of new homes and more shopping centers could join the spread of development in Palm Beach County's Agricultural Reserve after rule changes approved Monday.
County commissioners agreed to ease building limits in the 21,000-acre farming region west of Boynton Beach and Delray Beach, where...
County officials say any sale would be contingent on the land being used for agriculture and would be voted on by the County Commission.
To help keep development from overtaking farmland, Palm Beach County voters in 1999 approved spending $100 million to buy about 2,400 acres that gets leased out to farmers.
The county purchased the 627-acre McMurrain Farms property west of State Road 7 in 2000 for $23 million.
Two years later, it sold 53 acres to Pero Family Farms, which used the land to expand its hydroponic farming operations. Pero Family Farms leases the remaining 570 acres for about $300,000 annually, and rental payments are divided between the county and the water management district.
The water management district acquired its interest in the property using about $14 million in federal funds for Everglades restoration and intended to build a reservoir on the property. The district determined the project's benefits did not justify the costs, Smith said.
The water management district is investigating whether it could transfer funds from a sale to the recently acquired 1,800-acre Harmony Ranch property in southern Martin County to satisfy the federal government's requirements for Everglades restoration, he said.
The 570 acres in Palm Beach County do not have development rights, and any sale of the land would be subject to deed restrictions limiting its use to agriculture, Audrey Wolf, the county's facilities director, wrote in an email.
Commissioner Paulette Burdick said a deed restriction is not sufficient to ensure the land is protected. Selling the land would constitute a "betrayal of the public's trust," she said
"A deed restriction can be removed — all it takes is four votes," Burdick said.
Commissioner Melissa McKinlay says she is "adamantly opposed" to selling any public land in the Agricultural Reserve purchased with funds approved in the 1999 referendum. The measure passed by a 2-to-1 margin.
"If that is the promise we made to voters, we need to keep it," McKinlay said.
In 2011, Gov. Rick Scott directed the state's five water management districts to review land holdings and look for surplus property that could be sold.
Activists rally for tougher water policy in Florida
Florida Today – by Jim Waymer
December 9, 2015
MERRITT ISLAND — About 15 people gathered outside House Speaker Steve Crisafulli’s office Wednesday, demanding stronger laws to clean up Florida's waters.
They said they're fed up with special treatment for select industries and delays on stricter water pollution rules to clean up the Indian River Lagoon and other vital state waters.
"We need our legislators to step up," said Vince Lamb, chairman of Preserve Brevard Inc., a nonprofit group based in Merritt Island. "We hate watching the governor and the Legislature acting like puppets for 'Big Sugar' and other polluting interests."
Organizers planned simultaneous rallies in front of the district offices of Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner, House Speaker Crisafulli, and at Glen Springs/Ring Park in Gainesville.
Wednesday's event included delivering a letter outlining their concerns to Gardiner and Crisafulli's offices.
A total of 106 organizations and businesses signed in support of the letter.
The event's organizers say water quality is declining in Florida’s lakes, rivers, springs and estuaries, because Florida goes easy on polluters.
At Crisafulli's Merritt Island office, people held signs that said, "Save the Lagoon," "We are watching," and "Do your job! Restore our water resources."
The protesters want stricter enforcement and verification of basin action plans to reduce water pollution and specific deadlines for meeting daily water pollution limits.
They also criticized the Central Florida Water Initiative plans that include "surface water withdrawal projects that total nearly $1.8 billion, to be paid for with tax dollars and implemented and operated by private companies," the letter says. "This represents a massive transfer of public money to private pockets."
The clean water advocates are focusing attention on new House and Senate water bills (HB 7005 and SB 552), which they say fall far short of protecting Florida waters.
Because of pressure from agriculture and other industries, the state is retreating from policies that protect water quality, the protesters said.
"While these bills include some improvements, many of them are undermined by loopholes," said Phil Stasik, president of the nonprofit Space Coast Progressive Alliance.
Crisafulli was travelling at the time, his Merritt Island staff said, but they supplied a written response on the issue. His letter said that Florida is "poised to pass" a comprehensive water bill that protects water flow and quality in aquifers and springs. The bill will include uniform water supply planning and consumptive water use permitting, according to the letter. It also builds upon cleanup plans for the Northern Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, Caloosahatchee Estuary and St. Lucie River and estuary, the letter says.
The letter also says the Florida House also will put forth legislation this year called "Legacy Florida that will result in consistent, predictable funding each year for Everglades restoration effort.
"We expect the annual amount to reach $200 million!" his letter states.
Groups show solidarity in fight for water
Gainesville.com - by Christopher Curry, Staff writer
December 9, 2015
With the start of the session in Tallahassee looming, a coalition of environmental groups continues to push for stronger protections in the water policy legislation flowing through the Senate and House.
More than 100 environmental groups, including statewide organizations like 1000 Friends of Florida and the Sierra Club, signed onto a letter saying the identical bills have some “incremental advances” but also “confer special advantages on particular industries and needlessly forestall necessary action to protect and restore Florida’s impaired waterways.”
The organizations scheduled simultaneous press conferences Wednesday to deliver their letter to Merritt Island district office of House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Orlando district headquarters of Senate President Andy Gardiner.
Carrying signs with messages such as “Protect Our Water” and “Clean Water Is Pro Life,” about 30 representatives of area environmental groups, including the Suwannee-St. Johns Group Sierra Club, Our Santa Fe River, the Ichetucknee Alliance, Florida Defenders of the Environment and the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, and the statewide Sierra Club also gathered outside Gainesville’s Alfred A. Ring Park. A short walk away from Glen Spring, the small, urban spring that fed the city’s segregation-era swimming hole, they expressed a shared message.
“We want a stronger bill,” said Florida Defenders of the Environment President Steve Robitaille.
The environmental groups want a slew of changes to the bills.
- Inserting deadlines for setting the total maximum daily loads that cap the acceptable amount of nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorous and other pollutants for water bodies and establishing Basin Management Action Plans that include strategies to reduce the flow of pollutants from land to water bodies. In the current bill, those BMAP deadlines only apply to areas near designated outstanding springs.
- Accelerating the timeline for meeting the minimum flows and levels, or healthy water flows for rivers and springs and total maximum daily loads of water bodies from the current bill, which allows 20 to 32 years.
- Monitoring all groundwater withdrawals of 100,000 gallons per day or more.
- Changing the standard for minimum flows and levels from the current language, which would set them at the point from which any additional groundwater withdrawals would be “significantly harmful” to a spring or river, to the more stringent merely “harmful” threshold. Last year’s Senate bill originally had the harmful threshold but “significantly” was added back at the urging of industry groups.
- Eliminating or reducing the use of taxpayer money for private industries. The bill includes nearly $1.8 billion for private companies to implement surface water withdrawal projects through the Central Florida Water Initiative and has water management districts funding “cost-share” projects to implement best management practices at agricultural businesses.
Frank Jackalone, the Florida staff director for the Sierra Club, pointed to the current allowable time frame of at least 20 years to restore a river or spring back to its adopted minimum flows and levels and said “you know what that says to me — it’s not going to happen.”
Jackalone also said some parts of the legislation work against water conservation and protection of the groundwater, aquifer and rivers.
Under the water bills' current language, any time a water management district denies an application for a groundwater pumping permit on the basis that the withdrawal would push a river or spring below its adopted minimum flow level, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will review the district to update its regional water supply plan and require an update if the plan is deficient. The time-consuming and expensive process of updating those plans usually takes place every five years.
The new language says the review will take place because those water supply plans are intended to make sure enough water is available for all existing and future “reasonable-beneficial uses and natural systems.”
Jackalone said it was another example of the FDEP exerting more control over water management districts to “pressure districts already strapped for resources into approving permits.”
After multiple sessions where the Senate and House could not agree on water legislation, a vote on the latest bills is expected in the first weeks of the session.
Gardiner’s office released a statement Wednesday thanking the bill’s Senate sponsor, Charlie Dean R-Inverness, for years of work and saying the bill should not be delayed:
“President Gardiner is pleased the legislation includes key provisions from the bills the House and Senate advanced last year and he is particularly grateful to Senator Dean for his tireless work on this legislation. While President Gardiner is happy to receive and review continued input from dedicated stakeholders who share his concern for Florida’s environment, he believes the Senate has reached consensus on this important legislation and he looks forward to bringing it to the Senate floor for a vote during the first week of the 2016 Legislative Session.”
Red Tide makes its way towards Gulf Coast
The Pulse – by Drew Buchanan
December 9, 2015
The dangerous microscopic algae known as red tide is making its way towards the Gulf Coast, according to state and federal officials.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting red tide concentrations will increase the next few days along portions of Northwest Florida. Officials say that this will lead to an elevated potential for respiratory irritation in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay and Gulf counties.
The Florida Department of Health reminds all people to protect themselves and their families against Florida Red Tide exposure.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), when the microscopic algae called Karenia brevis grow quickly, they can create blooms called Florida red tides that make the ocean appear red or brown. K. brevis produces powerful neurotoxins called brevetoxins, which can kill fish and other marine organisms. Florida red tides damage local fishing industries, shoreline quality, and local economies.
Some people who swim among brevetoxins or inhale brevetoxins dispersed in the air may experience irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, as well as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. People with existing respiratory illness, such as asthma, may experience these symptoms more severely.
Red tide does not affect everyone who comes into contact with it and usually symptoms end when a person leaves the area or goes indoors. Avoid exposure by not swimming or boating in these areas. Never eat dead fish or other animals found washed up on shorelines. Health officials recommend that people experiencing these symptoms stay away from beach areas — once a person leaves the red tide area, the symptoms usually go away. If symptoms do not subside, a person should contact their physician for assistance.
The most current information on Red Tide in Florida can be found at myfwc.com/redtide
Beachgoers with respiratory conditions, such as emphysema and asthma, may be more susceptible to red tide irritants. Here are 9 facts on the red tide blooms in Florida:
● In Florida, red tide is caused by a naturally occurring microscopic alga (a plant-like microorganism) called Karenia brevis or K. brevis.
● The organism produces a toxin that can affect the central nervous systems of fish, birds, mammals, and other animals.
● At high concentrations (called blooms), the organism may discolor the water — sometimes red, light or dark green, or brown.
● Red tides or harmful algal blooms (HABs) occur worldwide. K. brevis is found almost exclusively in the Gulf of Mexico but has been found on the east coast of Florida and off the coast of North Carolina.
● Red tide blooms can last days, weeks, or months and can also change daily due to wind conditions and water currents. Onshore winds normally bring it near the shore and offshore winds drive it out to sea.
● Red tide was first officially recorded in Florida in 1844.
● A red tide bloom needs biology (the organisms), chemistry (natural or man-made nutrients for growth), and physics (concentrating and transport mechanisms). No single factor causes it. Tests are being conducted to see if coastal nutrients enhance or prolong blooms.
● Red tide can irritate the skin and breathing of some people.
● Seafood from restaurants and hotels is monitored and is safe to eat.
Related: Red tide lingers, but the effect is minimal Sarasota Herald-Tribune
While environmentalists criticize water policy plans, they draw defender in Putnam
Palm Beach Post – by John Kennedy
December 9, 2015
Environmentalists held news conferences around Florida Wednesday critical of legislation cast as the state’s centerpiece effort to protect endangered waterways and springs.
“In their current forms, these bills will not protect the citizens of Florida or our natural resources,” said Katie Tripp, director of science and conservation for the Save the Manatee Club.
The club was among 106 organizations and businesses that signed onto a letter sent to Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, that cite problems with the major water proposals, (SB 552, HB 7005).
The measures cover stormwater management, springs’ protection, water supply and the always combative intersection of agriculture and environment around Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee River and St. Lucie River estuaries.
A similar effort failed to clear the Legislature earlier this year. But it’s been retooled and, supporters say, toughened.
The latest proposals also require the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research to provide an annual assessment of the state’s water resources and conservation lands — a step seen as helping keep the state’s water woes at the forefront.
Environmental groups Wednesday, however, said the push is “undermined by loopholes” and cite 11 areas of concern that need work.
Separately, though, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said the legislation assured that Florida was headed toward “measurable progress.”
“There will be measurable progress toward…closing the gap of a 1.3 billion gallon per day shortfall of water to support people, agriculture and the environment,” Putnam said in a meeting with reporters at the Capitol.
“This bill is a heavy lift. It fell apart last year because it is a significant water policy that is comprehensive and statewide in nature….If it were easy, it would be sailing through. It does things, which is why it is meriting a lot of scrutiny,” he concluded.
Everglades restoration is good for business
Miami Herald - Irela M. Bagué, chair, Sustainability, Environment & Energy Committee,
Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce
December 8, 2015
Fifteen years ago, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was adopted by the U.S. Congress. It was estimated that CERP would cost $8.2 billion and take approximately 30 years to complete. Since then we have seen some progress, but also too many delays.
The South Florida Water Management District serves as Florida’s local sponsor providing 50 percent of the cost share and has taken the lead on moving some critical projects forward. However, the time has come to make Everglades restoration a priority.
It’s important to note the governor’s intent is to fund Everglades restoration from the Water and Land Legacy Amendment funds. The legislature should dedicate 25 percent of those funds to Everglades projects. The federal government must increase their funding so that approved projects can be constructed.
In 1999, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce assembled a group of diverse community, business and environmental leaders to produce a white paper titled, In South Florida the Environment is the Economy. It served as a call to action and helped conclude that investing in Everglades Restoration was good for business.
Recently, the GMCC adopted a resolution in support of the expedition of critical CERP projects in Miami-Dade. They include the C-111 Spreader Canal and Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands which will provide needed fresh water into Florida Bay and Biscayne Bay.
A recent Mather Economics study found that for every $1 invested in restoring the Everglades there’s a $4 return in economic benefits. Constructing these projects not only brings jobs and economic growth, but will also provide protection against sea level rise and salt water intrusion in our drinking water supply. There’s no more time to waste.
Supporting a water-friendly Florida agriculture
Gainesville.com – by Robert E. Ulanowicz, a member of the advisory board of the Ichetucknee Alliance and a resident of Gainesville
December 8, 2015
Most are aware of Florida’s growing water crisis, but few seem eager to consider the elephant in the parlor. Water expert Thomas Swihart reports that agricultural irrigation accounts for more than 60 percent of all freshwater consumed in Florida, although the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services reported in 2011 that the agricultural sector comprised approximately 1 percent of the state’s total domestic product.
Despite this surprising disparity, agriculture’s contributions to Florida’s water problems are only infrequently discussed, because “everyone has to eat!”
Of course, food is necessary for survival, but it is also true that “everyone needs to drink!” In fact, the physiological need for water is far stronger than for food. The rule of thumb is that humans can survive three weeks without food, but only three days without water.
We rightly focus on widespread starvation in our world, but we also need to recognize the rising global shortage of freshwater for humanity. Pope Francis in his recent Encyclical was moved by growing scarcity to proclaim that, “[W]ater is a scarce and indispensable resource and a fundamental right … This indisputable fact overrides any other assessment of environmental impact on a region.”
The priority of water is also very apparent in North Florida. While food can be readily transported over road and rail, water is heavy and expensive to move. Besides, there are no neighboring sources of freshwater that could be brought into our region — witness the current “water wars” among Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
Available water must come from within our region, and it exists overwhelmingly in the form of groundwater. The Floridan aquifer meets the EPA definition of a “sole source aquifer.” There is no real alternative.
Florida currently is home to 22 million people. To feed that many from local agriculture is unrealistic. Florida history reveals how our colonial forebears were always on the brink of starvation because of the very poor soils of our region.
Production can be forced from our soils only by the application of copious amounts of water and fertilizer. Any irrigation that returns to the aquifer carries with it polluting nitrogen, and growing extraction is beginning to draw saltwater inland and from below. Agricultural over-production would leave the region sitting atop a brackish cesspool.
Unfortunately, technology offers no easy solution. Techniques for more efficient irrigation are certainly welcome and necessary, but the gains from such Best Management Practices (BMPs) inevitably will be swamped by the demands of Florida’s burgeoning population.
Furthermore, the cost of desalinization is both energetically and financially daunting. A thriving industrial sector cannot be built upon desalinated water. Nor, for that matter, can desalted water sustain a significant agriculture. The very survival of our region depends in so many ways upon preserving a sustainable source of fresh, clean groundwater.
The priority of water should in no way, however, obscure the necessity of agriculture for our area. Numerous counties in North Florida draw most of their employment and lifeblood from agriculture. Buying local produce saves significant energy and returns capital to local farmers. The persistence of vital farms is necessary for the preservation of open space that otherwise might be developed, thereby making even heavier demands upon the aquifer.
Furthermore, there is a legacy of farming that coexisted with, for example, the abundant flow of clean water from our springs. But agriculture has changed, especially in scale and proportion. Until recent decades, most farms were locally owned and they recycled nutrients from nearby organic sources — somewhat akin to the Jeffersonian ideal of the family farm that most want to preserve.
Today, however, Florida agriculture is more typified by large corporate holdings. The 349 largest irrigated farms account for 64 percent of all the irrigated acreage. These operations import artificially captured nitrogen and many export profits from the state.
How, then, to achieve a viable agriculture overlying a sustainable aquifer? As an initial measure, BMPs should be strengthened and made mandatory, not voluntary. Incentives should be provided for farms to switch to less water-consumptive crops, like longleaf pine or sesame seed.
Requests for additional large-scale withdrawals should be rigorously scrutinized and most simply denied. Water takes priority! Consumers should support local produce grown by resident farmers using BMPs.
Most importantly, there must be an end to the free lunch. Agricultural interests pay essentially nothing for the precious water they extract. Tiered charges for water withdrawals must be collected from all users — domestic, agricultural and industrial, in order to foster conservation and efficiency.
Jacksonville industrialist Preston Haskell understands how the continued survival of Florida industry and jobs calls for this form of economic control. How long must it be before agriculturalists realize that their own survival requires the same remedy?
Pumping to inject and
To keep water at hand, Clay plans to pour it into ground
Jacksonville.com - by Steve Patterson
December 8, 2015
County turns to storing reclaimed water in ponds, aquifers.
LAKE ASBURY | Cows linger in a field behind the Mid-Clay Wastewater Treatment Plant as trucks rumble past a plant access road, carrying load after load of dirt for construction sites.
In between rural pastures and the area’s spreading tracts of suburbia, people running the treatment plant are trying to harvest another feature of Clay County’s shifting landscape: water.
“We’re looking at reclaimed water as a resource,” said Jeremy Johnston, chief operations officer for the Clay County Utility Authority. “… We can’t afford to waste water anymore.”
The utility cleans about 7 million gallons of sewer water per day and reuses most of it to water lawns and landscaping.
Starting this winter, the utility expects to put the rest back into the ground.
On 22 acres abutting subdivisions, crews built a string of “percolation ponds,” 5-foot deep depressions meant to receive about 2.2 million gallons a day of reclaimed water that will gradually seep into a shallow aquifer.
Until now, reclaimed water that wasn’t needed immediately was just poured into the St. Johns River and Black Creek (sent “to tide” is the utility’s term for it). But with warnings that water could be harder to get in coming decades, utility managers decided to keep their reclaimed water close at hand.
“We don’t want to discharge it to tide because then we’re not getting the benefit of treating that wastewater, being able to utilize it,” Johnston said.
Within 10 or 15 years, the county could also draw rainwater from ponds built alongside roads, then clean it and funnel it into the same system. A pilot project to test that idea is partially built, with the rest on hold until roadwork around it finishes.
“It’s trying to make use of an available resource that currently is not utilized at all,” said Ken Fraser, the utility’s chief engineer.
The ponds are on a spot where the utility once planned to build a 135-million gallon reservoir for reclaimed water before concluding that carried too many technical and cost problems.
Water left to percolate is supposed to seep through a pond’s sandy bottom in a day or less and slip into the surficial aquifer, the shallowest layer of water underground. The chain of ponds means one can receive water while another drains, keeping the system regularly available, said Charles Sohm, a utility engineer.
Demand for reclaimed water spikes in late spring and can exceed the amount of wastewater treated daily. For times like that, underground pipes have been positioned to pump out water expected to accumulate in low-demand months, treating the surficial aquifer like a big holding tank.
The surficial aquifer ends about 85 feet below ground level, and it’s far above the Floridan aquifer that utilities regularly tap for drinking water, which can reach to depth of more than 1,500 feet. But surficial water is important to Florida’s environment because it helps keep plants and wetlands hydrated and healthy.
Computer models have projected that excessive levels of pumping could overtax the Floridan aquifer by 2035, and water management agencies could limit the amount of water being withdrawn before then.
Water from the Floridan is also used for lawn-watering during months when there’s not enough reclaimed water available, so piping has been installed to take back reclaimed water from the surficial aquifer instead.
“That’s unfortunate when you have to go to the Floridan aquifer for something that could be supplied by reclaimed water,” said John Hendrickson, a St. Johns River Water Management District scientist.
Besides saving strain on the aquifer, Hendrickson said returning reclaimed water to the ground will also reduce the amount of algae-feeding nitrogen entering the river.
Water released from wastewater plants has been cleaned of bacteria that pose health risks, but it still carries nitrogen that was in the sewage before it was treated.
The amount of nitrogen entering the river changes with the seasons, since more reclaimed water is used on lawns during warmer months.
Clay County and other local governments have spent millions over more than a decade to meet state and federal rules requiring them to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous levels in the St. Johns, where some algae blooms have led to die-offs of fish and some underwater grasses important to the river’s health.
Being able to simply avoid wastewater reaching the river “is the ultimate solution. This gets rid of it all, even under wet weather,” Hendrickson said.
The utility spent about $2 million building the percolation ponds, constructed since February. The wastewater plant next to the ponds closed in 2013, but it will be used to filter and clean water that’s retrieved from the surficial aquifer. Installing new filters on the plant won’t be done until after the ponds go into service, but the plant should be running by March, Fraser said. Pipes connect reclaimed water lines from all the county’s treatment plants, so excess water from any source can be routed to the ponds.
Four out of five homes in the county’s new developments are expected to have piping to use reclaimed water on lawns.
Big mains carrying reclaimed water could, in time, also receive treated rainwater from ponds along major roads, starting with the long-discussed outer beltway that’s now called the First Coast Expressway. A study completed last year for the utility listed 46 sites that collectively could produce about 8 million gallons of water daily that would be routed through pipes called “horizontal wells” because they move water from one spot just beneath ground-level to another.
Building and running a system to collect that water could cost almost $27 million over 30 years, but in high-demand times the county isn’t expected to have enough reclaimed water without some change, the study said.
Florida DEP signals intent to pump water from Morris Bridge Sink
WMNF.org - by Sean Kinane
December 7, 2015
The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) has asked the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for permission to pump water out of the Morris Bridge Sink near Thonotosassa; the DEP has just issued its notice of intent to allow the project to proceed. It’s part of a plan to restore water flow and ecological health to the Lower Hillsborough River, below a . But our guest on WMNF News’ MidPoint says there are other sources for the needed freshwater and that the financial cost and environmental risk of pumping up to 3.9 million gallons of water a day from Morris Bridge Sink.
Rich Brown is from Friends of the Hillsborough River and is also chair of the Planning Commission’s technical advisory council for the river. It makes recommendations to the River Board (which has representatives from from Temple Terrace, Tampa City Council and Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners).
Brown says thhere are also plans to pump Blue Sink, which is in Tampa, near Fowler Avenue & Florida Avenue. He says that may lead to sinkholes.
We talked about why there is concern about how much water is flowing to the Lower Hillsborough River and what increased water flow would do to the health & ecology of the Lower Hillsborough.
We looked at all the other sources for the water besides the Morris Bridge Sink near the Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve such as the Tampa Bypass Canal (which breached the Floridan Aquifer when it was created), the desalination plant and the C.W. “Bill” Young Aquifer.
During a drought in 2000 water was pumped from the Morris Bridge Sink and residential wells were damaged. A local government had to replace them.
A SWFWMD study from about 5 years ago concluded that increased pumping could create well interference
We also heard two listener comments about our recent shows. One commented about the show on the history of the Johns Committee, a Cold-War-era group that that cracked down on gay and lesbian state employees including professors at universities. The other left a message about our show last week where we played an excerpt from Donald Trump’s speech in Sarasota.
Related: Request to pump water from Hillsborough wilderness preserve ... Tampabay.com
Presidential candidates vary on sugar price supports
TCPalm.com - by Bartholomew Sullivan
December 7, 2015
WASHINGTON — Sugar almost always gets its way in Washington, so it was news when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz called for an end to price supports for the industry and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said through intermediaries that he'd like to see the program phased out.
That puts them at odds with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whose long-standing support of the sugar industry has won him the backing of the Republican-supporting wing of the Palm Beach sugar baron Fanjul family and its Florida Crystals Corp.
Florida Crystals and a related Fanjul company have contributed $200,000 to the super political action committee Conservative Solutions backing Rubio, records show. Jose "Pepe" Fanjul was there when Rubio announced his candidacy in April and he and his son, Pepito, have hosted two fundraisers since.
"I'm not going to wipe out an American industry that happens to have a lot of workers in Florida by unilaterally disarming," Rubio said last month.
Rubio's position that ending the program might have national security implications has been ridiculed by conservative critics of the program, including the National Review, The Wall Street Journal and free-market think tanks such as the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation. Cruz calls the sugar program "corporate welfare."
Records released by Bush's independent Super PAC Right to Rise USA showed the organization received $505,000 from the U.S. Sugar Corp. of Clewiston in the first six months of this year. The contributions initially were reported as coming from the company's charitable trust but the error was corrected. Right to Rise spokesman Paul Lindsay did not respond to an email message seeking additional information and U.S. Sugar spokeswoman Judy Sanchez did not return phone messages.
Florida Sugar Cane League Executive Vice President Ryan Weston, based in Washington, doesn't see much daylight between Rubio's position and the one he believes Bush still holds, and wondered whether Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell, who told The Washington Post he favors "a phaseout of the program," was quoted out of context.
In answers on a questionnaire, Weston said, "Gov. Bush talked about his preference would be to get rid of all subsidies on commodities that are traded around the world but it did not say to get rid of U.S. subsidies before other countries get rid of their subsidies.
"Gov. Bush has supported farmers in Florida. He's supported sugar farmers in Florida when he was governor. As far as I know, his position is still the same: He would not get rid of U.S. farm policies first before other countries agreed to get rid of their policies, I assume just like Sen. Rubio is saying," Weston said.
The Bush campaign did not respond to requests to clarify his position.
The sugar program operates by having both consumers and taxpayers subsidize the industry, keeping prices high by limiting imports of cheaper foreign sugar and guaranteeing a minimum price that's typically twice the world price of sugar. That also makes visits to the grocery store for confections like candy and cakes more expensive, critics contend. The sugar industry defends the program by pointing to price-distorting subsidies offered by foreign governments to their domestic sugar growers.
If Bush has had a change of heart about sugar in particular, some contend his position might have been influenced by a sugar substitute, high-fructose corn syrup, and its supporters in the early caucus state of Iowa.
The program also operates so that if the market price is below the guaranteed price, sugar growers can dump it on the U.S. Department of Agriculture in repayment of production loans. Surplus government-owned sugar is sold to ethanol producers at a discount. The program has plenty of critics and is always a target for legislative reform but it continues in part because, last year alone, five sugar industry-related groups spent $8.3 million on lobbying. The industry also bankrolls political campaigns, ensuring loyalty. Many upper Midwest members of Congress have sugar beet farmers among their constituents.
Other candidates whose campaigns were asked for positions on the U.S. Sugar Program did not respond to phone or email messages, including Republicans Donald Trump, Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Chris Christie and Rand Paul and Democrats Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders.
But some positions can be inferred through their histories on the issue. For example, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul co-sponsored S. 685, the Free Sugar Act of 2011, that would have prohibited sugar price supports and ended quota controls. In what might appear to be ancient history, Ohio Gov. but then-U.S. Rep. John Kasich in 1999 said he opposed sugar subsidies, according to an Associated Press story.
Even more remote, Santorum, in 1995, as a freshman senator from Pennsylvania, home of Hershey chocolates, tried to take on Big Sugar from a perch in the Agriculture Committee, and lost.
"The Senate Agriculture Committee is not the place to get reform in agricultural issues," he said at the time. "I found that out."
Fiorina talks of "crony capitalism" in her stump speech but doesn't single out sugar.
Vermont Sen. Sanders, seeking the Democratic nomination, has voted for Farm Bills of which the sugar program was part but also, more tellingly, was one of 53 senators voting against an amendment offered by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., in 2012, that would have reformed the sugar program.
Former Maryland Gov. O'Malley's campaign did not respond to a request to state his position on the sugar program. His brother, Peter O'Malley, an adviser to his Baltimore mayoral and gubernatorial campaigns and a former chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party, is a corporate vice president at American Sugar Refining Group/Domino Sugar.
Hillary Clinton's campaign also did not respond to requests to discuss sugar policy. She was a New York senator campaigning for president in June 2008 when the Farm Bill and its sugar provisions came up for a floor vote. Then-Sen. Barack Obama was also absent for that vote.
But in a perhaps-telling footnote in the history of her husband's administration captured in the Starr Report, Monica Lewinsky told investigators the president took a February 1996 call from the prominent Democrat-backing Alphonso Fanjul, Pepe's brother, while she was present in the Oval Office. Fanjul was calling to complain about a proposal former Vice President Al Gore had announced hours earlier to charge Florida sugar growers a penny a pound to clean polluted water in Everglades National Park. After the 22-minute phone call, the penny a pound proposal was quietly dropped.
Pepe Fanjul was serving as Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole's finance chairman that year.
To head off the project, the National Park Service this week announced it will acquire Florida Power & Light Co.'s seven-mile corridor through the eastern part of the park. In exchange, the park will give the company a narrow stretch of land on its eastern border, through which the company can run its power lines.
Deal stops power lines through Everglades
Sun Sentinel – by David Fleshler
December 6, 2015
Many threats to the Everglades are subtle: a worsening of water chemistry, the slow creep of non-native plants.
Then there's the plan to run three sets of transmission lines through Everglades National Park on towers up to 150 feet high, destroying wetlands and ruining wildlife habitat so that electricity could flow north from new reactors planned at the Turkey Point nuclear plant.
New power lines will NOT go through the ENP but on its side
The park plans to use the land as part of a pathway for more water to flow into the northeastern Shark River Slough, where wetlands parched from more than a century of human alteration to the South Florida landscape are less able to support alligators, wading birds and other wildlife.
"This is an important step in our nation's long term plan to restore the
Everglades," said Everglades National Park Superintendent Pedro Ramos.
"Acquisition of this property is central to our efforts to elevate water levels in this area of thepark. It is a critical component of long term Everglades ecosystem restoration."
This is an important step in our nation's long term plan to restore the Everglades.-
Although the park acknowledged the swap would cost the park some land, the agreement calls for FPL to try to avoid actually having to take the land for the project, which is years off, but rather to continue trying to acquire a power line corridor farther east, outside the park boundaries.
The decision still fell short of what many environmentalists hoped for, an outright purchase of the FPL land without the surrender of any park territory in exchange.
Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, said the decision would still allow the company to put power lines along the eastern edge of the park, creating a "new industrial landscape for visitors to the eastern side of Everglades National Park."
Ecological impacts will be severe and include increased electrocutions and collisions with birds, including federally threatened wood stork colonies known to use this area.- Matthew Schwartz, South Florida Wildlands Association:
"The lines will be visible for miles — including the observation tower at the end of Shark Valley and for the hundreds of thousands who visit the area on airboat tours," he said. "Ecological impacts will be severe and include increased electrocutions and collisions with birds, including federally threatened wood stork colonies known to use this area, the spread of invasive plant species in the east Everglades through soil disturbance, changes to the hydrology of the east Everglades due to the construction of the concrete pads and access road, and other impacts that may still be unknown at this point."
But the National Parks Conservation Association said the deal eliminates the threat of power lines running through the park and expressed hope that the company would succeed in finding land farther east for its power lines.
"We are cautiously optimistic," said Cara Capp, the group's Everglades restoration program manager. "The land swap presents an opportunity for FPL to be good corporate stewards of our beloved Everglades by sticking to its promise to use only a portion of the exchanged lands, possibly none, for its power line corridor and donate the unused land back to the park to be managed for preservation and restoration."
The 320-acre FPL corridor stands on land called the East Everglades Expansion Area, added to the park in 1989. The park wants to acquire the FPL corridor, along with other privately held parcels within the expansion area, to use them to allow more water to flow into the park. The land that would go to FPL in exchange is a 260-acre, 6.5 mile corridor on the edge of the expansion area.
Ramos said the deal would help restore the Everglades while "mitigating costs to the government."
Greg Brostowicz, spokesman for FPL, said the company was "pleased with the decision outlined by the National Park Service, which both protects Everglades National Park and the interests of FPL customers."
He said the company is committed through agreements with the state to pursue an alternate corridor east of the park, and if it succeeds, it will return the land from the swap. But even if the swap takes place unchanged, he said, the deal protects the park and FPL.
"It guarantees that a 7.4-mile stretch of land currently owned by FPL and inside of the park boundary becomes a permanent part of Everglades National Park, resulting in additional acreage being added to the park," he said. "It also ensures FPL customers are fairly compensated by relocating FPL's right of way to the park's eastern edge, adjacent to an area of existing development that includes roads, homes and commercial businesses."
Follow law in protecting water as public resource
Ocala.com - by Jason Totoiu, executive director of the Winter Haven-based Everglades Law Center Inc. (Special to the Star-Banner)
December 6, 2015
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam’s recent column, “The time for bold water policy is now,” correctly identified the need for a comprehensive, statewide approach to sustain our long-term water quality and water supply. Thankfully, Florida law provides a strong foundation for the protection and management of our water resources based on the fundamental principle that water is a public resource. The law, however, is only as good as its implementation and enforcement.
The Water Resources Act was passed in 1972 following a special water conference convened by the late Gov. Reubin Askew, who declared a water crisis amid water shortages, saltwater intrusion into wellfields, and fires in the Everglades.
Fast-forward more than 40 years. Despite the act’s creation of regional water management districts, which are responsible for setting minimum flows and levels to protect our state’s waters from significant harm, and establishing water reservations to protect fish and wildlife, our state is experiencing a second crisis. Excessive water consumption is depleting our aquifers, the absence of consistent clean water flows is causing toxic algae blooms in our springs, estuaries and bays, and not enough water flows south to restore America’s Everglades.
What went wrong? Key protections of our water law have not been implemented. In many cases, water managers failed to quantify the water needs of the natural system when the law was enacted. Now they are faced with the difficult task of restoring ecosystems damaged by over-allocation of water and preventing future harm, while seeking to make even more water available to meet the growing needs of our state’s residents and businesses.
Florida missed an opportunity to implement key protections before and we cannot afford to miss the same opportunity again. Water managers must quantify both the needs of the natural system and the amount of water available for human consumption at sustainable levels. They must also expeditiously develop and implement water reservations and minimum flows and levels to ensure that future allocations will not cause even greater stress to our surface waters and aquifers. Further, lawmakers have a tremendous opportunity with the passage of Amendment 1 to help solve our state’s water crisis by funding land acquisition to assist in meeting our restoration needs.
While Commissioner Putnam celebrates improvements, the partial mitigation of significant, longstanding harm does not equate with real success. For example, Putnam lauds the use of best management practices even though much more is needed to address pollution flowing into Lake Okeechobee.
In 2001, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection established a limit for phosphorus inflows and set a target date of Jan. 1, 2015 to achieve it. That date has come and gone and the inflow of phosphorus is nearly four times higher than the established limit.
For Lake Okeechobee, we need an implementation plan with five-year milestones, clear measurable performance markers and state agencies that ensure these milestones are met. Best management practices alone are not enough if they do not put us on a path toward meeting the environmental standards based on the best science.
Commissioner Putnam is right, in that water is “Florida’s goose” and the time to act is now. We can solve our state’s water crisis through collaboration, innovation and sound planning if we learn from our past mistakes, optimize our existing laws to protect our natural systems, and always treat our state’s precious water supplies as public resources, as the Water Resources Act requires.
Hope Indian River County doesn’t get zapped by power plant
TCPalm,com - Laurence Reisman
December 6, 2015
At $1.2 billion, it would have been the most expensive project ever built in Indian River County — and have added about $3 million in taxes annually to its general fund.
But Florida Power & Light Co. isn't building a power plant fueled by natural gas in Indian River County. Instead, FPL hopes to build what it calls a "clean energy center" on 220 acres in Okeechobee County, just across the Indian River County line. The plant could open in 2019.
The rub: The only entrance to the 1,600-megawatt natural-gas plant, enough to provide power 24/7 to 300,000 homes, is from Indian River County — a private road just west of State Road 60's "20-Mile Bend."
This past week, the Florida Public Service Commission heard arguments on whether FPL should be allowed to build. FPL says it's necessary to meeting increased demand. Nothing convinced me FPL shouldn't be allowed to build the plant, though it could add an estimated 54 cents per month to an average electric bill.
That's chump change. FPL's bills are the lowest in Florida. This plant, company officials say, would be one of the most efficient power plants of its kind in the world.
But how will Indian River County residents be impacted?
One issue initially raised by some local officials was FPL's plan to pump about 9 million gallons of water per day from Florida's main drinking water source. In an ideal world, FPL would use excess water headed south into Lake Okeechobee. Unfortunately, it's too dirty and not easily accessible. The good news is FPL will pump about 2 million gallons a day back into the ground.
Instead, construction is one of the biggest issues. For two years, an estimated 650 workers at peak times will build the plant. They're not all going to come from the west. Construction will be good for business in Indian River County, certainly hotels at Interstate 95 and S.R. 60 and restaurants out that way. There will be good opportunities for local companies and workers.
But while the power plant will nearly double Okeechobee County's tax base (now about $1.5 billion), it won't do anything for Indian River. Shouldn't FPL or Okeechobee reimburse Indian River County for, if nothing else, impacts the power plant will have on county roads?
David McDermitt, an FPL spokesman, said he doesn't think so. Stan Boling, Indian River County's planning director, said any such impact fee would be minimal. Boling said FPL may have to add a right-turn lane into the complex on eastbound S. R. 60.
Ultimately, there will be only about 30 workers at the plant. But what happens if law enforcement or fire-rescue services are needed?
"The fact Indian River County is getting no tax revenues from the plant … emergency services … is a wild card," Boling said. "It's Okeechobee County's obligation to be first-responders."
That means fire-rescue crews must head north on U.S. 441 from Okeechobee's northernmost fire station to Yeehaw Junction, then east on S.R. 60 — more than 20 miles to get to the plant. Ralph Franklin, Okeechobee County's public safety director and fire chief, said he's confident crews could get to the plant within 30 minutes.
At some point, Franklin said, a road could be built in Okeechobee County to enter the 2,842 acres FPL owns. Other FPL plans for the parcel include a wetland preserve (376 acres), open space (104 acres) and pasture (513 acres). A solar facility could be built eventually on 1,629 acres.
How confident is Indian River County's fire chief his units won't get called out regularly to help or cover for the Okeechobee fire-rescue folks? No idea. While Franklin called me back, John King, director of emergency services in Indian River County, did not.
Even so, Indian River County's closest fire stations, on 82nd Avenue and in Fellsmere, are about as far away as the one in Okeechobee.
The FPL plant is a big hit for Okeechobee County. Since we have no jurisdiction, we'll have to hope for the best. Luckily, Indian River County, with the fourth-lowest property tax rate in the state, doesn't need of a project like this. Let's hope we don't get stuck with the unintended or unfunded consequences.
Legislature slow to act on Indian River Lagoon’s septic tank pollution
TCPalm.com - by Isadora Rangel
December 6, 2015
There are as many as 600,000 septic tanks in the five counties along the Indian River Lagoon and pollution from them is a primary source of pollution in the estuary, a recent study found.
Yet septic tanks have not received as much attention in the Legislature in the last two years as other lagoon polluters, such as Lake Okeechobee discharges.
The last time lawmakers addressed the issue in a comprehensive manner was 2012, when it repealed mandatory septic tank inspections once every five years.
Environmentalists hope increased awareness about the harms of septic tanks will encourage lawmakers to consider new statewide policies to reduce their numbers and determine how much it would cost to help local governments switch to sewers.
A comprehensive water policy that will be heard in the January-through-March legislative session requires the state to identify septic tanks that significantly contribute to pollution in springs area in central and northern Florida and authorizes money for sewer conversions. That same approach has yet to be used for the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.
Lawmakers will tread carefully to protect the environment without trampling on property rights. Stringent regulations likely would face a backlash from property owners and builders, as did the now-defunct law mandating inspections, which Stuart Sen. Joe Negron opposed.
"What I don't support is having government come to people's property and inspect their septic tanks and inform them they have a $20,000 bill to replace a septic tank or have to pay a giant fee to hook up to sewer lines," said Negron, a Republican who will be Senate president in 2017-18.
Septic systems dump more than 4.4 million pounds of nitrogen every year into the 156-mile-long lagoon, although Lake Okeechobee discharges are responsible for dumping more nutrients in the southern lagoon, according to a study released in November by Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. Even septic tanks that function properly don't remove nitrogen and phosphorus, both contributors to toxic algae blooms.
Martin County, which commissioned the study, is considering whether to require all properties to be on a sewer line if there's one available.
Brian Lapointe, Harbor Branch research professor and study team leader, said he hopes increased scientific evidence of the harms of septic systems pushes lawmakers to implement a statewide program to identify the areas where septic tanks should be replaced with sewer lines and to secure more funding to help replace tanks near troubled waters. That's what happened in the Florida Keys, where the state mandated all Monroe County properties be connected to sewers.
Republican Rep. Debbie Mayfield of Vero Beach pushed for a simpler solution last year with a bill that would have allowed for a less-expensive hybrid system the city wanted to implement, which connects septic tanks to sewer lines. The bill died and the city has been lobbying the Department of Health to approve the projects without legislative action.
The state shouldn't leave the decision to counties and municipalities, Lapointe said, because their elected officials face more pressure from property owners who don't want to pay for the switch, which can cost anywhere from roughly $5,000 to $20,000. To offset those costs, local governments can apply for Department of Environmental Protection grants or ask the Legislature for money.
"Most of us have realized this is a problem," Lapointe said. "Having this density of septic tanks in this poor soil condition and high water tables is a recipe for disaster, and that's exactly what we are seeing play out."
The state should spend more money for septic-to-sewer conversions, Negron said, but added local governments and property owners should share in the cost as they do today.
Amendment 1 provides a new funding source, he said. Voters last year approved the land and water conservation measure to dedicate one-third of real estate transaction tax revenue to buy, restore and improve conservation land and water resources. While Negron said improving sewer systems fits that purpose, many environmentalists and Amendment 1 sponsors oppose using the money for septic-to-sewer conversion. They say that's the responsibility of local governments.
Whatever the funding source, the longer communities wait to switch, the more expensive it becomes as labor and materials costs increase with inflation, Lapointe said.
"My point is, you can pay now or you can pay later," he said. "This is why it comes back to leadership in Tallahassee. It needs to begin there and trickle down to local governments."
● Campus Carry has
a clear shot to the
● Environmental bill
springs, the Everglades
amd water management
● More than 30 bills
have cleared all of their
House or Senate
● Lawmakers have
filed 1,400 bills for 2016
, but on average less
than 15 percent will
pass the Legilslature
Campus Carry and a massive water bill await lawmakers in January
Tallahassee Democrat – by James Call, Reporter
December 5, 2015
Bills for six proposals have completed committee assignments and wait scheduling for floor debate when lawmakers return to Tallahassee in January
A proposal allowing university students to pack a gun along with laptops and textbooks for a political science class could be the first bill passed by the Florida House and Senate when they convene the 2016 legislative session in January.
Bills lifting a guns on campus ban have passed in committees in both chambers and await floor action when lawmakers return to Tallahassee next month.
Five other proposals also have completed their committee rounds and await debate in both chambers. They include a ban on the recreational shooting of firearms in residential areas, a bill creating the Florida Unique Abilities Partner Program to assist individuals with disabilities in finding work and maintaining a career, a massive water bill addressing drinking water, North Florida springs and South Florida Everglades, and finally, a measure allowing a citizen to break into an unattended car if a child or animal is in the vehicle.
Another 25 bills have cleared all their committee stops in one of the chambers. They are among the 1,042 bills filed for the Legislature to consider in 2016. Lawmakers have until noon Jan.12 to submit a proposal for next year’s session.
A small fraction of those bills will survive committee action and floor debates to make it to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk to be either signed or vetoed. In 2015, 231 bills were sent to Scott out of 1,755 filed in the House and Senate. That was the fewest number of bills approved since 2000, but the 13-percent approval rate fell within the 12 -15 percent range of the past decade.
Lobbyists gathered recently outside a committee room waiting for a presentation on the governor’s budget recommendation were reluctant to place odds on which bill would be the first to pass out of both chambers in 2016.
“I’m not a betting man and I’m not going to start by trying to predict what members of a legislature is going to do,” said former Jacksonville Senator Stephen Wise with a laugh. Wise was the Senate’s education expert until being termed out of office in 2012. He now lobbies on behalf social service advocacy groups.
In trying to pick which proposal would be the first to clear both chambers, Paul Wharton, whose list of clients includes hospitals and health care interests, said it is significant that Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli have made a commitment to help mainstream people with disabilities.
“I think when we look back on 2016 we will see that it was the year the Florida Legislature did something good for a vulnerable group of people that few have seem to have wanted to help,” said Wharton.
Wharton suggested quick passage of the Florida Unique Abilities Partner Program – HB 7003 -- could help lawmakers get pass any anger and resentment lingering from the failed sessions of 2015.
Disagreements on the budget, healthcare and redistricting had Florida’s part-time legislature spending 25 weeks in Tallahassee this year. In addition to a busted regular session in which a budget wasn’t passed because the House left three days early without giving advance notice to the Senate, there were two special redistricting sessions that failed to produce the desired results. Senators actually stormed out of a joint meeting with House colleagues while a House leader was in midsentence.
Here are the proposals ready for floor action when the Legislature returns to the Capital Jan. 12.
Ready for debate in the House and Senate
Discharge of Firearms: HB 41/SB 130 prohibits the recreational discharge of firearms in certain residential areas and provides criminal penalties.
Unattended Persons and Animals: HB 131/SB 308 provides immunity from civil liability for a person who breaks into or damages a motor vehicle related to rescue of person or animal left unattended.
Campus Carry: HB 4001/SB 68 would allow concealed-weapon permit holders to carry guns while on state college and university campuses.
Individuals with Disabilities: HB 7003/SB 376 & 388 establishes the Florida Unique Abilities Partner Program, Employment First Act and a Financial Literacy program for individuals with developmental disabilities.
Education Options: HB 7011 SB 672 expands the Personal Learning Scholarship Account program to cover 3 and 4-year old autistic children and make the scholarship a permanent part of the state budget.
Environmental Resources: HB 7005/ SB 552 creates the Florida Springs & Aquifer Protection Act and a conservation lands data base while also refining several state programs dealing with water including the Outstanding Florida Springs; Central Florida Water Initiative Area, the Northern Everglades & Estuaries Protection, Harris Chain of Lakes Restoration Council; and authorizes private land owners to assist water management districts.
The House has advanced only bills to the floor that have a Senate companion which has finished all of its Senate committee stops.
Here are the other 25 bills that are ready for debate in the Senate and the status of the House version.
SB 80: Family Trust, revises the purpose of the Family Trust Company Act and when the Office of Financial Regulation investigates applicants for a license. HB 17 has one more committee stop.
SB 86: Scrutinized Companies, requires the State Board of Administration to identify all companies boycotting the State of Israel in which the State of Florida has invested money. There are two House companions, HB 199 and HB 527, neither has been scheduled for a hearing.
SB 88: Gold Star License Plates, expands the number of individuals qualifying for the Gold Star program. HB 435 has two more committee stops.
SB 92: Contaminated Sites, provides additional cleanup criteria for brownfield sites and areas. HB 351 is in the State Affairs Committee.
SB 112: Absentee Voting, replaces the term “absentee ballot” with “vote by mail ballot” in state documents. HB 361 has one more committee stop.
SB 158: ID/Drivers licenses, would include a person’s status as a lifetime fishing, hunting, boater safety or sportsman licensee on his or her identification card or driver license. The House companion, HB 83 has cleared one committee and has one more committee stop.
SB 180: Trade Secrets, includes financial information in laws addressing theft, embezzlement and illegal copying of trade secrets. Companion HB 57 is in the Judiciary Committee.
SB 182: Public Records Meetings, expands public information request exemption to include certain data processing software, information held by county tourism agencies and information related to trade secrets. Companion HB 55 is in the Judiciary Committee.
SB 184: Voting Assistance Task Force, requires a study regarding continuing education for military veterans. And includes a voluntary check off on driver license and identification cards renewal forms to provide veterans with information on federal, state and local benefits and services. The companion, HB 429, has yet to be heard in committee.
SB 190 Conservation Easement, would lift a requirement for property owners to renew annually a conservation easement. The House version, HB 501, has cleared one committee and has two more stops.
SB 194: Trust Fund, would enable hospital districts to get money from the redevelopment trust fund. HB 565 has two more committee stops before reaching the floor.
SB 218: EBTs, defines certain specific acts as illegal trafficking in food assistance benefits cards and provides for criminal penalties. The House companion, HB 105, has cleared one committee and has two more committee assignments.
SB 228: Minimum Sentences, deletes aggravated assault from the list of convictions which carry a minimum term of imprisonment when the defendant possessed a firearm, semi-automatic weapon or a machine gun during commission of the offense. HB 135 has cleared one committee and has two more committee stops.
SB 230: Missing Persons, creates a pilot program to provide personal devices to aid search-and-rescue efforts for persons with special needs. HB 11 has cleared one committee and has two more committee assignments before reaching the House floor.
SB 238: Medical Certificate, removes American Association of Medical Assistants and American Medical Technologists as certifying agents for medical assistants. Assistants are not licensed in Florida and certification is voluntary. HB 4007 has cleared one committee and has one more stop.
SB 288: State Designation, renames the John U Lloyd Beach State Park as the Eula Johnson State Park and directs the Department of Environmental Protection to erect suitable markers. HB 497 has yet to be scheduled for a committee hearing.
SB 320: Public Records Medical Techs/Paramedics, exempts information of current and former emergency medical technicians from public records requirements. HB 391 has one more committee stop before heading to the House floor.
SB 340: Vision Care, regulates conditions prepaid limited health service organizations and HMOs place on licensed ophthalmologists and optometrists when they join a network. HB 377 has two committee stops before reaching House floor.
SB 344: Stand Your Ground, shifts the burden of proof to the state when a defendant invokes the stand-your-ground law in cases involving the use of force. The House companion died in the Criminal Justice committee.
SB 396: Civil Actions, removes requirement for a non-resident plaintiff to post a $100 bond to cover costs in a civil action. HB 4029 has one more committee stop.
SB 416: Location Utilities, narrows county and the Department of Transportation’s ability to regulate the placement and maintenance of utility lines within a public easement along a road or highway. It also limits utilities’ responsible to pay to relocate the lines. HB 461 has cleared one committee and has one more stop before heading to the House floor.
SB 450: Physical Therapy, revises the definition of “practice of physical therapy to allow a person with a doctoral degree to use the letters “DPT” and “P.T.” with their name and business. The bill also extends by nine days the time frame for which a licensed physical therapist can provide treatment for a condition not assessed by a licensed physician. HB 107 is in Health & Human Services.
SB 530: The Calder Sloan Swimming Pool Task Force, requires a task force to make recommendations regarding all aspects of electrical safety around public and private swimming pools. An identical bill, HB 295 has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.
SB 7010: Individuals with Disabilities, is similar to and contains some of the programs found in HB 7003, SB 376 and SB 388, all of which awaits scheduling for floor debate.
SB 7016: reenacts the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children and provides for review and repeal of the compact in 2019. There is no House companion.
TheRealDeal.com – by Mike Seemuth
December 5, 2015
The deal would move construction of FPL power lines to the park's eastern edge
Everglades National Park - - The National Park Service approved a land swap planned by Florida Power & Light and Everglades National Park, which would push construction of FPL power lines to the east side of the park and away from the Shark River Slough, an environmentally sensitive part of the park.
FPL owns a 7.4-mile strip of land along the slough, where power-line construction could interfere with efforts to restore depleted marshes.
FPL plans to swap its land for a 6.5-mile strip of park land on the eastern border of the Everglades National Park. There FPL plans to build three 150-foot-tall power lines that would transmit power from a proposed expansion of the utility’s Turkey Point nuclear plant in Homestead.
The FPL land, which the utility assembled the land in the 1960s and 1970s, is one of a handful of privately owned patches of land within Everglades National Park. Congressional action in 1989 enlarged the park by 107,000 acres.
Linda Friar, a spokeswoman for Everglades National Park, told the Miami Herald that more than 8,000 owners of property inside the park’s boundaries have sold out over the years, leaving just six, including three airboat businesses, two radio tower owners and FPL.
SAC to discuss seagrass death
KeysNews.com – by Timothy O’Hara, Citizen Staff
December 5, 2015
The seagrass die-off in Florida Bay off Key Largo this year has been called some of the worst since marine biologists were warning of the bay's collapse in the late 1980s and 1990s.
The South Florida Water Management District board, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Monroe County Commission have all discussed the issue and commented about the need to expedit ...
For the complete article, please pick up a copy of The Citizen for this day or purchase this day's electronic edition at http://secure.floridakeys.com/keysnews/enews. Home Delivery & Electronic Edition subscibers to The Citizen may access this article, once logged in to keysnews.com, at no charge. If you forget your password, please call us at 305-292-7777, ext. 4.
Conservationists divided over proposed Everglades National Park land swap with Florida Power and Light
Nat. Parks Traveler - by Kurt Repanshek
December 4, 2015
Editor's note: This corrects that there was no preferred alternative in the draft EIS, and the public review period runs 30 days, not 60.
A proposal by the National Park Service to swap some land in Everglades National Park with a utility company looking to build a transmission line corridor is dividing conservationists over whether it will benefit or harm the national park.
The proposal, outlined Thursday in a Federal Register notice, calls for the park to swap 260 acres along its eastern boundary to Florida Power and Light in return for 320 acres located in an inholding the utility owns inside the park.
At issue is a corridor that Florida Power and Light has proposed to locate 70, 150-foot-tall, high-power transmission towers to reach two proposed nuclear power reactors next to two existing units at the Turkey Point nuclear facility on the edge of nearby Biscayne National Park. The company's preferred route would take the corridor along the Everglades boundary, though one option would be to run it through the 320-acre inholding. The 2009 Omnibus Public Lands Bill gave the Park Service permission to pursue acquisition of this 7-mile-long tract.
Park Service acquisition of the FPL property, or a flowage easement on the property, is needed to support the mission of the park and is vital to long-term protection of the park for ecosystem restoration purposes, according to park officials. The FPL property is needed to support the goals of restoring the Northeast Shark River Slough and to fulfill the purposes of the Modified Water Deliveries project and the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
One alternative in the Park Service's draft Environmental Impact Statement called for the agency to acquire the 320 acres through a purchase or use of eminent domain, the preferred alternative in the final EIS announced Thursday centers on a land swap.
The National Parks Conservation Association cautiously applauded the proposal, with Cara Capp, the group's Everglades Restoration program manager, saying the "land swap presents an opportunity for FPL to be good corporate stewards of our beloved Everglades by sticking to its promise to use only a portion of the exchanged lands, possibly none, for its power line corridor and donate the unused land back to the park to be managed for preservation and restoration."
But Mathew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, said it was a bad deal.
"The environmentally preferred alternative is acquiring FPL's old and unused corridor inside the park - same as they did with hundreds of other private parcels inside the East Everglades Expansion Area - and stopping there. Giving the company the east side of the park in exchange is not good," he said in an email. "FPL will have the option of building a massive powerline corridor along the floodplain of the Shark River Slough - the lifeblood of water into the park, and the reason that the East Everglades was acquired in 1989 in the first place."
At the NPCA, Ms. Capp said the park advocacy group would prefer to see the Park Service simply acquire the inholding without swapping any land in return. "But under this new alternative, which I’m still assessing, we appreciate that there’s an opportunity that most or possibility all of the swamp lands will be donated back to the park," she said during a phone call.
Ms. Capp said that if the final EIS is formally approved by the Park Service following its 30-day public review period, Florida Power and Light officials would begin trying to obtain land outside the park for their needs. She said there are lands now owned by gravel pit operations and state lands that possibly could be used for the transmission corridor.
“Over the course of the next few years, FPL will try to buy land and piece together a corridor outside of the park," said the NPCA official. If the utility is able to do that, it would donate the 260 acres obtained through the proposed swap back to Everglades National Park, she added.
Could your urine be Florida field’s new fertilizer ?
WUFT.org - by Kirsten Chuba
December 4, 2015
The next time you take a bathroom break during a Florida Gators home football game, you just may be giving back to Florida Field.
UF researcher Treavor Boyer, along with his student assistants, developed a urine separation system that allows the urine in a building’s bathrooms to be stored, treated and reused as fertilizer. With the success of the system, Boyer has his sights set on implementing the process at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Urine is comprised of about 80 percent nitrogen, which is used as a fertilizer on athletic fields. Boyer and his team ran calculations on the number of people at each football game, how often each person would go to the bathroom during a game, how much they would urinate, and how many toilets and urinals are located in the stadium.
“It turned out that if you were to collect all the urine from the seven home football games, it would have enough nitrogen to meet the growing needs of the field for the entire year,” said Boyer, an associate professor in UF’s Engineering School of Sustainable Infrastructure and Environment
He explained that by collecting the urine after UF’s last home football game, which is typically played at the end of November, the urine would be stored for several months. This storage time would allow any viruses in the urine to deactivate, and the urine would be ready to use as fertilizer when turf management begins on Florida Field in the spring.
The system Boyer has developed uses waterless urinals and no-mix toilets to separate the urine and harvest nitrogen. Fertilizer is not the only benefit of his research, though, as Boyer says the system could cut back on UF’s water usage by about 20 percent.
“When you implement this system of urine separation, you save a tremendous amount of water,” he said. “Not only do you save water but you save energy, because the fresh water plant doesn’t have to produce as much water and the wastewater plant doesn’t have to treat as much water.”
Jason Kruse, a UF assistant professor of environmental horticulture and a turfgrass specialist, has assisted Boyer on his research and believes that urine could definitely work as a fertilizer for Florida Field.
“If you captured the urine at the stadium during games, there would be enough to meet the annual needs and then some of the plant, and probably enough for the whole campus,” Kruse said.
Florida Field is currently fertilized by controlled-release nitrogen through a system of fertigation, which incorporates fertilizer into the watering system. Fertilizing with urine would require a different system, and the urine should be applied to the field more frequently and at lower rates. Still, Kruse said, this would just be a slight change in management and would still make the system feasible.
Kruse said that the science and numbers behind the urine fertilizer work, but the larger issue is the infrastructure changes that would need to be made to collect and store urine.
Beyond that, he said social acceptability will probably be a challenge.
“If people understood that you’re spraying urine on the field, some people might have a harder time wrapping their heads around that than others,” he said. “From a health standpoint, my understanding is that after it’s been stored and basically fermented long enough, it addresses the concerns of pathogens or any health concerns really. But I think that would be an initial sort of push-back by some people.”
For Boyer, the next step is proving how effective the urine can be.
“The suggestions I’ve been given is that we really need to do a demonstration project to show that, yes, the turf is going to be as green – as strong – as the current fertilizer we’re using,” he said. “The color of the grass is very important to a lot of people, so that is one of the first things I think we have to prove, that it’s going to look as good as the current fertilizer.”
Boyer added, “It’s exciting because it’s feasible and could have a huge impact, but at the same time there are some major hurdles in terms of convincing people that it does work as well on the turf side.”
CLICK to ENLARGE
Deal could move power lines to edge of Everglades National Park
Miami Herald - by Jenny Staletovich
December 4, 2015
Highlights: - FPL corridor originally cut across Shark River Slough
- Environmentalists say park officials caved to the powerful utility
- FPL still must try to find land outside park boundaries
To avoid erecting towering power lines on a vital wetland in Everglades National Park, park officials agreed to trade land on the park’s eastern edge.
The National Park Service plans to approve a controversial land swap that would avoid erecting massive utility poles through a vital wetland in Everglades National Park and instead let Florida Power & Light string a trio of high voltage power lines along the park’s eastern boundary.
The move, park officials say, will prevent 150-foot tall lines from crossing Shark River Slough and interfering with work aimed at reviving ailing marshes and Florida Bay, which suffered a massive seagrass die-off over the summer and fall.
“This gets us what we need, the ability to flow the water where we need to flow it,” said Park Superintendent Pedro Ramos.
But by trading the land, about 320 acres, instead of buying it outright, some environmentalists say the park service caved to the powerful utility.
It’s a whole new landscape.
Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association
“These [poles] are going to be gigantic. It’s a whole new landscape,” said Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association. “It’s not going to look like a national park with power lines running through it.”
Under the deal, FPL would trade its 7.4-mile stretch, about the width of a football field and running east of the slough, for a 6.5-mile-long strip on the park’s eastern border that totals 260 acres. The utility plans to string three towering high voltage lines to carry power generated by a proposed $24 billion expansion of Turkey Point that would add two new nuclear reactors.
Hammering out the deal has taken more than four years, Ramos said. FPL purchased the land in the 1960s and ’70s, long before a 1989 Congressional act enlarged the park by 107,000 acres.
In a 1996 letter obtained by Schwartz, a park service real estate specialist urged the utility to sell the land for $109,300, the fair market value at the time, to help meet the mission of the newly expanded park. If FPL refused, park officials could seize the land through eminent domain to “fulfill the … congressional mandate,” the letter said.
Over the years, the park service bought out more than 8,000 other property owners, said park spokeswoman Linda Friar. That left just six: three airboat operators, two radio towers and FPL.
In 2009, FPL quietly secured congressional approval for the land swap as the utility firmed up plans for a proposed Turkey Point expansion that would add two 1,100 megawatt nuclear generators. To accommodate the new juice, the expansion also calls for another major power corridor along U.S. 1 that several cities are fighting in court.
The decision comes as efforts to bring solar energy to the state — activists are trying to collect enough signatures for a referendum that would allow the solar industry to begin selling electricity from roof top panels — heat up. Critics also say the millions of gallons of water needed for cooling the reactors put too much stress on a region where freshwater is being threatened by sea rise.
But FPL says nuclear remains one of the cleanest forms of energy and plans on using recycled wastewater to cool the new reactors.
The park’s decision also makes sense, FPL spokesman Greg Brostowicz said in an email, “by relocating FPL’s right of way to the park’s eastern edge, adjacent to an area of existing development that includes roads, homes and commercial businesses.”
The final path of the corridor is also still in play. When the state approved the corridor, it required that FPL also try to find land outside the park. Rock miners in the area have signaled that they might be interested in selling land for the corridor.
“They didn’t come up with this idea they could build outside the park without having done some research,” said Cara Capp, Everglades restoration program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. If the utility succeeds, the park deal ensures the land would be returned to the park.
There’s still a path forward that could leave the park 100 percent intact.
Cara Capp, Everglades restoration program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association
“There’s still a path forward that could leave the park 100 percent intact,” Capp said. “We’re very cautious, too. It’s a scary thing to say FPL has to be a good corporate steward and it’s on their shoulders to make this happen.”
There are also other key pieces still in play. In October, after receiving more than 11,000 comments on the environmental impacts from the new reactors, the Nuclear Regulatory Agency said it would need to take a closer look and postponed signing off on the reactors.
Still, with the land in park hands, restoration work can move forward, Ramos said. A contract to complete a second 2.5-mile stretch of bridge on the Tamiami Trail, needed to allow more freshwater into the park, should be awarded in the next few months so work can begin in the Spring, Ramos said.
“We’re not giving up park land. This is an exchange,” he said. “They own land within the park and we’re basically moving their land out of our way.”
Related: Deal aims to stop power line in Everglades park Sun Sentinel
Oyster restoration project continues in lagoon
TCPlam.com – by Leah Voss
December 4, 2015
STUART — Florida Oceanographic Society continues to make their mark in the Indian River Lagoon.
Since 2009, oceanographic society staff and volunteers have been bagging oyster shells and creating reefs in the lagoon and St. Lucie River to improve water quality.
Now, researchers are testing out processes to ensure oyster populations can survive changing conditions in the estuaries.
One of the processes is called remote setting, in which baby oysters are attached to shells and grown in tanks. The shells are then bagged up and placed on existing oyster reefs.
"This would be a potential methodology to jump-start some new reefs that we would construct after a catastrophic event," said Vincent Encomio, director of scientific research.
"We want to be able to be prepared to do that kind of restoration if we're trying to repair local oyster population that would get lost because of fresh water discharges."
On Friday, Encomio and Josh Mills, habitat restoration specialist, led a group of volunteers through the waters of the lagoon to place 140 live-seeded bags on top of an existing reef off the coast of River Cove.
Longtime volunteer Hunter Hoover-Waston, 15, of Sewall's Point, enjoys contributing to the community by helping keep the lagoon clean.
"It is fun, especially when you see the process and later when you return and see its actually working," Hoover-Watson said.
HB 191 (2016)
Regulation of Oil and
'Fracking' bill gets (FL) House support
December 3, 2013
House Republicans continued moving forward Wednesday with a bill that would create a new regulatory structure for oil and natural-gas drilling in Florida, with most of the attention focused on the controversial practice known as "fracking." In a 9-3 party-line vote, the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee approved the measure (HB 191), sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, and Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park. The bill, which passed another House subcommittee last month, has drawn opposition from environmentalists and some local governments. Cities and counties are concerned about part of the bill that would give regulatory authority about oil and gas drilling to the state, effectively taking power away from local governments. Rodrigues told the House panel Wednesday that sponsors have been negotiating with the Florida Association of Counties and the Florida League of Cities about the issue, which is known as state "preemption" of local authority. As they did during the meeting last month, environmentalists and other opponents argued, in part, that fracking could pose dangers to Florida's water and create health risks. "Passing this bill would effectively lay out a welcome mat for the fracking industry,'' said Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat who voted against the bill. But Rep. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, said oil and gas drilling have long taken place in Northwest Florida's Santa Rosa County and that the bill's critics are not from there. "The good people of Santa Rosa County are very proud to say that we've done our part in adding back to this country domestic production that has saved the lives of men and women who have had to go across the ocean to protect our quality of life,'' Broxson said. "And I'm proud to say that we've done our part and hopefully Florida will do its part in the future to keep our economy strong." The bill needs to clear the House State Affairs Committee before it could go to the full House during the 2016 legislative session, which starts Jan. 12. A Senate version (SB 318), sponsored by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, has not been heard in committees
HB 191 (2016) Regulation of Oil and Gas Resources: http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2016/0191
Related: Fracking Legislation Approved Capitol News Service
Fracking bill moves forward in Florida Legislature St. Augustine Record
Estero fracking ban clears hurdle The News-Press
High Pressure Can't Stop Industry Backed Fracking Bill WUSF News
Mad ducks and hydrilla
Highlands Today – by Gary Pinnell
December 3, 2015
SEBRING — It’s not likely to be a principal topic at Lake Istokpoga Management Committee meeting, but apparently the topic of spraying hydrilla during duck migration will come up at 9 a.m. today in the Bert J. Harris Agricultural Center. The public is invited to attend. The latest controversy started when Kelle Sullivan, regional biologist with Florida Fish and Wildlife’s invasive plant management section, emailed residents on Tuesday: “The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will conduct aquatic plant control treatments via helicopter on portions of Lake Istokpoga during the first and second weeks of December, weather permitting. Plant species targeted for treatment are hydrilla, water primrose, cattail, and pickerelweed.” That drew a same-day response from Newton Jones, president of United Waterfowlers of Florida: “We understand the need to treat the public waters in Florida for invasive species, and support it. But the timing of this treatment is extremely disappointing and lacks consideration for waterfowl hunters and the migratory birds that use hydrilla as a carrier of important food sources.” Timing is the problem, wrote Jones. His group lobbies for waterfowl hunters, access to public lands, and habitat management plans conducive to waterfowl migration. “To have helicopters circling the lake and spraying chemicals on habitat that has become a part of the food web for migratory waterfowl and wading birds during the peak migration is inexcusable.” “Year after year, it seems for whatever reason we cannot stick with the timeline of getting these areas treated prior to the duck season and migration,” wrote David Ward. “Every year, there seems to be something to hold it up and push the treatments off until the middle of duck season. Whatever the reason, it’s unacceptable.” Hydrilla is a staple for ducks across Florida, Ward contended, and is allowed to grow in southern states. “It filters water and draws birds as well as fish.” “I’m for treating some, not all, of the cattail and all the water lettuce and primrose, but timing is terrible,” Ward said. Last year, the late treatment was attributed to the non-performance of contractors. “This year, I’m sure there is another good excuse or reason for failure. What will be the reason for failure next year? “It’s tiresome and it’s old,” Ward wrote. “Eventually, we will stop being so accommodating as we approach our fill of being lied to. There needs to be accountability and it needs to happen immediately. It’s too easy to blame the contractor and then make excuses.” Recreational anglers and bird hunters may see some benefits from hydrilla, an invasive species, Sullivan conceded in her initial email. But there are potential negative impacts to consider: “Native habitat, navigation, flood control, potable and irrigation water supplies, recreation and the aesthetic qualities of lakes. The FWC attempts to balance these needs while managing hydrilla.” Water primrose forms dense stands where cattails and pickerelweed also grow, degrading prime fish spawning areas, nesting areas and foraging habitat for endangered snail kites and other birds. Tussocks break loose from shoreline areas, float around the lake and push against docks, flood control structures, irrigation intakes, boat ramps, and canals, resulting in property damage, flooding, blocked access and navigation, Sullivan wrote. “Last year’s spraying was poorly timed,” Chuck Echenique wrote, “and the overspray managed to kill most of the cattail and other available cover in the best waterfowling areas of the lake. It left little to no available cover from which to hunt.” Sullivan replied to all three men: “While I appreciate your concerns for the waterfowl and the duck hunting community on Istokpoga, these treatments have been vetted through the public meeting process… and approved by the local waterfowl representatives… and described as not being a critical area on the lake utilized by waterfowl.” Two public meetings, Highlands County Lakes Manager Clell Ford recalled: “This treatment was part of a series of habitat management activities outlined by the FWC at two public meetings last summer.” Key waterfowl areas were removed from the original treatment plans and delayed until after hunting season, Sullivan said. More than 2,500 acres of hydrilla is not being treated. “And there are no plans to treat it in the future.” She agreed on a moratorium on the west side of Bumblebee Island, Sullivan said. “We did agree, as David [Ward] stated, to conduct floating plant control after early teal and before main duck season. We have honored that agreement. “The other specific concerns raised in Chuck’s email response are in reference to multi-year, ongoing, habitat restoration projects that were specifically targeting dense cattail and pickerelweed tussock heavily infested with woody primrose,” Sullivan said. “Compromise, and an understanding that when managing a dynamic natural system with multiple interests and goals requires an adaptive approach, is key to achieving long term success together. I ask you all to respectfully consider these challenges…”
Most Americans agree on climate change
Times-Union - Editorial
December 3, 2015
The skeptics regarding climate change continue to use the sort of tortured reasoning used by the tobacco-doesn’t-cause-cancer deniers.
The evidence is overwhelming that the Earth is heating up.
“Even in a record-breaking hot year for Earth, October stood out as absurdly warm,” wrote AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein.
October’s temperature was the most above-normal month in history. This also has been the hottest January through October for Earth on record and the hottest consecutive 12 months on record.
“This year is going to be an all-time record breaker,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute.
And it’s not an exception, this is the new normal, said NOAA climate scientist Jessica Blunden.
Since 2000, global monthly heat records have been broken 32 times, yet the last time a monthly cold record was set was in 1916.
Is this being caused only by man? Of course not. There are always normal variations. The skeptics would have us confuse weather and climate. But scientific indications are that man-made influences are causing an additional layer of heat in the atmosphere.
DEFENSE DEPARTMENT GETS IT
“Global climate change will aggravate problems such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions, that threaten stability in a number of countries,” according to a report the Defense Department sent to Congress.
Pentagon officials said climate change is a security risk because it “degrades living conditions, human security and the ability of governments to meet the basic needs of their populations.”
OIL COMPANIES GET IT
Shell Global understands as shown by this statement on the company’s website: “Population growth and economic development are driving up energy demand. All energy sources will be needed with fossil fuels meeting the bulk of demand. At the same time, CO2 emissions must be reduced to avoid serious climate change. To manage CO2, governments and industry must work together. Government action is needed, and we support an international framework that puts a price on CO2, encouraging the use of all CO2-reducing technologies.”
AMERICANS GET IT
Two-thirds of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, support an international treaty on climate change, reports the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. Americans generally are more sure about climate change than ever.
According to a story in Bloomberg News:
■ Three-quarters of Americans accept the scientific consensus on climate change, the highest mark in four years, according to surveys taken by the University of Texas at Austin.
■ Even among Republicans, 59 percent say that climate change is happening, up from 47 percent just six months ago.
Similar results were shown in a survey taken by the University of Michigan that the bipartisan consensus on climate change is the highest since 2008.
THE NO-REGRETS POLICY
Extreme weather events, previously rare, are becoming more common.
This page has stated all along that consensus in these areas can be found by looking for solutions that have multiple benefits.
Massive energy conservation efforts, for instance, create domestic jobs and create longlasting benefits that can last for generations. As Daniella Levine Cava wrote in an opinion column in The Miami Herald, Miami risks having normal rainfall turn into damaging floods, salt water intrusion could invade the drinking water supply and much of the area could become uninhabitable.
Evidence of sea level rise is seen in Miami where it floods on sunny days.
In response, South Florida is moving to strengthen natural systems along the coasts with buffers for low-lying areas, restoring the Everglades and integrating sea level rise for new projects.
That is the smart, risk management, business-oriented approach to this threat. Rather than deny it, take responsible action to prepare for the risks.
But if the flooding becomes bad enough, places like South Florida could become uninsurable, warned the Bank of England in the Guardian.
Since the 1980s, the number of weather-related loss events has tripled.
The insurance risks for climate change can be felt in three ways:
■ Immediate claims from floods and storms.
■ Liability risks when those who suffer the effects seek compensation for their losses.
■ Transition risks as assets affected by climate change suddenly drop in value, such as developments in an area that suddenly becomes flood prone.
A SMART APPROACH
Solutions should not and need not harm the economy. Acid rain was reduced by using cap and trade. The hole in the ozone layer was reduced without much economic difficulty. Similarly, a carbon tax paired with equal cuts to payroll taxes would use market forces to create jobs and reduce carbon at the same time.
In any case, climate change has huge implications for business and the financial stability of governments. As the Economist editorialized, “Pragmatism should replace green theology.”
As the Earth heats, smart adjustments must be made.
This is about protecting the Earth for our children and grandchildren.
As the saying goes, failing to plan means planning to fail.
At climate meeting, some rare good news in South Florida sea rise battle
Miami Herald - by Jenny Staletovich
December 2, 2015
Highlights: Regional leaders mostly upbeat about progress
Miami-Dade to complete broad guidelines in February
Freshwater still an issue for southern parts
At high tide, flood gates installed decades ago on some South Florida canals no longer work. Saltwater is slowly killing freshwater marshes at the tip of the state. And after a recent king tide, one Key Largo neighborhood sat under a foot of water for three weeks.
It’s hard to avoid the doom and gloom of climate change.
But at the annual meeting of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact in Key West this week, local, state and federal officials offered some rare good news.
Around the region, they said, advances are being made in the war on rising seas, and not just in Miami Beach where pumps have drawn national attention.
In Fort Lauderdale, sea walls are being built higher. Palm Beach County teamed up with Lake Worth to replace a crumbling sea wall protecting a municipal golf course with a “living shoreline” inhabited by wildlife. And in Miami-Dade County, new wastewater facilities are being built up to 17 feet higher to fend off sea rise and storm surge.
“We’re thinking in the box, out of the box and all around the box,” said Monroe County sustainability chief Rhonda Haag.
The conference, which coincides with international climate talks that started this week in Paris, gave local officials, scientists and activists a chance to catch up on progress made over the last year. And while they mostly agreed they’ve moved beyond arguing about the validity of climate science, they now find themselves battling gridlock over how to take action.
“We’ve done a lot of work in terms of identifying problems,” said Monroe County Mayor Heather Carruthers. “Now we need a framework for decisions.”
Many agreed that making progress locally is doable. In addition to its higher seawalls, Fort Lauderdale designated 16 vulnerable areas and is working to make them more resilient through a new state law that provides additional money. So far, they have come up with 38 projects, said assistant public works director Nancy Gassman.
More troubling for members is work that overlaps jurisdictions and political parties. Case in point: In 2017 Congress will review the federal flood insurance program that some worry could cause problems for low-lying South Florida where seas are projected to rise six to 12 inches in just 15 years.
“So in 2016, we better get our acts together,” said Jim Murley, Miami-Dade’s new sustainability chief.
Getting freshwater to South Florida also remains a big concern. Over the summer as a regional drought worsened, miles of seagrass started dying in Florida Bay. Scientists fear the die-off could trigger a massive algae bloom.
The current drought is like the last straw because the entire Florida Bay is in a water deficit all the time.
Everglades National Park deputy science director Carol Mitchell
“The current drought is like the last straw because the entire Florida Bay is in a water deficit all the time,” said Everglades National Park deputy science director Carol Mitchell.
Everglades restoration projects to increase freshwater flows to the region could help. But Mitchell warned that with sea rise, returning the marshes to their historic conditions is now unlikely. Instead, restoration work needs to focus on establishing a pattern of water flow.
“Mother nature will do good stuff if you give it a chance,” she said.
But like climate change, the massive restoration project remains mired in bureaucracy. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the projects last year, but Congress has yet to fund the work.
If the region is to adapt, most agreed work has to be done locally — Miami-Dade officials expect to complete a new climate action plan in February — rather than rely on national or even global efforts.
“The first responders to the impacts of climate change are in this room,” said Palm Beach County Commissioner Steve Abrams. “Ultimately this issue has to be addressed on a local level. The solution will be found here.”
Florida House: Use conservation money on Everglades
Associated Press – WGCU.org
December 2, 2015
Amid criticism and even lawsuits over Florida's conversation efforts, the Republican-controlled state House on Tuesday announced an ambitious plan to pay for projects to help restore the state's Everglades.
The House proposal, called the "Legacy Florida" initiative, would mandate that the state set aside at least $200 million a year for Everglades restoration projects.
The list of projects would include those designed to lessen the level of discharges from Lake Okeechobee into nearby estuaries. In recent years, federal authorities have been criticized for discharging polluted water from the lake into Indian River Lagoon and the Caloosahatchee River.
"The Everglades is at the heart of our natural resources, and I believe consistent funding will help preserve and protect this national treasure," House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said in a statement.
Several environmental groups said that they were supportive, especially since the proposed legislation sponsored by Rep. Gayle Harrell would require that a minimum of $100 million be spent for the next decade for a list of comprehensive projects approved as part of a massive multi-billion dollar restoration plan.
"It's an important moment to have dedicated revenue so we can get these projects finished to ultimately protect the water supply for a third of the population," said Eric Eikenberg, chief executive officer of The Everglades Foundation.
Gov. Rick Scott, in a statement, signaled he was supportive.
The move by the House comes amid an ongoing tug-of-war over conservation money.
Voters in 2014 approved Amendment 1. It earmarks 33 percent - or about $18 billion to $20 billion over the next 20 years - from a real estate stamp tax to help the state purchase lands for conservation and water quality. It was the largest such measure ever approved in U.S. history.
Legislators in June passed a budget that used more than $750 million from real estate taxes on a wide array of programs including beach restoration and projects aimed at helping the state's beleaguered freshwater springs. But they also used the money to pay for salaries at several state agencies that oversee environmental programs and oversee existing state-owned lands and forests. They included only $17.4 million for Florida Forever, the state's main land conservation program.
That move by lawmakers triggered a lawsuit from environmental groups that contended legislators were defying voters.
The House proposal to dedicate at least $200 million on Everglades restoration would meet Amendment 1 requirements.
Related: House Proposal Wants to Tap Amendment 1 for Everglades Daily Business Review - Dec 2, 2015
FPL wants to build Okeechobee plant, but critics say it’s not needed
Palm Beach Post - by Susan Salisbury, Staff Writer
December 2, 2015
Tallahassee — Florida Power & Light Co.’s proposed $1.2 billion natural gas-fired power plant in Okeechobee County is the first such facility the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has opposed, the environmental group’s research director testified Wednesday.
John Wilson, SACE’s research director, urged the Florida Public Service Commission to deny Juno Beach-based FPL’s request that the PSC find the 1,622-megawatt plant is needed.
“FPL has not made a convincing case that ratepayers should spend $1.2 billion plus financing costs for this power plant that is not needed,” Wilson said.
Wednesday the commission heard the second day of testimony in the case and is scheduled to vote on the issue Jan. 5.
FPL asserts the plant will meet a growing demand for additional power beginning in 2019. If FPL receives the go-ahead, the Okeechobee plant will be the most efficient of a series of combined-cycle natural gas plants it has built in recent years.
The more than $4 billion worth of new energy centers in Riviera Beach, Loxahatchee and Cape Canaveral have similar systems, as will one slated to open next year at Port Everglades. Energy is produced by combustion of natural gas in a turbine, similar to a jet engine. Energy is also produced by making use of the engine exhaust to make steam. Both sources then drive turbines and electric generators to produce electricity.
Along with SACE, witnesses called by the Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers, the Florida Industrial Power Users Group and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, argued the plant isn’t needed. Instead, they say FPL is overbuilding to benefit shareholders of parent company NextEra Energy on the backs of ratepayers, who will pay for the plant in their bills.
FPL spokesman Dave McDermitt said customers will pay the capital costs of the facility over its expected 30-year operating life. The customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt hours a month will pay 54 cents a month.
The critics say FPL will not need the Okeechobee plant if it lowers its reserve margin to 15 percent from 20 percent, relies more on renewable energy such as solar and on energy conservation programs.
Wednesday, FPL project manager Heather Stubblefield testified that the Okeechobee plant will receive natural gas through a new pipeline system that is not yet built — Sabal Trail and Florida Southeast Connection. FPL has already contracted with the projects to supply the Okeechobee plant and its other natural-gas fired plants.
Sabal Trail is a joint venture of NextEra and Houston-based Spectra energy and Florida Southeast Connection is a NextEra subsidiary.
Stubblefield said lateral pipelines connecting the Okeechobee plant to the main pipeline will cost $25 million. FPL customers will also pay an estimated $150 million in gas transportation charges during the first year, but that rate will drop over time.
Health of water surrounding local beaches is paramount
Lehigh Acres Citizen – by Kevin Ruane, the mayor of the City of Sanibel.
December 2, 2015
It is not difficult to argue that the beaches of Lee County are one of our most valuable assets. Tourism in Lee County generates almost $3 billion annually. The health of the water surrounding our beaches is paramount to protecting our quality of life, a vibrant tourism-based economy, and a healthy and diverse estuary. The damaging freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee in 200507 and again in 2013 remind us how dependent our communities are on clean water.
In 2013, the five Mayors of Lee County joined forces to advocate for policies and projects to address freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee watershed. We sent numerous letters to Gov. Scott, our Florida legislators, the South Florida Water Management District, the Army Corps and our federal representatives. These letters included a request to reevaluate the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule to provide short-term relief from damaging releases, reassessment of the Adaptive Protocols for Lake Okeechobee so the Caloosahatchee receives enough freshwater during the dry season, and resolutions in support of water storage projects including the C-43 Reservoir and the purchase of lands south of Lake Okeechobee in the Everglades Agricultural Area.
When lobbying for projects to address our water quality and quantity problems in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., it became apparent that many of advocates on the west coast of Florida were not advocating for the same solutions. In fact, many were advocating for different projects and often criticizing projects that were moving forward to help improve the situation. This left our legislators confused. Instead of funding the critical projects that we need to address our problems, often the money was spent on projects benefitting the east coast. At that point, it was clear to me that what we needed was a comprehensive strategy to address our water quality issues and get all west coast stakeholders on the same page.
In 2014, the Mayors of Lee County and the Lee Commission joined forces to develop a comprehensive strategy to address freshwater flows to the Caloosahatchee. Together, we drafted the Caloosahatchee Watershed Regional Water Management Issues White Paper. This document provides a list of short- and long-term solutions for water storage and treatment within the Kissimmee, Lake Okeechobee and Caloosahatchee watersheds. The goal of this comprehensive plan is to align all of our local stakeholders so we can advocate with one voice to improve the quantity, quality, timing and distribution of freshwater water reaching our coast. The document can be found at: www.mysanibel.com/content/download/21060/125864.
A few local environmental advocates have recently criticized the Mayors of Lee County for supporting construction of the C-43 Reservoir. They argue that without a water quality treatment component the project is "worthless." Their solution is "Plan 6 is the fix." What they don't tell you is that the two projects are aimed at very different problems. The primary goal of the C-43 Reservoir is to store water within the Caloosahatchee watershed to provide dry-season flows-helping to balance salinity within the estuary, while the Plan 6 concept is aimed at addressing wet-season high-flow discharges. Furthermore, the C-43 Reservoir project has actually been designed and engineered and an accurate cost/benefit analysis has been completed for the project; Plan 6 is still very much conceptual.
We agree that a water quality treatment component for the C-43 Reservoir would enhance the benefits of the project and continue to advocate for a treatment component (see White Paper for details). What some advocates leave out of their argument is that in order to provide the dry-season flows necessary to balance salinity within the estuary and prevent harmful algal blooms associated with stagnation in the river, water from the C-43 Reservoir is a critical part of the solution.
It is estimated that we need 450,000 acre-feet of water storage (146 billion gallons) within the Caloosahatchee watershed to provide dry-season flows to the estuary. The C-43 Reservoir is estimated to store 170,000 acre-feet (55 billion gallons), which equates to 38 percent of the total volume needed. This is not an insignificant amount of water storage!
The critics of this project do not use facts, they use talking points aimed at getting media attention rather than working towards solutions based on sound science and engineering. The fact is the C-43 Reservoir already enjoys wide-spread support among most stakeholders and the planning and engineering is complete. It is also the only project aimed at addressing water storage within the watershed authorized by Congress under the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
I challenge any advocate to come to the table and propose an alternative approach that addresses both the high- and low-flow challenges in the Caloosahatchee. I urge you to read the Caloosahatchee White Paper and welcome any viable science-based solutions not addressed in the document.
Florida groups thankful for Clean Water Protections
Public News Service – FL – by Mona Shand, PNSF
December 1, 2015
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Clean water plays a vital role in Florida's environment and economy from the Everglades to the Panhandle. Dozens of environmental groups are thankful that one lawmaker took action to protect the state's water and wildlife.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., voted against requiring the Obama administration to revisit its update of the Clean Water Act, which now includes a rule to protect streams and wetlands. The rule supports efforts to restore the Everglades and other cherished waterways, said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation.
"It's necessary to protect headwaters and watersheds that are critical to our nation's water quality, " Fuller said, "and are often comprised of wetlands, which are great fish and wildlife habitat."
Protections for streams and wetlands were left unclear after some Supreme Court decisions, but the recent rule to clarify them is being called a "federal overreach" by opponents. The Florida Wildlife Federation is one of 57 organizations that sent a letter of thanks to Nelson for his critical vote on the issue.
For Floridians, Fuller said, the Clean Water Act isn't only about a healthy environment. Protecting streams and wetlands makes good financial sense, given the roles that tourism and commercial and recreational fishing play in the state.
"They also provide the basis of our natural resource-based economy," he said, "which in Florida is extremely important, as is oftentimes the case around the United States."
The recreational fishing industry supports 80,000 jobs, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Florida has lost more than half its historic wetlands, recent estimates suggest, and harmful algal blooms from polluted waters exist in many river and stream systems across the state.
FPL seeks go-ahead for new Okeechobee plant
WJCT.org - by Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida
State regulators will hear arguments Tuesday on a proposal by Florida Power & Light to build a power plant in Okeechobee County, but critics question the need for the nearly $1.2 billion project.
FPL contends the natural-gas plant is the "best, most cost-effective option" to meet a need for additional power generation starting in 2019. The project, designed as what is known as a combined-cycle plant, would be built on an undeveloped site owned by FPL in northeast Okeechobee County.
"(The Okeechobee plant) will ensure reliable service for FPL's customers and is expected to save FPL's customers millions of dollars … in electricity costs over the next best alternative,'' the utility said in a filing with the Florida Public Service Commission. "Once this new CC (combined cycle) unit goes into operation, it is projected to be the most fuel-efficient CC unit on FPL's generation system, thus further enhancing the efficiency of an already highly efficient FPL generating system."
But the project has drawn opposition from the state Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers, the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida. At least in part, they argue that FPL hasn't shown that the 1,622-megawatt plant is needed.
"The cost of the proposed plant is too much for FPL customers,'' the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida said in a Nov. 3 filing. "FPL is overbuilding its generating capacity in order to guarantee its own profits, at the cost of a small fortune to its customers."
The Public Service Commission on Tuesday will hold a hearing on what is known as a "determination of need," a key regulatory step before power plants can be built. The hearing could last two days.
The Okeechobee project would be one in a series of plants built by FPL, which has moved heavily toward using natural gas to generate electricity. As an example, a new Port Everglades plant is scheduled to begin operating in 2016, and FPL has also opened new plants in recent years at Cape Canaveral and Riviera Beach.
In a document filed with the Public Service Commission, FPL said it will need an additional 1,052 megawatts of power generation in 2019, with the number growing to 1,409 megawatts in 2020 and continuing to grow in the future. It said the design of the Okeechobee plant will be fuel efficient, which will help hold down natural-gas costs.
But the Office of Public Counsel said in a filing that the project would "needlessly increase FPL's reliance on natural gas,'' and the environmental groups argued the utility should instead look to use more renewable energy and conservation measures.
The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, for instance, said in a filing that FPL "did nothing more than pay lip service" to using solar energy as an alternative to the Okeechobee project.
But FPL disputed such arguments. "FPL's projected need for generation in 2019 and beyond fully accounts for all reasonably achievable conservation measures and renewable energy reasonably achievable on FPL's system,'' it said in a filing.
Good News: Major milestone in Everglades restoration efforts
December 1, 2015
In an effort to benefit Treasure Coast waterways, recently a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the reservoir component of the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) project. With a storage capacity of 16 billion gallons, this 3,400-acre reservoir is the largest component of the C-44 Indian River Lagoon South project, which once completed will reduce harm to the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon by providing water storage and treatment areas. Present at the ceremony was U.S. Representative for Fla. District 18, Patrick E. Murphy, joined by Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy and other federal, state, and local officials.
In a press release informing of the groundbreaking ceremony, Rep. Murphy said the following:
"Continued progress to improve water quality throughout the entire system can only be achieved through collaboration across all agencies, levels of government, and the community. So while today's groundbreaking of this vital reservoir is a major milestone, we also know that our work is not done in the fight to protect our waterways. Together, we will see the C-44 Indian River Lagoon South project and other vital Everglades restoration efforts come to completion, providing the relief our local waterways so desperately need after being inundated by toxic discharges for decades."
The press release further stated the following comments by Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works:
"The Obama Administration has already invested $2.2 billion in the restoration of the Everglades and today marks yet another groundbreaking on a project that will restore the most biologically diverse estuarine system in the United States. We will save this system and preserve it for future generations."
Read the article, “Major milestone reached in the fight to protect our waterways” by Congressman Murphy to learn more about this most important undertaking to benefit the Treasure Coast waterways.
House wants to tap Amendment 1 for Everglades
Ocala.com - by Jim Turner, News Service of Florida
December 1, 2015
TALLAHASSEE — As much as a quarter of the money voters approved to spend annually on statewide water and land preservation would flow into Everglades restoration and other South Florida water projects, under a House plan released Tuesday.
Rep. Gayle Harrell, a Stuart Republican who will sponsor a measure being called Legacy Florida, announced the proposal to designate for South Florida water projects either 25 percent or $200 million a year, whichever is lower, of money from a state land-acquisition trust fund.
The designation would "result in a reliable, sustainable funding stream for Florida's River of Grass," Harrell said in a prepared statement.
"The future of our way of life is linked directly to the health of our rivers, the Indian River Lagoon, Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades," Harrell added in the release.
The funding proposal, which has House leaders' support, would top the $188 million that Gov. Rick Scott has requested for the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee in his $79.3 billion budget proposal for next fiscal year.
The land-acquisition trust fund has been set up to serve, for 20 years, as the storage point for 33 percent of a type of real-estate tax dollars that Florida voters approved in 2014 for land and water buying and preservation in a ballot initiative known as Amendment 1.
Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida and an environmental issues lobbyist, said Tuesday lawmakers still need to increase land-acquisition funding with Amendment 1 dollars. But he was among those praising the House's Everglades funding proposal.
"It ensures a steady flow of money for Everglades restoration," Draper said. "The projects, for the most part, are already planned or identified. This just makes sure that the money is there to do it. It triggers federal dollars, so in some cases, to make sure that comes down and make sure the Lake Okeechobee plan is funded."
The governor's office has estimated Amendment 1 is expected to generate $905 million during the fiscal year that starts July 1. The voter-backed measure was projected to generate $740 million in the current fiscal year.
Scott has also asked that Amendment 1 money include $62.8 million for the land-acquisition program Florida Forever, $50 million to help maintain the state's natural springs, and $10 million for the Florida Communities Trust Program which provides matching grants to local communities for land buying.
Scott's funding proposals represent a $45 million increase for the Everglades, an $11.5 million boost to natural springs and nearly $50 million more for Florida Forever.
Environmentalists contend the overall funding should be higher in light of the Amendment 1 voter support and controversial spending decisions made by the Legislature this year. Those decisions, which included using about $237 million to cover agency salaries and operations, are the focus of two lawsuits.
The House's Everglades funding proposal would go into a number of projects geared toward restoring the flow of water across South Florida including: the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan; the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program; and the Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan, which was adopted by the Department of Environmental Protection in December 2014.
The bulk of the Legacy money, through fiscal year 2025-2026, would have to go to planning, design, engineering and construction of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
Under Harrell's proposal, at least $32 million a year through the 2023-2024 fiscal year would also have go to the South Florida Water Management District for a long-term plan.
The proposal must be worked out with the Senate.
In 2014, Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who will be formally designated Wednesday as the next president of that chamber, steered $231.9 million for projects related to the Everglades and the Indian River Lagoon.
Scott, in a prepared statement Tuesday, praised the House proposal.
"It's great to see the Florida House of Representatives, under the leadership of Speaker (Steve) Crisafulli and Representative Harrell, taking initiative to support a dedicated source of funding for the Everglades,'' Scott said. "Restoring and protecting Florida's Everglades is a top priority. We look forward to working with the Legislature, including Senator Joe Negron who has championed water issues, this upcoming session to establish long-term funding for our state's most precious natural resource."
Related: Harrell's bill secures money for Everglades and Lake Okeechobee TCPalm-Dec 1, 2015
Interior Secretary attends Global Climate Change Conference, uses National Parks to illustrate concerns
Nat. Parks Traveler - by NPT Staff
December 1, 2015
Examples of how climate change is impacting the National Park System from Everglades National Park in Florida to Bering Land Bridge National Preserve in Alaska were cited by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell this week to illustrate to a global audience the threats climate change poses.
The case studies pointed to Secretary Jewell during her appearance in Paris at the 21st Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference on Monday were contained in a report published in September that details efforts in the park system to address climate change threats to infrastructure, recreation, and natural and cultural resources. The report follows a recent study that revealed sea-level rise caused by climate change could pose a risk to more than $40 billion worth of national park assets and resources.
“What’s happening in our national parks is a small window into the impacts of climate change on natural and cultural resources around the world,” Secretary Jewell told representatives from the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. “As negotiations kick off in Paris today, this report offers positive examples of what we can do, at a local level, to adapt and build resilience in the face of a changing climate – even as we work to curb carbon pollution around the world.”
Actions used by National Park Service managers to combat climate change in an already dynamic coastal zone are described through 24 case studies in the report. A few examples include: At Everglades National Park – a World Heritage Site – the new visitor’s facility in the Flamingo area was built with an elevated design to help reduce the risks from sea level rise and storm surges; the Gateway National Recreation Area in New York has restored salt marsh elevation in Jamaica Bay through the addition of sediment and vegetation; and in a lab in Ofu, part of the American Samoa islands, the National Park of American Samoa operates a facility that works on unique adaptations to Ofu coral and determining the cause of coral loss and damage.
“Sea level changes are subtle at some parks but already destructive at others where we are losing shoreline and infrastructure and where historical and cultural resources are also at risk,” Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said. “The upside is that we’re taking positive action as the result of adaptation planning we began in the National Park Service several years ago. This report illustrates actions we have underway to adapt to our changing climate, and as best we can, to preserve and protect the resources of our coastal parks.”
Dr. Rebecca Beavers, co-editor of the report, Coastal Adaptation Strategies: Case Studies, said it was compiled to inspire action, innovation, and dialogue among park managers and other coastal management agencies that are responsible for protecting natural and cultural resources.
Dr. Beavers, the NPS lead scientist on coastal adaptation to climate change, said the case studies will provide park managers with an array of coastal adaptation strategies.
“This report is one of a suite of tools with which the National Park Service is equipping their frontline managers – the park superintendents – to tackle diverse coastal challenges,” she said.
In addition to her meeting with representatives from the UNESCO World Heritage Committee today in Paris, Secretary Jewell also met with U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO Crystal Nix-Hines and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova to emphasize continued U.S. support for World Heritage and other UNESCO programs. Currently, there are 23 U.S. World Heritage sites.
'Legacy Florida' bill would establish dedicated funding for the Everglades
Sunshine State News - by Nancy Smith
December 1, 2015
A week after Gov. Rick Scott unveiled a 2016 budget that many claim severely shortchanges Florida Everglades restoration by limiting land acquisition, the Florida House of Representatives announced the creation of the “Legacy Florida” bill.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, establishes a dedicated funding source to restore the Florida Everglades.
If it passes, "Legacy Florida" will direct funds from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF) to fund Everglades projects that implement the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, the long-term plan, the final Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan adopted by the Department of Environmental Protection in December 2014, and the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program.
“As a seventh generation Floridian, I have made the care of our natural resources a legislative priority. I want to ensure that future generations can enjoy the beauty of well-managed land and water,” said Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, in a statement issued by the House speaker's office. “The Everglades is at the heart of our natural resources, and I believe consistent funding will help preserve and protect this national treasure.”
Said Harrell, “Cleaning up the St. Lucie River, Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee River, the Indian River Lagoon and the Everglades has been a priority for me since I was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives. The future of our way of life is linked directly to the health of our rivers ...‘Legacy Florida’ will provide the resources to make it possible for our children and grandchildren to enjoy these natural treasures.”
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has thrown his weight behind the bill, issuing this statement: “The Everglades is a nationally recognized, environmental treasure that is a source of pride for Floridians, provides a home to many unique species of wildlife and supplies water to more than 8 million people in Florida.
"We have the vision and science-based strategies to restore this precious ecosystem, but only with adequate funding can we achieve our goals," said Putnam. "The leadership of the Florida House of Representatives, led by Speaker Steve Crisafulli, has demonstrated a strong commitment to Florida’s natural resources with the ‘Legacy Florida’ proposal ..."
As part of Scott's proposed $79.3 billion budget introduced last week, Scott is asking for $62.8 million for the land-acquisition program Florida Forever, $188 million for work to improve the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee and another $50 million to help maintain the state's natural springs.
Though the governor calls it a "historic investment" in the environment, environmentalists contend that land purchases are required now for Everglades restoration. Overall funding should be higher in light of the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 and controversial spending decisions made by the Legislature this year, they say. Those decisions, which included using money to cover agency operations, are the focus of two lawsuits.
Harrell sought and received the support of major Florida stakeholders in preparing to introduce “Legacy Florida.” Here is what some of them had to say in the speaker's press statement:
Eric Eikenberg, CEO, The Everglades Foundation
"The Everglades Foundation appreciates the Speaker's support of legislation that will dedicate funding to Everglades restoration, and especially the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, to help move projects to completion. The Everglades is an economic engine for this state and a sound investment. Restoration projects create jobs and protect the water supply for one in three Floridians. We look forward to working with the Florida Legislature and the Governor's Office to ensure a dedicated revenue source for a restored Everglades becomes a reality."
Eric Draper, Executive Director, Audubon Florida
“Dedicated funding will ensure steady progress on the projects needed to provide clean water to the Everglades and estuaries. We applaud this legislation and its commitment of state funds to ecosystem restoration. Floridians should welcome this as a major step forward toward implementing plans to meet water quality goals and deliver freshwater flows.”
Robert Thomas, Chairman, Florida Land Council
"The Florida Land Council applauds the establishment of a dedicated funding source for Everglades restoration. Long term funding for the implementation of the Everglades water quality plan, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, and the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program is needed to ensure that there is ample clean water available for a healthy ecosystem while meeting the other water related needs of the region.”
Temperince Morgan, Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy
“The Nature Conservancy applauds the Legislature for creating a steady and predictable funding stream for projects that will improve water quality and quantity for the Everglades and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries. We believe this significant commitment of Amendment 1 funds assures completion of projects that help to restore essential habitats for Florida’s imperiled species.”
Tom Feeney, President and CEO, Associated Industries of Florida
"Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida H20 Coalition applaud Speaker Steve Crisafulli for supporting dedicated funding for the Everglades, which will help tackle Florida's major water problems in a comprehensive way. By supporting legislation, which would appropriate a portion of Amendment 1 funds annually for Everglades projects, we will be able to see positive impacts through the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan, and the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program. We look forward to working with Florida lawmakers and the Governor to see this funding plan come to fruition during the 2016 Legislative Session."
Harrell will file the bill in the coming weeks. Here is a summary of the draft legislation:
● From funds distributed into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF) pursuant to s. 201.15, F.S., (Amendment 1 33% funds), after paying required debt service, a minimum of the lesser of 25 percent or $200 million must be appropriated annually for Everglades projects that implement the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan as set forth in s. 373.470, the Long-Term Plan as defined in s. 373.4592(2), F.S., the final Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan adopted by the Department of Environmental Protection in December 2014, and the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program as set forth in s. 373.4595, F.S.
● From these dedicated Everglades funds, $32 million must be distributed each fiscal year through the 2023-2024 fiscal year to the South Florida Water Management District for the Long-Term Plan as defined in s. 373.4592(2), F.S.
● From the dedicated Everglades funds remaining after deducting the $32 million, a minimum of the lesser of 76.5 percent or $100 million must be appropriated for 10 years (through 2025-26) for the planning, design, engineering and construction of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan as set forth in s. 373.470, F.S.
● The legislation requires the Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management district to give preference to those Everglades restoration projects that reduce discharges of water from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie or Caloosahatchee estuaries in a timely manner.
Who controls the water ?
CBS46.com - by Mandi Milligan, Senior Digital Producer
December 1, 2015
ATLANTA (CBS46) -
Fights over drinking water from Georgia’s rivers are keeping downstream Florida and Alabama angry with Peach State politicians.
The three-state water wars cause disagreements over how much water each state receives. But the two referees are not agreeing either. Both the US Supreme Court and the US Army Corps of Engineers have a decision making role.
Even as the states negotiate in court, Georgia and the US Army Corps seem unable to agree on a fresh problem in Lake Lanier.
A sinking houseboat is a small example of the high-stakes fight for control.
It’s a twisting drive from Atlanta to Lake Sidney Lanier, up and down pine-clad hills until you turn down a rough driveway near Flowery Branch, the southern end of the lake. Through the trees, a square white block sits near the bank.
When you approach the houseboat, it seems smaller than it should be. That's because half the boat is already underwater. On the roof sits an old tube television set.
Neighbors have watched the boat sink slowly since September and have a special name for it.
“We called it the Sunrise Cove Titanic for a while,” said Daniel Strickland.
He tends the large acreage near the Sunrise Cove Marina where the Rafe Banks family has enjoyed Lake Sidney Lanier for generations.
The owner, Michael Gilmer, 62, was found floating face down in the cove in September, drug pipe and methamphetamines nearby, and a driver’s license photo inside the boat.
Gilmer lived alone, estranged from family. The nearby marina had recently ordered him off the property for non-payment of dock fees. He left no will, and no one to claim the houseboat.
It sat alone after the Hall County Sheriff’s officers finished claiming the body and clearing the scene.
But what happened next? It probably sat quietly until the batteries on the bilge pump died.
Without a working pump, the houseboat took on water. When it began to sink, it settled to the bottom. Possessions inside and on the outside of the boat began to float.
This is the most likely scenario, put forward by Lake Lanier Association Executive Director Joanna Cloud.
In the quiet cove, it doesn’t appear to be a threat to navigation. The Army Corps of Engineers said it is not polluting. Neighbors disagree.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources said it is up to the Federal Environmental Protection Agency to protect Lanier’s waters.
“It just looks awful. I wouldn't want it in front of my house. It is a total mess,” said Strickland.
The boat’s batteries, toilet and gasoline tanks are almost certainly still sitting there.
“It's a total eyesore, and fuel leaking out of it, all kinds of valuables from boat floating on shore. I cleaned up trash for a week! I couldn't get any answers when I called DNR and the Corps of Engineers,” said Strickland.
He is not alone. The Lake Lanier Association works with the Corps and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources regularly. But no luck on this problem.
Joanna Cloud fears the boat will continue to sink until some agency steps up to make a change. She estimates it will take around $10,000 to get the boat out of the lake.
“I think it will continue to sink, and to pollute the lake. This is drinking water for four million people. I don't think there's a protocol for this sort of situation,” said Cloud.
One federal official told Cloud that Georgia owns the boat, since the owner died without a will. But Georgia's state regulators said Lake Lanier is Federal property, and therefore a Corps of Engineers problem.
An Army Corps spokesperson wrote: "we work with local authorities/interest groups" and "funds are typically not available for us to remove the vessel."
So, while Florida and Alabama are fighting Georgia over the rights to downstream water, nobody is agreeing on what to do about a pesky sinking houseboat in Lake Sidney Lanier.
1512dd Title - Source - Author - Date - Text
||The main past event that influences and expedites THIS year Everglades restoration activities
|The main Everglades
started in 2013 by a storm of public eco-
activity from the Indian
River Lagoon area:
Despite the current obstacles, I got a rare view of how water is still flowing south.
Last year highlight - still a lingering "Good Question" -
Good Question: Why not send more Lake O water south ?
||WHY NOT "Move it South" ? Meaning "dirty" water from Lake Okeechobee - and instead of disastrous releases into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers, move it where it used to flow - South. Is it possible ? Would the bridge on US-41 do the trick ?
ABC-7.com - by Chad Oliver, Reporter
GLADES COUNTY - "Move it south! Move it south!"
That was the chant I heard last week in Stuart during Governor Rick Scott's visit to the St. Lucie Lock.
He was there to discuss solutions to water releases from Lake Okeechobee that are damaging water quality in Southwest Florida.
It led Terry in Punta Gorda to ask the Good Question:
"Why can't more Lake O water be discharged through the Everglades instead of the Caloosahatchee River?"
Historically, water from Lake Okeechobee did flow south. It slowly moved into the Everglades.
Two things happened to stop that, the Herbert Hoover Dike was built to protect people from flooding. Then came the Tamiami Trail, which is also a man-made structure that basically acts as a dam.
There is a plan in the works to lift part of Tamiami Trail so that more water flows underneath toward the Everglades. This week, Governor Scott announced his intention to allocate $90 million over three years for the project in Miami-Dade.
The original ABC-7 video with Chad Oliver disappeared from the web - it is replaced here by this 25-WBPF report
As a member of the Governing Board for South Florida Water Management, it's a Good Question that Mitch Hutchcraft has heard often.
"Part of the answer is we now have seven million more people than we used to in a natural condition. We have roads, we have communities. Everglades National Park is half the size it used to be," he said.
Water managers are required by a federal court order to clean what they send south to the Everglades.
"Just moving water south without the water quality component is not beneficial," Hutchcraft said. They're now using former farmland to build basins and treatment areas south of Lake Okeechobee. The dark, polluted water is naturally cleaned as it flows over land.
Our pilot mentioned that it works like a great big Brita water filter."
To the question of why not put more water south, if we put more water in this basin, then the vegetation no longer has the capacity to clean it the way that we do," Hutchcraft explained.
South of Lake Okeechobee, we see field after field of sugar cane.
The State of Florida has the option to buy an additional 180,000 acres of farmland.
That deal expires in October. Proponents of the deal say it would provide more space to send water south. Opponents say it would kill their way of life and cost too much money.
As for Hutchcraft ? He doesn't see the need for more land; his focus is on completing projects already in the pipeline.
"So we could send more water south, but if we don't make those other project improvements, there's nowhere for it to go," he said.
It's a Good Question that's neither easy nor inexpensive
|1512dd Title - Source - Author - Date - Text
1512dd Title - Source - Author - Date - Text