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Donaldson to showcase one-of-a-kind flying laboratory at Heli-Expo
Donaldson Aerospace and Defense Press Release
February 29, 2016
The University of Miami's H125 has been specially equipped with an array of environmental sensors and instrument inlets. Donaldson Aerospace and Defense.
A unique flying scientific laboratory devoted to advancing environmental research will be on display in the Donaldson Aerospace and Defense exhibit 2400 during the Helicopter Association International Heli-Expo, March 1 to 3 in Louisville, Ky.
The featured Airbus H125 is equipped with an inlet barrier filtration (IBF) system from Donaldson Aerospace and Defense, a division of Donaldson Company, Inc. 
The helicopter observation platform (HOP) is owned by the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and operated by Helicopter Express.
Rosenstiel School Professor and Dean Roni Avissar, who pilots the H125, said the aircraft is key to obtaining vital information about climate and human health. Avissar will be available throughout Heli-Expo to answer questions at the Donaldson exhibit.
The H125 has been specially equipped with an array of environmental sensors and instrument inlets. As the helicopter flies at various altitudes and locations, equipment measures various exchanges between the Earth surface and atmosphere.
 “A helicopter is the only platform that can safely and efficiently perform the maneuvers we require,” said Avissar. “In particular, the ability to fly low and slow is essential to our research.” 
After Heli-Expo, Avissar will fly the helicopter to Florida to begin scientific missions in the Everglades and Biscayne Bay.
Dirt, dust, salt and sand ingestion rob a turboshaft engine of its ability to produce the power required for helicopter missions. Since the H125 will study the environment near the ocean and close to the ground, the IBF is critical to the long-term effectiveness of the helicopter. 
In addition to protecting the helicopter’s engines, the IBF conserves the Rosenstiel School’s budget, which consists largely of federal grants and philanthropic support, by extending maintenance intervals and preventing damage to the helicopter’s valuable engines.
Avissar thanked Donaldson for its unwavering support of the program, adding, “When we were challenged by circumstance to equip the research platform with a proven air filtration system, Donaldson worked with us and went above and beyond to find a solution that will keep our program and research missions on track.”

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Florida senators trim ‘legacy’ money for Everglades, springs
SE-AgNews - by Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida
February 29, 2016
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE - - Senators have reduced the amounts of proposed funding in a bill that seeks to pay for Everglades and springs-restoration projects over the next decade, as lawmakers continue to discuss how to spread voter-approved conservation money.
The Senate General Government Appropriations Subcommittee on Monday backed an amended proposal (SB 1168) known as “Legacy Florida” to annually set aside at least $140 million a year for the Everglades, $50 million for springs, $5 million to clean up Lake Apopka and $5 million to help restore Kings Bay or Crystal River.
Bill sponsor Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who is slated to become Senate president in November, said the primary focus is to get a recurring funding source approved. However, he remained optimistic that in the next couple of days the funding levels can be boosted back to an earlier proposal of $200 million a year for the Everglades and $75 million for the springs.
“This is the number one issue on the Treasure Coast,” Negron said after the meeting. “You have a situation where people email me and text me photographs of the water, signs telling their kids not to go in the water. It really is a crisis.”
On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency for counties impacted by the ongoing discharge of polluted freshwater from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.
Negron wasn’t alone among senators expressing a desire to “correct” the Everglades and springs funding levels as budget talks continue.
“We look at this funding level here as being a minimum,” said subcommittee Chairman Sen. Alan Hays, a Umatilla Republican and backer of the Lake Apopka cleanup.
Lake Apopka and Crystal River were added to the bill on Monday.
The House version of the proposal (HB 989), which is expected to be heard on the House floor Tuesday, maintains a $200 million proposal for the Everglades, but doesn’t include any other water bodies.
House co-sponsor Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, said Monday he’d like to keep the House measure the way it was proposed.
“The real challenge is the dichotomy between those two (the Everglades and springs) issues,” Caldwell said. “With the Everglades … we know what projects we would be funding with this money. The other issues are much more amorphous. Lake Apopka is a little bit more direct, but again I’m also worried about becoming overly parochial with the funds.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has increased water releases to ease pressure on the Herbert Hoover Dike surrounding the lake. The pressure stems from a buildup of water caused by recent heavy rains. The corps has approved Scott’s request to divert some water from the lake south into the Everglades.
“To me one of the strongest points of the bill is that it provides a preference for projects that reduce the need for discharges east and west,” Negron said.
The money for Negron’s bill would come from the state’s land-acquisition trust fund, which is being used to carry out a 2014 constitutional amendment that requires a portion of documentary-stamp taxes be set aside for land and water conservation efforts.
Under Negron’s bill, 25 percent or $140 million a year, whichever is lower, would go from the land-acquisition trust fund to Everglades and Lake Okeechobee projects.
Money would be broken down between different Everglades-related programs and projects. The measure also would require the Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District to give preference to Everglades restoration projects that reduce discharges of water from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie or Caloosahatchee estuaries.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District would direct money for the restoration of Kings Bay or Crystal River. The St. Johns River Water Management District would oversee the money for Lake Apopka.
Related:           Senate Trims 'Legacy' Money for Everglades, Springs - Sunshine State News
No budget deal on Martin County water farm, Everglades - TCPalm

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Indian River Lagoon pollution





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Florida shores yellow, brown and black all over
Miami Herald - by  Jenny Staletovich
February 29, 2016
What’s yellow, brown and black all over ? After a bruising watery winter on the heels of a dry summer, Florida’s water.
In July, a stinky stain scientist call yellow fog spread across Florida Bay after a regional drought killed miles of seagrass. This month, water managers began flushing Lake Okeechobee, a vast shallow bowl more than twice the size of New York City, into the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico following record rain. A familiar wave of black water thick with sediment soon flowed east, spreading to corals on the northern remnants of the state’s reef tract. On the west coast, water turned a muddy brown.
State biologists motored through a mat of dead seagrass on Rankin Lake in Florida Bay in September.Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
“You can't see three inches in the water,” said fishing Capt. Mike Connor, whose Stuart-based business is down 70 percent this year as he struggles to recover from a similar flushing in 2013.
“We get this every two to three years,” he complained. “It's like a punch drunk boxer. You get punched too many times and you just don’t get up.”
Dumping lake water has become a routine move with an aging flood control system incapable of handling Mother Nature’s curve balls. But scientists fear this round of releases, coming so early in the dry season, could be even worse than 1999, when lake releases preceded widespread fish kills. Since the dumping started in January, the normally brackish St. Lucie estuary has changed to almost entirely fresh water, clouded with sediment.
Already alarms are sounding. On Friday, after Conde Nast Traveler warned readers that “excess sludge” was being dumped off beaches, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency, blaming problems on the aging dike and the Obama administration.
“Not only is the well-being and health of our families at risk if the Obama Administration doesn’t immediately begin funding repairs to their federally operated dike, but our housing market, tourism industry and agricultural community will fail if the dike is not repaired and properly maintained,” Scott said in a statement.
Locals, meanwhile, dusted off old battle plans: a group of anglers headed to Tallahassee last week to complain while others organized a protest Friday in Stuart. Three mayors from the west coast also flew to Washington to beg for help. A video Connor posted on his Facebook page this month has been viewed more than 377,000 times.
“Unfortunately, the writing on the wall is total destruction,” said Jacqueline Thurlow-Lippisch, a commissioner for Sewall’s Point, the tiny, affluent town that sits on a peninsula dividing the St. Lucie River from the inlet.
“It’s like groundhog day,” she said. “I can’t believe I’m doing this again.”
Problems this year started when record rain hit the region in January. Already saturated from a wet El Niño winter that flooded parts of Miami-Dade County in December — causing $125 million in crop losses in a single week — the lake rose rapidly, forcing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to start dumping water to protect the dike.
When releases into the Caloosahatchee river failed to bring down levels fast enough, the Corps started releasing water to the east. On Feb. 4, as the lake continued to rise, the Corps announced it would begin dumping as much water as possible into both the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.
Meanwhile, sprawling water conservation areas to the south of the lake normally used to hold excess water also topped out.
To get rid of the water, the water management district began opening taps wherever possible. More than 5.6 billion gallons of water have been moved into Everglades National Park after Scott asked the Corps to speed up a restoration project. Water in the conservation area is continuing to rise, but at least had slowed by Friday, said district engineering, construction and operations chief John Mitnik.
The district is also pumping up to 96 million gallons of water a day into an emergency detention basin near Miami International Airport constructed after Hurricane Irene in 2000 and has cranked up pumps dumping water into the Miami Canal. Another 5 million gallons a day is being pumped into an aquifer storage and recovery pilot well in Palm Beach County, which was part of larger project scrapped because of questions over effectiveness and ecological impacts.
Even with the extreme pumping and more rain forecast, water managers say they’ll likely need to keep dumping water into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee for some time. And the longer the releases last, the bigger the odds for dead seagrass and more toxic consequences.
“It won’t happen right away. Usually stuff like that happens after the fish have been stressed for a period of time. Kind of like people,” said Dennis Hanisak, a director of Marine Ecosystem Health at Florida International University’s Harbor Branch Observatory where, following the 2013 event, researchers installed monitoring stations to better understand and distinguish impacts from lake water and the local watershed.
“Every time we have this it’s just really challenging to the system,” he said. “In Florida, everything is connected by water.”
Thurlow-Lippisch, echoing environmentalists around the state, says the solution to the problem is simple: more storage south of the lake.
But that solution, first posed by former Gov. Charlie Crist, has been repeatedly rejected by legislators and Scott, even after voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment to spend taxes from real estate deals on land to save the Everglades. A bill this year sets aside up to $200 million for the next 20 years on Everglades restoration. But money for land — $27.7 million — went to restoration projects already under way, not a reservoir.
“This year what really has people angry is the Amendment 1 money,” Connor said. “We thought that was a blessing for us. But the Legislature has stolen the money two years in a row. We’ve had 25 years of promises here and nothing is in the ground.”
When the South Florida Water Management District back-pumped water off fields during record rain in January, the move reignited a bitter fight over who was to blame for pollution that for years has prevented water from moving south. So much phosphorus from fertilizer now sits in sediment at the bottom of the lake — called legacy phosphorus — that some scientists think it will be impossible to ever completely clean it.
U.S. Sugar spokeswoman Judy Sanchez said up to 80 percent now comes from the north of the lake and water needed to be pumped into the lake to protect communities to the south.
“Contrary to claims that backpumping is used primarily to benefit sugarcane farmers, backpumping is a necessary flood control measure that benefits ‘thousands of families and businesses’ in the Glades communities,” she said in an email this week.
Clewiston mayor Phillip Roland called an account by Earthjustice attorney David Guest, “yet another mean-spirited and false assault on local farmers living and working in the Everglades Agricultural Area.”
But Thurlow-Lippisch said it’s time for the state to stand up to the politically influential industry.
“We’re not protecting people down there as much as we’re protecting giant corporations,” she said. “They block the water 100 percent. We’re not asking them to open up all of it. We’re just asking to open up some of it.”

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House and Senate haven’t agreed on money for Everglades, land purchases and Martin County water farm
TCPalm - by Isadora Rangel
February 29, 2016
TALLAHASSEE — The Florida House and Senate ended their first round of budget negotiations Monday without reaching a deal on funding for Everglades restoration, conservation land purchases and a Martin County project to store polluted water that would otherwise end up in the St. Lucie River.
Lawmakers in charge of negotiating the environmental portion of the state budget met over the weekend and had until Monday to come up with an agreement on individual projects. But since they didn't reach a deal, funding will now be decided by the House and Senate budget chiefs before the end of the legislative session March 11.
Lawmakers did agree on $35 million for the annual Rural and Family Lands Protection program, in which the state pays farmers not to develop their land. That's more than the $25 million Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam had asked for. The House and Senate didn't agree this early on the project in previous years, said Janet Bowman of The Nature Conservancy. She also said she's pleased with the money going into land management, such as $5 million for reforestation and $1 million for prescribed burns.
The House and Senate still are apart on Everglades restoration but agreed on $100 million for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project, which includes the C-44 Canal reservoir to store water flowing into the St. Lucie River, and $51 million for projects around Lake Okeechobee, said Rep. Ben Albritton, chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee. How far apart the chambers still remain on Everglades money was not available Monday evening.
"We made huge strides in areas that are certainly important," said Albritton, R-Wauchula.
Also pending is $7.5 million the Senate proposed at the request of President-elect Joe Negron, R-Stuart, to expand the Caulkins Citrus Co. water farm near Indiantown. The project has pumped and stored nearly 8.3 billion gallons of rainfall runoff out of the C-44 Canal since February 2014 and Negron has made it a priority to get funding for it in light of the recent Lake Okeechobee discharges. But the project, even if expanded to 30 billion gallons, won't significantly reduce discharges.
Albritton and his Senate counterpart, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government Chairman Alan Hays, didn't agree on a final figure for the Florida Forever conservation land-buying program. It's unclear how much each chamber was proposing to give to the program Monday. Environmentalist crafted Amendment 1, approved by voters in 2014 for land and water conservation, after Florida Forever funding got cut during the economic recession.
The Senate wants to give $20 million to the Florida Communities Trust, a grant program that helps local governments build parks, but the House hasn't agreed to it.

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2015 was average season for wading bird nests in Everglades
Associated Press
February 28, 2016
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — State officials counted nearly 44,000 wading bird nests in the 2015 nesting season — an average season that showed how several key measures have stalled along with Everglades restoration delays.
According to the South Florida Water Management District's annual report on the December-to-June wading bird nesting season, the white ibis continues to improve and accounts for half the nests in the region.
However, most other wading bird species showed declines or average nesting efforts.
Officials say wood storks did not return to historically important nesting areas in Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary during 2015. The birds have nested there only twice in the last eight years.
According to the district, which is the state agency overseeing Everglades restoration efforts, the numbers of snowy egrets are declining and remain far off target.

  Wading bird


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Florida burmese python hunt yields 106 snakes
HNGN.com - by Kristina Udice
February 28, 2016
This year’s Burmese Python hunt yielded 106 snakes, one of which measured 15 feet long.
Florida hunters had a great python-hunting season this year, clocking in 106 snake at the end of this year's month-long Burmese Python hunt, the Associated Press reported. Ones of the snakes caught measured 15 feet long.
The aim of the hunt is to get rid of these Burmese Pythons, as they don't belong in Florida's wetlands. These snakes normally call Southeast Asia home, but they have recently taken up residence in the Evergaldes.
The hunt raises awareness and brings attention to the wildlife concerns of Florida and its residents, according to The Christian Science Monitor.
More than 1,000 people joined the challenge this year, and hunters came from 29 states across the country, the Daily Mail reported. The hunt lasted from Jan. 16 to Feb. 14.
The stomach contents of these snakes will be analyzed before they reach their final destination. One-third of the snakes will be made into wallets, handbags, shoes and belts. Hunters can expect to get $150 for each snake captured.
"We are excited to see so many people contribute to this important effort to conserve Florida's natural treasure, the Everglades ecosystem. We need to keep this momentum going now that the competition is over," Wildlife Conservation Commissioner Ron Bergeron said.

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Flow issue serious issue for residents of Okeechobee as well
TCPalm.com – Letter by Susan H. George, Okeechobee
February 28, 2016
Residents of Okeechobee and the other lake communities are not happy either with releases that impact the Indian River Lagoon and the waters entering the Gulf on the west side of Florida.
Our state's geography demands that water move from the north to south. In our great feats of nonwisdom, we have created an unfortunate mess.
Diston tried to drain the Everglades. The Tamiami Trail was built from Miami to the Gulf — a great road that acted like a dike until recent bridges were added to allow some water to flow.
The Herbert Hoover Dike allowed communities to exist and farming to take place. But now Big Sugar can use its financial power to dictate how water can flow south of the lake.
There is now "back pumping" of really polluted water back into the lake. North Florida, Orlando and Disney send their water down the Kissimmee River and into Lake O. Pollution of the lagoon gets attention.
What is the level at the locks at Port Myakka ? Are we looking at the wrong end of the problem ?
The solution is not rocket science, as Nathaniel Reed pointed out. He knows the problem and has offered a well-reasoned plan.
What is more important to our legislators — the financial clout of agriculture to the south of the lake or the votes of those of us who put and keep them in office ?
Do we settle for what we have now: Garbage in, garbage out ?

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Lake O problems go back a century: What you need to know
News-Press – by Chad Gillis
February 27, 2016
Waters draining to the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Oceans are flowing brown, Lake Okeechobee is at a dangerous level and virtually all of South Florida is still reeling from record January rains.
Fish and marine mammal kills, algal blooms, flooded highways and lower property values are some of the byproducts of a mismanaged system designed to send freshwater to the oceans as fast as possible, critics say. It even could affect our vital tourism industry.
But how did we get here ? How did the 16 counties in the South Florida Water Management District turn one of the planet's largest sources of clean water into a massive network of canals and ditches?
History tells us that the state of Florida was a water disaster from Day 1, when the federal government created the Sunshine State with the caveat that the “useless” swampland be drained for development and farming.
In the 1840s, Congress ordered Florida to turn this unique ecological treasure into a massive network of dikes, ditches and canals, which in turn created an expensive, imperfect system that fails during heavy rains.
“A lot of people who moved to Florida had no sense of the geology but an undying sense that ‘if you just developed it and people made more money, life would be better,’” said Martha Musgrove, a former Miami Herald editor who covered decades of environmental destruction. “We got here because drainage allowed development; and the more development you have the more drainage you need.”
There were short-term gains in the private sector, but those gains came with long-term pains for the public.
The quick cash was made mostly in swampland scams, where real estate agents sold "property by the bucket" to uninformed Midwestern and European folks.
"(Early developers and government agencies) didn’t have any real guidepost, other than someone promised to develop it," said Wayne Daltry, former director of the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council. "Most of the Everglades was sold very cheap or given away for a song. And any natural features that got in the way were to be eliminated."
Long-term pains are now playing out in the form of massive water quality problems that cover nearly the entire district. Lake Okeechobee is higher now (more than 16 feet above sea level) than it is during a typical rainy season.
Lake O water release into Caloosahatchee at its max
 “The dike was built from uncompacted earth, made up of naturally porous materials such as peat, gravel, sand and shell and is therefore prone to leaks,” said forecasters with insurer Lloyd’s of London. “Since the construction of the dike, the land outside of the dike has been eroding, particularly on the south side of the lake.”
A Florida International University report says fixing the dike — making it truly safe — would likely cost $4.7 billion, which is more than three times the amount being spent on a current Army Corps dike rehabilitation.
Over the past two decades, billions of dollars have been allocated to restoring the Everglades. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year by the South Florida Water Management District alone, and it doesn't seem like any of these costs are going to decline soon.
A dry dream
Florida became the 27th state in the union in March of 1845, when Congress ordered the state be drained and developed.
By 1900, the state was still very poor as only pioneer families and what remained of the Seminole and Miccosukee peoples lived in the Everglades.
Killing the mass swampland included connecting Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, where releases over the past month have caused water quality issues.
Those connections will likely never be broken, even though they aren't natural, which means the Everglades will never truly be what it once was.
"Draining the Everglades will bring in people and money from all parts of America and Europe," pathologist P.H. Rolfs wrote at the time, and prior to mass drainage projects. "The tidings of the new El Dorado will be heralded to the ends of the earth. Means and men will come in to take part in the great development."
Means and men did come, mostly in the form of farmers, who built the first dike — which was little more than a pile of sticks and mud. But hurricanes in 1926 and 1928 proved that backyard engineering was not enough to fend off large tropical systems.
Thousands of people died when the small muck levee surrounding Lake Okeechobee gave way in the 1920s.  The devastation created a public outcry for a new dam, a safe structure that would protect the towns south and east of the lake from, well, the lake. Larger levees were built in the 1930s but heavy rains and flooding from two hurricanes in the 1940s spurred the state and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expand the levee and canal systems. The dike that surrounds Okeechobee is still considered by insurance forecasters to be one of the most dangerous water control structures in the world.
More recent history
In 1948, Congress approved a $208 million project aimed at providing flood protection on 700,000 acres. The project created the largest drainage system in the world — 1,700 miles of canals and levees and six major pump stations.
Completed in 1979, the project was 10 years and about $100 million over budget.
Dike studies conducted in the 1990s say the dike was still showing weaknesses, and the Army Corps developed a new set of lake protocols in the wake of the disaster in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
The Army Corps is in the middle of a $1.5 billion restoration of the dike that is expected to be completed by 2022.
Clewiston Museum director Butch Wilson said he never worried about the dike failing while he was a child and a young adult, but his perception changed in the wake of Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
The dike is about 30 feet high and 15 feet higher than the surface of Okeechobee.
"After the storm I got on my bicycle and got on the dike and rode to Belle Glade. The weedline was about 10 feet just below the road on (top of) the dike," Wilson told The News-Press recently. "I talked to a firefighter in Belle Glade and he said the water was 2 feet from the top. It's things like that that make me uncomfortable."
Today 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 fish. Higher water levels also mean more pressure on the dike. More pressure, in turn, leads to seepage, leaks, and, eventually, a breach.
Polluted waters
In 2008, then Florida Gov. Charlie Crist pushed the state to purchase tens of thousands of acres of sugar farmland for Everglades restoration projects. He wanted to buy all U.S. Sugar assets, but the Great Recession and other obstacles popped up. The timeline to secure those lands expired this past October.
Okeechobee is managed mostly to prevent flooding and damages in the towns and lands surrounding the lake. The Caloosahatchee gets excess water from the lake, and the releases will likely continue into the foreseeable future as there is no other way to quickly drain the lake.
Besides safety, environmental damage continues to be a huge issue. Lake Okeechobee is surrounded by farms. The water gushing into the Caloosahathee River is often filled with phosphorus, nitrogen and other chemicals.
Those nutrients feed algal blooms, which have been linked recently with various disorders. Chronic exposure to a commonplace algae toxin in crabs, shellfish and other seafood increases risk of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), according to a study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B earlier this year.
Fields south of the lake are dominated by sugar cane and vegetables. After recent rains saturated those fields, the water management district backpumped nutrient-laden water from the fields into Lake O, a rare event that's only supposed to be used when lives are endangered.
That dirty water was then released downstream to the estuaries and beaches of coastal Lee County.

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US Sen. Bill NELSON

US Sen. Bill NELSON



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U.S. Sen Bill Nelson, U.S. Rep. Curt Clawson vow fight to fix Lake Okeechobee water releases
Naples Daily News – by Staff
February 27, 2016
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Curt Clawson got a close-up look at the brown water that has been coursing down the Caloosahatchee River and into the Gulf of Mexico from Lake Okeechobee.
On Saturday afternoon, the two legislators toured the river in downtown Fort Myers and met with Lee County elected leaders, including six of its mayors, vowing to pass legislation passed to start moving Lake Okeechobee discharges into the Everglades, reducing harmful discharges into the Caloosahatchee.
Nelson, a Democrat, said he thinks he can get support from Senate Republicans and Democrats to approve Everglades projects, including one known as the Central Everglades Planning Project, which could go a long way to help.
"We're going to pass it in the Senate," Nelson said confidently.
He hopes to have that approval by summer, he said.
Clawson, R-Bonita Springs, said he was "crossing his fingers" that it would pass and that he'll soon be introducing some bills of his own to try to help.
"Look, this is our community," he said. "This is our cities. This is us."
After a January of historic rainfalls, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it would release water from Lake Okeechobee to protect South Florida from flooding.
"That's not fair to us in Southwest Florida that we have to take everybody else's pollution ... It ain't right," Clawson said.
Gov. Rick Scott on Friday declared a state of emergency for Lee County to seek federal money in the wake of millions of gallons of water from Lake Okeechobee that alter the natural balance of the Caloosahatchee River and the Gulf Coast. The state of emergency has also been declared for Martin and St. Lucie counties on the east coast, where Lake Okeechobee waters are sent down the St. Lucie River.
Sitting around the table with Nelson and Clawson on the second floor of the Fort Myers City pier building were Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman and mayors Randy Henderson of Fort Myers, Ben Nelson of Bonita Springs, Anita Cereceda of Fort Myers Beach, Marni Sawicki of Cape Coral, Nick Batos of Estero and Kevin Ruane of Sanibel.
Several elected leaders also came from neighboring counties, including Phillip Roland, the mayor of Clewiston, who argued the water that's going into Lake Okeechobee needs to be slowed. He also said the polluted water isn't coming from growers, but from cow pastures and developments to the north, including Disney World in Orlando.
"This is not the cause of agriculture," he said. "It's just not."
Bonita Springs Mayor Ben Nelson said the fact that Sen. Nelson and Clawson have committed to work together on water issues is a good sign, but the problems run deep and will take years — and money — to fix.
"The solution is so long-term that we can't lose sight of it," Ben Nelson said. "If we lose sight of it for one year as a community, it will set us back five years. So we are going to have to fight for that money for the next project and the next project and the next project every year."
Estero Mayor Nick Batos said he will urge Estero council members and residents to reach out to the Legislature and Congress to let them know their concerns about water and how vital it is to the local economy and the quality of life in Southwest Florida.
"If people see that we have contaminated waters, they are not going to be coming here, they are not going to be fishing here and it's going to affect all of our abilities to have jobs," he said. "It's going to affect the values of all of our homes."
Related:           Nelson, Clawson discuss SW Fla. water woes           WZVN-TV
Bill Nelson, Curt Clawson promise to help communities affected by ...        Florida Politics (blog)

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Cane fields





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Glades-area agriculture a pillar of Florida’s economy
Palm Beach Post - Point of View by Janet Taylor, Hendry County Commission
Feb. 26, 2016
The swank Biltmore in Coral Gables in January. The luxurious Breakers in Palm Beach in February. These resorts are where the wealthy upper crust of the Everglades Coalition and Everglades Foundation have gathered so far this year — while trying to make their case that the working-class Glades-area residents should give up their homes and livelihoods to make way for Lake Okeechobee’s excess water.
Some activists’ desires apparently go far further than wanting to end Florida agriculture. A Feb. 11 post of a Sierra Club email exchange suggested that “a dike failure would fix everything. The human toll would be inconceivable. The benefits to our environment would be immeasurable.”
 “Inconceivable” is right! More than 39,000 people live in Hendry County. About 13,000 people live in Glades County and 18,000 in Belle Glade. Over 7,000 people make Clewiston their home, and about 6,000 live in Pahokee. Tens of thousands more live in the surrounding unincorporated areas. Glades lives matter.
Meanwhile, at the ritzy resorts, Nathaniel Reed is again advocating for the destruction of Florida’s sugar industry — if not all of Florida agriculture.
Reed’s parents made a fortune developing Jupiter Island and neighboring Hobe Sound. While he’s certainly never worked at planting, caring for or harvesting crops, Reed and his friends and followers think they are experts about how, where and if agriculture should be allowed.
The Sierra Club and many Everglades Foundation supporters claim that agriculture in general, and sugar cane growers in particular, are destroying the state’s waters. Never mind that the water that flows off sugar cane land is cleaner than when it flowed onto the land, far exceeding any state requirement.
Never mind that sugar cane farmers actually have made the largest private investment, $400 million, for the restoration of the Everglades.
And especially never mind that it isn’t water from the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) that is ending up in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers in the first place. Lake Okeechobee’s water comes from the north, east and west. Only 5 percent of the water entering Lake Okeechobee comes from the south, and that water comes from our rural communities to protect homes and people from flooding, not from farms.
In addition to taking stewardship of the land very seriously, farmers generate more than $100 billion in annual economic impact and support more than 2 million jobs for Floridians. Agriculture is the strongest pillar of our state’s economy.
One-percenters living the good life in such exclusive places as Jupiter Island seem to have no problem advocating ending the growing of sugar cane in Florida, an industry that employs more than 12,000 Floridians.
I guess the problem is that most of those 12,000 workers live in the Glades/Clewiston/Hendry County area and don’t matter much to those living in Florida’s coastal communities. Devastating our area’s economy won’t mean a thing to millionaires and billionaires living hours away.
Agriculture is the backbone of Florida’s economy; it was here long before the development of our state’s coastal enclaves. Agriculture was here before the Sierra Club. Our state’s farmers are its first environmentalists, caring for the land because they know it’s the land that provides for us all. We aren’t going to be driven away by people too privileged to understand that.

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Gov. Scott declares state of emergency over Lake O draining
Sun Sentinel – by Andy Reid
February 26, 2016
Gov. Rick Scott Friday declared a state of emergency for three coastal counties where waterways are suffering from Lake Okeechobee draining triggered by South Florida flooding fears.
The governor is trying to get more federal funding to shore up Lake Okeechobee's troubled dike and to speed up Everglades restoration projects. Both efforts could eventually offer alternatives to the damaging discharges of lake water out to sea.
Scott in a statement issued Friday blamed the lake drainage problems on "inadequate funding by the federal government" and said that "our communities are in imminent danger of prolonged flooding and environmental devastation if the (lake) dike is ever compromised."
Despite the environmental concerns, Scott's emergency declaration doesn't change the decision to keep draining Lake Okeechobee water to the east and west coasts for flood control, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.
"We have to place more emphasis on our public safety concerns," Army Corps spokesman John Campbell said.
South Florida's rainiest winter since 1932 has boosted Lake Okeechobee waters to the point that poses a risk to the erosion-prone dike that protects the region from flooding.
To ease the strain on the dike, the Army Corps is draining billions of gallons of Lake Okeechobee water each day east into the St. Lucie River and west into the Caloosahatchee River.
The lake draining helps protect lakeside communities and South Florida's sugar cane country from flooding. But those lake discharges also threaten to wipe out coastal fishing grounds and sink the tourism-based economies in cities such as Stuart and Fort Myers.
The governor's emergency declaration seeks help for Martin and St. Lucie counties on the East Coast and Lee County on the West Coast.
Game fish along the coasts are already getting scared away by water-quality problems from lake draining, which is drying up business for fishing guides, according to Charles Grande, of the Rivers Coalition. The coalition, based in Stuart, advocates for an end to lake discharges to the east and west.
"It should cast a spotlight on the problem," Grande, a former St. Lucie County Commissioner, said about the governor's action. The St. Lucie Estuary "is in really bad shape. ... It's really, really tough on the economy."
Getting more money from the federal government could jump-start slow-moving Everglades restoration, which calls for building reservoirs and pollution-filtering treatment areas that could get more Lake Okeechobee water moving south instead of toward the coasts.
The governor also wants more federal spending to finish a Lake Okeechobee dike rehab, which has already cost $500 million since 2007 and at its current pace could linger for another 10 years.
Lake Okeechobee's water used to naturally overlap its shores and flow south to replenish the Everglades. But that was before decades of draining and pumping to make way for South Florida farming and development.
Now South Florida's vast flood control system relies on corralling water in Lake Okeechobee. When lake levels get too high for the dike, that triggers large discharges of lake water to the east and west coasts.
This winter, El Niño-driven rains have Lake Okeechobee rising when it is usually going down during what is normally South Florida's dry season.
On Friday, the lake was 16.07 feet above sea level. The Army Corps of Engineers tries to keep the lake between 12.5 and 15.5 feet.
As much as 11 billion gallons of Lake Okeechobee water each day are being discharged to the east and west coasts combined to try to lower the lake.
That threatens a repeat of 2013, when draining hundreds of billions of gallons of Lake Okeechobee water to the coasts killed fishing grounds and fueled toxic algae blooms that made coastal waterways unsafe for swimming.
Scott said more than $800 million is needed from the federal government to finish Lake Okeechobee dike repairs. He is also calling for about $7 billion in federal funding for Everglades restoration.
"We need President Obama to get engaged immediately on this issue and fully fund the needed repairs to their dike so massive U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' discharges are no longer needed," Scott said.
While the governor's statements issued Friday called for President Obama to steer more money to South Florida to address the water woes, it's Congress that decides how much money to provide for Everglades restoration and fixing Lake Okeechobee's dike.
Taxpayers have already spent more than $3 billion on Everglades restoration projects in the works since 2000, though most of the work has yet to be completed.
Finishing those projects would help lessen damaging Lake Okeechobee discharges to the coasts, but environmental advocates say that the state should also be buying more land to enable moving more lake water south.
Florida voters in 2014 approved a constitutional amendment that dedicates a portion of existing fees levied on real estate sales to help pay for buying land for environmental projects. Yet, state leaders have so far balked at using that money to buy more land in sugar cane country to help move Lake Okeechobee water south
Related:           Gov. Rick Scott declares state of emergency for Lee and other areas ...       Naples Daily News-Feb 26, 2016
Scott Declares State of Emergency in Lee over Lake O Discharge   Naples Herald-Feb 26, 2016
Protesters: Lake O discharges killing environment and economy      WPEC-Feb 26, 2016

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How did we drain the Everglades ?
News-Press.com – by Chad Cillis
February 26, 2016
Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year to maintain a system of canals, ditches, berms and levees from south of Orlando to Florida Bay.
Congratulation taxpayers: you own and pay for the most effective drainage network in the world.
Yes, it rains nearly 5 feet here in a typical year. Yes, Florida was once home to one of the largest freshwater sources on the planet. Lots of water, for free.
But that's not the case today as water managers and utilities are increasingly turning to expensive technologies like reverse osmosis and the desalination of ocean water to provide drinking water and irrigation supplies.
Connecting to the Cape Coral utilities (one of the most advanced water supply networks in the world) costs about $19,000.
The clean water that once stood on the landscape year-round is now sent to the ocean as fast as gravity and pump stations will allow, all to drain wetlands for development and farming.
Some critics say Florida could be a study case of how private profits result in public losses, how industries that use more water than urban areas can make billions while water bills for the average resident continue to rise.
Here are some of the milestones that turned the historic Everglades into a giant water project in a 16-county taxing district.
- 1850: Federal Swamp and Overflowed Lands Act gives Florida title to all submerged wetlands for the purpose of draining and taming the Everglades.
- 1881: Philadelphia businessman Hamilton Disston purchases four million acres of land for $1 million. He digs canals and starts the process of connecting the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers to Lake Okeechobee to drain water from the land.
- 1896: Disston dies mysteriously in his home after some setbacks, including a deep freeze that killed off crops and forced some families to move further north. Some say it was a heart attack, others that he committed suicide.
- 1900s: Farmers build small dams south of Lake Okeechobee to prevent flooding.
- 1905: Everglades Drainage District created to build canals and levy taxes on landowners.
- 1920s: Multiple hurricanes hit Lake Okeechobee. The lake waters break through a small levee and kill thousands. East coast towns flood.
- 1930: Federal Rivers and Harbors Act allows U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to start construction on what is now the Herbert Hoover Dike. Original structure is 85 miles long and came in at twice the original budget at $19 million.
-1948: Congress approves $208 million to provide flood control on 700,000 acres that is now mostly owned by sugar farmers. Completed in 1979, the project was 10 years and nearly $100 million over budget and allowed the state to send 1.7 billion gallons of fresh water to the oceans each day.
-1960s: In the wake of the Bay of Pigs and the embargo on Cuba (which at the time was the largest sugar producing country) sugar farms grow in size from 50,000 to 200,000 acres.
-1966: Signs of environmental damage documented during summer months, when extensive polluted water was pumped off farmland and into Lake Okeechobee — which drains primarily through the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.
- 1968: State looks for massive airport to take passengers to and from Florida at "supersonic" speeds. JetPort was designed with six runways and a 1,000-foot-wide transportation network that connects both coasts by monorail.
This development would have likely destroyed what remains of the Everglades and was stopped by environmental groups.
- 1994: State approves Everglades Forever Act, which requires the state to develop phosphorus criteria for the Everglades Protection Area.
- 2000: Congress authorizes the Central Everglades Restoration Project, which will cost $10 billion and take until at least 2035 to complete.
Sources: Florida Historical Society, Florida State Horticulture Society, U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers, South Florida Water Management District, Florida
Department of Environmental Protection, Clewiston Museum, Property and Environment Research Center, Florida International University, University of Florida.

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Leaders meet in Stuart over Lake O discharges
CBS12.com - by Thomas Forester
February 26th 2016
STUART (CBS12) — Community leaders and residents will hold a news conference Friday to voice their concerns about the amount of discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie River.
The meeting will take place on the River Walk Stage in Downtown Stuart at 11 a.m.
The Army Corps of Engineers has said that the massive discharges of tens of billions of gallons of polluted Lake Okeechobee runoff will continue "for an undetermined length of time."
Residents along the Treasure Coast feel unless something changes this summer will be worse than 2013 when they couldn't even go into the water because of health concerns.
It cost local businesses millions of dollars in lost revenue.
Their message: Fund the purchase of land south of Lake Okeechobee for a reservoir to store, clean and send water south to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay and stop the discharges.

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Lee County Mayor coalition meets in Sanibel to review Washington D.C. trip
Cape Coral Daily Breeze - by Brian Wierima
February 26, 2016
The Mayor coalition from Lee County created to help address the latest water quality issues from the Lake Okeechobee discharges, took their plight to the federal level in Washington D.C. last week.
The trio of Kevin Ruane (Sanibel), Randy Henderson (Fort Myers) and Marni Sawicki (Cape Coral) made the trip to Washington D.C. to talk with members of the Senate and House of Representatives, as well as the Army Corp of Engineers about the Lake Okeechobee discharges, which have darkened not only the waters of the Gulf, but as well as economic and environmental impacts.
The rest of the coalition includes mayors Ben Nelson (Bonita Springs), Anita Cereceda (Fort Myers Beach) and Nick Batos (Estero). Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman was also in attendance to represent the Commissioners.
In a prepared statement outlining the goals and reasons why the three mayors made the trip to Washington D.C., there were four points of interest asking for federal assistance.
The first was to adopt a 2016 Water Resources Reform and Development Act bill and to authorize the funding Central Everglades Planning Project.
Second was to fully fund the improvements to the Herbert Hoover Dike to help minimize the risk of failure, resulting in catastrophic events.
The third was to support the State's request for a 90-day emergency temporary deviation from federal and state water quality criteria and restrictions. Those restrictions limit the amount of discharges allowed to the Everglades National Park during uncommon heavy rainfall during the dry season.
Lastly, the contingent met with representatives to request the Army Corps of Engineers to quicken the implementation of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir. That would provide an estimated 360,000 acre-feet of water storage, which would be 20-25 percent of total storage needed south of Lake Okeechobee of the 1.3 million acre-feet needed.
"We went there with one guided voice," said Ruane. "Rep. Curt Clawson (19th Congressional District) was very hospitable for us and showed us around and introduced us to the right people. We also met with the Army Corps of Engineers and their message was that they needed more resources."
The three mayors met with members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee and the Energy and Water Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representative Committee and Appropriations.
Henderson reiterated Ruane's sentiment that the trip was fruitful and they were well received from the politicians on Capital Hill.
"I was encouraged and I left feeling hopeful," Henderson said. "There are 412 cities in Florida and we can't have any finger pointing, we need to be united."
Sawicki added the trip was productive in that they were able to talk with the right representatives about the water quality issues this area has been incurring.
"We were able to meet with high-ranking officials and the quality time we were able to have was amazing," Sawicki said. "I felt we made headway and we were speaking as one."
The three mayors had 19 meetings in the three days they were in Washington D.C. Henderson said that he was impressed the way Clawson, a Republican, and Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, worked together well on the issue in a nonpartisan way.
"They discussed solutions in a nonpartisan way," Henderson said. "That was heartening to see."
Nelson plans to make a stop in Fort Myers over the weekend to see firsthand the problems the discharges from Lake "O" are causing.
Ruane said there needs to be "all hands on deck" if the goals of improving the flow of extra water from Lake Okeechobee are to be met. He suggested to invite Water Management officials to the next scheduled Mayors coalition meeting, as well as representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers.
"Again, we need to be united," Ruane said. "There is no side more important than the other. We also were invited back, which is important."
The third revision of the White Paper, which has been supported by hundreds of cities around the state and addresses water quality issues, is being worked on, as well.
The mayors also discussed the Amendment 1 funds and where they have gone and if they will ever be used to what they were voted on for.
That answer lies within the courts, Ruane said.
"The courts will decide what money is suppose to go where," Ruane said. "It's outside of our hands now."
James Evans, the director of Natural Resources for Sanibel, said there is some good news in that Lake "O" dropped .14 of a foot last week in a report to the mayors. But there is still over maximum flow of discharge out of the lake and into the Caloosahatchee River, with 77-percent of the flows emanating from the lake.
"The Caloosahatchee is getting the lion's share of discharge," Evans said. "But the situation is starting to get dire, because the fish here will be entering their spawning season starting in March, which lasts through May."
With the freshwater pouring in from the Caloosahatchee basin and into the Gulf of Mexico, salinity levels are being negatively effected, which in turn, effects the fish and their spawning season.
"If we lose the spawning season, lots will be lost," Evans said. "Flows now are three times higher that our maximum target (level)."
One encouraging aspect is how far the freshwater plumes are reaching out into the Gulf. In 2013 when similar discharges were had, the freshwater plumes reached out 13 to 15 miles off shore.
"Right now, we measured the plume is less than a mile off shore," Evans said.
There will be a some bets made, with the area hoping Mother Nature will back. If rainfall slackens up, that will help the level of Lake Okeechobee to fall.
Then the maximum levels of discharge can be had to help lower the Lake, which will in turn lessen the amount of cfs discharge in the future.
Basically, it's take it now to have a brighter near future.
"If we take the maximum discharge now, maybe there will be a silver lining if Mother Nature cooperates," Ruane said.
The obvious longterm solution which has been on everyones' mind is adding more water storage in each the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie basins, as well as south of Lake Okeechobee.
Currently, all water storage is full to capacity, Evans said.
The goal is to find as much water storage as possible," Evans said. "We have a long ways to go. We need to get 1.3 million acre-feet of water storage and we maybe have 10-percent or less of that done."
A date for the next coalition meeting was not set, but Ruane assured there will be more set in the near future.
Meanwhile Lee County's six mayors, Lee County Commissioner Brian Hammon, Nelson and Clawson will meet in downtown Fort Myers on Saturday to again discuss water quality issues, including legislation Nelson has introduced including legislation Neson has introduced "to expedite all Everglades-restoration projects that the Army Corps of Engineers deems ready to begin in the next five years."
"One of the projects that would be authorized immediately if Nelson's legislation passes is the Central Everglades Planning Project, or CEPP, which is designed to increase water flow south into the Everglades, thereby reducing harmful discharges into the Caloosahatchee River," a release from Nelson's office states
Related:           Mayors take water quality issue to Washington         North Fort Myers Neighbor

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No quick fix for water quality issue
North Ft.Myers Neighbor
February 26, 2016
A reactive message has been sent by the State of Florida and Gov. Rick Scott, when they highly recommended to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to divert the rising Lake Okeechobee discharges from the usual Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers, south to the Everglades.
Voices were heard from Southwest Florida after dark waters poured into the normally pristine waters of the Gulf of Mexico, which now has negatively effected the coasts of Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach, as well as the surrounding region up and down the beach lines.
Economic and environmental impacts are already being felt since the arrival of the murky water, which emanated from Lake Okeechobee via the Caloosahatchee River, which also added its own share of runoff within its own watershed.
With some of the discharge now flowing south into the Everglades, it does not mean smooth sailing for the coastal areas which line down from the Caloosahatchee River's mouth.
In the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation's daily updates of the rate of discharge flow as of Feb. 25, 5,070 cfs of Lake O discharge entered the Caloosahatchee. That is down from previous marks of 14,000-plus, with the major decline coming from the switch of flow to the south.
"Then there is another 2,460 cfs added by the Caloosahatchee basin by the time it reaches us (for a total of 7,530 cfs)," said SCCF director of its marine laboratory Dr. Eric Milbrandt. "But that still is more than the (normal) maximum for this time of year, which is 2,800 cfs."
The amount of cfs released by Lake Okeechobee in normal releases is bracketed from 750-2,800 cfs. Thus far, that mark of 2,800 cfs has been surpassed in years 2005, 2006, 2013 and now in 2016. There also was a long term of a dry period, which sent too little of freshwater to the estuary in 2007.
The bracketed numbers were made in the prime years of 2014 and 2015, though.
Ultimately, what is being affected is the seagrass, oysters and many other aquatic wildlife, which depends on the photosynthesis and food provided by the seagrass.
With that much freshwater channeling in from the Caloosahatchee River, it has had a major affect on the salinity in the surrounding estuary.
"We may see slow growth in the oysters, because when there is low salinity, they close up and don't feed," Milbrandt said. "That leads to slow growth and they might not even spawn at all this season."
Another concern of the dark water is the ability of sunlight reaching the seagrass beds, which provides habitat for various aquatic wildlife and provides food for manatees.
"With the low light and low salinity, the seagrass is becoming stressed," Milbrandt said. "Obviously, clear water is the best conditions for seagrass, but in Iona, it's being measured at .66 of a meter and in the San Carlos Bay, sunlight is reaching only a meter down."
April is the peak season for seagrass and oysters to grow and reproduce, since that's the start of the sun being out longer and being more intense. Growth potentially could be postponed to June or July and may not have a peak growing season like the last two years for quite sometime.
"It may take three to five years to recover," Milbrandt said. "In 2013, when we had flood conditions, with low salinity and high discharges from the Lake, it lasted months before seagrass and oysters recovered. Now, with these events happening one after another, they can't recover."
In a study researching the growth of seagrass after the 2013 event, the shoots per meter, started off with less the year after, thus showing long term effects.
So is the discharge of more water south to the Everglades a fix to the dark waters surrounding Sanibel and lapping on the beaches of Fort Myers Beach?
"There is no quick fix," Milbrandt said. "It is helping, because we are getting about a third less of the discharge, but we are still receiving almost twice as much as what our (2,800 cfs) threshold is."
The best answer will be supplied by Mother Nature, not humans.
"Right now, Lake Okeechobee is falling," Milbrandt said. "As long as we have more dry days ahead and not much more rainfall, we'll be fine. But we need more water storage around the Caloosahatchee basin. The St. Lucie basin is in the same boat.
"But right now, sending water south is the only thing we can do."
Water being sent to Everglades is nutrient-laden
The current issue of sending Lake Okeechobee's discharges east and west down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie is directly related to the vicious hurricane which hit Florida in 1928.
During the storm, Lake Okeechobee's waters pummeled the communities surrounding the lake, killing 2,500 people in the process.
It sparked the government to direct the Corp to build dikes around the lake by 1940 and ultimately stop sending the water south through its natural flow, instead artificially sending it east and west through the two rivers.
One of the major negative effects happening with the discharges is that the water is nutrient laden with nitrogen and phosphorus, said Thomas Van Lent, who is the director of science and policy for The Everglades Foundation in the BIG ARTS "Talking Points" presentation Wednesday.
"So what does water quality mean?" Van Lent asked the audience. "Three things: One, salinity. Two, nutrients. And three, water clarity."
Nutrient pollution is a "global problem" and one which affects everything. It exacerbates the growth of harmful algae, which in turn produces toxins which can kill many forms of wildlife.
Much of the nitrogen and phosphates come from the use of fertilizers, which is used by much of the agricultural sector. It is caught in the water runoff, which ultimately ends up in waterways, such as Lake Okeechobee.
"The mouth of the Mississippi River which lines the coast of Louisiana and the Texas coasts, is basically a dead zone because of all the nutrients which is expelled in the Gulf," Van Lent said.
Locally, 61 percent of the nitrogen which is flowing through the Caloosahatchee River's veins is from Lake Okeechobee. From the Franklin Lock on, 24 percent is from agricultural runoff and 14 percent from other various sources.
"It has been estimated, that 11,490,281 pounds of nitrogen a year is in the water of the Caloosahatchee," Van Lent said. "Two thirds of that nitrogen comes from agriculture. In the past, most of it was produced from sewer, but in 1972, the Clean Water Act absolved that source."
There are different regulations to control urban storm water, which brings it to the current problem of nutrient laden water.
Education of using fertilizer is a starting point, Van Lent said.
Other practices which people can follow is cleaning up litter, which adds to the nitrogen levels in water.
Unfortunately, regulations are not addressing the 61 percent of nitrogen from Lake Okeechobee, but instead are attacking the "other" 14 percent, which is still not being brought down.
The effect of Big Sugar on the nitrogen levels is mostly from past sins, not current practices. In 1988, most of sugar producers dumped their nitrogen waste into Lake Okeechobee, which raised levels to astronomical numbers.
But today, Big Sugar is not adding to the problem, but current nitrogen levels are still from the 1988 production.
"We have created a legacy bomb," Van Lent said. "It takes a long time for nitrogen to be broken down in nature."
For a longterm solution, Van Lent said going back to what Mother Nature intended to help drain Lake Okeechobee, move it south.
"Restore it the way it used to be," Van Lent said. "It's a massive project and it's complex. From 2000, only two authorized bills for restoration have been approved by Congress. We need to re-plumb our water management plan, which can lead to clean water with the construction of more marshes and removing the dams and adding bridges in the Everglades.
"We need more water storage to replace the lost wetlands south of Lake Okeechobee, which can capture water during the drought times."
To learn more of the Everglades Foundation's mission, go to evergladesfoundation.org or call 305-251-0001

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Scientist meets with members of Rivers Coalition to discuss Lake Okeechobee discharges
WFLX.com
February 26, 2016
STUART, Fla. - A scientist with the Everglades Foundation met with members of the Rivers Coalition Thursday to discuss the discharges coming out of Lake Okeechobee.
The plan that's been in the works for more than a decade is to send the discharges south of the lake.
Thomas Van Lent, Ph.D, is the Director of Science and Policy for the Everglades Foundation.
He said the system that's now in place that sends water east and west was established back in the 1930s.
"The best solution is to re-plumb our water management system so this doesn't happen," Thomas said.
Thomas focuses on water in the Everglades Watershed, which spreads across the state from Orlando to the Keys.
"The freshwater that's currently being wasted and causing such disaster here, is desperately needed in the south, in the Florida Bay," Thomas added.
But he says it's not realistic to see change in water flow anytime soon.
"I have to be realistic. There's very little we can do about the situation today," he said.
Thomas said it's going to take the help of politicians to get any changes made.
"Then we have to get approval in Washington D.C. that approves that. And then we have to get the funding in Washington, D.C. to build these project," he said.
Thomas added that there's a good chance the discharges will continue throughout the year, if the rain doesn't let up.
Jackie Trancynger has been living in Jensen Beach for fifteen years.
She's ready to see change when it comes to where the water flows.
"The only way to accomplish our task is to vote and to vote the people out of office who refuse to understand the solution," Jackie said.
She said one of the main reasons that we haven't seen any change is because of the governor.
"Get rid of the evil one that's in office now, and maybe we can teach the next one how to obey the will of the people," Jackie said.
She added, "My grandchildren won't have clean water to swim in, and the economic issue. We're putting small businessmen in Martin County out of business."

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Scientist: 50-50 chance Lake O discharges will last all year
TCPalm.com - by Tyler Treadway
February 26, 2016
STUART — There's a 50-50 chance the current round of Lake Okeechobee discharges to the St. Lucie River could last the rest of the year.
The discharges that started Jan. 30 almost certainly will last through March and "have a high probability" of running through May, Tom Van Lent, senior scientist for the Everglades Foundation, told the Rivers Coalition on Thursday at Stuart City Hall.
Follow our Lake Okeechobee discharge meter for daily updates.
Members of the coalition, a consortium of more than 70 businesses, homeowners associations, nonprofit agencies and fishing clubs representing about 300,000 Treasure Coast residents, responded by unanimously approving a resolution calling for:
●  The Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District to immediately stop the discharges.
●  The Florida Legislature and Congress to buy land south of Lake O to store excess lake water and send it south to Everglades National Park, which is starving for more freshwater.
●  The Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott to buy the land using proceeds from Amendment 1, which was overwhelmingly approved by the state's voters in 2014 for acquiring conservation land.
Only a drier-than-normal spring and summer would stop the discharges, Van Lent said, and forecasts from the National Weather Service call for wetter-than-normal conditions through the spring.
How's the water in your area?
The problem: Lake Okeechobee isn't dropping like it typically does during South Florida's winter dry season. When the discharges started Jan. 30, Lake O's elevation was 15 feet 11 7/8 inches. On Thursday morning, it was 16 feet 7/8 inches.
So far the discharges have dumped about 55.5 billion gallons of Lake O water into the St. Lucie. That's enough to cover the city of Stuart with 31 feet of water.
It's unlikely the discharges will remain at their current level of more than 2 billion gallons a day until the end of the year; but if they did, that's enough to cover Stuart with more than 372 feet of water.

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Water quality fate in the hands of the state
Cape Coral Daily Breeze - Guest Opinion by Ray Judah, a former Lee County commissioner and a long-time environmental activist
February 26, 2016
There has been a great deal of press recently concerning several of our local mayors traveling to Washington D.C. to speak to our Congressional delegation and United States Army Corps of Engineers about the dirty water crises stemming from the excessive release of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee.
Fortunately, Sen. Bill Nelson and Congressman Curt Clawson are extremely supportive and responsive in working to address the harm to coastal estuaries on the west and east coast of Florida. In fact, Sen. Nelson and Congressman Clawson are supporting legislation that would expedite federal funding for the Central Everglades Planning Project to facilitate water flow to the Everglades.
However, the real heavy lifting should be focused on Gov. Scott and the state legislature. For it is the state that has jurisdiction over water quality. It was the Governor and state legislature that refused to use Amendment 1 funds to purchase land south of the lake to store, treat and convey water to the Everglades. And, it is the Governor and state legislature, during the 2016 legislative session, that recently approved a "Water Bill" that will all but make it impossible to clean up the dirty water by giving the sugar industry safe harbor from being held accountable in efforts to restore Lake Okeechobee, Caloosahatchee and our coastal estuaries.
Several legislators from the west and east coast of Florida are sponsoring legislation (HB 989 and CS/SB 1168) to use a specified percentage of funds within the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to be appropriated for Everglades restoration projects. Unfortunately, the concern is that the language in the companion bills makes no mention of land acquisition and that the funds will ultimately be used for agricultural related water projects including excessive payments to landowners to store water on privately owned lands or for infrastructure such as pumps, pipes and culverts.
Furthermore, the Lee County Commission has failed to work proactively in efforts to responsibly address the devastating discharge of polluted water causing adverse impact to our environment and economy. But, it is not surprising, given the lavish contributions U.S. Sugar has injected in the County Commission campaigns of commissioners Larry Kiker and Brian Hamman. Commissioner Mann continues to mislead the public by suggesting that the dark, turbid water flowing from Lake Okeechobee down the Caloosahatchee into our coastal estuaries is the result of natural organic tannins released from vegetation such as mangroves. Tannic acid imparts a light tea color to the water allowing for photosynthesis whereas, the heavily polluted laden dark water from land-based nutrient runoff prevents sunlight penetration and kills critical forage and habitat for fin and shell fish. In actuality, it is chemical waste including pesticides, insecticides, fungicides and fertilizers such as nitrogen and phosphorous along with sediment back pumped into Lake Okeechobee from the sugar cane fields that is contributing to the dirty water enveloping our waterways.
It is encouraging that Captains For Clean Water, a new coalition of anglers, charter boat captains and business community, are recognizing that the root of the problem to cleaning up the Caloosahatchee and coastal estuaries is unresponsive local and state elected officials.
The dirty water crises should hopefully energize the voters during the 2016 campaign season but, only if there are credible people willing to run for public office and challenge the status quo.

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Florida: Bill to regulate fracking fails to advance
NY Times - by Lizette Alvarez
February 25, 2016
A bill to regulate fracking, an oil and gas extraction technique that is relatively new to Florida and vigorously opposed across the state, was voted down on Thursday by a pivotal State Senate committee. The Senate Appropriations Committee rejected the measure in a 10-to-9 bipartisan vote. Florida’s extremely porous geology raised fears among environmentalists and Florida residents that well stimulation could more easily lead to contamination of underground aquifers, the source of drinking water for almost all Floridians. The bill, which had passed the House, proposed regulating only two forms of well stimulation in the state but left out a third method, matrix acidizing, that is conducted with low pressure. It also would not require oil and gas companies to reveal all of the chemicals they would put into the ground because some are protected by federal law. The legislation called for a study on the potential effect of well stimulation, but matrix acidizing would not be part of the study. Local governments objected to the legislation because it would prohibit them from banning well stimulation. Nearly 80 counties and cities have passed resolutions or ordinances that banned or opposed fracking. The bill can be called up again in the Senate committee. Well stimulation is not regulated in Florida and does not require a separate permit.
Related:           Florida Senate panel halts fracking bill           Orlando Sun Times
Pro-fracking bill dies in State Senate (sorta)  Creative Loafing Tampa

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Toilet water -





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Florida officials drain lake full of ‘toilet’ water to coast
ThinkProgress.org - by Bryan Dewan
February 25, 2016
With tourist season just around the corner, Florida’s beach communities would normally be preparing for a happy, healthy summer. Instead, they’re reeling from polluted water that is likely to inflict severe damage to the local economy and environment.
Lake Okeechobee, a large inland lake in southern Florida, is experiencing its highest water levels in nearly a century due to heavy rains that fell during the month of January. This should not be suprising, because heavy rainfall events are increasing as the planet warms. But after water levels reached a foot above normal, public officials began to worry that the excess water was putting too much stress on the lake’s aging dike. Officials then made the decision to drain the lake out toward Florida’s coasts. There was one problem: Lake Okeechobee’s waters are toxic.
Local industry has long been using Okeechobee’s waters as a dumping ground for an assortment of chemicals, fertilizers, and cattle manure. David Guest, managing attorney of the Florida branch of the environmental law group Earthjustice, called the lake a “toilet.” While the pollution was once confined to the lake, it now flows toward Florida’s coastal communities via local rivers. The water, which is flowing out of the lake at 70,000 gallons per second, will soon pollute the ocean waters in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
This pollution has immediate consequences for southern Florida’s environment and economy. The untreated water contains toxic chemicals and fertilizers that are harmful to local flora and fauna, and the fertilizers and chemicals found in the water are known to cause algal blooms, which are known to poison shellfish and make life difficult for the marine food chain. Dawn Shirreffs, a senior policy adviser at the Everglades Foundation, told ThinkProgress that there have been reports of dead fish being found along the coastline. This is especially concerning since many species will migrate to Florida to seek comfortable water temperatures this time of year.
The local economy, much of which is driven by tourism, will also be negatively affected by the polluted lake water. In 2013, the last time a significant water discharge occurred in southern Florida, locals dubbed the season the “lost summer,” due to the downturn in tourism and beach-going as a result of the polluted coastal water. In 2015, FloridaRealtors, a trade organization representing the Florida real estate industry, commissioned a study assessing the impact of water pollution on home values in Martin County, Florida. The results were alarming. During the “lost summer,” aggregate real estate value fell half a billion dollars, as potential buyers were reluctant to buy or invest in property that was near water that was both toxic and objectively disgusting.
Furthermore, as sea levels rise, many Floridians are right now coping with coastal flooding even when it isn’t raining. Cities like West Palm Beach, which sits between the south of the lake and the Atlantic Ocean, have faced increased flooding due to higher sea levels. Adding polluted lake water to the mix makes this even more of a problem. It’s also a problem for the tens of thousands of sharks that would normally be farther south off the coast of Miami — but this year are off the coast of Ft. Lauderdale. They appear to be doing this because the water is warmer — which puts them closer to the polluted lake water.
Immediate solutions are hard to find. Unfortunately, given the immense pressure on the lake’s infrastructure due to the excess precipitation, there is no other option but to discharge the toxic water to the ocean. John Campbell, a spokesperson for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the water could not be diverted south of the Everglades right now because Lake Okeechobee’s water levels are just too high.
Speaking to ThinkProgress, the Everglades Foundation elaborated on current efforts by local, state, and national officials to secure funding for new infrastructure that can help prevent this from occurring in the future. Current proposals include the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and the Central Everglades Project. Dawn Shirreff, of the Everglades Foundation, said these plans have high levels of support.
In the meantime, those affected by the lake discharge are raising awareness and taking action. Mayors and local officials are calling on Florida Governor Rick Scott to issue a state of emergency, and a delegation of mayors and activists traveled to Capitol Hill on Monday to ask federal lawmakers for help. Last Friday, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) toured Lake Okeechobee with water experts and the Lt. Colonel of the Army Corps. of Engineers. Nelson said the lake discharge was “idiotic,” and is currently working on getting bipartisan support for funding to remedy the situation. Tourists and locals are posting pictures of the dirty water on social media, hoping to raise awareness, and a local activist group called “River Kidz” organized a protest along the St. Lucie River on Sunday.

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Humans causing fastest rate of sea level rise in 3,000 years
Palm Beach Post - by Kimberly Miller
February 25, 2016
South Florida’s rich tangle of mangrove coasts holds secrets to sea level rise that a group of researchers with 3,000 years of global ocean data hopes to begin revealing next month.
The international team of scientists, who published a study this week showing oceans are swelling at the fastest pace since the Iron Age, are interested in Florida’s unique struggle to keep seas at bay.
The study, which was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is landmark in its centuries-long reach into the past, but also in that the authors claim it is definitive proof that humans are directly linked to the ever-rising tides.
In the 20th Century, sea levels rose 5.5 inches globally. Current rates have accelerated to about a foot per 100 years, according to the study. That’s compared to pre industrialization when the seas rose only about 1 to 1.5 inches per century.
The historic record of global mean sea level rise was built with research that included analyzing deep soil samples taken at 24 sites around the world. One of the sample sites is in Florida – a salt marsh in the St. Mary’s River that separates Georgia and Florida.
But Benjamin Horton, co-author of the study and a professor in the Department of Marine and Coastal Science at Rutgers University, said South Florida’s proximity to the Gulf Stream, saltwater intrusion through its porous bedrock and an easily overwhelmed flood control system, likely means its rate of sea level rise differs from the mean global average.
 “Florida is the poster child for sea level rise in the U.S., but we know very little about how it has changed from the past,” Horton said. “Everyone thinks building a sea wall is the answer, but it’s behind the beaches where the huge flooding issues are.”
On March 11, Horton said a team will travel to the Sunshine State to begin collecting information among the mangroves of the Florida Keys. By taking deep core soil samples near the native vegetation, researchers can look at microscopic organisms that live in high salinity environments and determine approximate historic sea levels.
The global study was a 10-year endeavor. The result provides a context for the rates of sea level rise experienced now, offers more confidence in future projections and attributes the rapid increases in the 20th and 21st centuries to humans – largely through greenhouse gasses and the burning of fossil fuels.
 “It’s a very, very important statement that clearly illustrates we are living in an unusual time where the rates of sea level rise are the highest we’ve seen in 28 centuries,” Horton said. “These rates are showing up in nuisance flooding, the loss of coastal homes and freshwater aquifer problems.”
In the fall, several months of high-tide flooding in conjunction with lunar cycles and a seasonal slowing of the Gulf Stream inundated streets throughout South Florida, including Palm Beach County neighborhoods strung along the Intracoastal Waterway.
In Delray Beach and Boca Raton, brackish water bubbled up through storm grates and overtook aging sea walls that were once able to contain the higher tides. Residents were forced to find other places to park their cars and watched their front yards turn to fish ponds.
Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, called it a “slow-motion crisis,” in a blog he wrote during the worst of last year’s tidal flooding.
NOAA oceanographer William Sweet said South Florida set a record with 15 days of nuisance flooding since May. The previous record, as measured by a gauge at Virginia Key was eight days. Sweet’s annual measurements run May through April.
“Looking forward, what is important to recognize is the past is an indicator of the future,” Sweet said in reference to Horton’s historical study. “You all saw it in October, you saw it in November. Water in your streets, storm sewers not functioning. It’s real and tangible.”

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Concerned captains make Tallahassee their first step
ABC-7.com
February 24, 2016
Advocates for better water quality are back in Southwest Florida on Wednesday after taking their concerns about the Lake Okeechobee water releases to state leaders in Tallahassee.
The Captains for Clean Water say the experience was a good first step, albeit a bit overwhelming.
Fishing charter captain Daniel Andrews was part of the group that headed to the state capital, and he learned that any remedies that are coming for the damages to the Southwest Florida coastline won't come quickly.
"It looks like a sand trap that somebody forgot to rake after a week of rain," said seasonal resident John Rine. "Honestly, it kinda makes me feel like wanting to sell and move either north our south."
The captains group met with Reps. Dane Eagle, Matt Caldwell and Heather Fitzenhagen.
"If we had cooperation from Tallahassee they could do this today," Andrews said. "We got a lot of politician answers, especially people
that were in the leadership roles. There's a couple special interest groups that have a lot of lobbyists up there for that money to be used elsewhere."
The group left behind reading material for state lawmakers to peruse as they learn more about the challenges faced locally and how they might impact tourism and other factors.
Eagle said he'll continue to push for Everglades restoration projects that would lessen the burden of water releases to the Gulf coast. And Campbell said that, even with some disagreements over where money ought to be spent first, he commends the group for its commitment.
"We'll be back in Tallahassee we're not going to give them a break until we see some results," Andrews said.

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Florida fracking battle, triggered by oil firm revelation, intensifies across State
New York Times - by Lizette Alvarez
February 24, 2016
MIAMI — With geology akin to a wet sponge and fragile underground aquifers that supply almost all its drinking water, Florida has never been considered part of the agitated battle over fracking as a technology for extracting oil and gas.
But that began to change two years ago when a Texas-based oil and gas company was found to have been using hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, and matrix acidizing, a fracking-like method that dissolves rocks with acid instead of fracturing them with pressurized liquid. Neither residents nor local governments knew about it because well stimulation, the catchall term for both techniques, does not require a separate permit and is not regulated.
The result has been an unlikely battle over fracking in Florida that is picking up steam across the state. The discovery outraged local government officials and environmentalists, who said they were worried about the effects of toxic chemicals and acids on Florida’s soil and water. Nearly 80 counties and cities have passed ordinances to ban or oppose the methods, in part because of their dissatisfaction with the state Legislature’s proposals.
Now, a bill to try to regulate fracking is dividing the Legislature. Environmentalists and some local officials have sharply criticized the measure, saying that it would fail to regulate matrix acidizing, the technology most likely to be used in Florida, and that it would stop local governments from banning fracking. The bill also would revoke any local bans passed after Jan. 1, 2015, which includes the vast majority of them. The House has already passed the bill, and the Senate is now considering it.
“There is a certain amount of despair and disbelief,” over the legislation, said Penny Taylor, a commissioner in Collier County, which is home to Naples on the Gulf Coast. “At this point, the concern is spreading statewide, and it does appear that counties where there may not even be oil are very concerned about fracking.”
Local officials said they were angry about being overruled by state lawmakers in Tallahassee, an increasingly common move by the Republican-dominated Legislature when it is displeased with local decisions.
“I think the last couple of years we have had some of the biggest assaults on home rule that we’ve ever seen,” said Marni Sawicki, the mayor of Cape Coral.
Such strong local opposition has triggered bipartisan misgivings in the state Senate, where a few prominent Republicans have broken ranks and publicly criticized fracking.
“Fracking isn’t the way,” state Sen. Anitere Flores of Miami, a conservative Republican who sits on the Appropriations Committee, posted on Twitter. The committee is the bill’s final hurdle to the Senate floor.
Even the powerful chairman of that committee has had qualms about the bill. He recently delayed a hearing on the legislation, saying he wanted to learn more about the fracking technologies directly from officials at the state’s environmental protection agency. The hearing is expected to take place this week.
“We want credible, scientific responses to questions, not special interest responses,” state Sen. Tom Lee, the chairman, said.
In the House, lawmakers in support of the bill said local governments and environmentalists were misconstruing facts and exaggerating the potential consequences of the measure, which would regulate fracking for the first time. They said the bans are illegal because counties and cities have little authority to regulate oil and gas drilling, other than as zoning and land-use issues.
Still, to allay their concerns, the authors of the measure said they tweaked it to, among other things, require oil companies to notify local governments when they intend to use fracking. Most of the state’s oil and gas drilling, which is modest compared with major oil-producing states, takes place in Florida’s panhandle and in the southwest, on the edge of the western Everglades.
“The environmentalists claim that we are taking control from local government on this matter,” said state Rep. Ray Rodrigues, the Fort Myers Republican who introduced the House bill. “You can’t take something away if you don’t have it in the first place.”
Rodrigues said the bill takes other precautions as well. It calls for a moratorium on “high pressure stimulation” — hydraulic or acid fracking, but not matrix acidizing, which does not create cracks but helps enhance the process — until state environmental regulators complete a peer-reviewed study. The study would look at how the extraction methods could affect Florida’s geology and its underground water supply. Regulators would then complete the rules and forward them to lawmakers for their approval.
Dave R. Mica, the executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, said acidization was not included in the bill because it is an offshoot of a common, well-accepted technique used to clean wells and should not be subjected to more regulation.
“It is regulated, and we have used it for decades and decades,” Mica said.
Rodrigues agreed that a study was needed before moving forward because the state’s porous geology raises concerns that toxic chemicals could more easily penetrate groundwater.
Studies from other states with different geology simply do not apply to Florida, experts said. Environmentalists are also concerned that the acids and chemicals used in matrix acidizing could further dissolve delicate limestone formations that protect the aquifers.
“I think it would be foolish to ban a practice without any scientific evidence,” Rodrigues said. “For those who oppose the practice, they should support the study. And if the study proves their belief, then it’s acceptable to ban this practice.”
But environmentalists and local officials said the legislation was seriously undermined by the fact that matrix acidizing was left out of the study and the regulations, leaving it to continue unabated. They want lawmakers to include acidizing in the bill but carve out an exception for the form used to clean wells.
“We feel that we couldn’t have a bill that would address a technique we likely won’t use in our state and not address a technique we likely will use,” said Jennifer Hecker, a policy director for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, an environmental group.
Anthony R. Ingraffea, an authority on fracking at Cornell University, said that because the bill does not include rules for all forms of well stimulation, it would do little to help Floridians. He said the legislation appeared to be a “smoke screen” to eliminate local control of fracking.
Mica, of the petroleum council, said environmentalists were trying to put up barriers to any well-stimulation technologies and would prefer to let local governments ban them. “Environmentalists should just say, ‘We don’t want oil and gas,’ ” he said.

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Rising seas





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Florida is poster child for the effects of climate change — and for denial of it
pghCityPaper - by Bill O'Driscoll
February 24, 2016
The problem’s worse than mere obliviousness.
In mid-January, plenty of Pennsylvanians would rather visit Florida. But this is 2016. A few decades from now, Florida will be a very different place — somewhat smaller, and much wetter and saltier. And nobody seems to have a real plan to cope.
I just spent 10 days in Florida, a state some call a poster child for the effects of climate change. Most worrisome is sea-level rise. Oceans fed by melting glaciers and ice sheets, and expanding as they absorb more heat, are rising at more than an inch per decade. Florida has 1,350 miles of coastline, second-most of any state, and the second-lowest mean elevation of any state. In Miami-Dade County, home to 2.7 million, the average elevation is 6 feet above sea level.
Six feet versus one inch per decade might not sound too scary. But globally, sea-level rise is accelerating. And in Miami, according to University of Miami figures, the high-water mark in recent years has been (for reasons unknown) shooting up even faster, by nearly an inch a year. In areas including Miami Beach, flooded streets no longer require a big storm; all that’s necessary is an especially high tide.
“Year by year, flooding due to heavy rain, storm surge and high tides will become more frequent and more severe,” Brian McNoldy, a researcher at UM’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, has written. “Water tables will continue to rise, and saltwater intrusion will continue to contaminate freshwater supplies.”
Of the 10 cities globally with the most assets at risk from rising seas, according to one 2008 report, four occupy coastal Florida. Further inland, even a sea-level rise of 3 feet by 2100 could threaten the Everglades’ unique freshwater ecosystem with inundation by saltwater. And 3 feet is the most optimistic prediction: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects a rise of up to 6-and-a-half feet.
So Florida’s collective hair must be on fire, right? It’s ready to relocate vulnerable populations, provide drinking water for millions and go all-in for renewable energy to cut emissions of the greenhouse gasses driving such changes?
Sorry, no. Tidewater is lapping at gated, multimillion-dollar homes and Porsche chassis, writes Elizabeth Kolbert in “The Siege of Miami,” her article in the Dec. 21 New Yorker — but people, too, continue flooding south Florida and buying expensive oceanfront real estate. How long until insurers and mortgage lenders start backing out? The only plan, Kolbert writes, seems to be installing more pumps and vaguely hoping for some yet-unknown technological fix.
Elsewhere, off Key Largo, I took a two-hour glass-bottomed boat tour of a coral reef; our guides noted such environmental concerns as invasive fish species and discarded plastic bags; they never once mentioned climate change, which is expected to devastate reefs worldwide.
But the problem’s worse than mere obliviousness. In October, Florida was among the states that sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the federal Clean Power Plan, meant to curb carbon emissions. Last March, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting reported that Gov. Rick Scott had barred state employees, contractors and volunteers from using the terms “climate change” and “global warming” in official communications. Meanwhile, the two Republican presidential hopefuls from Florida, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush — both Miami residents — have been so blasé about climate change that in January, 15 south Florida mayors felt compelled to write the two to request a meeting to “help us chart a path forward to protect our state and the entire United States.”
Pennsylvania, too, faces risks from climate change, including more extreme weather and the dangers associated with higher peak summer temperatures (like deadly heat waves). Unlike Florida’s, these risks are not existential. But remember: Just 13 months ago our traditionally fossil-fuel producing commonwealth had a governor who was himself never known to utter the words “climate change.” Even now, Pennsylvania’s Republican legislature wouldn’t mind crippling our own approach to complying with the Clean Power Plan.
A few years back, a Union of Concerned Scientists report predicted that by 2050, climate change might give Pennsylvania a climate more like that of Alabama. And that, after all, is right next door to Florida.

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Bad !





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Fracking legislation a bad deal for Florida
Miami Herald
February 24, 2016
The Florida Senate has a chance to stop fracking in Florida — and it should.
On Thursday, Senate Bill 318 will be heard by the the Senate’s Appropriations Committee Senate. A sister HB 191 bill easily passed last month in the House.
This is getting scary.
Fracking, or the common term for fracturing, is the process of drilling and then pumping water and chemicals into wells at great depths and pressures to release oil and gas from rock formations. Simply put, doing all that could endanger our water supply.
It gets worse: The proposed legislation blocks local governments from banning fracking within their boundaries. In essence, localities would be handcuffed and the public muzzled because the state wants to issue the permits and regulate fracking all by itself.
Appropriations Committee Chair Thomas Lee and his Senate colleagues should reject this bill outright.
The environmental damage, in a state that uses its natural resources as a tourist draw — and at a time when there is such a glut of petroleum in the world market — is horribly misguided.
Mr. Lee had refused to hear the fast-moving bill until the state’s Department of Environmental Protection was willing to show up and answer lawmakers’ questions as to how it would protect the public’s water. Let’s see if that happens.
Among the questions: How will a $1 million study by state regulators on the affects of fracking in Florida allow us to know if the chemicals injected into the ground will not be infiltrating the water table? Good question, especially because the chemicals’ identities are exempt from disclosure. That can only mean one thing — this is a bad deal long term, but the state is willing to tolerate secrecy.
Needless to say, the fracking bills are opposed by environmental groups and dozens of local governments.
More than 30 Florida counties have passed anti-fracking ordinances. Among them are Broward and Miami-Dade, which, by the way, is a home-rule county.
And there is bipartisan displeasure. Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, and Democrat Rep. JoseJavier Rodriguez, both of Miami, have tried to speak up against fracking.
In the House , Rep. Rodriguez was among those who pushed for amendments to soften the impact of the bills, but was rebuffed.
Fracking is wrong for Florida because the state’s limestone terrain puts underground water sources at risk of contamination from high-pressure pumping.
All this would not be so disturbing if we had a state agency watchdog to protect citizens from contaminated ground and drinking.
But we are asked to trust the Department of Environmental Protection, which has developed a poor track record of doing the job its name suggests.
And not having a mechanism where the public must be notified of a possible environmental accident, reminds us of Flint, Michigan.
This marks the third year the House has approved the controversial bill. In the past, the Senate has not taken a floor vote, but this year, SB 318, by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, is moving more swiftly in the Senate — while many Floridians have not taken notice.
The science and the economics don’t fit the current push to make fracking part of our lives.
We urge Florida senators to stop this threat to Florida’s groundwater resources, a threat that overnight could turn into an environmental nightmare.
Related:           Florida Senate committee votes on fracking Thursday          WMNF

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Lake releases
Naples Daily News – Letter by Dino A. Joannides, Bonita Springs
February, 24, 2016
I moved my family and investment practice to Bonita Springs almost two years ago. I recently acquired my captain's license to share my passion for the Gulf as well as joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
I have been disillusioned with the release of waters from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River, ultimately fouling our pristine Gulf waters. The loss of revenue is staggering, not to mention the time it will take for our marine ecosystem to recover.
The voters approved Amendment 1 by an overwhelming majority by which the state would spend $750 million annually to acquire lands to restore our national treasure. I think it is ludicrous that we are now spending $500 million to build culverts in Lake Okeechobee to help contain the waters when we should be diverting these waters to where they are desperately needed … the Everglades.
Alligators are dying and in most instances severely underweight as they are not getting the nutrients they need to survive due to a lack of water.
I am also concerned that the South Florida Water Management District has not supported the voters' initiative to make the necessary acquisitions … and that we as taxpayers (nationally) subsidize the sugar industry to the tune of $2 billion annually and pay double the price for sugar than any other country in the world, not to mention the pollution of our valuable lands.
We need to divert Lake Okeechobee waters to the Everglades and put an end to corporate welfare.

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South Florida wading birds at risk from up and down waters
Sun-Sentinel
February 24, 2016
South Florida’s wading bird population saw signs of improvement during 2015, but problems remain for stressed birds such as Wood Storks and Snowy Egrets, according to newly released nesting numbers. And the rainier-than-usual start to 2016, boosting water levels beyond normal in the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee, is already expected to hurt this year’s nesting, according to state officials.

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Clawson's bill good for the environment
News-Press.com - Editorial
February 23, 2016
As environmentalists, scientists, politicians and big industry continue to throw out their versions as to why the Caloosahatchee estuary and the Gulf of Mexico fill with harmful nutrients, discoloring the water and killing sea life, there is some good news to share about the environment.
On Monday, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that was written by U.S. Rep. Curt Clawson, R-Bonita Springs, placing 17,044 acres in Collier County in the Coast Barrier Resources System. The bill, which had already passed the U.S. House of Representatives, goes to President Obama for his signature. This is an environmental win for the county, areas like Marco Island and the Ten Thousand Islands chain, as well as those who use the waterways.
The significance of putting together the largest grouping of CBRS land nationwide is it further protects the Everglades, its aquatic life and wildlife, as well as protecting private properties from flood and storm damage.
Since taking office almost two years ago, Clawson has made protecting the environment and water quality a priority. He worked with another environmental champion, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, to get this particular Senate bill through and to the president’s desk.
We all understand the ultimate goal, which is to get polluted water, filled with harmful nutrients, like phosphorous, and excess freshwater out of our main water bodies. It chews away at our environmental treasures, impacts tourism and hurts the livelihood of many who depend on tourism to make a living.
As Clawson’s bill trumpets one success for the environment, we continue to be inundated by troublesome statements and supposed facts from each side of this water quality controversy. One group, mostly made up of government entities and U.S. Sugar, claim our bad water is a result of natural basin runoff caused by record-breaking rains. Environmental groups, like Earthjustice and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, claim massive water releases from Lake O and the back pumping occurring from agricultural lands are the reasons pollution levels are high and marine life is dying.
What seems to not be argued by many is that the only way to cure our water ills is to restore a natural flow way from the lake south to Everglades, rerouting the bad water, then filtering it to an area that needs it. Last week, the Army Corps of Engineers did allow such a water flow to occur, but in order to do that on a more regular basis, land must be bought and a successful flow and filtering system built.
In the meantime to help the the problem now, we must fund various water storage projects, including the Caloosahatchee Reservoir, which carries about a $600 million price tag that is supposed to be equally shared by the state and federal government.
In the past week, The News-Press has received a detailed account from U.S. Sugar as to why the water issues are not its fault, claiming the back pumping “undertaken by the South Florida Water Management District, represents only a minuscule amount – less than three quarters of an inch of the more than 13 inches that has entered Lake Okeechobee. That as much as “80 percent of the nutrients are coming from local basins in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.”
Then, Earthjustice, a environmental law group, and its managing attorney, David Guest, weighed in with: “The scuzzy water that’s wrecking this year’s tourist season comes courtesy of Big Sugar and other agricultural operators around Lake Okeechobee, which sits in the state’s sparsely populated center roughly between Palm Beach on the east coast and Fort Myers on the west coast. It’s America’s second biggest lake, and thanks to ridiculously permissive policies, it’s become a private dumping ground for mega-agricultural operations. These corporations pump the public’s water from the lake to irrigate their fields, then send the water; polluted with fertilizer and other farm chemicals, back into Lake Okeechobee.
“It is an environmental tragedy that we here at the Earthjustice Florida office have been intimately involved with for decades. For more than two decades, we’ve been filing lawsuits from various angles to stop this heartbreaking situation from happening.”
As each group’s pronouncement of the the truth rushes in and out with the tides, we, as well as residents and tourists, are left wondering, who is correct? Is there truth in each version?
The facts do tell us we have a dike around Lake Okeechobee that can only handle a certain amount of water. When its structure is compromised, water is released. We know about the unprecedented rain amounts and how basin runoff impacts the river.
What we need is a collective truth and willingness to work together from all sides, not a continuous blame game. We do have an environmental crisis on our hands – one that has been building for decades. What Clawson did helps. We need much more.
Related:           Editorial: Clawson right point person to seek Lake O' fixes  Naples Daily News

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Everglades Foundation calls for more money to end discharge from Lake Okeechobee
Naples Daily News – by Eric Staats
February 23, 2016
Eric Eikenberg walked down the metal catwalk Tuesday at the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam in Lee County to get a closer look at what had brought him to the banks of the Caloosahatchee River. Fittingly, it was raining.
Record rainfall this winter has meant the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has opened the floodgates to lower Lake Okeechobee water levels, releasing billions of gallons of damaging slugs of water into the Gulf of Mexico on top of the runoff already draining off the Caloosahatchee basin itself. No end is in sight.
Those discharges, which began Feb. 5, muck up downstream estuaries, causing ecological damage and threatening the economy at the height of the tourist season.
Enough is enough, said Eikenberg, the CEO of the Everglades Foundation, standing under a picnic pavilion at the Franklin lock with Lee County Realtor Shane Spring and Lee Commissioner Frank Mann to call for more money to fix the problem.
"People want change, they want action, they want solutions to be carried out," Eikenberg said.
Eikenberg plugged the Legacy Florida bill introduced in the Florida Legislature to set aside at least $200 million per year of Amendment 1 land preservation money for Everglades restoration. Voters approved the constitutional amendment — thought to raise nearly $1 billion this year through real estate documentary stamp taxes — in 2014. Legislators have been fighting over how to spend the money ever since.
By spending some of it to restore natural water flows south from Lake Okeechobee and build water storage reservoirs, including along the Caloosahatchee River, water managers could dump less water into the river and out to the Gulf of Mexico.
The idea is to keep lake levels from risking a breach of the aging dike around Lake Okeechobee and flooding sugar cane fields and towns south of the lake.
Water from the lake also is being sent down the St. Lucie River to the Atlantic Ocean, where the discharges cause the same kind of damage.
Too much water upsets the natural balance of saltwater and freshwater that estuary ecosystems depend on to stay healthy. Marine life either dies or is chased away. The water turns a murky brown, fouling beaches and shading seagrasses that need sunlight to survive. Businesses, from the beaches to the bays, suffer.
"We have to solve this problem," said Spring, the Realtor. "If not, we're not going to have people coming to Southwest Florida to enjoy it."
Spring has seen all this before, namely in 2013, the last time the Corps of Engineers turned on the Okeechobee spigot. He said he remembers a house for sale on Captiva Island for $6 million. The buyer walked away when the waters turned murky.
Nothing like that has happened yet in 2016, at least that Spring has heard about, but the worst might be yet to come. Eikenberg said some observers already are bracing for a toxic algae outbreak.
As of Tuesday, despite weeks of discharges, Lake Okeechobee water levels remained above 16 feet, but they are slowly falling, the state Department of Environmental Protection reported. The target lake level is between 12.5 feet and 15.5 feet.
Last week, the Army Corps of Engineers refused a request from the South Florida Water Management District to slow releases, saying it would put the lake too far behind schedule in getting water levels ready for hurricane season. Depending on rainfall, lake discharges will continue at some level for at least two months, Corps officials said.
Commissioner Mann said he is bracing for the long haul, too.
The Everglades weren't diked and drained in a day, he said.
"It's going to take a long time to put it all back together," he said.
Related:           Scott: Feds Need to Do More to Fix Lake O Naples Herald
Hundreds protest against harmful water discharges in St. Lucie River         WPEC

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Florida just flushed its "Toilet" Lake onto its beaches
MotherJones - by Sara Rathod
February 23, 2016
Right in time for tourist season, polluted runoff is fouling coasts on both sides of the Sunshine State.
Just in time for tourist season, both of Florida's coasts are being flooded by dark, polluted water that's killing ocean creatures and turning away would-be swimmers, fishermen, and other visitors.
Last month was South Florida's wettest January since 1932. Because of the heavy rain, the water levels in Lake Okeechobee in central Florida rose to about a foot above what's normal for this season. On top of that, water managers began to pump dirty water from flooded farms into the lake, adding more pollution to a body of water that already contains fertilizers and other chemicals from the state's cattle and sugar industries. At the same time, officials began to worry that the rising lake waters would put stress on its aging dike, so they decided to drain the lake toward the east and west coasts. Some 70,000 gallons per second flowed into the St. Lucie River and the Caloosahatchee River all the way through to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. And as the toxic runoff spreads, it's threatening sea grasses and oyster beds and is adding to harmful algae growth.
Now the tourism industry and small businesses on the coasts are worried that they're going to see their business slump as a result of the pollution. Local politicians are calling on Governor Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency, and mayors are traveling to Washington, D.C. to demand action from Congress and the Army Corps of Engineers. And Floridians are snapping pictures of the polluted water and dead sea creatures and sharing them on social media.
According to David Guest, managing attorney of the Florida branch of the environmental law group Earthjustice, the pollution is not going to end any time soon. He blames lax regulations, not the unseasonable rain, for the current crisis. "The lake is basically a toilet," Guest says. Florida's powerful sugar industry has stood in the way of the state purchasing land south of the lake that could be used to build a waterway to direct dirty water to the Everglades, cleansing it along the way.
According to John H. Campbell, a spokesman for the US Army Corps of Engineers, state and federal officials are unable to divert the polluted water south to the Everglades at the moment. The marshes between the lake and the Everglades are too flooded, and it could be a matter of weeks or even months before the water levels come down. In the meantime, the polluted water will keep being diverted to the coasts, where Florida's tourism industry lies. "We really don't have any other options," Campbell says. "That's all we can do."
Related:           Senator Bill Nelson calls Lake Okeechobee water releases 'idiotic'   CBS12.com, February 19, 2016

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In Florida, an unlikely battle over hydraulic fracturing intensifies
New York Times - by Lizette Alvarez
February 23, 2016
Legislators, local governments battle over bids to ban practice.
MIAMI - With geology akin to a wet sponge and fragile underground aquifers that supply almost all its drinking water, Florida has never been considered part of the battle over hydraulic fracturing as a technology for extracting oil and gas.
But that began to change two years ago when a Texas-based oil and gas company, Dan A. Hughes Co. of Beeville, was found to have been using hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, and matrix acidizing, a fracking-like method that dissolves rocks with acid instead of fracturing them with pressurized liquid. Neither residents nor local governments knew about it because well stimulation, the term for both techniques, does not require a separate permit and is not regulated.
The discovery outraged local government officials and environmentalists, who said they were worried about the effects of toxic chemicals and acids on Florida's soil and water. Nearly 70 counties and cities have passed ordinances to ban or oppose the methods, in part because of their dissatisfaction with the state Legislature's proposals.
Last year, the Texas Senate approved a bill to block communities' efforts to restrict fracking and limit oil and gas drilling within municipal boundaries.
Now, a bill to try to regulate hydraulic fracturing is dividing the Florida Legislature. Environmentalists and some local officials have sharply criticized the measure, saying that it would fail to regulate matrix acidizing, the technology most likely to be used in Florida, and that it would stop local governments from banning hydraulic fracturing. The House has already passed the bill, and the Senate is now considering it.
Energy
Local officials said they were angry about being overruled by state lawmakers in Tallahassee, an increasingly common move by the Republican-dominated Legislature when it is displeased with local decisions.
Such strong local opposition has triggered bipartisan misgivings in the state Senate, where a few prominent Republicans have broken ranks. "Fracking isn't the way," state Sen. Anitere Flores of Miami, a Republican who sits on the Appropriations Committee, posted on Twitter. The committee is the bill's final hurdle to the Senate floor.
Even Tom Lee, the chairman of that committee, has had qualms about the bill. He recently delayed a hearing on the legislation, saying he wanted to learn more about the hydraulic fracturing technologies directly from officials at the state's environmental protection agency.
In the House, lawmakers in support of the bill said local governments and environmentalists were misconstruing facts and exaggerating the potential consequences of the measure, which would regulate hydraulic fracturing for the first time.
"The environmentalists claim that we are taking control from local government on this matter," said state Rep. Ray Rodrigues of Fort Myers. "You can't take something away if you don't have it in the first place."

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Misinformation spread by environmental critics regarding water quality of the Lake Okeechobee discharges
SouthEast AGnet - by Dan from  Judy Sanchez, Senior Director, Corporate Communications & Public Affairs for U.S. Sugar
February 23rd, 2016
Recently, some environmental critics have attempted to spread misinformation about the source of nutrient pollution in the discharges that are being released from Lake Okeechobee by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I wanted to take this opportunity to provide facts and information to help inform your ongoing coverage:
The water from the back-pumping undertaken by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) represents only a minuscule amount – less than three quarters of an inch – of the more than 13 inches that has entered into Lake Okeechobee (Source: SFWMD, “Just the Facts: Historic 2015-2016 Dry Season Rainfall).
Contrary to claims that backpumping is used primarily to benefit sugarcane farmers, backpumping is a necessary flood control measure that benefits “thousands of families and businesses” in the Glades communities (Source: SFWMD, “Just the Facts: Historic 2015-2016 Dry Season Rainfall).
Only 3 percent of the water and 5 percent of the nitrogen in Lake Okeechobee comes from the South (Source: SFWMD, Update on Nitrogen Water Quality Conditions in the South Florida Water Management District).
As much as 80 percent of the nutrients are coming from the local basins in both the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. (Source: SFWMD, Update on Nitrogen Water Quality Conditions in the South Florida Water Management District).
According to Mote Marine Laboratory, “there is no direct link between nutrient pollution and the frequency or severity of red tides caused by K. brevis” (Source: Mote Marine Laboratory, Florida Red Tide FAQs).
In addition to these facts and below excerpts from recent news stories, you will also find attached slides detailing the origination of phosphorous in Lake Okeechobee from Stuart Van Horn, P.E., SFWMD Chief, Water Quality Bureau.
These statements from the environmental community, which have been repeated in the media, are harmful to the well-being of the hardworking men and women who work in agribusiness throughout our region.  Our farmers are proud of the progress they are making in water quality achievements.  Last year, they reached a historic 79 percent in phosphorus reductions – the most successful yet.  While others talk about cleaning up the environment, U.S. Sugar’s farmers are on the front lines of restoration efforts across the Everglades Agricultural Area.
The Facts on Water Quality in the Lake Okeechobee Releases As Reported in the Media
“Citing SFWMD scientists, the group added that:
The quality of water from south of the lake is no different than water from other sources “except that it had lower nutrient levels than many other sources” that feed into the lake.
It would be extremely difficult for water to make its way from southeastern pumps to discharge sites on the other side of the lake’s littoral zone.
Less than three percent of lake water comes from back-pumping.
About 70-80 percent of the flow to the Caloosahatchee River is from local run-off.
Citing a SFWMD water quality report, the group wrote that the back-pumped water is cleaner than most storm water drainage “and not some toxic water that is different from anyone else’s storm water.”
“These are critical facts that would have been extremely helpful to your discussion this morning,” the group wrote.”
–‘Lake O’ cities’ response to Lee County mayors: We deserve flood protection too, WINK-TV, February 11, 2016
“The discoloration is caused almost entirely from naturally occurring tannins in the 1,400-square-mile Caloosahatchee River Basin involving runoff from 900,000 acres on both sides of the river.”
–Lee County Commission Chairman Frank Mann, Ft. Myers News-Press, February 16, 2016
“The environmental damage caused by Lake Okeechobee discharges and local rainwater runoff extends beyond the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.”
       –Black water plume from St. Lucie River threatens offshore coral reefs by Tyler Treadway, Treasure Coast News, February 16, 2016
“But researchers at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium say red tide, which existed before human settlement, develops up to 40 miles offshore and there is no direct link between red tide and polluted water.”
       –Mayors: Funding, transparency needed to address ‘Lake O’ water releases by Stephanie Susskind, WINK-TV Ft. Myers, February 10, 2016
“While much of the attention right now is directed toward the Lake Okeechobee discharges, it’s important to remember that 60 percent to 80 percent of the pollution that makes its way into the Caloosahatchee comes from our local basin runoff.”
–Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman, Ft. Myers News-Press, February 5, 2016
“Despite the initiation of increased Lake Okeechobee regulatory releases, over the last four days approximately 70% of the current water flow is runoff from the Caloosahatchee watershed.”
–Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane, Ft. Myers News Press, February 5, 2016
“The Florida Health Department at Martin County on Friday warned people to stay out of the St. Lucie River at the Roosevelt Bridge in Stuart and at Leighton Park near the Old Palm City Bridge.  Test results Thursday show unacceptable levels of enteric bacteria, which inhabit the intestinal tract of people and animals and indicates fecal pollution. The bacteria can come from pet, people and wildlife waste in rainfall runoff. Potential health risks for those who ingest or come into contact with contaminated water include upset stomach, diarrhea, eye irritation and skin rashes.”
–“Health department: Stay out of St. Lucie River at Stuart, Palm City,” Treasure Coast News, January 22, 2016

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Alligators starve in Florida Everglades, indicating ecosystem is in poor health
NatureWorldNews - by Samantha Mathewson
February 22, 2016
Alligators in Florida's Everglades National Park are in trouble: They are remarkably thin, weighing 80 percent of what they should, and they are growing much more slowly. What's worse is they are reproducing less and dying at a younger age, which raises concern among wildlife conservationists. 
"We've seen some alligators in some years that have been basically skin and bones," Laura Brandt, a wildlife biologist at the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in south Florida, said in a statement. "And when we get concerned is when we see multiple alligators like that."
Alligators are an indicator species of the Everglades, meaning their health is reflective of the health of the watershed's ecosystem. It is believed that human activity is largely to blame for altering the area's water flow, and subsequently the animals' food supply. 
"The Everglades food machine is broken," Frank Mazzotti, a professor of wildlife ecology at University of Florida, added. "We've screwed up that pattern that produced and concentrated food, meaning alligators are getting skinnier."
Today, the Everglades watershed is about half of its original size. For more than a decade, Brandt, Mazzotti and colleagues have been studying alligators living in the area, as part of the world's largest environmental restoration project. The idea is that if the restoration were working, the alligators would be thriving, rather than starving and withering away.
As the Everglades' 30-year restoration reaches its midpoint, researchers warn the watershed is in desperate need of help. The hope, they say, is to restore a more natural flow to watershed and revive the habitat dozens of federally threatened and endangered animals depend on, not to mention the 33 percent of Floridians that rely on the watershed for drinking water. 

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DEP begins action plan for Wakulla Springs
Tallahassee Democrat – by James Call, Democrat Capitol Reporter
February 22, 2016
The Department of Environmental Protection is looking for people who want to save Wakulla Springs. On Monday, DEP officials briefed more than 50 Leon and Wakulla county residents about a basin management action plan to restore the world-famous spring.
A massive water bill Florida lawmakers approved last month sets a July 1, 2018, deadline for the plan to be in place.
Algae is choking the life out of Wakulla Springs, an international tourist site located 15 miles south of Tallahassee. Wastewater filled with nitrates flow from southern Leon County and north Wakulla County bubbling up in the spring where algae and invasive plants feed on it and crowd out other life.
The Wakulla’s lush vegetation and abundant wildlife have attracted people for thousands of years. The once gin-clear water and the jungle-like call of the limpkin and flocks of birds along its banks served as the backdrop for Tarzan movies in the 1950s.
Today, though, Jim Stevenson, former chair of the Florida Springs Task Force, says Wakulla Springs is a different place. The limpkin has left, along with a variety of species of fish. Algae clouds the water. The once popular glass-bottomed boat tours are rarely offered.  A spring that produces 500 million gallons of water a day, said Stevenson, has suffered an ecological collapse.
As Tallahassee and north Florida grows, the amount of nitrates flowing into Wakulla Springs has turned deadly.
“The real problems here are toilets and lawns; that’s what’s killing Wakulla Springs,” said Stevenson, a former DEP biologist who has been sounding the alarm about the spring’s health for three decades.
“We don’t have to fertilize lawns. We do have to flush. There are certain ways we can flush to make it better.”
DEP is hoping the Wakulla BMAP will convince homeowners there is a better way to flush. BMAPs are guides for repairing damaged springs and rivers. The advisory committee is designed to connect DEP with the public and local governments while the agency moves ahead with plans to reduce the amount of nitrates flushed into the waterway.
Local governments within a BMAP are required to pass an ordinance regulating fertilizers by July 1, 2017. DEP officials concede dealing with nitrates from human waste will be much more challenging. The two methods that have been discussed include hooking up residents to a centralized sewer system or retrofitting their septic tanks. Either way, homeowners’ share of the bill could be thousands of dollars.
A proposal by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, could make up to $75 million available for springs restoration statewide. Negron tucked the money into an Everglades restoration project. The proposal is awaiting a hearing in its final committee stop. DEP officials say the money could help implement recommendations of the Wakulla BMAP advisory committee.
The Wakulla Springs basin is 1,300 square miles, running from South Georgia and Gadsden County south and east. But the primary focus of the restoration plan is the neighborhoods bordered by Paul Russell Road and Orange Avenue in Tallahassee and state Highway 20 running south and east into Woodville and Wakulla County.
Studies have indicated that 51 percent of the nitrates flowing into the spring come from septic tanks. DEP’s goal is to reduce the level of nitrates in the wastewater from 40 milligrams per liter to .35 milligrams over the next 20 years.
“The way this conversation has unfolded it sounds like instead of recommending projects and strategies the advisory committee will prioritize capital projects already on the books. If that is so, that is pretty discouraging,” Debbie Lightsey, former Tallahassee city commissioner told DEP officials during Monday’s meeting.
“We want to look for innovations. We want to look for options,” said DEP staffer Moira Homann. “We are in no way suggesting that we are just going to be looking at the shovel-ready projects.”
The Wakulla BMAP advisory committee will have eight members. Groups that will be represented include:
  Homeowner associations
  Environmentalists
  Representatives of Wakulla and Leon county commissions
  City of Tallahassee
  Department of Health
  Community leaders
DEP wants to have the majority of the advisory committee appointed by the BMAP’s
next meeting, scheduled for April.
Concerns over how the process is unfolding have led to environmental groups not to participate with DEP’s effort for Silver Springs, in Ocala. They said the proposed plan is ineffective and filed a protest with the Environmental Protection Agency seeking different targets and deadlines.
DEP is looking for 8 citizens willing to serve on an advisory committee to work on plans to restore the massive freshwater spring south of Tallahassee

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Emergency pumping increases during South Florida's winter soaking
Sun Sentinel – by Andy Reid
February 22. 2016
South Florida is turning to more emergency pumping to lessen flooding risks from El Niño-driven winter rains, officials announced Monday.
The goal it is to reduce rising waters threatening to wipe out wildlife in the Everglades water conservation areas that stretch across western Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
The increased pumping and draining could also free up room to hold water from swollen Lake Okeechobee, where rising waters strain the dike that protects South Florida communities and farmland from flooding.
"We are going to be looking for any opportunity that exists out there to maximize (flood control) operational possibilities," South Florida Water Management District spokesman Randy Smith said.
The new measures include:
*Pumps near Miami International Airport are helping drain about 270,000 gallons per minute out to sea, the South Florida Water Management District announced Monday.
*The water management district last week started pumping about 5 million gallons of water per day underground using deep wells in western Palm Beach County. Filtering is supposed to address concerns about potentially pumping polluted water into underground drinking water supplies.
*About 96 million gallons of water per day is being pumped onto a 900-acre emergency water detention area in Miami-Dade.
Rising waters have already triggered increased draining from the western Broward and Miami-Dade conservation areas into Everglades National Park.
The increased draining and additional pumping is aimed at lessening flooding of tree islands in the conservation areas that provide high ground that deer, wading birds and other Everglades animals need to survive.
Also, lowering water levels there is eventually expected to create more capacity for storing Lake Okeechobee water, which is now getting drained out to sea with damaging consequences to coastal fishing grounds.
The lake's erosion-prone dike is considered one of the country's most at risk of a breach.
Lowering lake levels, by draining water east into the St. Lucie River and west into the Caloosahatchee River, is the primary way that the Army Corps of Engineers tries to protect the dike.
Lake Okeechobee on Monday was 16.11 feet above sea level. The Army Corps tries to keep the lake between 12.5 and 15.5 feet.
The lake fills up about three times faster than it can be drained. With forecasts calling for the rainier-than-usual winter to continue into the spring, the Army Corps of Engineers expects to continue the damaging lake discharges for weeks to come.
"That puts us in a really challenging position to manage risk at the lake," said Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds, the Army Corps' deputy district commander for South Florida. "We are making the best scientific decisions we can at this time."
The problem is
large discharges of lake water into usually salty estuaries kills sea grass and oyster beds and can fuel toxic algae blooms, which can scare away both fish and tourists.
State officials last week called for the Army Corps to scale back the lake discharges to the coast, which have prompted backlash from coastal communities over water quality concerns.
But the Army Corps countered that lake levels remain too high. The corps so far is sticking with maximum level lake discharges of up to 4.9 billion gallons of water per day into the St. Lucie River and 6 billion gallons per day into the Caloosahatchee.
The El Niño weather pattern, when a warming of the eastern Pacific results in more winter rain for Florida, has been blamed for making this South Florida's wettest winter since 1932.
During what is supposed to be South Florida's dry season, the region has received an average of 18 inches of rain since November – double the usual amount.
"We knew it was going to be wet ... but the sheer volume of water is something that did not get forecast," said Smith, of the water management district.
While South Florida's vast system of pumps, levees and canals has succeeded in avoiding major flooding in urban areas, that has resulted in water levels building up in Lake Okeechobee and the water conservation areas in western Broward and Miami-Dade.
Last week, fears of potential wildlife disaster convinced the Army Corps to allow draining more water than usual for this time of year from the water conservation areas and into Everglades National Park.
Moving water south can be good for replenishing parched portions of Everglades National Park. But there are federal limits on draining water into the park to guard against water pollution and to avoid flooding land near the park.
As of Sunday, about 3.36 billion gallons of water had been moved from the water conservation areas into Everglades National Park, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The increased draining is scheduled to last 90 days and so far there haven't been signs of increased pollutants washing into Everglades National Park, according to state and federal officials.
"It's still early in the test period," said Linda Friar, spokeswoman for Everglades National Park. "Anything we can do to send more water south is something we support."

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SFWMD takes ‘unprecedented actions’ to lower water levels
Florida Water Daily
February 22, 2016
From WINK News:
Up to 96 million gallons of water per day will be moved into an emergency detention basin as part of a number of “unprecedented actions” by the South Florida Water Management District to lower regional water levels, the agency announced Friday.
From the SFWMD Press Release:
In response to high water levels brought on by record dry season rainfall, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is taking unprecedented steps to provide additional relief within the regional water management system.
SFWMD water managers are now moving up to 96 million gallons of water per day into the C-4 Emergency Detention Basin in southern Miami-Dade County. This facility, built following Hurricane Irene in 1999 and an unnamed storm in 2000, is a 900- acre impoundment area that is used by the District to provide flood protection for local residents and businesses. Its use starting today helps to relieve high water in the Everglades Water Conservation Areas.
Additionally, the District will start injecting up to 5 million gallons of water per day into the Hillsboro Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) Pilot well, located just south of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge on the Hillsboro Canal. The deep well was constructed as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) to test the use of ASR technology for storing water underground to benefit the Everglades and other natural systems.
The ASR facility can pump 3,500 gallons of water per minute from the Hillsboro Canal. The water is treated first with a mechanical filter and then an ultraviolet disinfection system before being pumped 1,000 feet underground into the Floridan Aquifer.
The District continues working with state and federal agencies to identify options for lowering water levels in Lake Okeechobee and the Water Conservation Areas while reducing lake discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

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Southwest Florida mayors urge action on water discharges
News-Press.com – by Ledyard King
February 22, 2016
WASHINGTON – Mayors and activists from Southwest Florida came to Capitol Hill on  Monday with a simple message for the federal government: Protect the region by increasing water discharges from Lake Okeechobee south instead of west.
Polluted water rushing down the Caloosahatchee River from the lake has tainted the river and waters along some beaches, threatening the region’s ecology and economy. Community leaders want to make sure Washington knows the urgency of expediting progress on Everglades restoration that’s already begun.
“We are really here to say, ‘Please help us,'” Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson said during a visit to Rep. Curt Clawson’s office. “Let’s get to the finish line.”
Henderson was in town with two other local mayors, Kevin Ruane from Sanibel and Marni Sawicki from Cape Coral, to deliver the same message. They were scheduled to brief staff members of several Florida congressional offices about the issue and meet with representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees Everglades restoration.
Clawson, R-Bonita Springs, is sponsoring a bill, similar to one authored by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fl., to speed up all Everglades projects that the Army Corps of Engineers deems ready to begin. A key component is restoring the flow of water south where it is naturally filtered and poses no threat to population centers.
It helps to have local mayors drive the point home with federal officials, Clawson said.
 “This helps us accelerate (efforts) and helps get attention from the right people,” he said Monday. “We need to get some momentum.”
John G. Heim, co-founder the Southwest Florida Clean Water Movement, also met with Clawson.
Heim wants federal lawmakers to pressure the state to buy more property south of Lake Okeechobee for Everglades restoration efforts, using money set aside for land conservation under the voter-approved Amendment 1 program. He said state officials aren't moving fast enough to use the money as it was intended.
The news isn't all bad.
Henderson noted important progress, including construction projects in the Kissimmee River basin and completion of new filtration basins such as the Nicodemus Slough. And for the first time, in years, some water has begun to flow south again.
“Things are happening,” Henderson said. “We just need to have them happen quicker.”
Related:           Lake Okeechobee water releases to Caloosahatchee: When is it enough ?    News-Press

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Encouraging movement on federal land fund
TBO.com - Editorial
February 22, 2016
Not much good news comes out of Washington these days, but both sides of the political aisle should be happy that the recent budget agreement reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which protects the environment and boosts the economy.
The fund uses a small portion of the royalties paid by oil and gas leases to preserve land and increase fishing, hunting and other recreational opportunities for Americans.
It has always enjoyed bipartisan support, but this year it was caught in the Washington partisan divide and Congress failed to reauthorize the program in September.
Fortunately, the budget compromise in December remedied this, reauthorizing it for three years. It allocated $450 million for this year, less than the full funding level of $900 million.
Congress rarely provides full funding. President Barack Obama’s recently released budget would provide that $900 million, but Congress is unlikely to cooperate.
That is unfortunate, but at least Washington is sustaining the program that protects outdoor opportunities from the Everglades to the Grand Tetons. It can be used to preserve wildlife habitat and also establish monuments, such as the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania.
Some zealots who hate all things connected to government oppose any such public land acquisitions, which is absurd.
As Field and Stream’s Bob Marshall wrote last year, “The fund has seldom been a political issue. Its original concept was simple: Use profits from harvesting some natural resources to protect other natural resources — along with the nation’s deep tradition of loving outdoors spaces and recreation. Polls show fully 72 percent of the electorate support the program.”
The fund also protects landowners’ rights. The fund only deals with willing buyers, who are fairly compensated.
Wilderness is preserved without burdensome regulations.
Indeed, often the program only buys “easements” that prevent the development of natural areas but allow owners to retain their property.
And there is enormous return on the investment, as we’ve pointed out. The Outdoor Industry Association estimates outdoors recreation produces $646 billion annually in direct consumer spending and supports more than 6 million American jobs.
The budget agreement represents progress.
Now Congress should work on permanently re-authorizing and fully funding the effort to allow future generations to experience wild America.
Related:           Stop raiding Amendment 1 funds: Where we stand  Orlando Sentinel

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Florida Bay relapse threatens ecosystem
NPR.org & WGCU.org – by Nancy Klingener
February 20, 2016

 

 

 

LISTEN








CLICK for FL Bay MAP
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Florida rain forecast will likely add to Lake Okeechobee discharges
Palm Beach Post - by Kimberly Miller, Staff Writer
February 19, 2016
A new forecast for Florida’s weather through spring is unwelcome news to the state’s water managers, who are struggling to handle the rainiest dry season on record.
The Climate Prediction Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, expects the Sunshine State to get more rain than normal next month with global weather patterns still being steered by a record-strong El Nino.
“The highest probabilities of increased precipitation are in Florida, where the impacts of El Nino work out with more certainty than other places in the country,” said Climate Prediction Center researcher Huug van den Dool. “March, April and May will be above normal again.”
Florida’s tricky water balancing act, created decades ago by man’s determination to turn wetland into farms and communities, has been overwhelmed by more than 11 inches of rain this year – 8 inches more than normal. That’s on top of 7 inches of rain that fell in November and December in the 16 counties managed by the South Florida Water Management District.
Emergency measures have opened the floodgates to allow bloated water catchment areas to send water south into Everglades National Park, and Lake Okeechobee is draining full throttle into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.
On Friday, the district announced it was taking the unprecedented step of injecting 5 million gallons of filtered and disinfected canal water per day 1,000 feet underground into the Florida aquifer.
Still, the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages Lake Okeechobee, fears facing a wet March followed by a rainy summer and hurricane season.
“We are very concerned that if we have a normal wet season or a tropical storm that pushes the lake up 3 feet that we will be in a place we don’t want to be and never have been,” said John Campbell, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District, who was aware of the Climate Prediction Center report.
If Lake Okeechobee gets too high, it could begin to deteriorate the Herbert Hoover Dike, which protects surrounding communities from flooding. About 3,600 cubic feet per second of lake water is going into the St. Lucie canal.
The water management district asked Thursday that the amount be cut in half, but the corps declined.
“We said our plan was to stay the course,” Campbell said.
Sending lake water west into the Caloosahatchee and east into the St. Lucie means inundating marine life that thrives in high salinity brackish waters with fresh water.
That alone can cause major damage, including killing oyster beds and sea grasses, said Brian LaPointe, a research professor with Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.
The sediment in lake water, which adds to the oil-slick look in the Intracoastal near where the river empties, also blocks light from reaching corals on offshore reefs if it gets too heavy.
This season’s super-strong El Nino means wetter, cooler winters with an increased chance of tornadoes for Florida.
“But don’t forget, we also have a lot of bacteria and viruses from septic tanks coming from the local watershed,” LaPointe said. “There are multiple sources of freshwater pollution, and they all need to be addressed.”
LaPointe studied the impacts on the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie estuary following the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, which came with heavy rainfall. As with this year, Lake Okeechobee discharges combined with local watershed runoff to impact the region.
“Normally when bacteria from septic tanks comes into the marine environment, the higher salinity helps kill it off, but when the salinity goes down because of fresh water coming in with high nutrient levels, the bacteria can grow,” LaPointe said.
On Friday, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., toured the dike and spoke to the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council in Stuart.
Nelson was one of three lawmakers who filed federal legislation this month that would expedite Everglades restoration projects to reduce the need to discharge Lake Okeechobee water.
U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach, and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Doral are also on the bill, dubbed the Everglades for the Next Generation Act.
“Everglades restoration must move forward aggressively and without delay,” Nelson said in a speech Feb. 1 on the Senate floor. “There’s too much at stake.”

BEYOND THE FORECAST
Post weather reporter Kimberly Miller doesn’t stop at low temperatures and the chainces for rain. She reveals what today’s weather means for tomorrow’s Florida. Get her latest updates on the WeatherPlus blog at weatherplus.blog.PalmBeachPost.com
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DEP'S daily update on Lake Okeechobee
Florida Department of Environmental Protection – Press Release
February 19, 2016
In an effort to keep Floridians informed of the state’s efforts to protect the environment, wildlife and economies of the communities surrounding Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will issue a Lake Okeechobee status update each weekday. These updates will help residents stay informed of the latest rainfall and lake level conditions, as well as the latest actions by the State of Florida and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Summary of the State of Florida’s Actions:
This week:
By raising the L-29 canal level, per an order from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and at the request of Governor Rick Scott, the South Florida Water Management District has been able to move approximately 1.44 billion gallons of clean water (water that meets water-quality standards) into the northern portions of Everglades National Park, as of midnight on Feb. 18, 2016.
On Feb. 15, 2016, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed to Governor Scott’s request to raise water levels in the L-29 canal in order to move water south through Shark River Slough to ease the effects of flooding in the Everglades. 
The South Florida Water Management District began operation of the S-333 structure at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 15, 2016, after the state received an execution order from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The discharge rate is averaging 1,200 cubic feet per second, or 540,000 gallons per minute. 
Last week:
On Feb. 11, 2016, Governor Rick Scott requested that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers take immediate action to relieve flooding of the Everglades Water Conservation Areas and the releases of water from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. Click here to read the letter.
The Governor requested that the Corps raise the level of the L-29 canal to
8.5 feet so that substantial volumes of water be moved from Water Conservation Area 3 to Everglades National Park through Shark River Slough.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) issued orders on Feb. 11, 2016, that would allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move forward with this request. Click here to read the orders.

 Lake Conditions:

Current Lake Level

16.16 feet

Historical Lake Level Average

14.56 feet

Total Inflow

4,913 cubic feet per second

Total Outflow 
(by structures operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

9,819 cubic feet per second

Net

(4,906) cubic feet per second

Lake level variation from a week ago

(.16) feet

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Wildlife Update:
The FWC continues to monitor water levels and the status of wildlife in three of its Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) in South Florida that encompass a total of 736,881 acres within the Everglades ecosystem. These WMAs provide important habitat for a diversity of imperiled wildlife species, including the Everglades mink, Big Cypress fox squirrel, little blue heron, tri-colored heron, snowy egret, white ibis, wood stork and limpkin, as well as native and abundant species like American alligators, white-tailed deer and marsh rabbits.
●  FWC’s monitoring efforts include periodic wildlife and habitat surveys. FWC staff continues to watch water gauges to monitor high water levels and the impacts and stresses they may be having on areas like the Everglades tree islands, which are critical to the survival of Florida wildlife species. High water levels can seriously impact nesting and feeding activities of our native birds and make large and small mammals much more vulnerable to disease, starvation and predation. The condition of habitat on tree islands is an important indicator for the level of stress being experienced by wildlife.
●  Members of the public should report any distressed fish or wildlife to the following hotlines:
Wildlife Alert Hotline: 1-888-404-3922 or Tip@MyFWC.com
Fish Kill Hotline: 1-800-636-0511
Everglades Wildlife Management Area (671,831 acres):
Last week, FWC conducted wildlife and habitat surveys in Water Conservation Area (WCA) 3A South in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Habitat conditions on tree islands are indicating light use by wildlife at this time. A low number of deer were observed on tree islands. 
Water level as of Feb. 15 at WCA 3A North in Broward County = 12.02 feet
High water closure criteria = 11.60 feet
Recession rate for the last week = (0.02) feet
Average ascension rate for the last 3 weeks = 0.26 feet/week
Rotenberger Wildlife Management Area (29,700 acres):
Water Level as of Feb. 15 = 13.22 feet
High water closure criteria = 13.50 feet
Recession rate for the last week =  (0.24) feet
Average recession rate for the last 3 weeks = (0.03) feet/week
Holey Land Wildlife Management Area (35,350 acres):
Water level as of Feb. 15 = 12.43 feet
High water closure criteria = 12.50 feet
Recession rate for the last week = (0.09) feet
Average ascension rate for the last 3 weeks = 0.12 feet/week

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Local commercial fishermen demand action on Lake O releases
WINKnews.com
February 19, 2016
FORT MYERS, Fla. – Nearly a hundred local people packed the conference room of Bass Pro Shop, Friday night to discuss how the Lake Okeechobee releases have negatively impacted them.
The crowed of mostly commercial fishermen and enthusiasts agreed the releases are not only killing Southwest Florida’s ecosystems but they’re also killing many SWFL businesses.
Captains for Clean Water is a local group and soon to be non-profit that organized the meeting.
Group member, Captain Daniel Andrews says his and everyone’s businesses are in pretty bad shape this season.
“We got everyday booked in March and April and going to be fishing every single day in May, no more openings, we’re thinking this is all going to be great and then this happens,” says Capt. Andrews. “You know we got deposits, that’s the only money in my business account.”
Captain Chris Wittman is also a member of the group. He agrees that everyone in the industry is in the same boat.
“In most scenarios the people say hey it’s expensive to go on vacation they want to get the most out of it and we’re seeing a lot of people turn away and want to go elsewhere,” says Capt. Wittman.
The group is demanding action from local and state officials to buy land south of Lake O to divert the water to the Everglades. For them, that’s the only long-term solution they would be happy with.
Related:           Realtors stand in protest of 'Lake O' water releases along Summerlin ...       Wink News
Senator Bill Nelson calls Lake Okeechobee water releases 'idiotic'   WPEC

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Once parched, Florida's Everglades finds its flow again
NPR.org – by Greg Allen
February 19, 2016

When people talk about Florida's Everglades, they often use superlatives: It's the largest protected wilderness east of the Mississippi River, and it's the biggest subtropical wetland in North America.
 
Tamiami Trail bridge
New Tamiami Trail bridge - the current excess water emergency expedited letting more water flow South and into the ENP
But it is also the site of a joint federal-state plan that is the largest ecosystem restoration effort ever attempted — one that is beginning to pay off after decades of work.
The delivery of fresh water to long-parched areas of Everglades National Park is considered a vital restoration. It's one of the world's largest freshwater wetlands — and the source of South Florida's drinking water supply.
Hydrologist Bob Johnson has worked on Everglades restoration for more than three decades.
Bob Johnson has been involved with Everglades restoration since he started work at the national park as a scientist three decades ago. As a hydrologist, he spends a lot of time thinking about water and how much flows through the park.
"On the western side, we're at about 10.3 feet, and if we walk over here to the eastern side, water level on this side is about 7 1/2," he says. "So you've got almost a 3-foot difference in water levels."
The difference is because of a road built through the heart of the Everglades nearly 90 years ago — U.S. Highway 41, the main thoroughfare connecting Tampa to Miami, also known as Tamiami Trail.
It's a road with a lot of history. First proposed in 1915, it took 13 years and a reported 3 million sticks of dynamite to complete. It also inspired a foxtrot sung by crooner Gene Austin.
Jon Ullman, with the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club, curated an exhibit on the road's history for the Coral Gables Museum.
"This was all lime rock. So, first you have to blast the lime rock, and then you create the roadbed from there. And you also use the lime rock to build the levee to hold back the water," Ullman says.
Although it was built as a road, it soon became apparent that Tamiami Trail was also a dam, blocking water that flowed from Lake Okeechobee south through the Everglades to Florida Bay.
Areas of Everglades National Park that used to be wet year-round started to dry out for months at a time. Over decades, Johnson says, a key part of the ecosystem dried up — organic peat soils.
"As the peat soils disappear, the vegetation community changes. We lose the food source for small fish and macroinvertebrates," Johnson says. "We don't have the buildup of the algal communities we had historically that are kind of the base for the food chain here."
On the north side of Tamiami Trail, a canal and a system of levees still hold back most of the water that otherwise would flow south through the park's sloughs and sawgrass marshes.
Recently, after a section of the highway was removed and elevated, a small amount of water began flowing south into an area for the first time in decades. Once a second bridge is built and other projects come online, the volume that flows into dry areas of the park will more than double.
"So you won't see this artificial canal and the very rapid flow," Johnson says. "You'll see very slow flow through the marsh back the way it's supposed to be: the river of grass."
When it's complete around 2030, the $18 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan is expected to return nearly three-quarters of the flow the park received before the canals and the Tamiami Trail.
That will help restore the ecosystem in the park's 1.5 million acres — but the Everglades once covered more than double that area. It will be a man-made, engineered solution with pumps and reservoirs.
But Dawn Shirreffs with the Everglades Foundation says the Everglades will never be what it once was.
"We've lost about half of the natural ecosystem. We'll never get that half back. It's developed," Shirreffs says. "Most of us are living on land that was formerly Everglades. But we can stop hemorrhaging the existing Everglades."
Johnson is pleased that all the money and work are beginning to produce results. Another key part of the restoration, the Central Everglades Planning Project, could begin delivering a lot more water within a few years — by 2020, he says.
"That will be a big benefit here. And that's not very far away — 2020 is certainly ... in my career. I've been here 32 years. But I can last that long," he says.
Ecosystem restoration is not for the impatient. It's work measured not in years, but in decades. With climate change and sea level rise, Everglades restoration has taken on new urgency.
Related:           Once Parched, Florida's Everglades Finds Its Flow Again    KSUT Public Radio
Flood waters moving south, east and west     The News-Press
Lake Okeechobee water releases to Caloosahatchee: When is it ...    The News-Press
Local senator checks out Lake Okeechobee discharge and Herbert ...          WPBF West Palm Beach
Gov. Scott on Lake O: "The federal government needs to invest more"       Fox 4
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Sen. Nelson: Spending of Amendment 1 funds is unconstitutional
WPBF.com
February 19, 2016
Nelson said spending of Amendment 1 money on state employee salaries, instead of buying land for conservation like voters intended, is unconstitutional.
"Somehow the Legislature has been able to get away with that," Nelson told local Treasure Coast lawmakers and officials in Stuart Friday.
Concerned residents and environmentalists expected, and hoped, Amendment 1 money would be spent on buying land south of Lake Okeechobee to send water south to the Everglades.
Nelson maintained that the way to fix the problem of Lake Okeechobee discharges is to send the water south as nature intended.
Nelson said it's going to take time and lots of money, but the ball is already rolling.
Nelson pointed to Tamiami Trail bridge projects as progress to restore the flow of water south to the Everglades, where it's desperately needed.
"Everglades National Park has gotten so starved of water that they've even had alligators dying," Nelson said. "This is what is so idiotic."
Related:           To borrow or not to borrow for land acquisition could determine final ...     TCPalm

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The politics of Everglades, campaigning post-Scalia and Big Sugar money
TCPalm.com – by Eve Samples, Treasure Coast Newspapers
February 19, 2016
If there was any doubt Everglades policy is steeped in politics, it was washed away in a ballroom of the Breakers hotel in Palm Beach this month.
That's where the Everglades Foundation hosted its annual fundraiser, and where co-founder Paul Tudor Jones shared his thoughts about how some presidential candidates might impact the River of Grass.
Jones, a hedge fund manager, said he thought Donald Trump would be "really good at" Everglades issues, Bloomberg Business reported.
He demurred on former Gov. Jeb Bush and declined to comment about U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who counts the sugar industry among his most loyal benefactors.
The Miami-based Everglades Foundation has long operated in political circles, and its executive director, Eric Eikenberg, was chief of staff for former Gov. Charlie Crist (who brokered a now-dormant deal to buy most of U.S. Sugar's land south of Lake Okeechobee).
Eikenberg told me Thursday he expects the next president to have "tremendous" impact on the Everglades and, by extension, the ailing Indian River Lagoon. He cited two reasons:
First, the next president will appoint leaders in key executive agencies — such as the Department of the Interior — who will have direct roles in Everglades policy.
"Second, with no earmarks in Congress, members wait to see what the administration is recommending in the budget," Eikenberg said.
The next president will have everything to do with that.
The Everglades Foundation wants federal appropriations for Everglades restoration returned to about $200 million a year. President Barack Obama recommended $190 million for the 2017 budget.
"The candidates need to realize we're at the midway point of a 30-year restoration plan, and the next president's got to step up and lead the federal family, the federal partnership, to match the state (money)," Eikenberg said.

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, scolded a top Senate Republican for politicizing the selection of a new Supreme Court justice — even as he used the issue to gain traction for his own U.S. Senate campaign.
On Monday, two days after Justice Antonin Scalia died, the Treasure Coast congressman posted this message on his Senate campaign's Facebook page:
"(Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell just couldn't help himself — he rushed to politicize the passing of a public servant. In an unprecedented move, McConnell is already promising to obstruct the constitutional process and President Obama's next Supreme Court nominee ..."
The message, which also was sent via email, concludes with this ask: "Will you stand with us to stop McConnell and his obstruction once and for all?"
Meanwhile, Murphy's opponent in the Democratic primary, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, called on President Obama to make a controversial recess appointment to the Supreme Court. Grayson singled out U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, for the job.
"The obstructionists in the GOP couldn't do anything about it," Grayson wrote on his campaign's Facebook page. One of the architects of Florida's recent water-policy overhaul is collecting big checks from the state's largest sugar cane growers.
Growing a Sustainable Future, a political action committee run by House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, got $25,000 from West Palm Beach-based Florida Crystals on Jan. 11.
That was 10 days before Gov. Rick Scott signed the far-reaching water bill that Crisafulli had pushed.
Crisafulli's committee also got big money from U.S. Sugar Corp.: $25,000 on Dec. 31 and $50,000 on Aug. 31.
The water policy bill (Senate Bill 552) got mild support from Audubon Florida but was panned by dozens of environmental groups who thought it was too easy on polluters.
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Army Corps: Slowing Lake Okeechobee discharges not ‘a responsible decision’
Naples Daily News - by Eric Staats
Posted: Feb. 18, 2016
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is refusing to slow discharges mucking up Southwest Florida waters despite a call from the South Florida Water Management District.
The discharges from Lake Okeechobee began Feb. 5 to draw down lake levels during an unusually rainy winter, but the releases are harming downstream estuaries at the height of tourist season.
Florida water managers called Thursday for the corps to curtail the releases down the Caloosahatchee River in Lee County and down the St. Lucie River that empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
"At this time, we don't see that as a responsible decision to make," said Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds, the corps' deputy district commander in South Florida.
Reynolds said water levels in Lake Okeechobee are still too high, putting at risk the aging dike that protects towns and farms south of the lake with no break from the unusually wet weather on the horizon. She predicted the releases would continue for at least 60 days; the amount of water released would depend on rainfall, she said.
The Corps of Engineers wants to reduce the lake's current level of 16.25 feet to between the normal stage of 12.5 feet to 15.5 feet before the summer rains and hurricane season make matters worse on Lake Okeechobee.
Two weeks of discharges down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and Gov. Rick Scott's emergency order to allow more water to be discharged into the Everglades has done nothing to lower the lake's level in the face of record rains.
Water Management District spokesman Randy Smith said the district's weather forecasts show there is room to safely reduce discharges to give downstream estuaries and the businesses — from fishing charters to the beach — that rely on them a break.
"Frankly, we don't want to see tourists discouraged or businesses negatively impacted by massive releases from the lake," Smith said.
The releases turn downstream waters a murky brown and upset the natural balance of saltwater and freshwater in downstream estuaries, chasing away or even killing some marine life.
Further worrying environmental advocates is the effect of pollution from discharges from the lake, which sugar farms use to backpump excess water off their fields.
Related:           Lake O dumping leaves local outdoors businesses in the muck
Corps of Engineers OKs plan to divert Lake Okeechobee water south
Plan to send Okeechobee water to Everglades criticized
Water release may do little to help St. Lucie estuary Palm Beach Post (blog)

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Florida waters in dire straits
SurferMag.com - by Matthew B. Shaw
February 18, 2016
“The water right now is full of foam and pollutants.”
In recent weeks, El Nino’s unrelenting weather systems brought solid surf to the Sunshine State, raising froth level, especially on the central and southern coasts. However, the effects of the current El Niño winter — which saw record rainfall in January – are threatening the ecological health of the very same coastal communities upon which it heaped such bountiful rewards.
Incessant rain that caused rising water levels in Lake Okeechobee – which rests in the southeast corner of the state, resembling the eye to Florida’s zoomorphic turtle head – led the US Army Corps of Engineers to release over 30-billion gallons of polluted water from the lake into the St. Lucie River, which connects “Lake O” to the Atlantic Ocean through both the St. Lucie and Jupiter Inlets, among others. Past water releases from the lake have been known to damage the delicate balance of freshwater and saltwater in the nearby estuaries and harm coastal fishing grounds. In addition, the lake dumping has been linked to toxic algae blooms that make water unsafe for human contact.
On February 10th, 2016, the Florida Department of Health released a public advisory urging residents to avoid contact with the North Fork of the St. Lucie River due to high enteric bacteria levels – a sign of fecal contamination.
And the toll, economically and ecologically, continues to rise.
Over 30-billion gallons of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee has been released into the St. Lucie River.
After a video shot released by Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute showed plumes of black, dirty water entering St. Lucie estuary on Feb. 3rd, research scientists from FAU warned The TC Palm that the water discharges are threatening the health of the area’s coastal habitats, including the many offshore artificial reefs, which are teeming with wildlife.
On Thursday, St. Lucie County Commissioners joined with Martin County declaring a state of emergency for the estuary and Indian River Lagoon, demanding all resources necessary to save the local environment, according to WPEC in West Palm Beach.
As part of the Indian River Lagoon system – which, with more than 4,000 plant and animal species, is the most diverse estuarine environment in North America – the St. Lucie River and surrounding waterways represent a nearly $4-billion economy, heavily dependent on the ecological health of the waterways.
On February 11th, Stuart surfer and activist Evan Miller, along with members of Citizens for Clean Water–a non-profit organization Miller founded, dedicated to stopping the releases from Lake O–held a massive protest in Stuart, FL.
“The water right now is full of foam and pollutants,” Miller told SURFER. “The sea grass is dying out and the animals are leaving or dying off, too. There have been dead manatees and grouper.”
The water quality at Hutchinson Island, one of Stuart’s best breaks, has been impacted as well. Surfers there, Miller says, are worried about contracting MERS–a respiratory virus linked to polluted water. “When we get swell like this that moves water south, a lot of that pollution [emanating from the St. Lucie River] ends up in Peck Lake reef.”
Miller says he was inspired to start C4CW after the ACOE released over 130-billion gallons of water from Lake Okeechobee in 2013, the detrimental effects of which he saw in his own backyard.
“The reason why I was so upset and did that is because we couldn’t surf here,” Miller says.
On Thursday, at the urging of Gov. Scott and local commissioners, the ACOE began diverting the waters from Lake Okeechobee south, through a series of canals toward the Everglades. According to WPEC, no immediate or long-term economic relief has been agreed upon for St. Lucie county or for any of the Treasure Coast communities.
“[The diversion of water to the Everglades] is a relief for us, but really, they are just moving dirty water from one place to another,” Miller says.
The solution, according to Miller and other environmental advocates in the state, such as the Indian RiverKeeper’s Marty Baum, is to stop backpumping water from surrounding agricultural sites into Lake Okeechobee. Backpumping, a process in which pump stations are used to push water uphill that is untreated and full of pollutants, fertilizers, and pesticide residue, is currently under review in the state.
However, Baum found out on January 28th that the South Florida Water Management District — an organization responsible for water policy in the 16-county area that encompasses Lake Okeechobee and its surrounding rivers and estuaries and who many believe to be heavily influenced by corporate interests – was continuing to backpump water in Lake O.
“The sugar companies tell you that back-pumping is a safety issue, but it is an issue they create that then holds the safety of local citizens hostage,” Baum said in a statement on the Indian Riverkeeper’s website. “If they weren’t loading the canals with water from agricultural fields, people would not be in such dire straits.”
Meanwhile, after the highest rainfall on record in January, Miller doesn’t expect the ACOE to stop releasing water from Lake O anytime soon.
“Every year or so it comes through, and it’s pretty nasty, Miller says. “And it’s not over. We’re expecting a pretty toxic summer.”
Interested in protecting the Florida coastline ?
-You can donate to Citizens for Clean Water through their website or follow C4CW on Facebook for updates on events.
-Stay up to date with discharge. The TC Palm has created a discharge meter to track the daily amount of water being released from Lake Okeechobee
-The South Florida Water Management District is responsible for water policy in the 16-county area that encompasses Lake Okeechobee and its surrounding rivers and estuaries. You can contact them through email, fax, or phone or attend a public meeting to voice your concerns regarding the threats that water releases pose to coastal communities.

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LO water release

Polluted water flows
into Indian River Lagoon
from Lake Okeechobee




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Have officials already forgotten study by University of Florida Water Institute ?
TCPalm.com – Editorial
February 18, 2016
The headlines scream one central theme: Another environmental and economic catastrophe is unfolding on the Treasure Coast.
"Discharge disaster expanding" (Feb. 17)
"Bacteria threatens Blessing of Fleet" (Feb. 16)
"Forecast for algae blooms: More 'when' than 'if' " (Feb. 12)
"Vibrio bacteria thrives in Lake O discharges" (Feb. 9)
Almost 3 billion gallons of polluted water are being discharged each day from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon. The effects will be far-reaching and significant:
Oyster beds and coral reefs are being threatened.
The livelihoods of those in our region's recreational and marine-related businesses are in jeopardy.
When the weather gets warmer, conditions will be ripe for algae blooms and the growth of Vibrio vulnificus, a bacteria that can enter a body through cuts and scrapes and can, in rare cases, cause death.
The Florida Department of Health in Martin County has advised people to avoid contact with the St. Lucie River at the Roosevelt Bridge in Stuart and at Leighton Park near the Palm City Bridge.
Like the Bill Murray character in "Groundhog Day," Treasure Coast residents have awoken, once again, to the same problems we've confronted for decades.
The Summer of 2016 may well be a carbon copy of the Summer of 2013 — if not worse.
Enough!
There is a blueprint for change. But like many things sponsored and paid for by Florida lawmakers, the blueprint appears to be gathering dust on a shelf.
Follow our Lake Okeechobee discharge meter for daily updates.
In August 2013, state Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, convened a Senate Select Committee on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin. The eight-member committee held the first of two hearings in Stuart.
Hundreds of concerned citizens attended and voiced their opposition to the discharges.
As a result of the work by the committee, the 2014 Legislature appropriated $232 million to improve water quality in the Everglades and estuaries and expand current storage and flow capacities. Lawmakers also committed to fund an independent study of the discharge issue.
The task was given to the University of Florida Water Institute.
In March 2015, the Water Institute released its 143-page report. The conclusion?
Reducing discharges and meeting the Everglades' need for more water "will require between 11,000 and 129,000 acres of additional land" between Lake Okeechobee and Everglades National Park.
The authors identified four key objectives required to stop discharges of polluted water from Lake O into the St. Lucie (east) and Caloosahatchee (west) rivers.
Accelerate state and federal funding for projects already underway, such as the C-44 (St. Lucie) Canal Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area in western Martin County and a similar reservoir west of the lake.
Speed up the Central Everglades Planning Project, a $2 billion joint state-federal project that would move some lake water toward the Everglades by using publicly owned land south of the lake and removing obstacles to water flow.
Look for ways to improve water storage and treatment north and south of the lake.
Substantially revise the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS), the complicated formula the Army Corps of Engineers uses to decide if and when to release lake water to the estuaries.
These are the objectives elected and appointed officials at the state and federal levels should be pursuing — relentlessly — if they are serious about stopping the discharges.
However, recent events tell a different story.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, has filed a bill that would authorize the Central Everglades Planning Project, a dozen engineering projects to aid the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. In combination, these projects have the potential to reduce discharges to both estuaries by 14 percent.
However, the outlook for passage is discouraging.
None of the four bills Nelson filed since 2012 to expedite water projects to clean the Everglades and St. Lucie River has progressed in Congress.
There's more. Florida lawmakers persist in earmarking tens of millions of Amendment 1 dollars to cover recurring expenses in the state budget. This is outrageous.
In November 2014, 75 percent of voters approved Amendment 1, the citizen-led initiative that generates hundreds of millions of dollars a year in documentary stamp revenue. The intent of the measure was to provide funding for water and land conservation purchases. The ballot language specifically referred to buying land in the Everglades Agricultural Area.
Nonetheless, both the House and Senate have approved budgets this year that use almost one-third of the $880 million set aside through Amendment 1 for routine expenses: salaries, benefits, insurance costs and vehicle purchases for agencies that deal with land and the environment.
One bright spot? The "Florida Legacy" bill, filed by Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, that would require 25 percent — or $200 million — to be allocated through Amendment 1 for Everglades and Lake Okeechobee restoration, including projects that directly benefit the lagoon. The bill has support from Republican House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Gov. Rick Scott, as well as presumptive Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart.
Still, $200 million falls far short of the $750 million lawmakers have at their disposal each year with respect to Amendment 1 funds.
In 2015, Negron attempted — unsuccessfully — to allocate up to $500 million in Amendment 1 proceeds (by issuing bonds) for land to store and move water south of the lake. Negron and his colleagues on the Treasure Coast legislative delegation should labor to make this happen.
The University of Florida Water Institute study pointed the way to solving the discharge problem.
Elected and appointed officials who control the purse strings should dust off the report — and implement the objectives.

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Record rain prompts emergency action on Florida Everglades' excess water
WGCU.org - by Amy Green
February 18, 2016
Water managers are moving more excess water south toward the Everglades. This emergency action is aimed at protecting coastal estuaries and wildlife threatened by the region's wettest winter since record-keeping began in 1932.
Florida Governor Rick Scott had asked the US Army Corps of Engineers to ease regulatory restrictions, allowing the water to move south. The problem is that Lake Okeechobee is at its highest level in a decade. The excess water pressures the ailing dike surrounding the state's largest lake.
Sending the water east and west pollutes coastal estuaries. Holding it in reservoirs south of the lake robs wildlife of vital habitat.
The South Florida Water Management District says it is releasing the water into Everglades National Park to prevent flooding and quote "dire conditions" for wildlife.
The Florida Everglades once spanned nearly all of south Florida. A complex system of canals, pumps and dams makes the region as we know it today possible.
Related:           Emergency change in Lake Okeechobee water flow toward Eastern Everglades     WMNF.org

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HIGHLIGHTS:

- Water to be moved
into Everglades National
Park in amounts not
seen in decades

- Record rain, flooded
marshes force water
managers to drain
water fast

- Emergency plan will
send more water south
under Tamiami Trail







160218-e
South Florida water crisis has silver lining: more water for the southern ‘Glades
Miami Herald – by Jenny Staletovich
February 18, 2016
Amid a South Florida water crisis forcing water managers to drain and dump dirty water on both coasts, there may be a drop of good news: water in amounts not seen since the 1960s will flow into the southern Everglades.
This week, water managers began raising the level of a major canal that parallels Tamiami Trial, a critical step in Everglades restoration that was not supposed to happen for at least another year. For the next 90 days, water in the L-29 canal will flow through 10 miles of culverts and, for the first time, under a one-mile bridge along the Trail, down the Shark River Slough and — Everglades National Park and state water managers hope — into Florida Bay where a summer drought led to a massive seagrass die-off.
While it’s just a fraction of what’s ultimately needed, the trickle could give water managers a glimpse of the potential for Everglades restoration.
“It’s a good thing,” said Bob Johnson, director of the South Florida Natural Resources Center at Everglades National Park. “This is something we haven’t seen in decades.”
This is something we haven’t seen in decades.
Over the weekend, federal and state officials hammered out an emergency plan to relieve water stacking up in Lake Okeechobee and flooding marshes in three vast water conservation areas to the south. The plan will essentially serve as a drill for a major restoration project by moving water out of one 915-square-mile conservation area just north of the Trail, where still-rising water is now more than a foot above levels typical for the dry season, threatening to flood tribal camps and habitat for a menagerie of wildlife including the Everglades mink, Big Cypress fox squirrel and little blue heron.
With flood control pumps gushing waters into the L-29 canal, levels in the conservation areas could drop in about a month, said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds. But whether that helps Lake Okeechobee will depend on how much rain gets delivered as the El Niño winter moves into spring.
There also may be a snag in the silver lining. While the southern Glades desperately needs water during the dry season, El Niño’s soggy presence has left water levels far above normal in the park at a time of year when wading birds depend on shallow water to hunt for fish. Dumping water now is “like sending coals to Newcastle,” said conservationist and bird photographer Charlie Causey, who served on the water management district in the 1990s.
“We got plenty of water. We need water when it’s timely for us,” he said.
Water quality may also become a sticking point. To protect native plants, water entering the park needs to be nearly free of nutrients, which flow from acres of sugarcane fields to the north. The Corps says that the water flowing from the conservation area is cleaner than is required.
But with three more months of pumping ahead, environmentalists and fishing guides worry that prolonged releases could bring pollution into the park and Florida Bay.
There’s no way they can move that amount of water in that time frame and not bring nutrients.
Jesse Kennon, owner of Coopertown Airboat Tours
“There’s no way they can move that amount of water in that time frame and not bring nutrients,” said Jesse Kennon, whose family has operated the Coopertown Airboat Tours along Tamiami Trail since 1945.
On Thursday, Kennon dipped a pole into water next to his airboat to show water already about eight inches above normal. Wading birds that fill the marshes in winter were largely absent, he said, pushed to shallower waters far to the south.
“When that water comes up, this will look like a lake,” he said before spotting a lone snail kite perched on a branch. “This high water is going to make feeding for him very difficult.”
South Florida’s latest water crisis erupted in January when Lake Okeechobee shot up with record rains. To protect the lake’s aging dike, now being repaired, and get the region ready for the upcoming wet season, the Corps began dumping as much water as possible into the St. Lucie and Calooshatchee rivers. But the surge of foul water increases the risk of triggering a repeated problem for both coasts: fish kills and algae blooms.
Already, brown water thick with plant material from run-off has darkened the Gulf Coast, where mayors are calling for the Corps to stop dumping water. Along the St. Lucie River, black water has spread into the Indian River Lagoon, where seagrass beds wilted after releases in 2013.
But with El Niño continuing to fuel rainfall, draining the system has proven difficult. Ever after two weeks of maximum releases, Thursday’s lake level remained exactly where it was two weeks ago, Reynolds said.
“We are at maximum capacity in every place that we store water,” she said. “I don’t know that we’ll get quote, unquote back to normal until after this wet season.”
With high water threatening wildlife in conservation areas popular with hunters, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissioner Ron Bergeron said he called Gov. Rick Scott on Feb. 9 and requested an emergency meeting.
Taking “advantage of the infrastructure that’s there” and using the one-mile bridge completed in 2013 but so far unused, was an obvious solution, he said. But convincing opposing sides, including the Miccosukee Tribe and seven property owners who for years have fought with federal agencies over flooding, took some deft negotiating.
“You gotta be a magician,” he said.
On Monday, water managers turned on pumps just east of Coopertown and began raising the canal level, Kennon said, but stopped after water threatened to swamp his docks and knocked loose an airboat on Tuesday. On Thursday, the pumping began again after workers with the South Florida Water Management District constructed temporary ramps on his docks.
Reynolds said that so far the plan is to dump the equivalent of 900 Olympic-size swimming pools a day into the canal until levels are raised a foot to 8.5 feet. After 90 days, the agencies agreed to reconsider the plan. As of Wednesday, state officials said 1.08 billion gallons of water had been moved into the park.
While the water will likely be high at the top of Shark River Slough, how much reaches Florida Bay and its patchwork of basins remains to be seen, Johnson said. Still, he said, the plan will give biologists a chance “to look at real data to see if our predictions match.”
Environmental activists also are anxious to see how the increased water affects wildlife, particularly the Cape Sable seaside sparrow, an endangered bird that requires specific water conditions to survive.
“The timing is important,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The hope is to push the water now and the water levels will go back down and that will make it less wet up north for the wading bird and dry enough down south for the sparrow. But it’s all really uncertain.”
The additional water also could give Kennon a glimpse into the future. He’s already planning where to build boardwalks across parts of his property that will be flooded and construct a retaining wall where water was already creeping upland. On Thursday, even after just a few inches, the Coopertown sign advertising 65 years of airboat rides was a few inches closer to shore.
“Our water storage tank used to go to the Miami River. Now the tank is half gone,” he said. “We don’t have the storage that Mother Nature gave us so we have to figure out a way to manage it. Every time you build a parking lot, you’ve lost storage.”

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Sportfishing industry encourages long-term solutions for Everglades restoration
FishingWorld.com - by Mary Jane Williamson, Dir. Communications,
February 18, 2016
Washington,DC - The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) supports efforts being made on the federal and state levels to address Florida’s water quality issues that can have an impact on fisheries habitat and management. A record-breaking amount of rainfall this past January required that a large amount of water be released from Lake Okeechobee by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, sending fresh water both west and east to coastal areas that are adversely impacted by such an action.
On Monday, February 15, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acted on an emergency request from the Governor’s office, in coordination with other state agencies, to allow the water to move south on its historic path through Everglades National Park into Florida Bay.
“We encourage the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Florida state agencies and organizations, along with Congress and the Florida Legislature, to continue to work together toward long term solutions and funding for Everglades restoration,” said Scott Gudes, ASA’s vice president for Government Affairs. “This event provides positive momentum to accelerate the completion of projects that have been identified or are underway to achieve the necessary infrastructure to restore the Everglades to its natural function.”
Gudes further noted, “While it cannot reverse the ecological impacts that have already occurred, these recent actions will mitigate the damage and serve as a model for future cooperative management of one of our most precious resources, the Florida Everglades.”
Florida is the number one fishing state in the U.S. in terms of participation and economic impact. Keep Florida Fishing, ASA’s Florida-based advocacy initiative, was established last year to help ensure that the voices of anglers and the recreational fishing industry are heard when policy decisions are made that impact this key recreational fishing state.
 “Nothing is more important to our fisheries than clean water, and through their actions, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Governor Rick Scott, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the South Florida Water Management District, have demonstrated their commitment to our fisheries and other resources,” said Kellie Ralston, ASA’s Florida Fishing Policy Director. “We applaud their efforts to work together to do the right thing for natural resource conservation.”
Gudes further noted that earlier this month, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in both the U.S. House and Senate, led by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) introduced legislation to expedite all Everglades restoration projects that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is ready to begin in the next five years.
One of the restoration projects that would be authorized immediately if the legislation passes is the Central Everglades Planning Project, which will increase water flow south into the Everglades, reducing the harmful discharges to the St. Lucie (east) and Caloosahatchee Rivers (west).
Gudes concluded, “This situation is a painful reminder of why it is essential that the Everglades restoration projects move forward.”
The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) is the sportfishing industry’s trade association committed to representing the interests of the entire sportfishing community. We give the industry a unified voice, speaking out on behalf of sportfishing and boating industries, state and federal natural resource agencies, conservation organizations, angler advocacy groups and outdoor journalists when emerging laws and policies could significantly affect sportfishing business or sportfishing itself. ASA invests in long-term ventures to ensure the industry will remain strong and prosperous, as well as safeguard and promote the enduring social, economic and conservation values of sportfishing in America. ASA also gives America's 46 million anglers a voice in policy decisions that affect their ability to sustainably fish on our nation's waterways through KeepAmericaFishing™, our angler advocacy campaign. America’s anglers generate more than $48 billion in retail sales with a $115 billion impact on the nation's economy creating employment for more than 800,000 people.

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U.S. Sugar: Protecting our water resources
Miami Herald – Letter by Judy Clayton, Senor Director, Corporate Communications & Public Affairs, US Sugar, Clewiston, FL
February 18, 2016
It’s no surprise that Maggy Hurchalla’s Jan. 29 opinion piece, Is there hope for South Florida’s water?, gave the same solution to every water issue under the sun, “send the water south” by purchasing land in the Everglades Agricultural Area. Folks have been spinning this fairy tale for the last 20 years.
At first, it was to save the Everglades from marching cattails and high phosphorus levels.
The South Florida Water Management District recently reported that 95 percent of the Everglades is already meeting the stringent water quality standards and the state plans for the last bit of clean-up was approved and funded in 2013.
Sugarcane and vegetable farmers have cleaned the water leaving their farms three times as clean as the law required and are setting water quality records.
Conveniently, massive rainfall in 2013 created dangerously high water levels in Lake Okeechobee and with the safety of the dike around Lake Okeechobee under a 20-year repair plan, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had to discharge large amounts of water to the coastal estuaries. Now they need to save the estuaries.
When Florida again refused to do the bidding of this special interest group masquerading as an environmental organization and waste a couple of billion dollars buying farm land that both the state and federal agencies said they didn’t want or need, it made little difference.
Now, Hurchalla would have us believe that buying our farmland is “the only hope” for South Florida’s water.
While these folks spin their yarns, we plan to continue doing what we’ve been doing — cleaning water, helping build projects, supporting the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, Central Everglades Planning Project and securing long-term funding for real restoration that will protect all our water resources.

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LO water release
LO water releases are
now in the right
direction - South.
But it is an emergency
situation, more needs
to be done.





160217-a
More Lake Okeechobee water is moving south — but our work isn’t done
TCPalm.com - by Maggy Hurchalla, former a Martin County commissioner, and a member of the Everglades Hall of Fame.
February 17, 2016
Since the summer of 2013 we've been asking all the powers that be to buy the land and send the water south.
Last week Gov. Rick Scott asked the Army Corps of Engineers to send the water
south. They agreed. Did we win ? Yes and no.
We won a really important step in sending the water south. It's been waiting to happen since before the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was created.
The governor, the corps, the U.S. Department of Interior, the Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District all deserve to be congratulated and thanked.
They cooperated instead of blaming each other. One by one, they removed the constraints to implementing the Modified Water Delivery Schedule, a plan that has been in the works for decades. It's about moving the water south toward the south end of the River of Grass. Among friends, the project is called Mod Waters. It gets water out of a diked conservation area, past the Tamiami Trail, into Shark Valley Slough and the heart of the Everglades and down to Florida Bay where it is desperately needed.
The blockage was the Tamiami Trail. Though the first bridge has been built and the second is on its way, we still couldn't implement Mod Waters.
The next bottleneck was getting water out of Conservation Area 3A. Until the Central Everglades Project is built, there are only two ways for water to get out to the south. One of them, the eastern outlet, has been closed because of constraints below the Tamiami Trail. For years now, the federal government has been acquiring ownership of lands south of the trail as a part of Everglades Park expansion.
There were six parcels the federal government had not been able to purchase. If we bridged the Tamiami Trail and opened the gate from the conservation area, those lands would get flooded.
Last week, we acquired rights to flow water on those six remaining parcels.
Now, thousands of cubic feet per second can travel south down the Eastern portion of the Shark Valley Slough and into Florida Bay.
That's what we won. It's really important.
We should shout, "Hallelujah!" and say, "Thank you!"
Then we need to regroup and get cracking on buying the land south of Lake Okeechobee to send the water into the upper part of the River of Grass.
Even when all the Tamiami Trail Bridges are finished and Mod Waters is fully operational; when the Central Everglades Planning Project is implemented; when reservoirs east and west of the lake are finished; we still will get dumped on when it rains a lot.
The latest climate studies say South Florida will see more extremes in rainfall — more really wet years and more really dry years. They are predicting there will be twice as many El Niños.
If the governor, the corps, the DEP, the SFWMD and the Department of Interior can get together again and cooperate, we can identify the land we need south of the lake to make COMPREHENSIVE Everglades restoration work.
We can stop fighting over losing the option on the U.S. Sugar land and identify an acreage andlocation we can all agree on to meet the storage needs clearly identified by CERP and the University of Florida's Water Institute study.
We need to do that now.
If we do, we can save our St. Lucie Estuary, restore the Everglades, save Florida Bay and protect the water supplies of the coastal urban counties of southeast Florida.

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Water flowing to eastern Everglades for first time in nearly a century
USA Today & WTSP.com
February 17, 2016
Water is flowing from lands south of Lake Okeechobee to the eastern side of Everglades National Park for the first time in nearly a century.
The South Florida Water Management Districtstarted moving water Monday night from water storage areas south of the lake toward a 1-mile section of elevated highway just west of Miami. The water will run underneath the bridge there.
Water that would normally flow to the west and into the western section of the park will now flow east, to Shark Valley Slough — where alligators have died in recent years due to a lack of water.
“It’s been averaging about 1,200 cubic feet per second, which translates into a little over half a million gallons per minute,” said Randy Smith with the district. “It’s going pretty smooth, but we just started about 5:30 last night.”
Water hasn't flown regularly in the manner since the Tamiami Trail opened in 1928. The highway acts as a dam, holding back water that historically spread to Florida Bay.
Sending water south to the park will help lower Okeechobee levels, which will also mean less water flowing down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.
While much of the freshwater flowing to the Gulf of Mexico is washing off the local landscape, Lake Okeechobee releases were at maximum in recent days.
Record rains in January brought summer-like, almost tropical storm levels to most of the state. Water from lands south of Orlando flowed into Lake Okeechobee three times faster than the water can be released.
The lake, in turn, rose beyond federal protocols, and brown waters from Okeechobee were flushed down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie at the maximum level gravity would allow.
Sending water to the park will also improve wildlife conditions in the water storage areas between the lake and the park.
“It should have an impact on the adverse impacts to the wildlife there and the tree islands,” Smith said.
Tree islands are clusters of trees on slightly elevated ground. They rise out of the sawgrass and provide habitat for large mammals, reptiles and birds. Some islands are also home to some historic, traditional Seminole and Miccosukee villages.
John Campbell with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the idea is to raise water in canals north of the highway and then send that water under the 1-mile bridge.
“It will be a gradual increase that occurs over several days,” Campbell said. “And we’ll be monitoring for impacts.”
Local beaches and bays have been tainted brown in recent weeks, with the fishing and tourism industries suffering from the poor water quality.
Peter Casciotta from Cape Coral fished the Fort Myers Beach pier Tuesday and said dinner has been hard to find.
"(The brown water) is taking all the bait away, and that takes all the other fish with it,” Casciotta said. “You can’t really catch anything but catfish.”
The water control improvements that allow for these releases to the park were in the works and would have been available for use during flooding conditions in the next few years.
With the historic rainfall, those projects were sped up.
“There are a lot of projects and structures that are coming on-line in the next year to two years that will greatly improve the ability to move water south,” Smith said.
Related:           Emergency change in Lake Okeechobee water flow toward Eastern ...        WMNF
Lake O releases; Supreme Court Justice         The News-Press-Feb 17
Death to Those in the Way of Lake 'O' Flow? Florida ...       Sunshine State News, Feb 16, 2016
Wildlife may be spared by new plan to drain water-ponding area     MyPalmBeachPost
Gov. Scott Pleased With Army Corps' Swift Action on Flooding    Naples Herald, Feb 16, 2016

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Big Sugar, Marco Rubio and Florida's water crisis
Huffington Post – by Alan Farago, Writer and environmental activist
February 16, 2016
True conservatives rail against Big Sugar's command of Congress through Farm Bill subsidies and political contributions they shed freely as the hair of a shaggy dog. For example, Grover Norquist is making opposition to sugar subsidies, supported by Marco Rubio, a GOP litmus test for presidential candidates in 2016. (For a reasoned explanation, read Robert McElroy, publisher of ThisWeekInCongress.com: "Rubio's sugar support doesn't match his conservative credentials".)
Multiple, six-figure campaign contributions have been shunted Rubio's way by the Fanjul billionaires and by US Sugar, the other branch of the Big Sugar cartel, owned primarily by the 'environmentally sensitive' Mott Foundation.
The Fanjuls summoned Rubio to run against then-governor Charlie Crist in 2010. They were outraged when Crist in 2008 had offered to buy US Sugar lands -- more than 125,000 acres at a projected cost to the state of about $1.2 billion -- without consulting them. The reason for the fury: if government built wetland marshes using US Sugar lands to store and cleanse filthy agricultural waters, then the state would be a step closer to key parcels owned by the Fanjuls in the Everglades Agricultural Area.
For the public, the end game is to provide connectivity between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades, building a solution toward cleansing Big Ag's toxic mess of Lake Okeechobee. Halting toxic releases to tide -- measured in trillions of gallons -- would eventually provide clean, fresh water to the remaining three million acres of Everglades, owned in perpetuity by the public thanks to the national park and other public entities.
The cycnical, deadly chess game between Big Sugar and government is set out on a board called Lake Okeechobee. The lake is one of the largest fresh water bodies in the United States.
Why is it deadly ? Because government use of massive pumps and lock infrastructure, to control Lake water height -- called "schedules" by the US Army Corps of Engineers -- is calibrated to dike safety. Possible breaches would endanger lives in downstream communities: places like Belle Glade and Clewiston that, thanks to low labor wages of Big Sugar, are also among the poorest in the Florida.
From the background -- where they operate like Florida's version of the Koch Brothers -- the Fanjuls pushed Marco Rubio into the US Senate seat. Today Rubio -- thanks to Big Sugar's early support -- is a contender for the GOP nomination to be president. At the same time the Fanjuls also moved to block any future plans to use their land for cleansing the toxic mess they created in Lake Okeechobee by pushing at the county and state level for zoning changes to allow massive new developments like "inland ports" in the Everglades Agricultural Area. (When pushed to answer for his support of Big Sugar, Rubio defaults to a rote response: "sugar subsidies are a matter of national security".)
Tic-tac-toe, the public is the schmoe. That is a brief caption to the historic rainfalls in South Florida this winter and the outrage of citizens on both Florida coasts.
To keep the Lake from bursting, the Corps opened the floodgates of hell into the St. Lucie and Indian River, opening to the Atlantic, and the Caloosahatchee River, opening to the Gulf, until public outrage -- from mainly Republican districts -- became so intense that the politicians begged for relief. Groups like Bullsugar.org on the east coast of Florida and Southwest Florida Clean Water on the west coast have been driving the point home, but Florida political leaders led by Gov. Rick Scott and Ag Secretary Adam Putnam found a way to relieve their pressure: don't buy the land south, move the pollution south.
The net result: as of yesterday, filthy Lake Okeechobee water has been diverted through public lands toward other, more distant water bodies like Florida Bay and the Florida Keys. State officials claim the water will be "clean" although what none will confess this is an uncontrolled experiment for the purposes of political expediency.
Miami-Dade County, the most politically influential in the state, deserves some credit. Last year, the county commission unanimously passed a resolution by Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, urging the Florida legislature to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire Big Sugar lands. The resolution by the county commission fell on deaf ears including Miami-Dade's own state delegation.
The public has been arguing for many, many years that the only solution to the Lake Okeechobee crisis: BUY THE LAND SOUTH. Create surface water storage, a rigorous water quality regime and conveyance adequate to deal with the toxic mess. And not just arguing. Voters went to the polls in the 1990's and agreed that Big Sugar must be primarily responsible to clean up its pollution. Hasn't happened. Voters went to the polls in 2014 to pass a constitutional amendment -- approved by more than 75 percent of Floridians -- to buy environmentally important lands like those owned by US Sugar and the Fanjuls. Hasn't happened.
In November, Florida voters will have a chance to vote on candidates for public office according to their own litmus test: do the candidates support Big Sugar's domination of the state's landscape or not? Republican voters will have a chance even sooner: the March presidential primary in Florida.

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160216-b
Paul Tudor Jones preps Trump for saving Florida's Everglades
Bloomberg.com – by Amanda L Gordon
February 16, 2016
Affection for GOP frontrunner comes out at Palm Beach benefit
In a ballroom at the Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Florida, Saturday night, hedge-fund manager Paul Tudor Jones considered which presidential contender would be best for the Everglades, the state’s swath of tropical wetlands and forest he’s worked for more than 20 years to restore.
"I sent Trump a package," Jones said in an interview, declining to elaborate on its contents. He was standing beside a dinner table covered with ferns and orchids at the Everglades Foundation annual benefit. "I haven’t had a chance to talk to him. I think it’s an issue he’d be really good at."
Jones said Trump has supported the Everglades Foundation before, attending its benefit in 2007, when it was held at the Mar-a-Lago Club, which Trump owns.
Jones didn’t have much to say about former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, whom the hedge-fund chief last year called “a great champion of the Everglades.” And he declined to comment about the other Florida candidate, Marco Rubio, whose support from the sugar industry puts him somewhat at odds with Everglades conservation.
"We will educate any candidate running for office on why this is so important," said Eric Eikenberg, Everglades Foundation chief executive officer, adding that the next president "is going to have a direct influence on how Everglades restoration moves forward, whether it’s through funding or appointments."
One thing was clear: Jones isn’t going to wait around for the government to ensure the Everglades can remain a supply of clean drinking water.
On stage in front of 800 guests, Jones introduced the George Barley Water Prize, offering $10 million to whoever figures out how to cost-effectively reduce phosphorus levels in freshwater and yield clean water. The prize will be awarded in 2021, after the next election cycle.
As for the 2016 presidential contest, New York investor Glenn Dubin said, "I’m moving to Sweden, my wife’s home country," with a bit of exasperation and humor. When told of his remark later, she responded, "I wish."
Earlier in the evening, as waiters passed around Tequila Sunrises, former Goldman Sachs partner Peter Kiernan tried out a line that he said got a "big laugh" in a recent speech.
"Everybody likes Hillary’s Goldman handcuffs, Goldman parachute," Kiernan said of the speaking fees the investment bank paid her in 2013. But whether it’s really an issue "depends on if she knew what she was going to do,” Kiernan said. “If you’re going to run for president, you have to do things right.”
Kiernan said campaigns for two candidates -- Trump and Bernie Sanders -- have called him and asked for a copy of his book, "American Mojo Lost and Found: Restoring Our Middle Class Before the World Blows By."
“I think there’s a chance that one of them wins," Kiernan predicted.
Bush has the book, too, Kiernan said. (The two were partners in a financial-services business until Bush decided to run.) "I love Jeb -- he was a great chief executive of Florida, he has the talent and the skills," Kiernan said. "But he hasn’t caught fire. He needs to be emotionally available. Trump, for all his shortcomings, the guy has emotion."
"I just joined up with Kasich," Ken Langone told Maurice Ferrer, the medical-technology executive and son of the former Miami mayor of the same name, during a break in the dinner program that included comedian Jim Gaffigan and country-music legend Alan Jackson. "I think he may do it, and he’s better than Rubio."
A moment later, Langone said in an interview that he’s talked to Ohio’s Republican governor twice. "He’s results-oriented. I’m concerned with leadership in America and I think Kasich is the guy. By the way, I think Trump would be fine too."
Langone, the co-founder of Home Depot, had supported the candidacy of New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie, who dropped out of the race on Thursday. "My guy was Christie -- that wasn’t meant to be. He’s a good man with a good family. I think he’ll be fine."
Miss Florida, Mary Katherine Fechtel, discussed three candidates’ links to the Sunshine State (if you count Trump, a part-time resident). "I am so proud," said Fechtel, a college student. "That means people are paying attention like they haven’t before, because we have such representation."
The gala raised more than $2.7 million, with honoree Tom Brokaw accepting two bamboo fishing rods from Jones, then thanking him and his wife for the invitation to Palm Beach. "There’s a lot of talk these days by one of their neighbors, who wants to make America great again." the NBC newsman said of Trump’s catchphrase. "It’s already pretty great to me, I got to tell you." The room filled with applause.

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160216-c
State: Lake Okeechobee water to be sent south to Everglades
News-Press.com – by Chad Gillis
February 16, 2016
Releases will alleviate flooding south of the lake, which should mean less water flowing through the Caloosahatchee and its estuary.
Florida is doing something many said couldn't be done: Releasing water from Lake Okeechobee to Everglades National Park in order to alleviate record flooding conditions during the dry season.
The releases, allowed under emergency conditions, will allow water south of the lake to flow toward the park, which should mean less water flowing through the Caloosahatchee River and its estuary. Lake Okeechobee water, in turn, can be sent south where it's needed the most.
"It's a very serious condition," said Ron Bergeron, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissioner who spent several days meeting with various agencies and Gov. Rick Scott. "I've never seen this kind of water in the dry season in my life."
The water does pass through a reservoir that helps clean it of nutrients, and some of the water is from rainfall anyway, so it's not as polluted.
Moving water on an emergency basis has been done before, but those operations were conducted in the wake of tropical storms or hurricanes. This is the first time floods and water quality issues like these have been experienced in the dry season.
John Campbell with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it's unknown if the releases would start Monday night or later in the week.
Florida DEP, FWC tell feds to release Lake O water south
It's unclear how much water will be sent to the park, but Bergeron said the process will include raising canal levels south of the lake in 2-inch stages — with 1 foot above maximum normal levels allowed.
"(Those improvements) were coming online within a year that would allow another six inches (of water to be held in delivery canals)," Berergon said. "Then the next step would allow another six inches."
Bergeron said the deal only happened because of Gov. Scott's determination.
"I'm pretty pushy," he said, "but not as much as him."
Agencies like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the South Florida Water Management District and others agreed to speed up a project aimed at restoring historic flows.
Parts of Everglades National Park have been so dry in past years that alligators have died from a lack of water. These releases will send water to some of those barren areas and should help lower harmful salinity levels in Florida Bay.
The water control features that will allow these releases, which can last up to 90 days under the current agreement, were already under construction.
"It's going to go where it used to go, before man stopped it," Bergeron said.
An FWC letter sent Friday details some of the concerns.
"Immediate action is necessary to deviate from permitted water management practices in order to move significant volumes of flood water out of Water Conservation Areas, and subsequently provide opportunities to move more water south out of Lake Okeechobee relieving pressure on the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries," the declaration reads.
Several landowners south of the Tamiami Trail signed off on the agreement as well, saying they wouldn't file lawsuits against the agencies involved with the operation.
Much of the flooded lands are on or near the Miccosukee reservation.
The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida says some burial grounds and historic villages used by indigenous people are flooded, and tribe member Houston Cypress said the releases will allow some of that water to flow off the landscape.
The tribe agreed to the water management actions as well.
"This deviation is a necessary action, or the effects could be ecologically devastating to tribal lands," Cypress said. "The (drainage) canals are at their limits."
Mayors seek action on Lake O water release
Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson said some local fishermen have come to him saying the Lake O releases have negatively impacted their livelihood.
Clients from northern states have cancelled fishing trips due to what they have seen on the news, and Henderson called a press conference Monday to give those people a stage to share their stories.
On sending the water south, Henderson said he knows there is controversy surrounding Scott’s plan, but he isn’t fully aware of everything involved yet.
Critics of water management practices say the agencies should have been better prepared for this event, especially because federal meteorologists have predicted El Nino rains for months now.
Record rains in January dumped nearly a foot of the wet stuff on the 16-county region in the South Florida Water Management District, which basically covers the historic Everglades. Stormwater runoff from lands north and south of the river and Lake Okeechobee discharges turned coastal waters brown, close to black, in some areas over the past several weeks.
Lake O water release into Caloosahatchee at its max
The Corps is in the middle of a $1.5 billion dike project aimed at shoring up the integrity of culverts and other outlets — the places most vulnerable to a breach.
The 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.
Related:           Lake O discharge water now moving south   Cape Coral Daily Breeze
Gov. Scott Pleased With Army Corps' Swift Action on Flooding    Naples Herald
SW Fla. business owners take stand against Lake O releases - ABC ...         WZVN-TV
Mayor, fisherman demand clean water           Fox 4
Fearing disaster, US Army Corps diverts Everglades water  Miami Sun Times
Army Corps OKs plan to move more water into Everglades TCPalm
Corps of Engineers approves Lake O flow south to Everglades        Wink News
Army Corps approves increased Everglades discharges         TCPalm

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160216-d
We’re making some progress on Florida’s water challenges
TCPalm.com – by Marco Rubio
February 16, 2016
With recent amounts of record-setting rain elevating water levels on Lake Okeechobee, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been discharging billions of gallons of water to the east and west. The discharges have even prompted Gov. Rick Scott to ask the corps to move waters south in an effort to relieve the flooding of the Everglades Water Conservation Areas.
The effects of these discharges are an important reminder that water management is a vital issue for Florida. Our state's water supply isn't just for our health and recreation; it affects our ecosystems, agriculture and tourism sectors as well.
In an effort to aid our water management systems, a reservoir was proposed for the treatment and storage of water flowing from Ten Mile Creek to the North Fork of the St. Lucie River. It was authorized by Congress in 1996 and completed 10 years later. Unfortunately, the project sat dormant for 10 years as a result of poor engineering.
The corps, which oversaw construction of the Ten Mile Creek Water Preserve, and the engineering firm that was responsible for the design, spent the better part of a decade in a legal battle over who was at fault and who would make the necessary repairs. In the meantime, billions of gallons of polluted water flowing from the creek could have been treated had the reservoir and storm water treatment area been operational.
It is a critical tool that has gone unutilized for far too long.
To remedy the situation, the South Florida Water Management District stepped up in 2014 to take full ownership and responsibility for the project. However, in order to officially transfer the Ten Mile Creek project from the corps to the district, Congress needed to de-authorize the federal project. In January 2015, I introduced a bill (S.124) to do just that.
After months of working with colleagues, the de-authorization language was included in a larger bill that was signed into law this past December.
The corps now has until June 15 to fully transfer operation of the reservoir to the water management district, which has already rebuilt and repaired the main pumps and managed vegetation overgrowth. It has developed the design for modifications to be constructed once the transfer is finalized and, once completed, Ten Mile will have the capacity to hold up to four feet and nearly 685.6 million gallons — water that would otherwise be sent, untreated, into our surrounding estuaries.
The Ten Mile Creek Water Preserve will eventually play an important role in Everglades restoration. I am proud to have been part of the reservoir's restoration efforts and will continue to support other water projects our state desperately needs.
I have long supported the Central Everglades Planning Project, which ultimately will allow water to flow through the Everglades and restore this national treasure. It was my hope that this important project would have been authorized in 2014, but President Barack Obama's administration dropped the ball. It was a major missed opportunity, but I remain committed to working toward the project's final approval.
In fact, I joined again this past week with our Florida delegation to urge that CEPP be included in the upcoming Water Resources Development Act. We have a second chance to get it signed into law and, once authorized, this project will be a step forward in alleviating the current discharges from Lake Okeechobee by sending water south to the Everglades.
What happened with the Ten Mile Creek project is an example of the inefficiencies of the federal government. For more than a decade, a problem affecting the local and state economy suffered from the slow pace of bureaucracy. It took a tireless fight and an act of Congress to make the reservoir serve its purpose.
In situations like this, we have a responsibility to recognize government wastefulness and we must work, where necessary, to take control away from federal authorities and turn it over to the states. Only then can we successfully execute long-term solutions for the people and places we hold most dear.

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HIGHLIGHTS:

102 Burmese pythons had been killed or captured

In 2013, 68 were captured



160215-a
Everglades Python Challenge wraps up
Miami Herald, CBS – Miami – by Jenny Staletovich
February 15, 2016
The state’s 2016 Python Challenge wrapped up Sunday evening.
More than a thousand people signed up to take part in the month-long hunt. As of Friday, 102 Burmese pythons had been killed or captured, according to state wildlife officials. The final number and prize winners will be announced during a Feb. 27 event.
The last public hunt for pythons on state lands, in 2013, netted 68 of the snakes — the longest measuring over 14 feet.
Cool temperatures and more training appeared to help this year’s hunters, who are competing for prizes awarded for the longest python and the most snakes captured.
The snakes that were captured are killed and turned over to researchers, who are searching for clues to help control the python population in the Everglades.
Related:           Python Challenge ended Sunday, 102 pythons captured       The Independent Florida Alligator
Burmese Python hunt in Florida kills 102 snakes as state tries to ...  Daily Mail
FWC's 2016 Python Challenge rounds up 102 Burmese pythons      Naples Herald
Snake-killing spree for conservation ends on high note         News24
102 pythons caught as state snake hunt enters final day        WPEC
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160215-b
Fearing disaster, U.S. Army Corps diverts Everglades water
Sun Sentinel – by Adam Sacasa
February 15, 2015
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is trying to prevent flooding in western Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Fearing an ecological disaster, federal officials on Monday agreed to start draining about 10,000 gallons of water per second out of the flooded Everglades water conservation areas in Broward and Miami-Dade.
  Tamiami Trail Bridge
An appreciable amount of water to be let through this newly elevated section of Tamiami Trail into the Everglades National Park and further down to Florida Bay. While not clean enough, that water would lower the dangerously high LO level.
The action by the Army Corps of Engineers will help the tree islands that provide the high ground needed by deer, wading birds and other wildlife in order to survive.
The water would be diverted into the L-29 Canal and then into Northeast Shark River Slough in Everglades National Park.
Engineers agreed to the move Monday after receiving on Thursday a request from Gov. Rick Scott.
"This action will help prevent a die-off of wildlife whose habitat is currently flooded and eventually relieve pressure from discharges to the Estuaries," Scott said.
Record levels of rainfall have caused the conservation area to be about a foot higher than it should be, said Randy Smith, spokesman for the South Florida Water Management District.
To avoid what officials call a potential wildlife disaster, Gov. Rick Scott is asking for federal help getting rid of rising waters threatening Everglades animals in western Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
A rainier-than-usual winter, fueled by the El Niño weather pattern, has boosted South Florida...
To avoid what officials call a potential wildlife disaster, Gov. Rick Scott is asking for federal help getting rid of rising waters threatening Everglades animals in western Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
"At this extremely high level, wildlife loses critical food sources and safe habitat and cannot survive prolonged flooding conditions," said Smith.
A typical January sees less than two inches of rain. This January saw 9.18 inches.
The rain has overwhelmed the drainage system constructed in South Florida over the past century and waters levees in the Everglades park have risen to catastrophic levels.
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160213-
Two coasts, one problem: In Florida, GOP leaders think voters are stupid
Huffington Post – by Alan Farago
February 13, 2016
In Florida, there are two coasts -- the Gulf and Atlantic -- and one problem: GOP leaders (Republicans first and foremost, because they the executive branch and legislature) think voters are stupid. Why do GOP officials think you are stupid? Simple. They think they can hide the state's afflicted waters, the massively polluted Lake Okeechobee, by shoving it into the Everglades.
Historic rainfalls in January surfaced the mismanagement of water resources in Florida. Simply put, Florida's water flows downhill toward the political wealth of Big Sugar billionaires like Florida Crystal's Fanjul family or the Mott's of US Sugar. Buttressed by phalanxes of lobbyists and the most highly paid attorneys in Florida, plus hirelings in the state legislature, Big Sugar dictates outcomes for the rest of the state.
Growing sugarcane on 500,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee requires year-round irrigation: never too wet, never too dry. Call it the Goldilocks principle because, once federal farm subsidies are added to the mix, sugar turns to gold.
The operation requires the use of Lake Okeechobee as a vast septic tank for agricultural runoff. It all works very well -- except when extraordinary rainfall requires the release of water from the Lake. Then, it is not just the Everglades that suffer the consequences: highly toxic flood water pours -- billions of gallons per day -- through the rivers and estuaries serving both Florida coasts and onto the shorefront of millions of property owners, residents, businesses and taxpayers on both coasts.
Two coasts, one problem. And possibly some cracks in the wall.
The use of social media to by-pass traditional, economic models of news dissemination to highlight how Republican officials -- incoming Senator president Joe Negron, aspiring governor, now Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam, and current governor and aspiring US senator Rick Scott -- have nowhere to hide. The newspapers are running to catch up.
That is why the latest GOP scheme -- to use the Everglades as a place to hide billions of gallons per day of toxic filth -- isn't going to work.
Grass roots groups like Bullsugar.org and allies on both coasts are proving more effective than traditional environmental groups in pressing the message: buy adequate lands from the Everglades Agricultural Area to store and treat Big Sugar's mess.
Big Sugar wants to keep political and economic order has it has always been: maintain the never--too--wet, never--too--dry Everglades Agricultural Area like a free ATM while taxpayers spend billions on Everglades restoration.
Two coasts: one problem. For Republican party leaders, the problem is how to hold aloft GOP primary contenders, especially Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio who both side with Big Sugar polluters. For ordinary folk, a different problem: downstream of bad political choices, how to stop the floodgates of hell from wrecking their Florida?

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Flow South





160212-a
Gov. Scott’s plan to divert Okeechobee water to Everglades defended, criticized
Naples Daily News
February 12, 2016
TALLAHASSEE — Diverting Lake Okeechobee freshwater south toward the Everglades is a safe and effective way to reduce discharges that Southwest Florida officials say are soiling Gulf Coast ecosystems, advocates say. But one expert argues the lake water is too dirty for the Everglades.
Gov. Rick Scott's plan would divert 400 million gallons of Lake Okeechobee freshwater from the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers that local officials in Lee County believe will ruin coastal ecosystems. The plan would have little impact on the Everglades, said Randy Smith, spokesman for the South Florida Water Management District.
"We're seeing in water sampling being taken in the lake and the estuaries that the lake water is not much different from what's coming off the local basins," Smith said. "If it rains anywhere west of Lake Okeechobee to Cape Coral, that's the quality of water the Caloosahatchee is seeing."
Scott's plan, which he announced Thursday, still requires approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which had not acted as of Friday, said Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz.
Jim Beever, a planner with the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council, said water in the conservation areas and Lake Okeechobee is too rich in nitrogen, phosphorous and waste. The state currently is faced with no good solutions, he said.
"That water is not Everglades ready," said Beever. "You have to consider the delicate ecosystems down there before you allow the water to come down."
The Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council, an environmental group made up of counties in Southwest Florida. has not taken an official position on the issue, Beever added.
Lee County leaders praised Scott's plan Friday. Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane said his discussions with the Corps have been positive and things were moving forward.
"I haven't had anyone tell me that's it's not going to happen," said Ruane, whose city sits at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River. "I can tell you that a lot of people have been communicating and working together to address this terrible situation."
Historic rainfalls over South Florida in January pushed the banks of Lake Okeechobee beyond the safe limits managed by the Corps, prompting the water release on Feb. 4. The release is pumping murky water into Lee County's coast, which local officials believe is harming the ecosystem.
In response, Scott sent a letter Thursday to the Corps requesting they divert the lake water to the Everglades. Scott's letter was followed by orders from the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the state Department of Environmental Protection, paving the way for the Corps to act.
Document: Click here to read Gov. Scott's letter to the Corps of Engineers.
As of Friday, the lake level remained at 16.23 feet — four feet higher than what the Corps considers safe.
Related:           Florida Governor Wants More Excess Water Sent South Toward Everglades - Cinema Blaze
Two Coasts, One Problem: In Florida, GOP Leaders Think Voters Are Stupid - Huffington Post
Florida governor: Divert Lake Okeechobee waters away from coasts - Thelakeandeswave

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160212-b
When enough is enough
Cape Coral Daily Breeze – Letter to the editor by Alessia Leathers, Cape Coral, FL
February 12, 2016
An emergency is a sudden and unexpected occurrence. However, a problem that lasts decades and happens over and over and over again simply does not fit this category.
Releasing runoff water from Lake Okeechobee into our Caloosahatchee must not be taken as a momentary solution to solve an emergency.
First, the detriment to our livelihood and ecosystem is nothing but temporal. Second, the decision to alleviate the pressure of the levees around Lake O is a longstanding measure far from a last-minute response.
We have seen so many times the deterioration of our lifestyles and tourism-based economy, the loss of marine life and seagrasses as well as the damage to dedicated programs to restore our mangroves and oyster reefs to know better. No, this is not an emergency but a recurrent form of aggression that poses a public health risk.
The decision to use our Caloosahatchee as the sewage system of Lake O represents a permanent disdainful attitude towards the residents of Lee County. It is not a slap in the face. We are constantly living with this malicious hand on our cheeks.
Are we not good enough ? Are we, the taxpayers living along the Caloosahatchee and its estuary, less important than the sugar cane barons, the real beneficiaries of the decision to pump their polluted waters back into the lake and then our river to protect their 700,000 acres of the Everglades Agricultural Area?
Why do we have to accept massive fish kills as a natural occurrence? Why do we have to turn around in disbelief at the overnight sight of contaminated beaches? Why do we have to witness this direct attack to our way of life ?
Rain is a natural occurrence, but opening the locks of Lake O to release runoff water into our river is a human decision. Red tide is a well-studied phenomenon, but its level of intensity is largely exacerbated by man-made excess of nutrients released into our waterways.
When is enough, enough ?
The solutions ?  Feasible and comprehensible alternatives regarding storage and water treatment have been repeatedly presented to South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) for over a decade. The response ?  Ignore the problem and deviate it to other ecosystems when fallacious disjunctives arise.
So don't call it an emergency. Call it negligence and an absolute lack of respect towards all forms of life well, that is, along the Caloosahatchee and its estuary (located far enough, of course, from the Governor's house).

160211-a







US Capitol





160211-a
Enough red tape; Congress must authorize central Everglades plan
TCPalm.com
February 11, 206
It's déjà vu all over again.
Treasure Coast residents are understandably angry and frustrated as billions of gallons of tainted water thunder into the St. Lucie River from Lake Okeechobee. At stake is the fragile ecosystem of the Indian River Lagoon, the survival of oysters and the health of fish and humans.
Yet it doesn't need to be this way.
A bill filed Feb. 2 by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson — three days after this year's discharges began — could aid the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchie rivers, which typically receive a combined 460 billion gallons of lake water a year.
Nelson's bill would authorize a dozen engineering projects that could reduce discharges by a combined 14 percent for both estuaries.
The $1.9 billion Central Everglades Planning Project was designed in 2011 to clean and send about 65.2 billion gallons of water a year from the lake to the Everglades, a step toward the design nature intended. CEPP consists of engineering and construction projects that use land already in public hands.
CEPP was never intended as a complete solution, but every little bit helps.
Sadly, as a result of poor timing and Congressional lethargy, the project has been strangled by government red tape.
CEPP was intended as an integral part of the Comprehensive Water Resources Reform and Development Act passed in 2014, but it failed to receive the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' approval in time for the adoption of the act.
Congress is supposed to pass a new water resources bill every two years, but it took seven years to pass the last one. Rather than wait years for the next act, Nelson's bill is designed to get things moving now.
In a do-little Congress, the chances of it passing seem slim but Nelson is to be congratulated for trying — again. The effort has a Republican sponsor in the House, Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who filed it with Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach.
Last year, Nelson, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Reps Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, and Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, filed a similar joint bill to authorize CEPP.
Congress has yet to hear it.
Meanwhile, more than 15 billion gallons of dirty water from the lake has reached the St. Lucie Estuary since the latest round of discharges began in late January.
It's high time Congress acted to lessen that ugly flow. Our fragile lagoon ecosystem has suffered long enough.
Related:           Everglades money could be bad trade            Bradenton Herald

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LO release





160211-b
Gov. Scott requests ‘immediate action’ to address ‘Lake O’ water releases
WINKnews.com
February 11, 2016
FORT MYERS, Fla. – Gov. Rick Scott has requested the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to raise water levels to help alleviate flooding in the Everglades Water Conservation Areas and limit the release of water from Lake Okeechobee.
In a letter addressed to Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, Scott requested the Corps of Engineers to raise the water level of the L-29 canal to 8.5 feet so that “substantial volumes” of water can be moved from Water Conservation Area 3 to the Everglades National Park through the Shark River Slough.
“Moving water south out of the Water Conservation Areas will prevent the die off of wildlife whose habitat is currently flooded due to the heavy rainfall and also allow us to move more water from Lake Okeechobee south, relieving pressure from discharges to the Estuaries,” Scott wrote. “The wildlife in the Water Conservation Area cannot sustain prolonged flooding and the economies that rely on the estuaries need immediate relief.”
The letter, sent on Thursday, comes one day after the mayors of Lee County’s six municipalities held an emergency meeting to discuss steps to address the water releases. The group wants the Corps of Engineers to be more open in why and when they decide to release water from the lake, for state legislators to support the “Legacy Florida” bill that would provide more funding for Everglades preservation and for the community to fully support an effort where costs are expected to run into the billions.
Recent rainfall has resulted in record water levels at the lake, forcing the Corps of Engineers to release maximum levels of brown, murky water into the Caloosahachee River, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
The water releases prevent the dike that holds the lake water from being damaged or collapsing, which nearby residents say would result in an event similar to the levee breeches during Hurricane Katrina. But the dark water has created an eyesore for tourists and businesses along Lee County’s beaches.
More than 3.7 billion gallons of lake water is being released daily into the Caloosahatchee River. About 2 billion gallons are also being released to the east coast through the St. Lucie River.
The Corps of Engineers have said they cannot afford to stop the releases because water levels rise even after rainfall has stopped.
“I have instructed the Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District to devote all necessary resources to provide relief for this region,” Scott wrote in conclusion. “The State of Florida stands ready to address this situation. However, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is critical to this equation and your immediate action is essential.”
The Corps of Engineers did not immediately return a request for comment.
Related:           Rick Scott calls for “immediate action” to ease effects of Lake ...    Florida Politics (blog)
Governor Scott requests easing of Caloosahatchee water releases     Fox 4
Florida lake releases more damage than tourism        Eagle News
Mayors hold emergency meeting on water releases    Fox 4
Mayors: Funding, transparency needed to address 'Lake O' water ...            Wink News
Guest column: Stopping polluted Lake O discharges isn't rocket ...  TCPalm

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CLICK for VIDEO





160211-
On Big Sugar's pollution of Florida, social media could spark a political revolution
Huffington Post – by Alan Farago
February 11, 2016
On Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, hundreds of thousands of viewers are sharing photos, videos, and terse observations on the massive destruction caused by the release of hundreds of billions of filthy water from Lake Okeechobee -- thanks to Big Sugar's control of the Florida legislature and Congress.
Historic January rains in Florida are draining from the center of the state and coating both east and west coasts with polluted farm runoff, mostly from Big Sugar. The disaster has turned into a flood on social media. That flood is newsworthy of itself, in an electorally critical state holding its presidential primary in March.
There is a very large audience for information how a few billionaires are holding Florida hostage to profit schemes based on shifting their pollution onto the backs of taxpayers; in this case, wrecking billions of dollars of coastal real estate and tourism-based businesses to keep sugar fields dry.
These are not a few hundred people trolling the blogs. Social media, in the weeks before the March presidential primaries, is attracting hundreds of thousands of viewers who will vote.
This video by fishing guide Michael Conner has been viewed on Facebook nearly 300,000 times:
And it's not just the east coast of Florida that is affected. Big Sugar has always relied on the geographic separation of the Gulf from the Atlantic to keep voters divided.
Through social media, the rampant abuse by polluters is linking outraged citizens the west coast with their counterparts on the east coast. Bullsugar.org on Facebook has recruited nearly 40,000 viewers.
On Wednesday in the state capitol, Democratic leader Mark Pafford demonstrated the intransigence of the GOP-controlled legislature, blocking state purchase of land from Big Sugar south of Lake Okeechobee that could eventually solve the pollution crisis. Even Republican elected leaders from the most polluted regions of the state-- like Senator Joe Negron -- ignored and allowed Pafford's bill to die.
The bill would have allocated moneys to buy lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area, south of Lake Okeechobee for storage marshes adequate to hold and cleanse sugar's filthy discharges.
Not even a 2014 constitutional amendment, approved by more than 75 percent of Florida voters, for land acquisition has swayed legislators to fixing the Lake Okeechobee disaster. Social media could do the job, showing graphic images how Big Sugar billionaires fertilize the Republican majority just like sulfates from its half million acres using drainage canals like sewage pipes.
The flood on social media targeting Big Sugar is skipping past print journalism, OPEDs carefully crafted to avoid antagonizing its advertisers, and is even vaulting beyond environmental groups.
It will take a political revolution to fix what is wrong with Florida. That could happen if those hundreds of thousands on social media gather millions and turn anger against Big Sugar into votes. When people lead, leaders follow.

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160211-d
The best and worst of Florida’s legislative session so far
TBO.com - by Paula Dockery,| Guest Columnist
February 11, 2016
We’re halfway through Florida’s legislative session and time for a halftime recap. The top priorities of the Senate president and the House speaker — expanding opportunities for the developmentally disabled and an agriculture-friendly water policy — have made it to the governor’s desk. The House and Senate appear to be working toward some of the governor’s priorities and, surprisingly after the last few acrimonious sessions, working pretty well together. Here’s my take on some of the best and worst of the legislative session so far: Senate Bill 228 makes changes to the 10-20-Life law that unintentionally led to disproportionately long and unjust prison sentences even when no one was harmed. Giving greater discretion to judges by removing minimum mandatory sentences is a better long-term fix, but this change of removing the crime of aggravated assault from the mandated sentence is certainly a step in the right direction. Kudos to state Sen. Aaron Bean and state Rep. Neil Combee. Even though it has been defeated numerous times in the Senate, the House has passed a bill that would allow guns on college campuses despite the objections of the state’s university presidents. The bill is stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Guns, alcohol, stress, immaturity and raging hormones are a dangerous combination. Kudos to state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla. The Senate and House differ on how to fix Florida’s death penalty law. The Senate bill requires unanimous decisions on at least one aggravating factor and requires a unanimous jury recommendation to impose the death penalty. The House bill only requires a 9-3 jury vote to recommend a death sentence. Florida is one of only three states that don’t require a unanimous jury decision. Kudos to Sen. Rob Bradley, a former prosecutor, for his deliberative approach to address the U.S.Supreme Court’s concerns. Some bills are a mixed blessing. The House wants to fund Everglades restoration with up to $200 million annually. This should be great news, but, unfortunately, it is a thrifty trade-off for not fully funding Florida Forever and Amendment 1. The House and Senate both increase education funding by over $500 million. The Senate, however, is rejecting Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to fund 84 percent of the increase with property taxes. Kudos to state Sen. Don Gaetz and Senate President Andy Gardiner for increasing the state’s share of funding. The Senate has agreed to Gov. Scott’s request for $250 million for incentives to businesses that promise to create jobs. The track record of success is mixed at best, and the information on how money is spent is shielded from public view. There are better ways to spend a quarter of a billion dollars than on this corporate welfare. The House and Senate are still refusing to fully fund Amendment 1 as 75 percent of the voters mandated with the estimated $823 million in documentary stamp revenue. The Legislature is cutting state park funding, is only giving $22 million — instead of $300 million — to land acquisition and is diverting funds to overhead and other unintended uses. Kudos to state Sen. Thad Altman for trying to increase Florida Forever funding to $200 million. The Legislature is continuing the assault on open government with numerous public record exemption bills. The House wants $90 million for school construction for charter schools and $50 million for traditional public schools. There are six traditional public schools for every charter school, yet the House insists on nearly twice as much funding for charters. The Senate has $50 million for traditional school construction and zero for charter schools. Shame on state Rep. Erik Fresen for continuing his crusade to benefit charters at the expense of traditional public schools. Neither the House nor the Senate has adequately funded Florida’s troubled prison system, ignoring the need for more staff and training. These issues are still in a state of flux. Questioning your elected representatives before the final vote lets them know you’re paying attention and lessens the likelihood that they can talk their way out of bad votes or inaction. It’s an election year. There’s no better time.
Paula Dockery served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland.
Related:           House Senate Ready To Approve Budget Plans        NorthEscambia.com

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Springs funding tied to South Florida water projects
Gainesville.com - by Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida
February 10, 2016
TALLAHASSEE — Money to restore the state's natural springs has been attached to a proposal that would direct as much as $200 million a year to South Florida water projects.
The Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee supported an amendment Tuesday that would require at least $75 million a year to be budgeted for springs preservation.
Sen. Joe Negron, the sponsor of the overall bill known as "Legacy Florida," said the money for the springs makes the proposal more statewide and won't change his desire to direct to South Florida some of the funds approved by voters in a 2014 constitutional amendment for water and land preservation.
"By adding the springs component we're not detracting anything from the Everglades restoration," Negron said. "In fact, they complement each other and make the bill even stronger."
The House Appropriations Committee approved a similar measure to fund South Florida projects. The bill, which does not include the springs funding, is ready for the House floor.
Michael Williams, a spokesman for House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, wrote in an email Tuesday the House and Senate have not had discussions about the springs funding "concept."
“We look forward to learning more about their proposal," Williams said.
The Legacy Florida money is expected to pay for projects that will eventually reduce the need for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to release billions of gallons of contaminated water into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, as it is now does as a way to reduce stress on the Herbert Hoover Dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee.
The proposal has drawn support from organizations such as the Florida League of Cities, Audubon Florida, 1000 Friends of Florida, the Nature Conservancy and the Everglades Foundation.
“Right now, billions of gallons of polluted water are pouring out of Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, wreaking havoc on their ecologies and economies," Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said in a prepared statement supporting the Legacy Florida proposal.
Florida Forever, which uses bonds backed with revenue from documentary-stamp real-estate taxes, authorizes lawmakers to spend up to $300 million a year for preservation. But as the economy went sour during the recession, so did funding for Florida Forever.
Under Negron's bill, 25 percent or $200 million a year, whichever is lower, would go from what is known as the state land-acquisition trust fund to Everglades and Lake Okeechobee projects.
Of that money, $32 million would go to the South Florida Water Management District for the Long-Term Plan through the 2023-2024 fiscal year, about $100 million annually for the next decade would be used to plan, design, engineer and construct works already approved under the Central Everglades Planning Project, and the remaining funds would go the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program.
"It reflects a long-term commitment, over the next 10 years, toward restoration of the Everglades," Negron said.
The measure also would require the Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District to give preference to Everglades restoration projects that reduce discharges of water from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie or Caloosahatchee estuaries.
The land-acquisition trust fund is being used to carry out the 2014 constitutional amendment, which requires that a portion of documentary-stamp taxes are set aside for land and water buying and preservation.
Gov. Rick Scott's office has estimated the real estate tax is expected to generate $905 million for the land-acquisition trust fund during the fiscal year that starts July 1. The measure was projected to generate $740 million in the current fiscal year.

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Superintendent reflects on first year at park
KeysNews – by Brian Bowden, Free Press Staff
February 10, 2-16
SOUTH FLORIDA — A significant seagrass die-off that wreaked havoc on parts of the Florida Bay, completion of a general management plan and a visit from President Obama were just a few of the matters that Pedro Ramos dealt with during his first year as superintendent of Everglades National Park.
“Things were tough this past year,” Ramos told the Free Press last week. “There have definitely been a lot of ups and downs.”
Ramos, 48, who previously served as superintendent at Big Cypress National Preserve, took over the 1.5-million acre park in January of last year when Dan Kimball retired.
Ramos said the two often worked closely together, given the proximity of the park and preserve as well as its related environmental issues, and he felt as though his expertise could serve ENP well going forward. So, he took the leap.
But while he described the issues facing the preserve as “significant,” ENP’s, Ramos said, were “immense.” 
Home to dozens of endangered or threatened species, the park’s vast network of wetlands and forests is also where the majority of South Florida’s fresh water is recharged. Decades of drainage and flood control projects in the region and a rapidly growing metropolis on its doorstep pose ongoing threats to the park’s ecosystem.
“I had a bit of a learning curve,” Ramos said. “But I was able to hit the ground running because of my experience [at the preserve].”
He said, by far, his absolute low for 2015 was the seagrass die-off that tortured the dilapidated bay last summer.
Due in part to drought-like conditions throughout the area, the die-off decimated about 5,000 acres of bay bottom, or 7.8 square miles, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials.
The dry conditions this summer coupled with a lack of fresh water being sent down through the Everglades by the South Florida Water Management District were among the factors that triggered the die-off in the northern region of the Florida Bay, according to experts. Seagrass beds serve as a nursery for the bay’s fish species.
“Without being able to do a thing about it, it gave us another reminder that we need to implement these [water] procedures as quickly as possible,” Ramos said in reference to the slow-moving federal-state Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, which was created in 2000 to bring more fresh water to the park.
He said two of his high points over the previous year were the implementation of the park’s general management plan and a visit by Obama in April for Earth Day.
The former, roughly 12 years in the making, lays out a plan that, among other things, called for about 26 percent, or 102,838 acres, of Florida Bay to be designated as pole-troll only zones. It designated another 6 percent, or 25,588 acres, as pole-troll-idle zones. Boaters are not able to use their primary gas-powered engines in these areas.
These new rules, park officials and environmentalists hope, will protect the seagrass beds that they said have endured years of propeller scaring as well as give a boost to the declining bonefish population there.
The plan also calls for all fishermen entering the bay to take a boater education course their first time around.
“This just further ensures the protection of our ecosystem here,” Ramos said.
Ramos is also tasked with overseeing Dry Tortugas National Park, located roughly 70 miles off the coast of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico.
“It has its own range of issues there,” Ramos said. “But it was a pretty successful year for that park.”
The two parks, according to Ramos, handle a combined 1.5 million visitors annually from across the world.
So what’s in store for the rest of 2016 ?
Ramos said an ongoing centennial celebration with multiple planned events, including a relight of the lighthouse at Dry Tortugas this summer, is already set. As for the Everglades, he said a continued restoration effort for the park and bay, workshops to shape a wilderness stewardship plan, completion of a Cape Sable environmental assessment and a groundbreaking to lift another part of the Tamiami Trail roadway will all be part of 2016.

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Ten billion gallons of polluted water pumped into Lake Okeechobee !
BassResource.com
February 10 (1), 2016
Ten billion gallons of pollution-laden water was pumped into Lake Okeechobee during four days of emergency measures to avert South Florida flooding, officials disclosed Monday.
Amid an already rainier-than-usual winter, heavy rains last week triggered the controversial "back pumping" of water from South Florida's vast farming region, the Everglades Agricultural Area, north into the lake.
That helped protect lakeside towns as well as sugar cane fields and vegetable farms from flooding, but at the expense of allowing fertilizers and other pollutants that wash off the land to end up in the lake.
And that back pumping came at the same time officials were starting to discharge water from the swollen lake out to sea for flood control, despite the potential environmental harm to coastal fishing grounds.
By Sunday evening the emergency pumping into the lake had stopped after water levels south of the lake were brought under control, according to the South Florida Water Management District.
But in just four days, the 10 billion gallons of water pumped into the lake from the south equated to filling up about 15,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
The pumping was necessary to "protect thousands of families, businesses and property in the Glades communities," according to a statement from the South Florida Water Management District.
That pumped in water, usually low in oxygen and high in phosphorus and nitrogen, can lead to fish kills, toxic algae blooms and threaten drinking water supplies. Prolonged back pumping can lead to dead zones in the lake, scaring away fish, wading birds and tourists alike, environmentalists warn.
"We are glad it's over. ... If it keeps going, it gets worse and worse," said Paul Gray, an Audubon Florida scientist who monitors Lake Okeechobee. "It all adds up."
The short duration of this round of emergency pumping means the environmental risks to the lake should be minimal, according to Randy Smith, spokesman for the South Florida Water Management District.
Yet the El Nino-driven rainy weather during what is supposed to be South Florida's dry season could end up triggering more back pumping, according to the water management district.
January's rainfall, averaging 9.18 inches across South Florida, was the most for that month since 1932, according to the water management district.
While pumping water from the south into the lake has stopped, the lake draining to the coast continues.
Lowering the lake level by draining water to the east and west coasts helps ease the strain on the troubled dike that protects South Florida from flooding.
The Army Corps of Engineers on Friday started draining up to 1.8 billion gallons of lake water a day to the east into the St. Lucie River. As much as 4.2 billion gallons per day is also being drained to the west into the Caloosahatchee River.
That draining is good for protecting the lake's erosion prone dike, but big discharges of freshwater from the lake into normally salty estuaries can kill fishing grounds and fuel algae blooms that make waterways unsafe for swimming.
Dumping lake water to the coast and out to sea also wastes water that could be used to replenish the Everglades and to restock South Florida supplies during droughts.
The Army Corps of Engineers tries to keep Lake Okeechobee water levels between 12.5 and 15.5 feet above sea level. On Monday the lake was 16.14 feet.
To ease South Florida flood risk, Lake Okeechobee draining to resume
South Florida flooding threats are triggering the pumping of polluted farm water into Lake Okeechobee, just as more lake water is set to be drained out to sea.
While that helps protect lakeside communities and South Florida farmland from flooding, the draining and dumping can have harmful environmental consequences for the lake and coastal communities.
"It's really bad water," said Paul Gray, an Audubon Florida scientist who monitors Lake Okeechobee. "It has got really high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. ... And here we are getting ready to dump extra (lake) water into the estuaries."
Rising waters during this rainier-than-usual winter are triggering the Lake Okeechobee water management difficulties.
To ease the strain on the lake's erosion-prone dike, the Army Corps of Engineers tries to keep the lake level between 12.5 and 15.5 feet above sea level. The lake level Thursday was 15.54 feet, which was nearly a foot higher than the average level for this time of year.
Water from Central Florida drains into Lake Okeechobee, which gets tapped by South Florida growers for irrigation and also serves as a backup water supply for South Florida communities.
But during heavy rainy periods, the lake fills up faster than the water gets moved south and that can trigger flood-control discharges to the east and west coasts.
Now in addition to the increased flows of water from Central Florida, flood-control concerns have prompted the emergency practice of "back-pumping" water into the lake from South Florida's vast farming region.
Rising water levels raise concerns about the lake's troubled dike, considered one of the country's most at risk of failing. Draining lake water out to sea lessens that strain on the dike and makes room for water expected to flow in from future storms.
But redirecting lake water toward the east and west coasts also wastes water that could restock South Florida supplies during future droughts.
And discharging large amounts of lake water toward the coasts can harm fishing grounds and fuel algae blooms that make water unsafe for swimming, scaring away tourists.
The Army Corps of Engineers on Friday plans to start lake releases east through the St. Lucie River. Also, ongoing lake releases west into the Caloosahatchee River are being increased, the Army Corps announced Thursday.
"The heavy rain this month has limited the ability to send any water south," said Jim Jeffords, the Army Corps chief of operations for Florida. "We will look to start releasing (water) when possible east and west in order to slow the rise and maintain storage capacity in the lake."
Back-pumping water from the south into the lake, which started Wednesday evening, was necessary to protect the "lives and property" of people living near the lake, according to a statement released Thursday from the South Florida Water Management District released.
Environmental groups have long raised concerns about back-pumping, warning that it flushes fertilizers, pesticides and other pollutants into Lake Okeechobee, which can lead to fish kills, toxic algae blooms and threaten drinking water supplies.
But the back-pumping is allowed to avoid flooding and "will continue as needed," according to the South Florida Water Management District.
This year's El Niño-driven wet weather has boosted Lake Okeechobee at a time when the lake water level is usually on the decline.
An El Niño weather pattern occurs when warming of the eastern Pacific typically translates to a wetter winter in Florida.
South Florida has averaged about 13 inches of rainfall since November, which is about twice as much as usual so far during the fall-to-spring dry season.
Lake Okeechobee's water once naturally flowed south, overlapping its southern banks and replenishing the Everglades.
But decades of draining to make way for South Florida farming and development redirected that water, flushing much of it out to sea for flood control.
On Friday, the Army Corps plans to increase that draining by discharging up to 756 million gallons per day of Lake Okeechobee water east into the St. Lucie River.
In addition, up to 1.8 billion gallons of lake water per day could be discharged to the west into the Caloosahatchee River.
The new round of lake water discharges could have harmful consequences on coastal fishing grounds if they linger into the spring spawning season, according to Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart.
Perry maintains that the coastal discharges could have been avoided if water managers were willing to hold more water in the farming region south of the lake or had moved more water south sooner.
"We are kind of disappointed that they haven't done more to move water south," Perry said. "They just have to manage (water supplies) better."
Projects are in the works that could enable holding onto more of the lake water that now gets drained out to sea.
Lake Okeechobee's 70-year-old dike is in the midst of a decades-long rehab. And slow-moving Everglades restoration plans, which call for building reservoirs and water-treatment areas, are expected to create more South Florida water-storage alternatives.
While that multibillion-dollar effort has been slowed by funding delays and construction problems, work has begun on a reservoir expected to eventually hold some of the lake water that flows to the East Coast.
Related:           Guest column: Stopping polluted Lake O discharges isn't rocket ...  TCPalm

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Authorize CEPP to send water south
RealEstateRama
February 9, 2016
Florida lawmakers from both parties and both chambers united to push for Congressional authorization of the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) in the upcoming Water Resources Development Act to allow this vital project to move forward without further delay. Once completed, CEPP will increase water flow south of Lake Okeechobee, reducing the harmful discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers to the east and west of the lake. Congressman Patrick E. Murphy (FL-18) led this effort in the House with Congressman David Jolly (FL-13) alongside support from U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12), Corrine Brown Leads Bipartisan Florida Delegation Push for Congressional Approval of Critical Everglades Restoration Project to Improve the Health of Local Waterways Washington, D.C. – February 9, 2016 – (RealEstateRama) — Florida lawmakers from both parties and both chambers united to push for Congressional authorization of the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) in the upcoming Water Resources Development Act to allow this vital project to move forward without further delay. Once completed, CEPP will increase water flow south of Lake Okeechobee, reducing the harmful discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers to the east and west of the lake. Congressman Patrick E. Murphy (FL-18) led this effort in the House with Congressman David Jolly (FL-13) alongside support from U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12), Corrine Brown (FL-05), Vern Buchanan (FL-16), Kathy Castor (FL-14), Curt Clawson (FL-19), Ander Crenshaw (FL-04), Ron DeSantis (FL-06), Ted Deutch (FL-21), Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25), Lois Frankel (FL-22), Gwen Graham (FL-02), Alan Grayson (FL-09), Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20), Jeff Miller (FL-01), Richard Nugent (FL-11), Bill Posey (FL-08), Tom Rooney (FL-17), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27), Dennis Ross (FL-15), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23), Frederica Wilson (FL-24), and Ted Yoho (FL-03) as well as Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) in the Senate. (Click here to view a copy of the letter, full text below). Committed to continuing to fight to improve the health of local waterways, Murphy also led a bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers at the beginning of this Congress in introducing H.R. 230 to authorize CEPP after the Army Corps finalized its Chief’s Report for the project in December of 2014. “With El Niño conditions bringing record levels of rainfall, the Army Corps unfortunately has started discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie Estuary, which is very rare for this time of year,” said Murphy. “This not only is harmful to the environment, but also our economy that relies so much on our local waterways. That is why we must double down on our efforts to improve the health of the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon. CEPP will help do just that by sending more clean water south of the lake and reducing the need for these harmful discharges, which is why I’m once again calling on Congress to authorize this vital project.” Background: CEPP is a $2 billion series of engineering projects intended to collect and channel water around Lake Okeechobee south into the center of the Everglades, thereby reducing harmful discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and improving the health of the entire ecosystem. CEPP was not included in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had not completed a key report approving the project before the bill was signed into law on June 10, 2014. The Chief’s Report was finalized on December 23, 2014, which allows Congress to now take action to authorize it. Once authorized, the project can begin to receive federal funding and construction can begin. Florida Delegation Letter Requesting CEPP Be Included in 2016 WRDA: February 8, 2016 Chairman Jim Inhofe Ranking Member Barbara Boxer Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Senate Environment and Public Works Committee 410 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg. 456 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg. Washington, DC 20510 Washington, DC 20510 Chairman Bill Shuster Ranking Member Peter DeFazio House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee 2251 Rayburn House Office Bldg. 2164 Rayburn House Office Bldg. Washington, DC 20515 Washington, DC 20515 Dear Chairman Inhofe, Chairman Shuster, Ranking Member Boxer and Ranking Member DeFazio: As Members of the Florida delegation, we write to express our strong support for Everglades restoration. These important wetlands are critical for the environment of Florida and enjoy bipartisan support. America’s Everglades spans nearly two million acres of wetland ecosystems and waterways, stretching from Central Florida to the Peninsula. Our state’s waterways are essential to both our economic health and to the environment. The Everglades is known to improve water quality, support agricultural activities, provide drinking water supplies for approximately 8 million Floridians, exhibits animal and plant diversity, and reduces flooding. The Central Everglades Planning Process (CEPP) is a vital project, and once authorized by Congress, will be a major step towards the restoration of the Everglades. Due to delays by the Army Corps of Engineers in issuing the final Project Implementation Report (PIR), the 2014 Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) did not include this important authorization. Now that this Chief’s Report has been submitted, the Congress can move forward to final enactment. The State of Florida has long been a partner in measures to counteract the damage and restore the Everglades. However, full restoration requires federal involvement. We respectfully request that you include the authorization of the Central Everglades Planning Project in the forthcoming Water Resources Development Act.

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Heavier-than-usual rain brings threat to Everglades wildlife
Sun Sentinel – by Andy Reid
February 9, 2016
Rising Everglades waters have South Florida water managers working on an emergency plan to lower water levels in conservation areas that stretch across western Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
Everglades wildlife habitat is at risk from high water held back to protect South Florida from flooding.
Rising Everglades waters in western Broward and Miami-Dade counties, kept artificially high to protect South Florida communities from flooding, are threatening to wipe out dwindling animal habitat.
Heavier-than-usual winter rains, fueled by the El Niño-weather pattern, have boosted water levels throughout South Florida.
Now, state and federal officials are working on an emergency plan to move more water out of the Everglades water-conservation areas, without swamping neighborhoods or causing worse environmental woes elsewhere.
"Any and all options for operating the system will be looked at," South Florida Water Management District spokesman Randy Smith said. "The main objective is to get the water out."
Without relief, rising waters could overwhelm tree islands that provide the high ground that deer, wading birds, turtles and other Everglades animals need to survive.
The problem is, there are limits on how much water from the conservation areas can be redirected to the coast because canals running through Fort Lauderdale and Miami also are dealing with corralling flood waters in urban areas amid a wetter-than-usual winter.
Lake Okeechobee has risen to its highest point in a decade, triggering maximum-level lake water draining out to sea to protect the troubled dike that guards against South Florida flooding.
The lake level hit 16.25 feet above sea level on Thursday after rising about 1.5 feet during the rainiest January...
Lake Okeechobee has risen to its highest point in a decade, triggering maximum-level lake water draining out to sea to protect the troubled dike that guards against South Florida flooding.
And the design of South Florida's drainage system, as well as regulatory controls aimed at curbing water pollution, limit how much of the water in the conservation areas can be moved into Everglades National Park.
Now the South Florida Water Management District is collaborating with the
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and federal agencies to explore short-term ways to alleviate what has been a long-term challenge for the region.
"The water is backed up behind the [levees] and flooding the tree islands," said Tom Van Lent, Everglades Foundation science director. "There are very few quick fixes. Only hard choices."
South Florida flooding threats are triggering the pumping of polluted farm water into Lake Okeechobee, just as more lake water is set to be drained out to sea.
While that helps protect lakeside communities and South Florida farmland from flooding, the draining and dumping can have harmful environmental...
South Florida flooding threats are triggering the pumping of polluted farm water into Lake Okeechobee, just as more lake water is set to be drained out to sea. While that helps protect lakeside communities and South Florida farmland from flooding, the draining and dumping can have harmful environmental...
South Florida's vast system of canals, pumps and levees through the decades has allowed farming and suburbia to spread across land that was once part of the Everglades.
While that drainage system has been good at avoiding flooding in South Florida's growing communities, it can often leave too little water for some parts of the Everglades while also flooding other portions of Florida's famed River of Grass.
That's what is happening now in the water-conservation areas that stretch across western Broward and Miami-Dade. The water level there has hit 11.29 feet above sea level, about 1 foot higher than normal.
El Niño-driven rains this year have boosted water levels in the conservation areas and elsewhere, amplifying the harmful environmental effects on the Everglades from South Florida's flood-control system.
An El Niño weather pattern occurs when warming of the eastern Pacific results in a wetter winter for Florida.
As a result, Fort Lauderdale rainfall so far this year is nearly 5 inches above normal, during what is usually South Florida's dry season. West Palm Beach and Miami have had almost 7 inches more rainfall than normal, according to the National Weather Service office in Miami.
Rainier-than-usual conditions from the El Niño are expected to linger into April, according to National Weather Service Meteorologist Chuck Caracozza.
Also, this week some of the highest tides of the year are forecast for South
Florida, according to the water management district. That makes it harder to move more water from western Broward through canals and out to sea, Smith said.
Swells on the ocean Tuesday were already resulting in higher-than-usual water levels along the coast in Fort Lauderdale, Caracozza said.
High water levels in Everglades water conservation areas that stretch through Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties are adding to the South Florida water storage problems that reach all the way to Lake Okeechobee.
Rising water levels in the lake have raised concerns about the strain on the erosion-prone dike that protects lakeside communities and South Florida's sugar cane country from flooding.
To help protect the dike, the Army Corps of Engineers has been draining billions of gallons of water a day out of Lake Okeechobee to the east and west coasts – despite the potential damage to coastal fishing grounds.
Environmental advocates say that Everglades restoration remains the long-term solution to South Florida's flood control and water supply problems.
The state and federal government in 2000 launched a multibillion-dollar effort to build reservoirs and water-treatment areas that could get more water moving south to Everglades National Park, while also boosting South Florida drinking water supplies.
But funding delays, construction problems and political fights have bogged down Everglades restoration, leaving dozens of projects unfinished.
President Barack Obama on Tuesday called for including another $190 million in the 2017 federal budget for Everglades projects, though that would still need congressional approval.
"The big-picture solution has to be completing the [Everglades] restoration projects," said Julie Hill-Gabriel, Audubon Florida Director of Everglades Policy. "The need for that has never been more clear."
Related:           High water poses threat to wildlife    WPEC

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Land and Water Conservation Fund would benefit from Obama budget
Agri-Pulse.com - by Whitney Forman-Cook
February 9, 2016 
WASHINGTON -  President Barack Obama laid out his budget plan for next year on Tuesday, including his bid to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million - a level that's only been met a few times in the program's 51-year history.
The LWCF runs on offshore oil and gas drilling fees paid to the federal government. It distributes grants and matching funds to federal, state and local governments to buy land to establish parks, or to enter into easement agreements that protect forest and wildlife habitat. The president's fiscal 2017 budget calls for a combination of $475 million in discretionary funding and $425 million in mandatory funding for the LWCF.
Congressional authorization for the LWCF lapsed at the end of September due to significant GOP pushback led by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop of Utah. Democrats, however, were able to get the Fund reauthorized for three years with a 2016 annual budget of $450 million in the December omnibus bill.
USDA said in a release today that the president is “pursuing permanent authorization in annual mandatory funding for the Fund's programs beginning in 2018.” Three bills that were introduced in Congress last year - S.338 and its companion bill HR.1814, and S.890 - would do just that.
Obama's move to fully fund the LWCF was met with praise from Democrats.
The ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior and the Environment, Tom Udall of New Mexico, said he would fight for the president's proposal as the Senate writes its funding bills.
“The president's focus on permanently and fully funding the LWCF is great news for New Mexico and communities across the country,” Udall said in a release. “The LWCF has helped New Mexico conserve our cultural sites and beautiful landscapes, and it has created ballfields and community parks across the state. The president is a powerful advocate, and I'm very pleased to have momentum as we begin the budget process.”
The ranking member on the Senate National Parks subcommittee, Martin Heinrich, also a New Mexico Democrat, said he would join in the fight to fully fund the LWCF because it is “one of America's most successful conservation programs.”
USDA and Interior Department said in a joint release that “For every $1 invested through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, there is an estimated return of $4 in local economic activity.”
The program has supported more than 42,000 national, state and local parks and outdoor recreation projects in all 50 states, the agencies said. 
This year's budget proposes to expand recreational access in Idaho and Montana, protect endangered species in the Everglades, preserve wetlands and grasslands in North and South Dakota, and protect significant archaeological sites, including the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, and the Nanjemoy Natural Resource Management Area in Maryland.
Is conservation high on your list of things to watch ? As news happens, you'll find it on Agri-Pulse. Sign up for a four-week free trial subscription.
Republicans the LWCF is used inappropriately by the federal government to acquire more land in the West.
Bishop, the GOP voice on the issue, advocates for decreasing the portion of the LWCF budget that goes toward federal land acquisition - the feds already own 640 million acres in the West, he says - and increasing the portion that goes directly to states through the Stateside Assistance Grant Program (SAGP) and to urban areas.
He also argues that the federal government should be using its funds first and foremost to address the $18.8 million maintenance backlog on public lands. And states shouldn't be able to use the funding for eminent domain projects, which, according to Bishop, at least 19 states have done.
These proposals, along with a plan to give LWCF grants to students studying offshore drilling, are featured in Bishop's Protecting America's Recreation and Conservation Act, which was discussed in committee last fall, but never formally introduced.
“The administration operates this fund like their own private piggy bank,” Bishop said in an emailed statement. “Under the status quo, LWCF will continue to lead to massive federal land grabs that compromise private property rights and economic opportunity for the American people.”
“This must and will change,” he vowed. “We will continue to highlight LWCF abuses and advance real reforms to restore the law's intent so it actually helps people.”
Related:           President Obama's budget gets an A minus   Environment America

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Make fixing the Everglades a priority
Miami Herald
 

Highlights:
- Everglades restoration should be locked in.
- Amendment 1 funds can make it happen.
- But it should not be to the detriment of other environmental needs.

February 9, 2016
The reopening of the flood gates around Lake Okeechobee last week underlined the perilous state of South Florida’s vulnerable water system. Water managers were forced to act because recent heavy rains produced dangerous water levels in the lake and around nearby communities.
This is the perennial problem of Lake Okeechobee. Unusual amounts of rainfall increase pressure on the dikes that could lead to a disaster. “Our main purpose right now is public safety,” said Jim Jeffords, Operations Division Chief for the Jacksonville office of the Corps of Engineers, explaining the latest discharge.
It comes at a high cost, however. The discharge released millions of gallons of polluted water into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, further degrading estuaries on Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf Coasts and causing incalculable damage along the coastal areas on both sides of the Florida peninsula.
There has to be a way out of this recurring environmental nightmare — and there is: Buy more land south of the lake so that discharges can be sent in that direction. Build reservoirs to hold the water and reduce pollution naturally. Then send it farther south to Florida Bay, which desperately needs fresh water. This, in a nutshell, is what Everglades restoration is all about.
Sounds easy enough, but it isn’t, for two reasons: money and politics.
Both Congress and the Florida Legislature have to pitch in with funding. It’s a 50/50 proposition with the goal of buying land, removing barriers so that water can be stored in reservoirs to remove pollutants, then sent into the Everglades. This pumps clean, restorative waters into the River of Grass — a drinking source for 8 million people in this part of the state — and eliminates the need to pollute rivers east and west of the lake.
Among the steps that must be taken is passage of a new water-development bill in Congress to authorize a $2 billion engineering project to collect and channel water around the lake into the Everglades. The plan has bipartisan support from the Florida delegation, including Sen. Bill Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio, and the blessing of the Corps of Engineers. This is a must-pass priority for Florida.
The second item of this vital project is money to buy the land, which could come from the state Legislature as part of a deal to carve out at least $200 million a year for the next 20 years from Amendment 1 funding.
Here’s where the politics comes in. Amendment 1 was designed for conserving new land. Instead, the Legislature has diverted much of the money to cover salaries, fighting wildfires, providing insurance and controlling pollution on private land. This year, lawmakers have decided to set aside some of the funds for Everglades restoration — but to use the bulk of the money generated by Amendment 1 for purposes barely connected to land buying and conservation.
This trade-off has divided the environmental community. We don’t like splitting the baby, either. Everglades restoration should be the priority. But buying fragile lands and preserving springs can’t constantly run a distant second. The promises of Amendment 1 must be realized.
Congress should approve money to restore the Everglades, and the Legislature should approve a plan to allocate a minimum of $200 million a year to complement federal funding.
We’ve been talking about Everglades restoration, seemingly, forever. Now is the time to get it done.
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Water managers begin Everglades restoration project in Hendry County
WGCU.org - by Jessica Meszaros
February 9, 2016
The 15,000 acre project site is shaded red in the map. Credit The South Florida Water Management District
Water managers broke ground Monday on a project to return wetlands in Southwest Florida to their natural state. It’s called the Sam Jones/Abiaki Prairie. The plan is to improve water quality in the Everglades.
Historically, the 15,000 acres of land in southeastern Hendry County was a swamp made up of sloughs, marshes, and tree islands. But it later became a working citrus grove. The area was modified with drainage ditches, canals and orange trees.
The South Florida Water Management District purchased this property from U.S. Sugar about three years ago. It plans to restore that plot back to its original form.
Phil Flood with the water management district said they will remove any sign of the previous agricultural operation, like pipes and drains.
"The ultimate goal is to enhance the environment, to restore our groundwater system over there, restore the natural systems on the surface. And it's all about sustainability," said Flood. "It’s all about making sure that we will have a wonderful ecology out there and water supply for the future."
This Everglades restoration project is also predicted to attract wildlife, like panthers, eagles and black bears. Flood said he hopes the land will eventually be home to cypress domes and hardwood hammocks again by the year 2020. Once restoration is completed,  stakeholders will look at possible public uses for the land.

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Indian River Lagoon

Pollution pouring into
the Indian River Lagoon




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Brown tide appears worse in Indian River Lagoon
Florida Today
February 8, 2016
The Indian River and Banana River lagoons recently tested at some of the highest concentrations of brown tide algae ever recorded, levels potentially lethal to juvenile shellfish and other marine life.
The brown tide algae — Aureoumbra lagunensis — makes up almost all of the phytoplankton in the water, recent tests show. That puts at risk some 180,000 live oysters that thousands of volunteers have helped to grow and place onto three pilot reefs in the lagoon, as well as countless other lagoon life. And if the lagoon remains in bloom into the spring, the tiny algae could cloud sunlight from reaching seagrass, sunlight that the seagrass needs to photosynthesize during the vital bottom plant's peak growing season.
"At these kinds of levels, seagrasses are not receiving very much light," said Charles Jacoby, a supervising environmental scientist  with the St. Johns River Water Management District.
Seagrass is the linchpin of the lagoon food web. It's the manatee's main diet. Mutton snapper, lane snapper, gag and red grouper, spotted sea trout, blue crabs and other marine life depend on the grass for habitat. Studies have shown one acre of seagrass can support as many as 10,000 fish.
Recent water tests by the district showed:
●  Banana River Lagoon reached 2.8 million cells per milliliter of brown tide in early January, with brown tide algae making up 88 percent of the total volume of phytoplankton in the water.
●  Northern Indian River Lagoon reached 1.2 to 2.2 million cells per milliliter of brown tide, 88 percent to 93 percent of the total volume of phytoplankton. 
●  This week, concentrations of chlorophyll — an indicator of algae blooms — topped levels seen in the 2011 "superbloom," the worst known bloom in the lagoon's history that killed more than 30,000 acres of seagrass. 
●  Brown tide may be dissipating in parts of the Mosquito Lagoon, but simultaneously has spread south into Melbourne.
"Even if this does affect our oysters, this is good information for us and for the lagoon," said Sammy Anderson, who manages Brevard Zoo's oyster restoration program. Part of the project is to monitor how the oysters do in various conditions to learn how and where best to grow them.
This year's brown tide arrived much earlier in the year and now is prominent in much of the Banana River and Indian River lagoons, from Cocoa south to Melbourne.
The same brown tide species hit Laguna Madre and Baffin Bay along the Gulf Coast of Texas in the early 1990s, killing off seagrass for years. The bloom lasted almost eight years, making it the longest continuous harmful algae bloom ever recorded.
A similar brown tide species emerged in coastal waters off New England and New York in the mid-1980s, devastating scallops, clams and seagrass in Long Island's southern bays.
The same algae species also has bloomed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in recent years.
Biologists aren't sure how brown tide got here, whether the species always resided in the lagoon or was introduced from the ballast water of a boat. Brown tide blooms in the Long Island area have been linked to nutrients from septic tanks polluting the groundwater, then oozing up in the bays.
A study last year by researchers at Stony Brook University in New York found absence of grazing pressure enables brown tide to out-grow other phytoplankton. Under very salty conditions, brown tide is able to resist zooplankton, the tiny marine organisms that typically graze on plankton.
Brown tide algae first began appearing in lagoon water samples in 2005, but in low levels. Then in the summer of 2012, it bloomed in Mosquito Lagoon, then moved west to the northern Indian River Lagoon. It was the first major bloom of the species documented in Florida. As much as 50 square miles of lagoon seagrass had already died a year earlier, after another type of algae — the so-called "superbloom" — spread from Titusville to Eau Gallie. A separate, concurrent bloom stretched from Eau Gallie to south of Vero Beach.
In all, more than 47,000 acres — 73 square miles — of seagrass would die in the blooms.
If water temperatures dip, the brown tide may die off. But if the water stays warm and the bloom lasts into spring, the algae could blunt seagrass recovery.
"We're kind of live in hope that this will tone down and fade away," Jacoby said.
What is brown tide?
Scientific name of species in the lagoon — Aureoumbra lagunensis
The individual algae cell is only 4 to 7 microns in diameter. So it would take more than 200 brown tide cells, side by side, to stretch across the period at the end of this sentence.
Why is it called brown tide ? When levels reach 1 million to 2 million cells per milliliter of water, the water appears brown.

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Cause and effect
News-Press.com - Letter by Bill Greggs, Sanibel, FL
February 8, 2016
Why ? Why not ? The current filthy water polluting the Caloosahatchee and area beaches is a tragedy. But it is doing a perfect job in clearly demonstrating cause and effect.
Why is the Everglades Agricultural Area being allowed to continuously cause violations of the federal Clean Water Act, using Lake O as a toilet for their dirty industrial water pumping ?
This is exactly the issue that the Clean Water Act was enacted to stop, no different than the fires on Ohio’s Cuyahoga River in 1969 that prompted its passage.
Why pump filthy water into Lake O, polluting what is an already contaminated water body and leading to the downstream issues we are increasingly facing ?  Why not fix the problem at its source ? The foul water is already being collected and pumped.
Instead of begging Florida legislators and the governor to establish additional reservoirs for water treatment at public cost, we need to get the agricultural interests to do this.  Making the polluters pay is an approach that’s worked throughout the U.S. Why not in Florida ?

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Melting Greenland ice changing ocean circulation, Earth's gravitational field
CBC News - by Sima Sahar Zerehi
February 8, 2016
Disappearing ice cap wreaks havoc on the ocean's very structure, scientists say.
Greenland is losing about 8,300 tonnes of ice per second each day — ice that is melting on land and running into the water, as well as icebergs that are being discharged into Baffin Bay said William Colgan of Toronto's York University. (William Colgan).
The melting of the Greenland ice sheet due to climate change is having an impact on ocean circulation and rising sea levels, according to new studies from university researchers across North America.
"It was well known that Greenland's ice was melting, it was well known that that melting was accelerating, and it was well known that extra melting was changing the salinity of the North Atlantic Ocean," said Tim Dixon, a Canadian professor in the department of geophysics at the University of South Florida.
In Iqaluit, icebreaker paves way for season's supply ships
Inuit, environmentalists lobby for action at Paris climate conference
Dixon said that when ice melts, it deposits fresh water into the ocean that dilutes the salt in the North Atlantic.
"What was not known is what effect if any that would have on ocean circulation," he said.
'In the extreme case of a breakdown in this global ocean circulation pattern, equatorial regions could become much hotter than they are today and polar regions could become much colder than they are today, and significant fractions of the globe might become unlivable,' said University of South Florida's Tim Dixon.
Previous studies had suggested that the impact of the melting Greenland ice on North Atlantic circulation would be minimal, at least for the next 50 years, Dixon said, because the amount of fresh water going into the North Atlantic was thought to be too small to disrupt the ocean circulation.
"The accelerated melting of Greenland is adding so much fresh water to the North Atlantic that it's starting to affect the basic ocean structure in the Labrador Sea." 
But it's not just the Labrador sea that is affected.
"We think those changes are big enough that they're starting to affect the overall global circulation pattern of the ocean," Dixon said.
'Fractions of the globe might become unlivable'
Altering the circulation pattern of the ocean can have drastic long-term implications, Dixon said.
"In the extreme case of a breakdown in this global ocean circulation pattern, equatorial regions could become much hotter than they are today and polar regions could become much colder than they are today, and significant fractions of the globe might become unlivable." 
'The rate of mass loss that the ice sheet is now exhibiting post 2010, is somewhere in the neighbourhood of three times higher than the rate of mass loss prior to the 1980s,' said Colgan.
These changes are some of the first alarming signals of the possible effects of climate change, Dixon said.
"This is the first hint that these effects are starting a bit faster than people had imagined and implying that we need to get our act together and do something about this," he said.
"Which means we have to stop putting so much CO2 into the atmosphere."
Ice melt changing earth's gravity field
William Colgan of York University in Toronto has also been studying the rate of the Greenland ice melt and its effects on the ocean. In a recent study, he looked at historical data and compared it to new information gathered from expeditions in 2012, 2013 and 2015.  
'Iqaluit will not be flooded out by rising sea level but to have the harbour in Iqaluit, which is already really shallow get shallower at 1 cm per year going forward that can also be a very damaging sequence of sea level change,' said York University’s William Colgan.
"The ice sheet didn't really start to accelerate and lose a lot more mass until the year 2000," he said.
"The rate of mass loss that the ice sheet is now exhibiting, post 2010, is somewhere in the neighbourhood of three times higher than the rate of mass loss prior to the 1980s." 
Greenland is losing about 8,300 tonnes of ice per second each day —  ice that is melting on land and running into the water, as well as icebergs that are being discharged into Baffin Bay, said Colgan.
"That's a rapid, rapid mass loss that's occurring in Greenland right now and it's actually changing the Earth's gravity field so quickly that we can detect it with satellite." 
Colgan said that just like the moon pulls tides around the Earth with its gravity, by being relatively massive, Greenland pulls water towards it. As Greenland gets smaller, the ocean water flows farther away towards the equator, in what is called a gravitational far-field.
Implications for Nunavut
Cogan said the sea level has been decreasing in Frobisher Bay at around 1 centimetre per year, an effect that can be as damaging as sea level rise. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)
Colgan said this change will have implications for places close to Greenland like Nunavut.
"Actually close to Greenland, sea level rise is negative,or sea level is dropping, in part because the gravitational field is weakening so quickly that the water in the ocean is migrating to more gravitationally massive places on Earth."
Colgan said the sea level has been decreasing in Frobisher Bay at around one centimetre per year, an effect that can be as damaging as sea level rise.
"Iqaluit will not be flooded out by rising sea level but to have the harbour in Iqaluit, which is already really shallow, get shallower at one centimetre per year going forward, that can also be a very damaging sequence of sea level change," he said.
The melting of Greenland ice also produces more icebergs which are being discharged from the glaciers on land.
"There's actually more icebergs now being spat out into Baffin Bay and floating around as potential navigation hazards than there were 50 or even 10 years ago," said Colgan.
Related:           Melting glaciers, rising sea level slow down Earth's rotation
New rivers forming on melting Greenland ice sheet could boost sea level rise

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Position of ocean current plays role in harmful Florida red tide algae blooms, study finds
AccuWeather.com - by Mark Leberfinger, Staff Writer
February 8, 2016
A major ocean current in the Gulf of Mexico plays an important role in sustaining Florida red tide blooms, according to research conducted by the University of Miami.
Researchers at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science are suggesting that the position of the Loop Current can serve as an indicator of whether the algal bloom will be sustained and provide warning of possible hazardous red tide conditions in coastal areas.
The Loop Current moves from the Caribbean Sea into the Gulf of Mexico before looping west and south, exiting through the Florida Straits. While it is a permanent current, the Loop Current changes shape and orientation, depending upon the season as well because of fluctuating wind and temperature patterns.
Red tides are caused by a higher-than-normal concentration of the Karenia brevis microscopic organism, which is most commonly found in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.
"Nutrients are needed to sustain a large red tide," Associate Professor Josefina Olascoaga of the Department of Ocean Sciences at the University of Miami said. "Low mixing rates and sufficient isolation are needed to keep it from dispersing. Other factors are not well known."
Algae blooms have also occurred after unusually high water temperatures and extreme weather events such as hurricanes, floods and drought, the U.S. National Ocean Service said.
The paper on "Historical Analysis of Environmental Conditions During Florida Red Tide" was published in the December of 2015 issue of the journal Harmful Algae.
The research looked at the position of the Loop Current during red tide events between 1993 and 2007, Olascoaga said.
"We cannot predict blooms well yet," she said. "We know statistically when and where a red tide is more likely, but cannot make accurate predictions at this time. However, from our research, we can be fairly confident that a red tide will not develop when the Loop Current is [in] its southern position."
"If it is in a northern position, a red tide is possible but not inevitable," she added. "So we cannot say if there will be or not a bloom if the Loop Current is in a northern position, but we know now that if a bloom forms, it is more likely to persist."
The blooms can cause problems for both humans and marine life, the Florida commission said.
For people with severe or chronic respiratory conditions, such as emphysema or asthma, red tide can cause serious illness due to respiratory irritation. The toxins can also accumulate in oysters and clams, which can lead to shellfish poisoning in people who eat the contaminated shellfish, the commission said.
The red tide organism also produces toxins that can kill fish and other sea life.
A red tide bloom currently persists along Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte and Lee counties in Southwest Florida, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
A 2014 Florida red tide outbreak in the northeastern part of the Gulf of Mexico covered an area as large as the state of Connecticut.

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With conservation money, Florida lawmakers aim to foot other bills
Miami Herald – by Jenny Staletovich
 

Highlights:
Sensitive land gets only a fraction of $880 million pledged under amendment
About $155 million covers salaries
Shifting expenses frees up money for tax breaks

February 8, 2016
Shark River empties into Ponce de Leon Bay at the southernmost end of the Everglades. In 2014, 75 percent of voters endorsed an amendment to spend a third of taxes on real estate deals to save such wild land. But a spending plan being considered this week by lawmakers allocates only a fraction for purchasing new land for the second year in a row.  (Photo by Tim Chapman Miami Herald Staff).
Two years after Florida voters overwhelmingly endorsed a trust fund expected to raise $10 billion over two decades to save the state’s stalled conservation efforts, lawmakers are again proposing spending a big chunk of it on more mundane matters like risk management insurance.
In twin bills that lawmakers will hammer out this week in Tallahassee, only a fraction of the $880 million allocated under the Amendment 1 constitutional measure is slotted for conserving new land. Instead, lawmakers divvied up the money to cover salaries —including paychecks for the entire staff of the state’s forestry service — and shifted much of the costs covered by the state’s general fund to the trust.
In addition to human resources and expenses, lawmakers also propose using $20 million to treat sewage sludge in central Florida and $25 million for a wastewater treatment plant in the Keys.
“To take existing agency operations historically funded out of the general fund and now shift them over to Amendment 1 was not the intent,” said Will Abberger, the finance director for The Trust For Public Land, who helped craft the ballot language in 2014. “This thing has been turned on its head.”
Amendment 1 was supposed to set aside 33 percent of taxes from real estate deals for buying and conserving land and depositing it in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, a decades old trust established for land stewardship. Leading up to the 2014 referendum, backers sold the measure to voters as a pledge to spend the money on protecting natural areas and keeping pollution out of its waters.
But last year, the state spent just $50 million on lands, with lawmakers saying the cost of fighting wildfires, providing insurance and controlling pollution on privately owned land fell under the guidelines for spending Amendment 1 money.
If there’s an incongruity in the public perception, it’s the organizing groups that misled the public.
Legislators say that’s because backers told them the money was intended to cover the cost of existing programs, not just purchase and manage new lands.
 “The advocates who organized Amendment 1 purposely focused their campaign on acquisition,”said Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, who co-sponsored a proposal that sets aside at least $200 million for Everglades restoration. “If there’s an incongruity in the public perception, it’s the organizing groups that misled the public.”
As proof, Caldwell provided a response to written questions from legislators saying there was “no legal reason” why Amendment 1 money could not be used for operating expenses for programs tied to conservation.
 “They were saying we want to guarantee a place for conservation in the budget.
They were saying we want a light touch,” said Caldwell.
But in a lawsuit filed in Leon County last year by the Florida Wildlife Federation and other groups demanding last year’s spending be returned to the trust, environmentalists say whatever backers told lawmakers is irrelevant. What matters is what more than 75 percent of voters endorsed — the amendment’s summary and title, “Water and Land Conservation - Dedicates funds to acquire and restore Florida conservation and recreation lands.”
 “Although voters could obtain the full text of Amendment 1, it was not on the ballot,” the lawsuit says. “The Title and Summary are what the voters overwhelmingly adopted.”
While the referendum met little resistance on its way to the ballot box — the Florida Chamber of Commerce made a late pitch to derail it — once it passed, dispute over how money is spent has been bitter. Last year, the Everglades Trust, the lobbying arm of the Everglades Foundation, mounted a nasty fight to pressure lawmakers into using the money to buy land from sugar growers, airing television spots accusing the legislature of a “bait and switch” and staging a concert headlined by Jimmy Buffett. The state once considered the land crucial to Everglades Restoration but plans fell apart with the economic downtown.
This year, lawmakers agreed to carve out at least $200 million for Everglades Restoration, a deal that made Everglades activists happy but split the environmental community after the Everglades Foundation and Audubon Florida stayed quiet on a controversial water bill that sailed through the first week of this year’s session. The bill included few of the tough measures environmentalists said were needed to protect the state’s water supply from big agriculture, development and Central Florida water bottlers.
“Everyone wants to see the Everglades restored,” said Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation Voters. “That’s a good start. Now we have to worry about the rest of the 75 percent.”
Under the spending plans, the Senate set aside just $45.2 Million for land acquisition, she said, while the House is proposing far less, $27.7 million, but only for land related to Everglades restoration. (Caldwell said the amount is in the House is closer to $108 million if you include money to pay farmers to keep farming and other water projects.) Moncrief also found lawmakers largely shifted costs traditionally paid out of the general fund into the trust. The Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services would get about 94 percent of its budget for water coordination from the trust, compared to an average of 46 percent over the last five years, she said.
“The numbers demonstrate that they are using Amendment 1 funds (and other trust funds) to pay for base operations while freeing up [general revenue money] to spend on whatever other things they want to spend it on,” she said in an email.
About $155 million proposed for salaries would also cover positions somewhat removed from land management. More than $9 million would go to the Department of Environmental Protection’s administrative staff and $6.5 million to Technology and Information Services. Other proposals include $2.5 million for risk management insurance and more than $770,000 in human resource costs in various departments.
“Both of those things have a direct nexus to the people who are managing the property,” Caldwell said.
But David Guest, the Earthjustice attorney representing environmentalists, said the ballot made no mention of using money for existing programs and only says the trust can be used to acquire, restore, improve and manage lands.
Guest says legislators are playing a shell game with trust money, using it to fund things otherwise covered by general taxes and then giving businesses a tax break.
“They’re taking the excess money, approximately $800 million this year, and using that for a tax break,” he said.
After the amendment passed, Guest said lawmakers collapsed a number of trusts — which more clearly spelled out spending — into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to cover the flow of money.
“They did two things,” he said. “They misappropriated the money. That was part A. And part B was covering all your tracks.”
Related:           House Senate Ready To Approve Budget Plans        NorthEscambia.com
Editorial: Lawmakers betraying voters           TBO.com
Politicians beholden to money interests          Palm Beach Post (blog)
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Florida doesn't need uncontrolled growth
Tallahassee Democrat - Letter by Michael Brezin, Tallahassee, FL
February 7, 2016
“Full speed ahead!” commanded the captain. “We’ll set that speed record or I’ll die trying.” He could almost taste the champagne.
That’s the image I got while reading last Sunday's article on the state budget. Jerry Parrish, the Florida Chamber’s chief economist, claims we needed to shovel up 23,000 new jobs in the capital region by 2020 — 46,000 by 2030 — to keep the economy humming. For the state, his shovel measures a corresponding 800,000 and 2 million.
This 20th century thinking is doomsday thinking in the 21st. Economists have a term for what they don’t want to include in their growth-over-all models: externalities. You know, rising seas, dirty air, nasty drinking water, rampant viruses, droughts, floods, decimated natural areas and clogged roads.
Externalities. There are more of them, and they’re growing bigger and costlier. Will we passengers waltz while the band plays on? Is it be better to increase the quality of life or the quantity of woes?
I’m ready to grow our social and natural capital and give steady-state economics a try. I don’t like ramming icebergs; I like living.

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Lawmakers: Critics ignore facts on new water policy
Ocala.com – by Charlie Dean and Matt Caldwell, Special to the Star-Banner
February 7, 2016
Both the House and Senate are off to a great start to the 2016 legislative session, having passed significant legislation expanding job and education opportunities for persons with disabilities and approving a historic water bill. Thanks to Gov. Rick Scott, both of these bills are now the law of the land.
The comprehensive water bill signed into law by Gov. Scott has been the subject of some newspaper editorials around the state, and now that it's the law Floridians deserve to know of the many benefits it will provide. During this policymaking season, editorials critiquing our work are par for the course. But viewpoints based on conjecture and not on fact are not helpful to the process.
Republicans and Democrats were nearly unanimous in supporting a priority for prominent members of Florida's business and environmental communities. As with many bills, it had its share of critics. But the bill was improved with stronger protections for springs, more stringent water quality standards, and significant improvements to Florida's water governance structure.
We believe the end result is the most ambitious and forward-thinking water reform Florida has seen in decades.
A common refrain from critics has been that the law fails to establish water conservation as a priority. In reality, the state is already bound by law to use water conservation as an essential part of the criteria used to issue a water use permit along with other requirements designed to promote water conservation. The new law goes a step further and provides regulatory incentives for saving water during their permit's timeframe. It also creates a new and innovative nutrient and sediment reduction and conservation pilot project program that will be implemented statewide.
Some have also criticized the law's lack of deadlines for the adoption of critical regulatory tools such as Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) and Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs). But nowhere does the law weaken state water quality standards. Instead, the bill actually sets stronger deadlines requiring the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to initiate the development of a BMAP at the same time TMDLs are adopted for Outstanding Florida Springs (OFS). Claims that the law has delayed targets for achieving Minimum Flows and Levels (MFLs) are simply not true. It actually establishes deadlines for setting MFLs for priority springs that did not previously exist in Florida statute.
Other criticisms, such as claims that the policy fails to keep Floridians informed about how much water is being used per day are also off base. The law requires monitoring of all new and renewed permits that withdraw more than 100,000 gallons per day from groundwater where the inside diameter is 8 inches or greater. It also allows water management districts to adopt more stringent monitoring requirements.
When the policy was developed, we also heard that MFL standards should be set to “harm,” not “significant harm,” however, this suggestion shows a clear lack of understanding of the consumptive user permitting process. Florida's consumptive use permitting process already has the necessary safeguards by requiring that the harm standard be met for individual permits.
Some have raised concerns about the law's changes to our regulatory structure, but these concerns are unfounded. The law does not limit water management districts from denying permits, and does not change any authorization given to water management districts for the inter-basin transfer of water — an authority that already exists statewide. If anything, the law strengthens oversight by requiring DEP to to weigh in at the district level to determine if districts should re-initiate regional water supply planning.
Finally, some have said the bill does not go far enough on several fronts. In truth, our state was long overdue for these reforms. Another year without passing a comprehensive water bill would be another year without stronger springs protections and another year without the planning we need to address long-term water quantity and quality issues.
When you add up all the facts, the criticisms against the new law just don't hold up. The challenges we face as a state were not going to be solved without action, and this session we responsibly took the opportunity to put Florida on a path to preventing water crises before they happen.
— Charlie Dean is a Republican member of the Florida Senate from Inverness. Matt Caldwell is a Republican member of the Florida House from North Fort Myers. They are both sponsors of the water bill recently enacted into law.

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Army Corps: 3.3 billion gallons released from Lake O, now reaching FMB
WINKnews.com - Nicole Valdes, Reporter
February 6, 2016
FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla.- A massive water release from Lake Okeechobee is now hindering vacation plans for tourists on Fort Myers Beach.
” I noticed the water was a little more brown this trip, and just assumed it might have been from the storms,” said Matt Cacciato, a frequent visitor to Southwest Florida.
He says he and his family usually love getting in the warm Gulf waters, but now that it’s brown and “uninviting”, he’s staying out of it.
Friday afternoon, the Army Corps of Engineers began releasing the “maximum amount of water possible” from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River.
They tell WINK News record rainfall in January put the Hoover Dike, also known as HHD, at risk.
 
Excess water and record high water levels could case the dike to break. Now, tourists are starting to see the effects first hand.
“I think it’s a total shame, I think it’s awful.” said Jill Andersen, who was visiting Sanibel Island this week. “I wish that they could do something different. I understand that the lake is overflown, but there’s gotta be something else to do. It looks like this area of Florida really suffers for it.”
Saturday, they released 3.3 billion gallons of water into the river, but the water level is still on the rise.
Before the release, the lake sat at 16.25 feet. Saturday evening, it reached 16.3
John Campbell with the Army Corps of Engineers said the lake still got over 6 billion gallons coming into the lake this week.
He says until the water levels begin to decrease, officials plan to continue allowing water to flow at its maximum rate into the Caloosahatchee.
Snowbirds who frequent SWFL tell WINK News they are not sure how to respond to the change.
“Well, we love coming to the beach, but I’m not so sure I’m gonna go down into the water to be honest with you… After learning what we have, I think we’ll probably stay out.” said Cacciato.
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Florida Senate could derail fracking bill
News-Press.com – by Jeff Burlew, Tallahassee Democrat
February 6, 2016
Industry backed bills introduced by Southwest Florida legislators that would create regulations around fracking in Florida may have sailed through the House, but they’re facing more scrutiny, if not outright opposition, in the Senate.
And it’s not just coming from Democrats. Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness and chairman of Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation, voted against the Senate bill earlier in the session. Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, recently tweeted “fracking isn’t the way.
Sen. Tom Lee, the powerful chairman of Senate Appropriations, told reporters he has questions about how fracking would work in Florida given its unique limestone geology. He also expressed concern over a provision in the bill that would override local government control of fracking.
Lee complained the Florida Department of Environmental Protection was “nowhere to be seen” when the Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, came up earlier in the session. Lee supported the bill at the time, with reservations, he said. But he vowed his committee will not hear the bill until DEP appears before it to provide on-the-record testimony.
“I think that’s the appropriate way for this institution to be backed up,” he said Wednesday. “And we want credible, scientific responses to questions, not special interest responses. But I suspect that we will ultimately agenda the bill here in committee and we’ll hear it."
Environmental groups and anti-fracking activists are hardly declaring victory. They’re expressing cautious optimism at best that the Senate will ultimately reject the legislation.
“I think we’ve got a fighting chance,” said Brian Lee, lobbyist for the Floridians Against Fracking coalition. “Because the opposition to this bill is bipartisan. And the support for this bill is not.”
Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, said the legislation has stalled in the Senate because of “serious questions” he and other senators have about the impact fracking could have on Florida’s aquifer, the source of the state’s drinking water supply, and the preemption of local decision making.
“At this juncture, anything can happen,” he said. “Votes are shifting as we speak. So it’s a real dynamic situation in the Senate, especially now, since it’s up to us solely.”
Soto said he’s also seeking answers from DEP. The agency, in an email to the Tallahassee Democrat, said it will continue to attend committee hearings and make itself available for any questions by lawmakers.
Bills would overturn local bans
Fracking involves the pumping of water or acid into wells at great depths and pressures to release oil and gas from rock formations. Though versions of it date back to the turn of the century, the technology has evolved considerably over the years. Now, far more water — up to millions of gallons — is used in hydraulic fracturing.
Supporters say fracking would bring jobs to the state, boost the economy and increase domestic supplies. In 2014, the U.S. became the global leader in oil and natural gas production, in part because of the proliferation of fracking wells in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio.
But fracking has sparked intense controversy over its potentially harmful effects on human health and the environment, particularly water supplies. Environmental groups and others say chemicals used in the process have contaminated wells and led to problems from earthquakes to illnesses.
Last year, Sen. Richter, and Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, offered similar bills to create regulations around fracking, but they unraveled when the regular session imploded over health care disagreements.
Since then, a growing number of Florida cities and counties, including  Bonita Springs and Estero, have enacted their own fracking bans or otherwise approved resolutions opposing the legislation. Cape Coral is discussing enacting a ban. Activists say more than 60 percent of the state’s population live in places where such measures have passed.
Richter and Rodrigues added language to this year’s legislation (SB 318 and HB 191) that would overturn the bans and pre-empt to the state all regulation of oil and gas exploration, development, production, processing, storage and transportation. The amended House bill and a Senate committee substitute would allow local government a say in zoning matters involving fracking, as long as they didn’t amount to a ban.
Backing the bill are groups including the Florida Petroleum Council and the influential Associated Industries of Florida. David Mica, executive director of the council, said he’s confident questions from lawmakers will be addressed in upcoming hearings.
“I think that when the senators look at the current regulatory scheme of oil and gas, and they look at what Sen. Richter has done in terms of trying to put together a package of recommendations and requirements going forward," he said, "I think they will conclude that the path they’re on is better than what the naysayers would say.”
Fracking legislation
Fracking legislation passed overwhelmingly in the House, despite opposition from outnumbered Democrats, and is now under consideration in the Senate. The legislation would do the following:
●  Pre-empt to the state all regulation involving the exploration, development, production, processing, storage and transportation of oil and gas.
●  Require DEP to consider the possibility of groundwater contamination when reviewing permits.
●  Require companies to disclose to DEP chemicals used in the process for disclosure on the public database FracFocus. The agency would not disclose to the database chemicals considered trade secrets unless ordered by a court. Companies would have 60 days from the time a well is fracked to disclose the chemicals.
●  Appropriate $1 million for DEP to conduct a comprehensive study on fracking.
Related:           Bill controls fracking  Daytona Beach News-Journal

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Lake O discharge affecting charter business, captain says
FOX4now.com – by Stephanie Tinoco
February 6, 2016
CAPE CORAL, Fla.- One local charter captain says the Lake Okeechobee release is effecting his business and the causing harm to the marine life in the Caloosahatchee River. 
Captain David Menist tells Fox 4 he is out on the water pretty much every day, and the release of the water from Lake Okeechobee is bad news. 
"The problem is the bad water has come down and killed everything alive in the waster and if it hasn't killed it, it has ran away." says Menist. "I've had to cancel tons of stuff I had on the books for people on fishing trips". 
Since the release, the dip in local tourism has him wondering how he is going to provide for his son, and how this city is going to thrive like it can. 
But it isn't just David's customers noticing the effects of the release. Visitors from out of state say the Florida waters no longer resemble what they're known for. 
One visitor from Michigan told us, "When I came down here, I wanted to see crystal clear water, and then to come and see that. It's even darker than my lake at home is just unbelievable.

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Lake Okeechobee draining 10 billion gallons a day
TheRealDeal - Mike Seemuth
February 6, 2016
Corps of Engineers lowering the lake level after the rainiest January in more than 80 years
After the rainiest January in more than 80 years, the Army Corps of Engineers is releasing more than 10 billion gallons of water a day from Lake Okeechobee to reduce pressure on a dike that protects South Florida from flooding.
The lake level increased in January by 1.5 feet above sea level and hit 16.25 feet last week.
That is well above the range of 12.5 feet to 15.5 feet that the Corps of Engineers tries to maintain to hold down pressure on the dike.
The dike is prone to erosion and ranks nationwide among dikes most vulnerable to failure.
Rainfall across all parts of South Florida since November has averaged 16.22 inches, about 10 inches above normal.
The Corps of Engineers last week increased its lake-draining volume to the maximum levels: 4.9 billion gallons a day into the St. Lucie River to the east, and 6 billion gallons a day into the Caloosahatchee River to the west.
Draining Lake Okeechobee can hurt lakeside tourism and damage the environment. Large lake discharges into salty estuaries can damage coastal fishing areas and spawn algae blooms that make swimming in coastal water hazardous.
But “right now, our main priority is public safety” from potential flooding, Jim Jeffords, chief of Army Corps of Engineers operations in Florida, told the Sun-Sentinel. [Sun-Sentinel]

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Let voters endorse future of 20/20
News-Press.com - Editorial
February 6, 2016
A trail along Conservation 2020's Pine Lake Preserve in Bonita Springs.(Photo: File)
On Feb. 16, Lee County Commissioners will probably vote on proceeding with a referendum to take the successful and revised Conservation 2020 land program back before voters for their endorsement.
Although they are under no legal obligation to do so, we urge the commissioners to allow the voters to decide the future of the program, as was the case 20 years ago when the electorate saw the need to protect the environment and use their tax dollars to buy land for preservation and recreational use.
We support the 20/20 program and what it has accomplished. We also believe the vote is important not only for the environment but also to restore trust among the voters. That trust was eroded three years ago, when county commissioners used about $26 million from the land acquisition fund to balance the general fund budget. It was a necessary and legal move because of a budget shortfall, which put many necessary programs vital to residents in jeopardy of being cut if the money was not used.
At the time, The News-Press endorsed the move for several reasons:
The 20/20 funds were robust, with about $100 million in the bank.
Land acquisitions had slowed to crawl. There was only about $3 million a year being spent on land buys and management of previously acquired land, but about $25 million a year coming into the fund from property taxes.
There was no reason to deplete general fund reserves to dangerous levels and impact bond ratings when there was plenty of money in the land fund to balance the budget.
In the first non-binding referendum in 1996, 54 percent of the electorate endorsed the program. Recent changes – many recommended by a Blue Ribbon Committee of land experts about four years ago – have set the program up to be environmentally profitable as 20/20 focuses on using existing and future lands to improve water quality through water storage and water recharge of local aquifers.
This is a program with about 25,000 acres in conservation and with a bright future as the county tries to balance future growth with environmental preservation – a must to ensure adequate water supplies, protect natural flood plains, restoration of impaired ecosystems, take care of  wildlife and provide recreational opportunities that benefit residents and also the economy.
The News-Press editorial board met with representatives from several environmental groups, including the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Audubon Florida, Audubon Western Everglades, Estero Council of Community Leaders and the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation. They all applaud the changes made last year to an ordinance to enhance the future of 20/20, many resulting from their recommendations.
What was surprising to our board was the environmental groups do not want the program to go back before voters – at least this year – because the program is in such good shape. With land acquisition and management plans and water quality strategies in place, there was – in essence – nothing to vote on. They also are concerned that throwing this referendum on what will be another busy ballot on Nov. 8, hurts its chances of passing because, they believe, it could get lost among other amendments or referendums, or misinterpreted.
Or, voters may just be angry that money removed from the program three years ago to balance the budget without their approval violated the authority they gave commissioners in 1996 to take their votes and build a land conservation program.
We disagree, for the following reasons:
It’s simply time to bring it back before voters. There is a different electorate now, many who did not vote or were not old enough to vote in 1996 may want to weigh in and endorse the need to take their property tax money to protect and enhance our environment.
The last vote has for all practical purposes expired. It was only to last seven years to begin with, but was renewed for another seven. The commissioners were not obligated then to continue with the program, but they did, recognizing the importance of preserving our natural resources.
Restoring voter trust. The anger that resonated in 2013 still lingers. Many voters remain unhappy commissioners took from the fund that they thought was untouchable – based on the first, non-binding referendum. Why not put the voters back in charge and recover that trust?
One of the blue ribbon committee's recommendations was to return the issue to the voters, a recommendation the commissioners agreed to in 2014.
Give the voters some credit. The environmental groups say residents they have talked with the most are pleased with the changes to the program. They also said there was not enough time between now and Nov. 8 to launch the right education campaign to inform voters. These groups knew two years ago, when it was discussed to bring the issue back before voters in 2014, that 2016 would probably be the year for a vote. They should have been proactive then and created the resources necessary to inform voters.
We believe voters will understand what they are voting for and will find it on the ballot. Besides, the voting culture has changed greatly from past elections. This time, more people will vote by mail. In theory, that should give voters more time to research candidates, referendums and amendments from their digital devices.
We encourage residents to show up and give voice during the public input portion of the commissioners’ meeting on Feb. 16. It is important to share your thoughts.
It appears at this point, the commissioners will vote 4-1 to move forward with crafting language for a ballot item. Once that is done, there will be another vote, probably some time in the spring. The News-Press called all five commissioners this week and three of them – Larry Kiker, Cecil Pendergrass and Brian Hamman – said they would vote for a referendum. John Manning said he would vote with the majority. Commissioner Frank Mann said he doesn't believe in "referendum government."
Let the voters decide. We believe they will endorse the program’s future. We certainly do.
BREAKOUT
Key dates
April 21, 2015: Lee County Commissioners approve revisions to the Conservation 20/20 ordinance; the revisions were the result of 18 months of work by stakeholders that included 15 work sessions, workshops and meetings.
Dec. 15, 2015: Commissioners hold work session to discuss several implementation items of the Conservation 20/20 program, following the April 21 revisions.
Jan. 19: Commissioners approve public hearing Feb. 16 to consider whether or not to proceed with a Conservation 20/20 Program "non-binding" referendum on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.
Feb. 16: At the regularly scheduled meeting, public input will be taken on the agenda item before a vote by the board asking whether to proceed with a referendum.
What’s next: If the commissioners vote to proceed, staff will begin drafting proposed language for the ballot, which will come back to the board for a public hearing and approval at a to-be-determined date this spring.

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Permit seeks 500K gallons a day from aquifer
Daily Commercial – by Scott Callahan
February 6, 2016
BUSHNELL — An Ocala company wants to sink a well and pump nearly a half-million gallons of water a day near Bushnell and sell it to a Leesburg bottling company.
SWR Properties’ water use permit request is currently under review by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or SWFWMD.
The company owns about 10 acres southeast of the intersection of County Road 470 and State Road 301, northeast of Bushnell, that contains what has been called Fern Spring and Heart Spring.
“Overall, this is a very good site for a spring water withdrawal project, utilizing a well, drilled to public supply standards, that is constructed near a flowing spring with excellent water quality, high spring flow rate, and definite hydrogeologic connection between the spring and well,” according to company agent Vivian Bielski, of Andreyev Engineering in Hudson, in one of the application documents.
SWR Properties bought the parcel in 2012, and it appears that's when Bielski evaluated the springs, according to documents, because two months ago, after a site visit on Dec. 23, SWFWMD senior geologist Ralph O. Kerr said neither spring was flowing.
“The potentiometric surface (water table) would have to rise several feet for either pool to flow,” he said in a report. “There was no evidence that water has flowed out of the pools for quite some time.”
In an email to SWFWMD, Tallahassee geologist Scott Sigler said the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services might have a problem with the water being advertised as coming from a spring when, in this case, it might not be coming from an “underground formation which flows naturally to the surface of the earth through a natural orifice under natural force.”
SWR Properties is seeking to pump 496,000 gallons of water a day for 20 years — 4,000 less than the 500,000-gallon threshold needed to schedule a public meeting on the permit application, according to Kerr.
Summerfield resident Russ Cuddy sent SWFWMD a letter of opposition to the permit, pointing out that residents have been asked to conserve water.
"Also, there are businesses and housing projects which will need water in the area," he wrote.
Arlene Smith, a resident of The Villages, also touched upon current watering limitations.
"If we have such an abundance (of water in the ground), why do we have water restrictions?" she wrote. "We need our own water. To sell this precious resource is sinful."
Fruitland Park resident Bertha Erickson complained about giving away water for the sake of commerce.
"We will run out of water," she wrote. "Just a matter of time before it is gone."
A Hydrogeologic Impact Analysis, prepared by Bielski last November, calculated the Floridan aquifer will be impacted by only a few inches in the immediate area of the proposed well.
"Therefore, there are reasonable assurances that the requested withdrawals will not significantly impact the Floridan aquifer, major spring complexes, and legal existing users in the area of the proposed withdrawals," she wrote.
There is an existing monitoring well on the property which will be used to monitor this drawdown, according to other documents.
If granted a permit, SWR Properties has an agreement to sell the water to Azure Water, which has an about 15,000-square-foot bottled water co-packing operation at 1903 Greenleaf Lane, off Tally Road, in Leesburg.
In turn, Azure would sell the water to existing clients like Publix, Nestle, DS Water and the Niagra Bottling Company. Permit documents show Azure has other potential bottled water buyers that include big-box stores like Wal-Mart, Sams, Target and Kmart; grocery store chains like Winn-Dixie, Kroger, Fresh Market and Whole Foods; convenience store chains like 7-Eleven, Race Trac, Wawa and Hess; and drug stores like Walgreens and CVS.
Azure — founded in Hudson in 2006 and expanded to Leesburg in 2013 — has the capability of producing 14,000 customizable bottles of water an hour or 5,000 cases a day, according to the company’s website. A single-serving bottle manufacturing and filling component was added to the business two years ago, adding to the gallon-jug line.
It currently produces purified water using Leesburg’s municipal water — that has been triple-filtered, ozonated and purified by reverse osmosis — and spring water from a couple of other Florida springs — Wildwood Springs and Orange Springs — that are also used by other bottlers.
Bielski said the "proposed withdrawal source would help satisfy existing demand that is currently under-supplied through existing spring water sources," according to documents.
Besides sinking a 10-inch-wide well, SWR Properties plans to build a pumping station, driveway and modular office building on the site. Eighty 6,200-gallon trucks per day on average and 144 trucks on a peak month daily average would ship the water to Azure, according to documents.
There is no timetable for when SWFWMD could approve or deny the permit, but Azure's 20-year buy offer comes with a clause saying the water must be delivered beginning this calendar year.
SWR Properties said in documents it hopes to be up and running by November.

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Emergency Lake O water releases underway
FOX4now.com – by Karl Fortier
February 5, 2016
The Army Corps of Engineers is sending more dirty lake water down the Caloosahatchee River from Lake Okeechobee, in an effort to relieve high water levels from record rainfall. The big lake's level was at 16 feet, it's highest level since 2005. Previous water releases have already discolored the Caloosahatchee River, as well as the area where the river empties into the Gulf of Mexico.
Jennifer Hecker, Director of Natural Resource Policy for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, said that the water releases from Okeechobee bring more than just brown water. She said that the releases also carry bacteria, nutrient pollution and changes in salinity that aquatic life downriver can't handle.
“That can cause oysters to die off, sea grasses to die off," Hecker said. "The nutrients can suck the dissolved oxygen out of the water to the point that fish can no longer breathe."
 
She said that the water from Okeechobee needs to be diverted south of the big lake - which means acquiring agricultural lands to make it happen.
"Ultimately we need to move this water back to where it historically belongs, which is to the Everglades and Florida Bay, which desperately need this water," Hecker said.
She said that she's optimistic that solutions can be implemented to eliminate the need to dump lake runoff into the Caloosahatchee.
"When we do that, we'll see our river and estuary return to the gorgeous, clear blue sandy-bottom river and estuary that it used to be," Hecker said.
She said that two legislative bills - the Legacy Florida bill at the state level, and the Everglades For The Next Generation Act at the federal level, would provide more funding for Everglades restoration to lessen the need to release Lake Okeechobee runoff water into the river.
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Experts: Lake O discharge killing off marine life, state needs to act
CBS12.com - by Cory Pippin
February 5th 2016
LAKE OKEECHOBEE — Local experts say oysters and other marine life are already dying off after record rainfall led to the biggest freshwater discharge into the St. Lucie Estuary in years.
Billions of gallons of dirty water is being pumped from Lake Okeechobee each Day in an effort to lower water levels.
Local scientists say it has already hit the waters around Sandsprit Park where The Department of Health has advised that no one enter the water due to increased levels of bacteria and toxic algae.
Experts believe this is just a sign of worse conditions to come.
The Army Corps of Engineers say the amount of water they're releasing depends on how much more rainfall the area gets.
A representative with the Army Corps of Engineers say it's necessary to lower water levels in Lake Okeechobee which are the highest they've been since 2005.
But Mark Perry, with the Florida Oceanographic Society, says something should have been done a long time ago.
"We've known about this El Nino and the heavy, heavy rainfall during our dry season," said Perry.
About 2 and a half to 3 billion gallons will be released each day.
That's nearly the amount dumped in 2013 when algae blooms killed off thousands of acres of seagrass and numerous marine life.
Perry says the amount being released is enough to reduce salinity to fatal levels and bring back the toxic algae.
"Oyster reefs, the seagrass beds, everything is interrupted. Even all the way to the offshore reefs," Perry said.
Crystal Lucas, environmental activist, says land need to be purchased south and the water should be funneled to the Everglades which are in desperate need.
"Iinstead of watching our lagoon die and be crippled and watch our tourism and real estate crumble, we would be able to promote Eco-tourism," said Lucas.
Perry says the state has the funding through the Land Acquisition Trust Fund yet nothing has been done.
"The solution is to get on and buy the land and store the water and make the project!," Perry said.
Officials have to lower the levels of the lake by 4 feet before June.

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Goodbye Everglades
Naples Daily News – Letter by Stanislaw Majewski, Naples, FL
February 5, 2016
With 1,000 people a day moving to Florida and rampant development everywhere, people are asking where the water is coming from.
It's simple. We are draining the Everglades. Where else? It makes sense. We drain the Everglades (sound familiar?), the vegetation dries out.
We burn and clear the land. The pythons are taking care of the wildlife. That leaves millions of acres available for further rampant development.
The developers make huge profits and the counties bring in big revenues. It's a win-win game. The developers win, the counties win, but in the end everyone loses.

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US Sen. Bill NELSON




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Nelson’s Everglades bill has slim chance of passing
TCPalm - by Isadora Rangel
February 5, 2016
None of the four bills U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson filed since 2012 to expedite projects caught in red tape to clean the Everglades and St. Lucie River has progressed in Congress.
And it's not looking good for a fifth bill he filed Feb. 2, three days after Lake Okeechobee discharges started.
The Florida Democrat's bill — filed with bipartisan House sponsors — would authorize a dozen projects estimated to curb discharges by about 14 percent.
The odds are stacked against them: Only 3 percent of bills became law during Congress' last full legislative period from 2013 to 2015. That's 296 bills for 435 House members and 100 senators, according to data compiled by the website GovTrack.
Getting any bill passed in a gridlocked Congress is hard, but even harder for a bill that affects only one region of a state, making it a low priority for other lawmakers on Capitol Hill, said Julie Hill-Gabriel, director of Everglades policy at Audubon Florida.
"I think there's just a lack of work product from Congress in general in recent years," Hill-Gabriel said. "I don't think it says anything against this particular piece of legislation."
NOT ALL IS LOST
There's still a chance Congress will pass a comprehensive bill that authorizes billions for water and maritime infrastructure projects across the country, including the Everglades. The House and Senate already started gathering a list of projects that qualify and plan to consider it this year.
Congress is supposed to pass the Water Resource Development Act every two years, but it took seven years to pass the last one in 2014. That's why Nelson and other lawmakers, in the meantime, introduced bills to approve Everglades projects pending the congressional green-light, including the Central Everglades Planning Project.
CEPP, designed to move Lake Okeechobee water south, didn't make it into the 2014 WRDA bill because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hadn't finished a report to approve it.
Nelson, Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Reps. Bill Posey and Patrick Murphy filed a joint bill last year to authorize CEPP. The corps finished its report, but Congress still hasn't heard that bill. It has until the end of this year.
With the prospect that CEPP could get approved this year through WRDA anyway, Nelson filed his latest bill to expedite any projects the corps approves within the next five years to restore the Everglades and before another WRDA bill is passed. He also will push to include the language from this bill in the WRDA bill, his office said.
Projects still pending corps approval, which won't make it into this year's potential WRDA bill, include the Loxahatchee River, C-111 Canal and Biscayne Bay in Miami, Hill-Gabriel said.
HELP FROM SCOTT
Republican Gov. Rick Scott could provide a boost by lobbying Congress members on behalf of Nelson's most recent bill, said Frank Jackalone, Florida staff director of the Sierra Club.
Scott called out President Barack Obama last year to catch up on what Florida has spent on restoration. Scott's environmental platform has been to finish a multitude of projects to clean the Everglades and the St. Lucie River before considering other options to move Lake Okeechobee water south, such as buying additional land to build reservoirs.
"The governor of a state has sway with the Republican leadership of Congress," Jackalone said. "This opportunity shows (Scott) is going to put muscle behind his word."
Yet Scott is considering running for Nelson's Senate seat in 2018, so supporting a bill by the Democrat could go against Scott's political aspirations. The bill has a Republican sponsor in the House, Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who filed it with Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach.
"He doesn't have to stand next to Nelson," Jackalone said. "He can stand next to Diaz-Balart."

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Red tide is back, with fish kills and warnings
Herald-Tribune - by Michael Scott Davidson
February 5, 2016 at 5:47 p.m.
If you are going to the beach this weekend, brace for red tide.
A highly concentrated patch of red tide likely caused the death of hundreds of fish that washed ashore on beaches near the border of Sarasota and Charlotte counties this week.
This weekend dense algae patches are expected to appear in the waters of Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties, according to a forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
NOAA warns the algae, called Karenia brevis, will be highly concentrated in areas of northern Sarasota County, the northern Sarasota County bay regions, the southern Manatee bay regions and the southern Charlotte bay regions.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission defines high concentrations as more than 1 million Karenia brevis cells per liter of water.
On Thursday afternoon, North Port resident Michael Sweeney saw firsthand the deadly effects of red tide at Blind Pass Beach in Englewood.
“It was covered with dead fish, a mile in each direction,” Sweeney said. “I've never seen that quantity and that consistency of an entire beach littered with them... In some areas I could stand in one spot and see 10 or 20 fish.”
Sweeney said he had to dodge dead fish as he walked down the beach. About 15 minutes into his stroll, he started to feel a bit sick.
“I noticed my throat was raspy. Not really a cough, but I had to clear my throat,” he said. “My eyes started to burn. Almost like I had been awake for 24 hours.”
While they're not deadly to humans, toxins produced by red tide can make for an unpleasant day at the beach. Common respiratory irritation symptoms include coughing, runny nose and itchy eyes. Swimmers can also suffer skin irritation.
The Florida Department of Health advises people with severe or chronic respiratory conditions, such as emphysema or asthma, to avoid red tide areas.
A red tide bloom has been located off the coast of Southwest Florida since September, said Vincent Lovko, a staff scientist at Mote Marine Laboratory.
“It's not anything unusually alarming in the context of red tide,” Lovko said. "In the past we've had blooms that have lasted more than a year.”
The scientist said it is common for high concentrations of red tide to kill fish. The effects on humans and fish become more apparent when wind and water currents are aimed toward the shore.
“It basically causes fish to suffocate because it paralyzes their gills,” he said. “When the wind's blowing toward the shore, even if the fish have died in a patch farther offshore they can wash up on the beach.”
Red tide is always present in the gulf, at least in low concentrations. But Lovko said this concentrated bloom will likely meet its end when currents scatter the algae.
“Weather systems moving through haven't occurred at enough strength to cause our bloom to disperse,” he said.
Dead fish were also scattered across Nokomis Beach on Friday.
The day before, Mark Timchula reported seeing 30 to 40 dead fish washed ashore on Englewood Beach.
The fish and smell were gone by Friday, said Timchula, a beach-front vendor well known as the Beach Guy.
“It came quickly and it left quickly,” he said.

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Beware of dirty water: Locks opening to the "max" Friday
CBS12.com - by Jana Escbhach
February 4, 2016
STUART (CBS12) — A record rainfall amount measured in the region, that water managers say is seen once in a quarter century from an unnamed storm.
The Army Corps of Engineers and water managers are trying to move that water away from Lake Okeechobee, that has risen in depth to 16.25' this week.
The gates open wider tomorrow to allow the maximum levels of relases in Stuart from Lake Okeechobee, it can be as high as 5 billion gallons daily, but engineers say it's likely to be closer to 4 billion. Regardless, the amount of water is nearly twice as much water than what is being released now. "Even with the discharges that started last week, the lake continues to rise," said Col. Jason Kirk, Jacksonville District Commander. "With additional rain in the forecast, we believe we must further increase flows to reverse the upward trend of the lake."
 
The billion plus gallons flowing now in Stuart is just the opening act.
The Army Corps of engineers announced today they'll increase the flow here at a rate 3 times this volume.
The announcement read in part, "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District will further increase flows from Lake Okeechobee this weekend in an effort to stem the rise in water level brought about by recent heavy precipitation. Starting Friday (Feb. 5), the Corps will remove specific target flows and release as much water as practical through Moore Haven Lock (S-77) located on the west side of the lake, and the Port Mayaca Lock (S-308) located on the east side of the lake. The lake stage is 16.25 feet, the highest since Dec. 12, 2005. Depending on runoff and other factors, the Corps could achieve flows from the lake up to 9,300 cubic feet per second (cfs) in the Caloosahatchee basin and up to 7,600 cfs in the St. Lucie basin."
It's sending plume that now extends miles south in the ocean and soon will travel even farther.
"The snowbirds haven't seen this. This is new for them," said Kenny Hinkle, President of Bullsugar.org, an organization fighting to send the water south. Hinkle says tourists can't ignore the impact. The water from the canals from Fort Pierce to Jupiter south runs black.
"Now they are going to be here and this is their time to spend on the water and go boating and enjoy beautiful Florida and this is what they are finding," Hinkle said.
South Florida Water Managers at their meeting Thursday showed the panel why all this pumping and dumping is necessary. A map outlined the region hit by a once in a quarter century rainfall.
That's our entire region. The 2-day total raised the Lake elevation by 10 inches to the highest since 2005
James Erskine with the Water Resource Advisory Committee, said "storage is needed north of the Lake. Storage is needed south of the lake."
Their map shows the red gates are pumping water south and east at the maximum levels, and every gate is red heading east west and south. Not one drop pumped into Treasure Coast and Palm Beach County waterways and canals is filtered, and its laden with chemicals and fertilizers.
When the dirty water comes, the salinity on the lagoon drops. With the announcement they will increase the discharges, scientists say all those oysters we've been bagging as a community to clean our river are all going to die within a week.
But, with the lake at over 16 feet the Army Corps Engineers have their duties to protect and manage the Lake, and their hands are tied.
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Don’t blame El Niño for discharges into St. Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon
TCPalm – Editorial
February 4, 2016
It is so easy to blame the rain for the polluted water now flowing from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.
After all, an average 9.18 inches fell across South Florida in January, making it the wettest month in the region since record-keeping began in 1932.
El Niño is back — and all that water needs to go somewhere.
So blame the rain.
Or not.

  El Nino
El Nino - a stretch of warmer water temperature in the Pacific Ocean (CLICK for enlarged details)
The truth is, the rain wouldn't be the culprit in this recurring environmental disaster if our elected and appointed officials had been serious about funding and facilitating projects to move water south of the lake.
Instead, they've delayed action, diverted funds and given deference to polluters.
Even now, as communities east and west of Lake Okeechobee prepare for the destruction of their waterways, state lawmakers continue ignoring the original intent of Amendment 1. That constitutional amendment, approved in November 2014 by a resounding 75 percent of Florida voters, was supposed to set aside one-third of "documentary stamp" taxes on real estate transactions over 20 years to preserve land and water.
Voters eagerly anticipated an annual investment of about $750 million "to acquire, restore, improve and manage conservation lands, including wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; lands protecting water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglades, and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams."
The amendment didn't call for raising taxes. It merely called for the state to spend about 1 percent of its massive $77 billion budget each year for clean water and land preservation.
But Florida lawmakers had different ideas.
Of the $740 million appropriated in 2015 from Amendment 1, legislators earmarked $192 million to general operating expenses. Less than 12 percent of money earmarked by the amendment — $88.7 million — went to land acquisition.
And lawmakers are up to their same shenanigans this year.
Budget proposals released by the state House and Senate show about $200 million from Amendment 1 going into salaries, benefits, insurance costs and vehicle purchases. We seriously doubt voters thought their support of the amendment would translate into a $7 million expenditure for administrative and executive salaries at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, or $2.5 million for salaries at the historic resources division of the Florida Department of State.
But both are proposed in the Senate budget plan.
Another legislative proposal — House Bill 1075 — would divert Amendment 1 funds for the purchase of pumps and pipes for water supply projects.
At seemingly every turn, lawmakers move farther and farther away from the original intent of Amendment 1: land acquisition and water preservation.
Water supply projects are different from water preservation projects.
One of the few bright spots in the Legislature is a bill filed by Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, that would require 25 percent — or $200 million — to be allocated through Amendment 1 for Everglades and Lake Okeechobee restoration, including projects that directly benefit the lagoon. The bill has support from Republican House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Gov. Rick Scott, as well as presumptive House Speaker Joe Negron, R-Stuart.
Still, $200 million falls far short of the $750 million lawmakers have at their disposal each year with respect to Amendment 1 funds.
On Jan. 30, discharges from Lake Okeechobee began flowing through the Port Mayaca Dam — and into the St. Lucie River — at a rate of about 291 million gallons a day. Three days earlier, the South Florida Water Management District began pumping water out of farmland and communities south of the lake.
Where did it go ?
Back into Lake Okeechobee.
This process, known as "back-pumping," continued for four days at a rate of slightly more than 1 billion gallons a day.
All this water — contaminated with pollutants that will foul our waterways — is heading our way.
Meanwhile, water management officials are acting like they've done all they can.
Kevin Powers, vice chair of the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board, released a statement Friday defending the agency's actions.
"Faced with this record-setting rainfall, water managers are working to provide flood control while minimizing harm to natural areas such as the St. Lucie Estuary. However, options are limited with water storage areas already full," Powers wrote.
Options are limited because leaders, including Powers, have failed to take bold action.
Corps officials said the discharges could last "for weeks, if not months."
Blame the rain?
That's one explanation.
Related -          TCPalm:          House, Senate again budget Amendment 1 money for operating expenses
Proposal still uses Amendment 1 money for routine expenses
Check which Treasure Coast lawmakers’ bills progressed in week 3 of session
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Fixing Everglades means stopping discharges into rivers
Palm Beach Post – Point of View by John Poggi, Okeechobee, President of Eco Advisors in Palm Beach Gardens
February 4, 2016
Lake Okeechobee’s current stage is greater than 16 feet, well above what water managers would like in the middle of the “dry season.” That means we can expect massive discharges of polluted water to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers shortly, if not already begun.
Compounding the problem, the South Florida Water Management District recently began “back-pumping” operations to drain polluted agricultural/sugar cane fields directly back into Lake Okeechobee (“Polluted water back-pumped into Lake O,” Feb. 2).
“Back-pumping” is allowed only in extreme emergencies, since the back-pumped water contains extremely high concentrations of nutrients and other agricultural chemicals, thus making the lake’s water quality even worse.
Lake Okeechobee discharges cause algae blooms, and they introduce high nutrient concentrations and vast quantities of freshwater (yes, even clean freshwater is a contaminant to a marine ecosystem) into our coastal estuaries. Marine mammals, birds, fish, oysters and sea grasses in its direct path will become ill or die, and algae blooms are known to make humans sick.
Scientists have known for decades how to solve this. To avoid these discharges we must store the water, clean it, and send the clean water south, back to the Everglades, where it is needed. Sending the clean water south will restore the original pre-altered flows of a now crippled Everglades system.
To address the sources of the nutrient contamination that accumulates in the lake, the state of Florida must stop allowing filthy water to enter Lake Okeechobee from the north.
State regulators continue to allow agricultural and development interests in the Kissimmee Valley — from Orlando south to Okeechobee — to constantly discharge water — in violation of clean water standards — contaminated with manure, fertilizer and other agricultural runoff into the Kissimmee River, which flows directly into the lake.
A virtual “honor system” of self-regulating best management practices is all that they must comply with.
Once in the lake, there is no natural way for the pollutants to escape. The pollutants are discharged into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers when regulated flood-protection lake levels are exceeded, as we are about to witness yet again.
Many of us, here in Okeechobee and along both coasts, are affected. Our environment, tourism, local economies and recreation all take a big hit when these discharges happen. We hear the rhetoric about the actions necessary to prevent the discharges and how water officials’ hands are tied by the politicians when the discharges occur.
We don’t, however, see any actions taking place that will prevent this from happening again the next time the lake needs to be lowered.
Restoring the Everglades and discontinuing the discharges to the estuaries takes the political will to consistently fund projects designed to fix the system — and funding them every year, not just in the years that rainfall amounts require these discharges.
Let’s make sure our lawmakers know we actually want them to do something besides make excuses.
Related:           Emergency Lake O water releases underway Fox 4
Rising water levels at Lake O raise pressure on SW Fla.        WZVN-TV
Lake water gushing down Caloosahatchee River       The News-Press

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Florida governor declares Zika emergency
WeUpIt.com - by Steven Harrison
February 4, 2016
The governor declared a state of emergency, and encouraged Florida residents and visitors to protect themselves from all mosquito-borne illnesses by draining standing water; covering their skin with repellent and clothing; covering windows with screens; and other basic precautions.
Dallas County Health and Human Services says the patient, who remains anonymous, became infected after having sexual contact with someone who was ill and had returned from a country where the Zika virus is present.
The Georgia Department of Public Health has confirmed the first travel-related case of the Zika virus in the state.
“We have to ensure Florida is prepared and stays ahead of the spread of the Zika virus in our state”, Gov. Rick Scott said in a news release.
“There are many things we don’t know about Zika”, he said.
Scott signed the order to cover Miami-Dade, Lee, Hillsborough and Santa Rosa counties. “This would include men who have travelled to a Zika endemic area and have symptoms, or those who may have had mosquito bites in an area where Zika is being transmitted”, says Pavia.
Zika virus is transmitted through mosquito mites.
South American health ministers meeting in Uruguay have pledged to work together in the fight against Zika. However, a case in Texas had been linked to sexual transmission.
The World Health Organization on Monday declared the threat of the Zika virus an worldwide public health emergency, a move it has made only three times before, and called on the global community to fight the disease and expedite the development of a vaccine. Pregnant women who must travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor or other healthcare professional first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip.
The Zika virus is barely detectable in adults, but has devastating effects on unborn children.
But, he added, if someone traveled to a country with an outbreak and thinks they could have been infected, they should use a condom to prevent possible transmission.
“Under the sexual transmission, since 80 percent will not have symptoms, that’s a concern”, Thompson said.
And the NHS has banned travellers coming from Zika affected countries from giving blood for 28 days in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus.
Based on the order, the state’s agriculture department takes measures, such as spraying against mosquitoes.
Related:           Zika mosquitoes' habits may foil U.S. elimination efforts      The Japan Times
Questions abound as Zika virus cases grow in US     CBS News-16 hours ago
 FIU Panel Offers Reassurance On Zika        WLRN-14 hours ago

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Fracking is latest threat to the Everglades
Gainesville.com - by Chelsea Skojec, Special to The Sun
February 4, 2016
A bill introduced in by state Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, would remove the right of local municipalities to issue resolutions or pass ordinances banning fracking, consolidating the authority and oversight of oil drilling to a single state agency. The bill would void dozens of ordinances already in place, and streamline the permit process for oil companies to drill in the Everglades.
On Jan. 24, the House voted in favor of a similar measure, 73-45, primarily along party lines, while the same issue is being moved forward in a companion bill sponsored by Richter.
Richter’s bill moved forward in the Senate after the Environmental Protection and Conservation Committee amended several aspects of it. The amendments strengthened the oversight of fracking, but still permit this destructive process to be executed despite the known adverse environmental affects it causes where it is implemented, heavily outweighing any benefits from what oil is extracted.
The bill also strips the ability of residents in a community to effectively organize and have their voices heard on what is done in their own backyard. The bill is now headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the last stop before being put to a vote on the Senate floor.
Richter is pushing his bill through under the pretense that a study on potential water contamination will be conducted before drilling begins. But based on what is known about fracking, and the fragility of Florida’s porous limestone foundation to seepage, taking the risk would jeopardize Florida’s major fresh water source.
“We need to responsibly do everything we can to be less dependent on others,” Richter told the Miami Herald. “For 70 years we’ve been drilling for oil in the state of Florida and in fact over 600 million barrels of oil have been produced from 1,000 wells without any adverse impact.”
Richter, a former banker, is confusing traditional oil drilling methods with fracking. If there were no adverse impacts to oil drilling, the bill wouldn’t include measures to study and look for potential adverse impacts. Due to similar risks, Florida banned offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. As sustainable and renewable energy technologies improve and the markets for them grow, the oil industry has been looking for any means necessary to squeeze out profits, such as fracking or offshore drilling.
Environmentalists aren’t the only opponents to Richter’s bill. The Florida AFL-CIO federation of labor unions, which represents nearly 1 million Florida workers, adopted a resolution in 2015 in support of a statewide ban on the practice. Broward County i recently introduced a proposal to ban fracking in the county in order to protect the Everglades. Several Democrats in the Senate and House are working to push through bills to ban fracking in Florida.
The technology for safe fracking is non-existent. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process used by oil companies to inject water, sand and chemicals into the ground to release natural gas and oil. In New York, a scientific study led by researchers at Duke University directly linked fracking to flammable drinking water. In Oklahoma, a study led by Professor Katie Keranen of Cornell University directly linked a recent spike in the frequency of earthquakes in the state to fracking.
The oil-drilling practice has also been linked to hundreds of complaints alleging water contamination near fracking sites. More than 1,000 cases of water contamination have been documented by local municipalities in Colorado, New Mexico, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas. For every barrel of oil produced by fracking, 10 barrels of toxic wastewater are produced, which has led to millions of gallons of toxic wastewater spills in leading oil-producing states.
The Everglades is already one of the world's most threatened ecosystems. It is the only area in the United States on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization list of world heritage sites in danger. Sixty seven threatened or endangered species depend on its refuge for survival.
Urban and agricultural development in South Florida have contributed to its downward trend of degradation for decades. Fifty percent of the original Everglades no longer exist due to human encroachment. In 2000, Congress authorized an Everglades restoration plan estimated to cost $10.5 billion. The environmental implications from fracking in the Everglades region are increased exponentially due to its ecological sensitivity.
The Everglades has faced threats from human development for over 100 years, from Gov. Napoleon Broward’s 1904 campaign promise to drain them to a fashion trend decimating bird populations for the plume trade in the early 20th century, to more recently, a deal to purchase 300 square miles of land from U.S. Sugar falling through due to political pressure.
Richter’s bill is continuing the trend of treating the Everglades as a means for resources and monetary gain, free of any repercussions for the millions of people and variety of species that depend on its health and sustainability to survive. If political efforts to abuse the Everglades persist, the future of the Everglades and the campaign to save it cannot succeed.
Related:           Activists Push Miami Republicans To Kill Plan To Frack In Florida Miami New Times
Florida Moves to Join the Fracking Boom, but Many Floridians Fear ...       InsideClimate News
Letter: Fracking threatens us all          St. Augustine Record
Bill Nelson blasts proposal to allow offshore drilling near Florida coast       Centre Daily Times

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Fracking the Everglades ? Many floridians recoil as house approves bill
InsideClimate News - by Zahra Hirji
February 4, 2016
For the third year in a row, a bill to allow the controversial practice passes the state house, while many communities vote to ban it.
South Florida, home to one of the country's most fragile water systems, could be the nation's next fracking frontier.
The Florida House of Representatives voted 73-45 on Jan. 27 to approve a bill that opens the door to fracking by 2017 after the state studies the environmental and public health risks. Next, the bill requires state regulators to draft rules governing the practice, which could begin in 2018 or 2019.
This is the third time in three years the Florida House has passed a version of this bill. But according to its sponsor, Rep. Ray Rodrigues, a Republican from southwestern Florida, the legislation has more momentum this year. The Senate has never made much progress on its equivalent bill—until this year. Currently, the Senate's companion bill is under review by the Committee on Appropriations.
Technically, "fracking is already legal in Florida," said Rodrigues. No companies are currently fracking, and this bill would ensure the proper rules are put in place before they get that chance, he said. Rodrigues is from Lee County, one of the counties in south Florida with fracking potential.
But many Floridians don't want stricter regulations—they want the practice banned altogether. About 20 counties and nearly 40 cities in the state have already passed resolutions either banning fracking locally or supporting a statewide ban, largely out of concern about the threat fracking poses to their water resources and the environment.
The two areas with the most likely frackable resources are in the northwestern corner, or the Florida Panhandle, and parts of south Florida. "Why would we risk ruining our Everglades, the most fragile ecosystem in the country, the jewel of our country?" said Lynn Ringenberg, president of the advocacy group Physicians for Social Responsibility. The area that could be affected is not the Everglades National Park, but a larger region that Floridians still refer to as the Everglades.
Rep. Amanda Murphy, a Democrat from Pasco County, in a heavily Republican part of the state, told InsideClimate News she took notice when her county voted three months ago to support a state ban on fracking. She said one of the most controversial elements of the House bill is that it would void any local fracking ban. This comes on the heels of successful legislation in Texas and Oklahoma to outlaw local bans and other regulation of fracking.
"Here's a group of your peers saying it's a bad idea; they are too fearful to want to move forward," Murphy said. The lawmakers "are not listening to anyone."
The most recent local ban was approved the same day as the House vote last week. A bipartisan mix of officials from Broward County in south Florida banned the controversial practice, which involves blasting sand, water and chemicals down a well to fracture bedrock and extract hard-to-access oil and gas resources.
Kanter Real Estate LLC, a local private company, has already submitted an application to drill for oil and gas in Broward County. Beam Furr, a Broward commissioner, describes the drill site as being "right in the middle of our water supply." It is unclear if this drilling site would involve fracking or conventional oil drilling techniques.
Regulators, residents and environmentalists told InsideClimate News that one of their biggest concerns involves its potential impact on Florida's water system. That's because South Florida's bedrock consists of porous limestone. Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the environmental group South Florida Wildlands Association, described it as "pretty crumbly stuff." Because limestone is very different from the hard rock deposits underlying Texas and North Dakota oilfields, Floridians are concerned this rock won't hold up under hydraulic fracturing; this concern is magnified by the fact that the fracking would take place below the region's natural reservoirs.
"To drill through drinking water...this is kind of insanity," said Schwartz.
Under the recently passed House bill, state regulators are directed to study the threat fracking poses to water.
But Hannah Wiseman, an environmental law professor at Florida State University College of Law, points out that it's unclear whether the study will include looking at how waste disposal, at the surface and underground, could also impact water quality, among other issues.  
"It's possible the Department of Environmental Protection"—the regulators likely to take on the study—"could expand the study beyond the mandate of this proposed bill," said Wiseman. "A comprehensive risk review is extremely expensive."
Rep. Murphy had proposed two amendments specifically relating to water issues: one to test the local water quality before drilling and save that information for five years; another to repeatedly test a site's water quality after drilling commences. Both of those amendments, along with many others, were voted down.
Fracking takes place in about two dozen states. In December 2014, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned the drilling process after a state study determined there is insufficient data available to conclude it would be safe. The studies assessed the human health, environmental and climate change risks. Last May, Maryland approved a moratorium on fracking until October 2017.
Related:           Letter of the Day: Protect fragile Florida from fracking        TBO.com
Editorial: Fracking bad for Florida     Tampabay.com
Seminole County poised to ban fracking        Orlando Sentinel
Fracking too hazardous for Florida    Florida Today

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To avoid S. Fla. flooding, Lake Okeechobee draining to go full blast
Sun Sentinel – by Andy Reid
February 4, 2016
Lake Okeechobee has risen to its highest point in a decade, triggering maximum-level lake water draining out to sea to protect the troubled dike that guards against South Florida flooding.
The lake level hit 16.25 feet above sea level on Thursday after rising about 1.5 feet during the rainiest January in more than 80 years.
The Army Corps of Engineers tries to keep the lake between 12.5 and 15.5 feet to ease the strain on the dike, which is considered one of the country's most at risk of failing.
Lowering the lake by dumping water to the east and west coasts lessens the risk to the erosion-prone dike, but it also wastes water that could otherwise restock South Florida supplies during future droughts.
In addition, big discharges of lake water into normally salty estuaries can wipe out coastal fishing grounds and fuel algae blooms that make coastal waterways unsafe for swimming.
Flooding risks take priority over the environmental repercussions as well as the drop in tourism that can come from lake discharges, according to the Army Corps.
"Right now our main priority is public safety," said Jim Jeffords, the Army Corps chief of operations for Florida.
The Army Corps on Jan. 29 started ratcheting up lake water releases east into the St. Lucie River and west into the Caloosahatchee River.
Now, cranking up to the maximum lake releases starting Friday means discharging up to 4.9 billion gallons of water per day into the St. Lucie River and 6 billion gallons per day into the Caloosahatchee River.
Combined, that equates to filling about 16,500 Olympic-size swimming pools each day.
That influx of lake water threatens to have a devastating effect on coastal waterways, said Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart.
He said the big lake discharges to the coast could have been avoided if federal and state water managers held more water in the vast farming region south of the lake.
"It's outrageous. It's just crazy," Perry said about the shift to maximum lake discharges. "This is just not right."
The El Niño weather pattern, where warming of the eastern Pacific typically translates to a wetter winter in Florida, has been blamed for rising water levels during what is usually Florida's dry season.
Since November, South Florida has averaged about 16.22 inches of rainfall across the region. That's about 10 inches of rain more than usual.
Rainfall on Lake Okeechobee and water draining south from Central Florida boost lake water levels.
Also, water from South Florida's vast farming region, the Everglades Agricultural Area, has recently been pumped north into the lake. While that helped protect lakeside towns as well as sugar cane fields and vegetable farms from flooding, it allowed fertilizers and pollutants that wash off the land to end up in the lake.
A four-day cycle of back pumping near South Bay ended Sunday after dumping about 10 billion gallons of pollution-laden water into Lake Okeechobee. Pumps near Clewiston are still periodically sending water north and into the lake.
The Army Corps estimates that back pumping only equated to boosting lake levels about an inch.
Before decades of draining to make way for South Florida farming and development, Lake Okeechobee's water once naturally overlapped its southern banks and flowed south to replenish the Everglades.
Now, South Florida's flood-control system holds water in the lake, where it can be tapped for irrigation and to boost community supplies. When water levels rise too high, lake water gets redirected out to sea.
The problem is that the lake fills up about three times faster than the Army Corps can drain water.
The rising lake level has already led to increased seeping of water through the southern end of the dike, while no signs of erosion or other damage have occurred, according to the Army Corps.
Dike inspections will continue in frequency as the water level rises.
If El Niño conditions continue into the spring, the lake draining to the coasts could linger for months.
The lake's 70-year-old dike is undergoing a decades-long rehab that could eventually enable it to hold more water.
Everglades restoration is billed as the long-term alternative to dumping lake water out to sea. Environmental advocates have called for state and federal officials to speed up funding for building reservoirs and water-treatment areas to move more lake water south.
"Completing projects outlined in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan is needed now more than ever," Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said. "These projects will allow the discharges to be treated and sent south to areas like Florida Bay that are starving for fresh water instead of being dumped out to sea."
Related:           Lake Okeechobee draining to double; aim is to ease South Florida flood risk          Sun Sentinel
Heavy water release from Lake Okeechobee WPBF West Palm Beach
Dirty Lake O water may continue to spread to SWFL beaches         Wink News

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Red tide adding to water troubles
News-Press.com – by Chad Gillis
February 3, 2016
The bloom comes at a particularly bad time for this region, as the South Florida Water Management District pumped polluted water off farm lands and into Lake Okeechobee for four days last week.
A toxic algal bloom off Southwest Florida could soon be fed by polluted farm water the state and federal government released over the past week.
Red tide counts range from low concentrations to 1 million cells per liter and more in parts of Lee County, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. FWC's scale only goes to 1 million cells per liter, which is enough to cause fish and marine mammal kills as well as cause respiratory issues in humans.
Local water quality scientists have taken measurements as high as 150 million cells per liter in recent days, according to the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.
The bloom comes at a particularly bad time for this region, as the South Florida Water Management District pumped polluted water off farm lands and into Lake Okeechobee for four days last week. That water has since been released through U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water control structures to the east and west coasts and has brought chocolate-brown, almost black waters to popular destinations like Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach during the peak of tourism season.
Water was pulled into the lake starting Wednesday night, although the water district did not announce it had declared an "emergency" for nearly 22 hours after the reported emergency started.
"I think it's a tragedy what's going on for two reasons: they haven't fixed the Everglades plumbing system yet and they've had 20 years to do it," said William Mitsch, a world-renowned water quality scientist and director of Florida Gulf Coast University's Everglades Wetlands Center. "And secondly, the rains that we had in January were so abnormal they probably reflect some climatic change that has occurred due to humans."
Also, El Nino is expected to bring unusually high levels of rainfall through for the next two months, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Lake Okeechobee surface levels were more than 16 feet above sea level Wednesday. Army Corps protocol says the lake shouldn't get higher than 15.5 feet above sea level.
More rain would mean a wetter Southwest Florida, with more stormwater flowing from lands in Fort Myers and Cape Coral. Additional rain will likely fall over the lake and on tributaries that flow into it, which would cause the Army Corps to conduct more releases.
Flows in recent days have been as high as 12,000 cubic feet per second, according to the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. Damage to the river and estuary start when levels reach 2,800 cubic feet per second.
In the past week, nutrient-laden waters have blown out the Caloosahatchee River and its estuary to the point that freshwater can now be found several miles out in the Gulf of Mexico. Excess nutrients can extend the frequency and duration of toxic algal blooms like this, research shows.
January rains dumped nearly a foot of precipitation, on average, across Lee and Collier Counties, according to district records. That's more rain than the area sees in an average June, July or August — the middle of the tropical rainy season.
The bloom is the latest in a string of bad water quality events for both the east and west coast, where most of the nutrient-laden waters are dumped in an unnatural process designed to manage Everglades water flow.
Everglades restoration plays a role in water management as well. The state and federal government are working on $10 billion of environmental repairs, but critics say too little has been done. 
Cleaning up the Everglades is almost impossible because Lake Okeechobee water is too polluted to legally send to Everglades National Park, where alligators have died in recent months from a lack of water.
Derek Litchfield, head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Division of International Conservation, said repairing the damages through Everglades restoration and other water quality projects will be a slow process.
"It's not surprising for anyone for me to say this, but it's going to be a difficult process," Litchfield said. "But especially this side of the Everglades because of what has happened to it for so long."
Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation water quality scientist Rick Bartleson, who once worked for the water district, said only time will tell how much damage the releases and algal bloom will cause.
"We're definitely in the excessive harm zone for a while (longer)," Bartleson said. "It's too fresh for red tide now around Sanibel, but there's still red tide where it's saltier around Captiva. And it will be interesting to see how it responds to the extra nutrients."
Angler Henry Rossi of Cape Coral said he and two fishing captains ran across green, soupy waters offshore, an event that hasn't yet been documented or reported by authorities. Rossi said he's been exposed to red tide before and that this discoloration was different than red tide.
"I've fished here quite a bit in the last 17 years and I've never seen anything like what we ran through Monday," Rossi said. " We got about 25 miles from the Lighthouse and we ran into water that was the color of pea soup, totally dark green water. And we ran through that for a good 20 miles. I know there's red tide out there but this is different. There was nothing in the air."
Bartleson said the green water Rossi spotted is a sign of a very dense bloom.

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State EPD: Glades Reservoir not needed for water supply
Gainesville-Times.com - by Joshua Silavent
February 3, 2016
Agency director says project could proceed with different goal
Georgia no longer requires the proposed Glades Reservoir in North Hall County to meet the state’s water supply needs through 2050, according to the state Environmental Protection Division.
However, a door has been left open for the reservoir to be developed as additional storage to augment downstream flows on the Chattahoochee River in times of drought.
This shift could be part of a settlement in the tri-state water wars with Florida and Alabama.
In response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers October 2015 Water Control Manual and draft environmental impact statement, EPD Director Judson Turner writes in a letter to the corps that revised population projections showing slower growth through 2050 make it “clear that Glades Reservoir is no longer part of any strategy to meet the water supply needs of the state.”
County officials disagree with these population estimates.
“I’m happy to have their input,” said Commissioner Scott Gibbs, whose district includes the reservoir site. He added the county still has the option to pursue the project as originally intended.
Turner writes that the state will work with Hall County on a revised certification of need for the reservoir, which could actually expand the size of the lake for storage, but affirms there is no outstanding drinking water need that can’t be supplied directly from Lake Lanier.
And a recent letter to the corps from King & Spalding LLP, a law firm in Atlanta representing regional water providers, including the city of Gainesville, agreed that Glades is no longer necessary to meet future supply needs.
“The (Corps of Engineers) proposed action alternative states that 40 million gallons per day of the total projected metro demand will be supplied by the proposed new Glades Farm Reservoir,” the letter states. “This water should be supplied directly from Lake Lanier instead. The proposed Glades Farm Reservoir should not be relied upon to supply any part of this demand.”
The state has requested that a total of 242 million gallons per day be available to withdraw from Lake Lanier.
Of that total, 23.3 million gallons per day will be supplied by relocation contracts for Gainesville and Buford.
“The draft EIS for Glades shows that impacts to lake levels, river flows and other measures are the same whether the 40 mgd is supplied from Glades or directly from Lake Lanier,” the letter states. “Lake Lanier should be the preferred alternative because it would be far cheaper. Reallocating storage to provide an additional 40 mgd would cost approximately $11.1 million, or about $640,000 per year over 30 years. The Glades Farm Reservoir would cost much more and would also result in unnecessary environmental impacts.”
Jason Ulseth, the lead river protection advocate and spokesman for the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, said the state’s potential interest in Glades to supplement regional water control presents its own problems.
“We're glad that the state is finally recognizing that Glades is not needed for water supply, but they are far from giving up on this boondoggle project,” he added. “We have Lake Lanier right here that serves that need (to augment downstream flow). Conducting a study to raise the full pool of Lake Lanier would be a far more cost-effective solution.”
Hall County has spent about $16 million on the proposed 850-acre reservoir, purchasing land and working through a yearslong application process.
The most recent timeline lists a permitting decision by the corps in October or November.
Gibbs said the county would await this decision before deciding whether to pursue the reservoir further.
County officials have previously said they hope to be reimbursed by the state if the reservoir is used for regional purposes rather than simply securing the drinking water needs of local residents.
But Commissioner Jeff Stowe said he first wants guarantees that the drinking water needs of Hall residents will be met through 2050 if the state pursues this course.
Stowe said the state could be “trying to devalue what the property is worth” by claiming that Glades is not needed for supply.
“When you’re looking to buy a car from someone, you don’t let them know how pretty the car is,” he added.
Another option to recoup this money could be selling an estimated $16 million to $17 million in mitigation rights from the land and turning it into a park.
“There is value to the site whether the lake is built or not,” Gibbs said.

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Bill Nelson, Alcee Hastings, Mario Diaz-Balart introduce Everglades bills
Florida Politics
February 2, 2016
A bipartisan group led by Florida’s U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings and Mario Diaz-Balart introduced bills Tuesday intended to green-light Everglades restoration projects by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Nelson’s office reported.
Nelson and Hastings, a Democrat from Palm Beach County, and Diaz-Balart, a Republican from Miami, are pushing a plan that had been dependent on an Army Corps of Engineers report that arrived too late in 2014 to allow the effort to be authorized in the last major water bill Congress considered.
Their new proposal would allow the Corps to pursue the $1.9 billion Central Everglades Planning Project, which is designed to direct water flow away from Lake Okeechobee or the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, and into the Everglades.
The bills they introduced also would “automatically authorize any Everglades restoration project the Army Corps of Engineers deems ready to begin in the next five years,” according to a news release issued by Nelson’s office.
“When the water level in Lake Okeechobee gets too high, we either risk flooding or release the water and kill the rivers: that’s an impossible choice we shouldn’t have to make,” Nelson stated in the release. “That’s one of the reasons it’s important to get more Everglades restoration projects moving as soon as possible. There’s simply too much at stake to wait around for Congress to pass another water bill.
The Army Corps of Engineers completed a key report approving the CEPP project. That report was on Dec. 23, 2014.
Usually projects such as CEPP would be included in a broader water resources bill Congress passes every few years, but this legislation would allow it – and any other project the Corps clears in the next five years – to immediately begin moving forward, Nelson’s office stated.

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Could discharges have been stopped, lessened or delayed ?
TCPalm – by Tyler Treadway
February 2, 2016
Lake Okeechobee water is pouring into the St. Lucie River — and will for a long time — for one simple reason: Too much rain in too short a time.
As of Monday morning, more than 880 million gallons of the water, laden with contaminants that can wreak environmental havoc on the estuaries, had been discharged from Lake O toward the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.
That's enough water to cover the city of Stuart in nearly 6 inches — and more, a lot more, is expected. The Army Corps of Engineers, which controls lake levels, says to expect the discharges to last for weeks, probably months.
Could anything have been done to prevent the discharges, or at least delay or reduce them?
"I'm frustrated that the corps and the (South Florida) Water Management District didn't see this coming, or chose not to see it,"said Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart.
Back in October the National Weather Service was saying this would be a rainy winter thanks to the El Nino effect.
"But by mid-November the district stopped sending Lake Okeechobee water south," Perry said. "In December all the water sent south was to drain the (farmland south of the lake). Nothing came from the lake. And estuaries are paying for that now."
PREFERENCE OR PROTECTION
What Perry sees as a preference for farmers south of the lake getting their land drained, district spokesman Randy Smith sees as flood protection.
The farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area and the communities south of Lake O "are entitled by law to the same flood control protection the district gives everybody else," Smith said. "We did all we could to get water out of Lake Okeechobee until the system was overwhelmed."
In early December, the lake elevation was 14 1/2 feet and dropping slowly, corps spokesman John Campbell said. There were El Nino-linked forecasts for a rainy winter, "but those don't always come to pass."
For instance, 2015 was supposed to be an El Nino year, Campbell said, recalling the "doom and gloom predictions" of devastating discharges. There were relatively small discharges early last year that ended because of a bone-dry May.
But this year the predictions came true. Rainfall in January reached historic proportions, according to the water district:
It was the wettest January since record keeping began in 1932. An average 9.18 inches of rain fell across South Florida during the month, 7.25 inches above normal.
More than half what the area usually gets in the entire rainy season — November through May — fell in January.
In early January, the heavy rain fell south of the lake, filling up the water storage areas where Perry says Lake O water should have been sent, Smith said.
"From then on, the district was managing the water strictly for flood control," he said.
The corps looked at starting discharges in mid-January, but more local rainwater runoff already was pouring through the St. Lucie Lock and Dam than the corps was authorized to release.
Then the really heavy rains came down:
Jan. 27 was the wettest dry-season day in 25 years.
Jan. 22-28 was the wettest week in South Florida since Tropical Storm Isaac in August 2012.
MORE IN, MORE OUT
All that rain caused the lake level to jump to nearly 16 feet by Saturday morning. With more water coming into the lake, regulations allowed the corps to send more water out.
Lake O water started pouring into the C-44 (St. Lucie) Canal toward the St. Lucie River and the Indian River Lagoon at about 2 p.m. Saturday. Still, by Monday morning, the lake elevation had risen to 16 feet, 1 3/4 inches. That's the highest it has been since Dec. 14, 2005, when it hit 17 feet 1-1/2 inches.
The need for discharges, Perry said, illustrates the need for a reservoir south of the lake to store excess water rather than send it east to the St. Lucie — something Treasure Coast environmentalists have been advocating for many years.
The corps, echoing the findings of a study by the University of Florida Water Institute, agrees more water storage is needed both north and south of the lake, Campbell said.
South Florida's water control system was designed and built in the 1950s primarily to control flooding, he added. "The system makes it possible for 8 million-plus people to live in South Florida, but it has its shortcomings. It was designed at a time when preserving the environment was not as valued as it is now."

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Reasons to tackle climate change together
Gainesville.com - by Susan Nugent, Special to The Sun
February 2, 2016
In this time of rancor, can we look beyond our political parties to address an issue affecting the entire world ? If 195 nations can come together to confront climate change, what is stopping us ?
Last September, Al Gore and Debbie Dooley stood together on stage to both speak for solar choice. Their backgrounds and politics are distinctly different yet they work cooperatively for this issue — clean energy.
Dooley is a founder of the Green Tea Coalition and active in the Republican Party since 1976. Her motives for supporting clean energy include a dislike of monopolies, the belief in freedom of choice and the economics of solar energy use, as well as a desire to lower the carbon pollution caused by fossil fuels, including coal.
All of these reasons, especially the belief in fair competition, appeal to people from dissimilar backgrounds, and, in the United States, people who sit on opposite sides of the congressional aisle.
At COP 21 in Paris, a diversity of people representing different nations, ethnic groups, races, backgrounds and problems all gathered to negotiate for climate justice. Many different reasons brought these people to the United Nations conference.
For some, it was the fear of losing their nations' lands to rising waters. Others expressed the need to accommodate thousands of refugees from countries experiencing extreme weather. Others were there because of economic factors. Some came because of the loss of their culture, their connections to the earth, the wish to have women’s voices or indigenous voices or African voices heard.
The reasons for becoming involved with this issue are as complex as the problem itself. But work together we did.
So the question becomes, how do we unite here for climate activism? One recommendation is finding what we have in common. What overlapping values do we share in order to take on climate? Climate justice touches on so many issues that we should be able to find something that brings us close to people with whom we might not always agree.
Just as Dooley and Gore have found something they can work together to accomplish, most people can find a core value associated with climate change that will engage all of us.
Perhaps, it’s the economy: In 2014, according to Solar Energy Industries Association, $63 million was invested on solar installations in Florida. Although we’re third in the nation with the capability to produce solar power, we rank 14th in its production. The potential for more jobs and a stronger economy is there.
Or real estate: In Florida, $23.3 billion of existing property could be lost by 2050. In coastal property, $152 billion will likely be at risk of inundation at high tide. Gainesville is probably as secure from rising waters as anywhere in Florida. Yet surrounding areas have experienced flooding and it wasn’t so long ago that four hurricanes crossed our state in one season. Those certainly impacted our city and the real estate here.
Or health and nutrition: People will lead better lives by attending to climate change. Climate change, states the World Health Organization, “affects the social and environmental determinants of health — clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.” Illnesses such as malaria, malnutrition and heat stress all relate to the changing climate.
Or recreation: Skiing, diving, birding, vacationing near the ocean, visiting other parts of the world — all are affected by global warming.
Or the weather: Globally, 2015 was the hottest year on record. With 2016 predicted to be even hotter, summers up north are inviting. The number of extreme weather days are also increasing. Tornadoes, droughts, blizzards, floods plague the world with Florida at risk for more inland flooding during heavy rains.
Making connections with all Floridians is essential as we face this complex issue. Only with all of us working together will we seriously tackle climate justice.
Many reasons have brought 195 nations to address this planetary problem. Secretary of State John Kerry has asserted that while focusing on climate change, we will create more jobs leading to a stronger economy, increase our country’s security, have cleaner air and increased water quality, and help other nations around the world.
He sometimes jokes, as does the much circulated political cartoon, “Why wouldn’t we want this? ”
So what’s keeping any of us from contributing to a sustainable future ? Now let’s talk about solutions.

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South Florida water managers say storage areas “already full”
Palm Beach Post – Kimberly Miller
 

HIGLIGHTS:
High levels lead water managers to begin draining polluted farmwater into lake
To lower lake levels, water drained into nearby rivers
Environmentalists worry water will harm fragile estuaries

February 2, 2016
Water managers struggled this past week to keep up with record-setting rainfall, and were eventually forced to back pump polluted water into environmentally sensitive Lake Okeechobee to prevent flooding in the Glades.
More than 5 inches of rain fell during two days in West Palm Beach and as much as 6 inches inundated some western communities. By the end of the deluge Thursday, this past month was deemed the wettest January since recordkeeping began in 1932.
A statement from the South Florida Water Management District and letters from two board members stressed the necessity of the undesirable back pumping, saying “options are limited with water storage areas already full.”
 “After an already wet start to the winter, January has brought more than 9 inches of rain across South Florida,” wrote Kevin Powers, vice-chairman of the district’s governing board. “That’s five times the historic average and more than any single month in the 2015 rainy season.”
The back-pumping began on Jan. 27 to protect areas of Belle Glade and South Bay from flooding. It ended Sunday.
Back pumping, which dumps stormwater into Lake Okeechobee without any cleaning to reduce fertilizer and other pollutants, is allowed solely for flood control purposes under emergency conditions that are defined in a Florida Department of Environmental Protection permit.
About eight thousand gallons per second of water flows through the South Florida Water Management District’s Control Structure S-155 on Canal C-51 in Spillway Park east of Dixie Highway near the Lake Worth and West Palm Beach, Fla. city limits on February 1, 2016. SFWMD is moving water to control canal levels after unprecedented rainfall in the last few months in south Florida. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees Lake Okeechobee, said water levels in the lake rose 3 inches in 24 hours. It announced Friday it was increasing the amount of water released into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries — also an unwelcome measure that can cause algae blooms and harm sea life.
Meteorologists predicted South Florida would have a wetter and a stormier winter this year because of the incredibly powerful El Niño, which isn’t expected to dissipate until spring to early summer. The Climate Prediction Center is expecting abnormally high rainfall through at least April.
Thomas Van Lent, a hydrologist and vice president for programs at the Everglades Foundation, said despite the harmful impacts of back-pumping, it was the only option the district had to protect from flooding.
“I’m not going to second guess whether this was the right time for these discharges,” Van Lent said. “But they are extremely damaging, and our position is we need to start building the projects that will restore the Everglades and fix these very serious water problems.”
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South Florida in another water crisis presses the urgency of 'Legacy Florida' bill
SunshineStateNews.com - by Nancy Smith
February 2, 2016
Only in the most dire emergencies is the South Florida Water Management District allowed to back-pump stormwater into Lake Okeechobee. 
But last week the district was forced to declare one of those emergencies.
It had no choice, said SFWMD spokesman Randy Smith. The district was faced with a last resort. "There was such a tremendous amount of rain ... We have a very saturated system ..."
Exactly what nobody wants: water pumped into the big lake before it's been cleaned of pollutants.
To make matters worse, the rain also caused the lake to rise. Which means, to manage Lake O's levels, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will increase water discharges into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.
But water managers' hands were tied. All of the SFWMD's water storage areas were swamped. And the deluge was a life-threatening event. In Palm Beach County alone, 5 inches of rain fell within two days. In fact, some of the Glades communities -- Belle Glade, for example -- took on as much as 9 inches of rain in less than three days.
“More water storage capacity is clearly needed to protect both South Florida’s residents, businesses and visitors and the environment,” wrote South Florida Water Management District Governing Board Member Mitch Hutchcraft in a letter released Friday.
You can read more about the district's action here, in a commentary from Kevin Powers, vice chairman of the SFWMD Governing Board.
The bad news about this rain event is just about everything. But the silver lining in the cloud is 'Legacy Florida,' a bill winding its way through the Legislature that, if passed, will guarantee there won't be many more of these to suffer.
The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee passed along the Legacy Florida bill Friday -- same day a lot of the back-pumping was going on. Sponsored by Reps. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, and Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, HB 989 would create a dedicated funding source for Everglades restoration. Funding for the program is expected to reach $200 million annually.
Said Harrell, "By creating the Legacy Florida program, we are taking the necessary steps to complete the decades-long restoration that will ensure Florida's River of Grass will be enjoyed by generations to come."
HB 989 provides for the distribution of funds deposited into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. Of the funds remaining after the payment of debt service obligations, the Legislature will be required to appropriate a minimum of the lesser of 25 percent, or $200 million, for Everglades projects that implement the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). 
The bill requires that from these funds $32 million will be distributed each year through the 2023-2024 fiscal year to the South Florida Water Management District for the long-term plan. After deducting the $32 million, from the funds remaining, a minimum of the lesser of 76.5 percent or $100 million will be appropriated each fiscal year through the 2025-2026 fiscal year for the planning, design, engineering and construction of CERP. 
This was the wettest January since recordkeeping began in 1932, according to the district.
It also has wreaked havoc with the state's agriculture, including the lucrative vegetable crops farmed on the edge of the Everglades.
“South Florida farmers are reeling from biblical proportions of rainfall and flooding over the past few days, weeks and months (because) of El Niño,” Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said in a written statement. “With record amounts of rainfall over the last three months, and above-average rainfall expected for the next several months, the long-term impacts to South Florida’s agriculture community, could be devastating.
"We’re currently in communication with the South Florida Water Management District, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others to monitor the situation and provide support to the impacted communities as needed,” Putnam said.
What timing for Legacy Florida. What an opportunity to pass a bill so critical to the well-being and the quality of life of so many.

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South Florida water managers say storage areas “already full”
Palm Beach Post – Kimberly Miller
February 2, 2016
Water managers struggled this past week to keep up with record-setting rainfall, and were eventually forced to back pump polluted water into environmentally sensitive Lake Okeechobee to prevent flooding in the Glades.
More than 5 inches of rain fell during two days in West Palm Beach and as much as 6 inches inundated some western communities. By the end of the deluge Thursday, this past month was deemed the wettest January since recordkeeping began in 1932.
A statement from the South Florida Water Management District and letters from two board members stressed the necessity of the undesirable back pumping, saying “options are limited with water storage areas already full.”
 “After an already wet start to the winter, January has brought more than 9 inches of rain across South Florida,” wrote Kevin Powers, vice-chairman of the district’s governing board. “That’s five times the historic average and more than any single month in the 2015 rainy season.”
The back-pumping began on Jan. 27 to protect areas of Belle Glade and South Bay from flooding. It ended Sunday.
Back pumping, which dumps stormwater into Lake Okeechobee without any cleaning to reduce fertilizer and other pollutants, is allowed solely for flood control purposes under emergency conditions that are defined in a Florida Department of Environmental Protection permit.
About eight thousand gallons per second of water flows through the South Florida Water Management District’s Control Structure S-155 on Canal C-51 in Spillway Park east of Dixie Highway near the Lake Worth and West Palm Beach, Fla. city limits on February 1, 2016. SFWMD is moving water to control canal levels after unprecedented rainfall in the last few months in south Florida. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees Lake Okeechobee, said water levels in the lake rose 3 inches in 24 hours. It announced Friday it was increasing the amount of water released into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries — also an unwelcome measure that can cause algae blooms and harm sea life.
Meteorologists predicted South Florida would have a wetter and a stormier winter this year because of the incredibly powerful El Niño, which isn’t expected to dissipate until spring to early summer. The Climate Prediction Center is expecting abnormally high rainfall through at least April.
Thomas Van Lent, a hydrologist and vice president for programs at the Everglades Foundation, said despite the harmful impacts of back-pumping, it was the only option the district had to protect from flooding.
“I’m not going to second guess whether this was the right time for these discharges,” Van Lent said. “But they are extremely damaging, and our position is we need to start building the projects that will restore the Everglades and fix these very serious water problems.”

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South Florida's water managers say the region has recorded its rainiest January since 1932
The Associated Press
February 02, 2016
WEST PALM BEACH, Florida — South Florida's water managers say the region has recorded its rainiest January since 1932.
Last month also was the wettest of any month during the dry season since March 1970, according to data from the South Florida Water Management District.
A total of 9.18 inches of rain fell over the district's 16 counties last month. That's 7.25 inches, or 476 percent, above average.
District meteorologists say the period from November through January also was the wettest first half of the dry season since record keeping began in 1932.
South Florida's dry season typically runs from November through May, with an average total rainfall of 18 inches.
Above-average rainfall is expected to continue through the next week.
Related:           January Rainfall Totals Setting Records Across the State     Florida Water Daily
January wettest month on record in South Florida, where it fell       Palm Beach Post (blog)

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Farm water leaves SWFL coast brown, murky
News-Press.com – by Chad Gillis
February 1, 2016
Water pulled off farming operations south of Lake Okeechobee over the course of four days has reached Southwest Florida., causing local waters to turn brown and murky.
The releases started Wednesday, although the South Florida Water Management District didn't notify the public of the "emergency" conditions until nearly 24 hours later.
District representatives did not return media phone calls and emails but did issue a press release.
Critics say these water management practices are largely responsible for toxic algal blooms that often plague both the west and east coasts of Florida.
Record rains have not made the situation better as the lake level is rising at the same time the state is back-pumping farm water into Okeechobee.
That water is now increasingly coming to the Southwest Florida coast.
Algal blooms fed by nutrients found in these types releases increase the frequency and duration of blooms like red tide, which kills fish, dolphins and manatees and causes respiratory issues in humans.
Related:           Lake Okeechobee discharges could last months        Florida Water Daily

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Point of View
Palm Beach Post – Opinion by Domenic R. Guarnagia, West Palm Beach
February  1, 2016
Continued development in the Palm Beach County Agricultural Reserve area — that promises to create several thousand new luxury homes — will almost certainly lead to a group of disenfranchised, displeased residents who can quickly regret the move for some or all of the following reasons.
●  Sharing narrow roads with farm equipment (an accident between a tractor and an automobile occurred recently) can lead to frustration after a slow start merely exiting one’s driveway onto a side road where accesses to State Road 80 and S.R. 7/U.S. 441 are already too narrow and congested, with no solution for the near future.
●  There is no room for widening these two roads, and the Florida Legislature, not Palm Beach County, is responsible for funding, maintaining and acquiring the necessary land through eminent domain to add more lanes and overpasses to accommodate the present — and future — traffic requirements. Traffic studies can take years, along with acquisition of land, all based on future uses, which, in many cases, are obsolete as the increased use continues.
●  Commuting to Palm Beach International Airport, where general aviation is greater than commercial aviation, can become frustrating for those residents in this new tier.
●  Strip malls with grocery stores, restaurants, dry cleaners, and recreational facilities such as bowling alleys and cinemas; local, quality middle and high schools that will prepare students for private colleges will be few and far between.
●  Without a place for teens to gather — beyond their neighborhood — this can trigger unwanted loitering, such as that which has plagued CityPlace in downtown West Palm Beach.
●  A fire-rescue station, Sheriff’s Office substation and an urgent-care facility for emergency medical assistance — all are necessary for any community. Where will they be located for a speedy access?
The Ag Reserve is the largest producer of fresh winter fruits and vegetables on the East Coast. Water serving South Florida, and that which serves the Everglades, is also at issue. Communities throughout South Florida rely on local nurseries to provide palm trees, fruit trees, shrubbery and other exotic plants that decorate communities throughout the state.
“You can’t have your cake and eat it, too” surely applies to concurrent farming and a luxury lifestyle.
After all, when words and phrases such as the following are being used to describe the situation, farming and luxury cannot coexist or flourish: contiguous; 60 percent farming and 40 percent dwelling; elimination of patchwork development; a dearth of thoroughfares; preservation of the unique farm land adjacent to the only Everglades on Earth; and all of this coupled with the promise to reserve acreage for the continuation of farming, nursery and equestrian enterprises.
Editor’s note: On Wednesday, the Palm Beach County Commission backed a series of requests for land-use changes in two rural areas. The commission gave preliminary approval to allow PBA Holdings to have light-industrial use on 138 acres it owns west of Wellington. The commission also backed three requests for land-use changes in the Agricultural Reserve, west of Boynton Beach and Delray Beach. The state Department of Economic Opportunity will review the decisions.

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Polluted water back-pumped into Lake O as record rains fall
Palm Beach Post - by Kimberly Miller, Staff Writer
February 1, 2016
Nutrient-polluted water was back-pumped into Lake Okeechobee last week as the South Florida Water Management District struggled to keep up with record-setting rainfall that dumped more than 5 inches of rain in West Palm Beach over two days.
A statement from the district and letters from two board members said the rare back pumping was necessary as “options are limited with water storage areas already full.”
“After an already wet start to the winter, January has brought more than 9 inches of rain across South Florida,” wrote Kevin Powers, vice-chairman of the district’s governing board. “That’s five times the historic average and more than any single month in the 2015 rainy season.”
The back-pumping began on Jan. 27 to protect areas of Belle Glade from flooding after 6 inches of rain fell in 24 hours.
In coastal Palm Beach County, an estimated 9.09 inches of rain fell last month, which is 6.15 inches more than normal. Areas closer to Lake Okeechobee got 9.6 inches of rain, while regions in the central and south part of the county received 10.6 inches of rain.
So far this dry season, the district has received 16.2 inches of rain, which is 10 inches above normal.
Back pumping, which dumps storm water into Lake Okeechobee without any cleaning to reduce fertilizer and pollutants, is allowed solely for flood control purposes under emergency conditions that are defined in a Florida Department of Environmental Protection Permit.
Only eight back-pumping events have been necessary using the permitting process since 2008.
Meteorologists predicted South Florida would have a wetter and a stormier winter this year because of the incredibly powerful El Nino, which isn’t expected to dissipate until spring to early summer. The Climate Prediction Center is expecting abnormally high rainfall through at least April.
Thomas Van Lent, a hydrologist and vice president for programs at the Everglades Foundation, said despite the harmful impacts of back pumping, it was the only option the district had to protect Belle Glade and South Bay from flooding.
“I’m not going to second guess whether this was the right time for these discharges,” Van Lent said. “But they are extremely damaging and our position is we need to start building the projects that will restore the Everglades and fix these very serious water problems.”
Water management district officials said one long-term solution is the Legacy Florida bill filed this year in the Florida House.
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.
“More water storage capacity is clearly needed to protect both South Florida’s residents, businesses and visitors and the environment,” wrote Mitch Hutchcraft, South Florida Water Management District Governing Board member, in a letter released Friday.
Related:           Polluted water back-pumped into Lake O as record rains fall           MyPalmBeachPost

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Protesters raise voices against fracking
Florida Today
February 1, 2016
Protesters – including elected officials and environmental advocates - stood outside of State Sen. Thad Altman’s office this afternoon to voice concern over efforts in Tallahassee to allow the controversial practice of fracking in Florida.
Nearly 60 protesters waving American flags and carrying signs were gathered along Astronaut Boulevard near Altman’s office in Cape Canaveral. The group is demanding that senators like Altman vote against two bills making the rounds in the legislature, which would ease restrictions on fracking. Altman has already called for an approach that includes setting up regulatory guidelines to ensure safety.
Protesters, however were adamant in their desire to make sure Florida's fragile eco-system is not impacted by fracking.
“We want a fracking ban,” said Eric Rollings, Area 3 Vice-President of Florida Soil & Water Conservation Districts.
“We’re out here to raise awareness so we can contact the senators to tell them that we don’t want fracking in this state. Our water is the most important asset in this state. We need to raise awareness on this issue,” he said.
Several protesters chanted ‘ban fracking now’ as motorists drove by. The rally, sponsored by the advocacy group Rethink Energy Florida, was one of several taking place over the weekend as environmentalists, activists and others lobby state legislators to vote against any legislation that allows fracking in Florida.
"This is critical," said Lisa Ray, area coordinator for Rethink Florida. "if this (legislation) passes, then we will have fracking right here in Florida," said Ray, adding that the state agencies charged with overseeing issues like fracking are already understaffed.
Similar protests across the country have taken place over the last few years as oil and gas companies continue to carry out the practice.
The legislation proposes that local governments be prohibited from banning the practice. Already, Sen. Altman said he has voted for an amendment on the senate version of the bill to allow the state's Department of Environmental Protection to develop regulatory rules and guidelines for hearings and appeals.
"I share their concern," said Altman about the protesters. "I think their voices are getting heard. What we're trying to do is have a more systematic approach. There are concerns and what we want to make sure is that if it's done, it's done safely," said Altman who voted for the amendment. Other considerations include issues of property rights, including companies that may have legal right to underground materials. The question, the senator says, is ensuring that the process, if established, is done safely.
Fracking, a process already used to tap into fossil fuel deposits in states like Oklahoma involves using specialized equipment to pressure pump water and even chemicals into the ground to allow companies to siphon out underground deposits oil and gas. Environmental groups cite concerns that the practice could contaminate well water reserves.
"The potential for contamination of our aquifers is a huge concern," Ray said. "I don't think we should become a scientific experiment."

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The main past event that influences and expedites THIS year Everglades restoration activities        upward
The main Everglades
restoration thrust
started in 2013 by a storm of public eco-
activity from the Indian
River Lagoon area:


DAMAGING
FRESHWATER
WASTING



LO water release







A still a lingering "Good Question" -
  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 ?  
Good Question: Why not send more Lake O water south ?
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
Despite the current obstacles, I got a rare view of how water is still flowing south.
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

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E-mail: evergladeshub@gmail.com

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