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Everglades restoration meeting in PB Gardens
December 29, 2009
PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL -- An inland port. Polls that offer mixed messages when asked about public support for a taxpayer purchase of 73,000 acres in the Everglades.
Those will no doubt be some of the topics discussed during the 25th annual Everglades Coalition Conference set for January 7th through the 10th at the PGA Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens.
According to their website, the Everglades Coalition Conference is the largest annual forum for debate of Everglades conservation and restoration.
Conference sessions focus on topics such as growth management, political and public partnerships, wildlife issues and energy policies.
The event is being hosted by the Arthur R. Marshall Foundation.
Organizers say the four-day meeting will give elected officials, environmentalists and members of the public a chance to collectively discuss the future path of Everglades restoration.
For more information, visit


Our views: Every last drop
December 29, 2009
Conservation still key in protecting water supplies
The Great Recession has ravaged the Florida and Space Coast housing industry, pushing it into a depression from which it will not quickly recover.
But for all the serious problems that’s causing, it is also providing a little breathing room in one critical area:
A new report from the Southern Water Supply Planning Area indicates that lower growth projections spawned by the recession means South Brevard, Indian River County and southeast Osceola County will have enough groundwater to meet needs until 2030 without harming wetlands.
But there’s a caveat: The only way that can happen is through continued conservation efforts.
And why everyone has a role to play in practicing water conservation in their daily lives.
“Conservation alone is not going to prevent this area from the need to find other water sources. But it can greatly delay that inevitability,” says Ed Garland, a spokesman for the St. Johns River Water Management District, which manages the water supply for Brevard and 17 East Central Florida counties.
Rapid growth during the boom years has pushed the Floridan Aquifer — the underground well that has provided the region’s drinking water — to the point that it’s nearly tapped out.
In all, Brevard is now using almost 61 million gallons of water a day from all sources. That’s projected to reach 85 million gallons daily by 2025 and 108 million gallons a day by 2050.
As a result, more water here and throughout the region will have to come from the St. Johns River. But that remedy has spawned court fights between Central Florida counties such as Seminole and counties downstream that fear larger withdrawals will harm the waterway.
To answer that critical question, scientists are conducting research on the river’s marine life to determine how much water can safely be pulled. A report is due in late 2010.
Meanwhile, Brevard residents, who use an average 150 gallons of water per person per day, should get serious about conservation by following some easy steps.
Indoors, they include installing reduced-flow showers and toilets, fixing leaky taps, taking shorter showers and maximizing loads of wash. And, when you can afford it, buying water-efficient appliances.
Outdoors, they include planting native plants, using moisture-holding mulch and watering your lawn efficiently.
All of those points are part of the water district’s Florida Water Star program for homes, and following them can result in these huge water savings for homeowners: Some 27,000 gallons a year indoors, and nearly 432,000 gallons a year outdoors.
Florida lawmakers did water conservation efforts a horrendous disservice this spring when they gutted the state’s growth management laws, which is guaranteed to worsen the availability of drinking water supplies when growth returns.
That makes conservation practices now and in the future even more important.
And why there’s no time — or water — to waste.


Up and down water levels threaten the health of Lake Okeechobee
Sun-Sentinel – by Andy Reid
December 29, 2009
The Everglades snail kite is especially vulnerable.
Welcomed wet weather in 2009 helped rescue Lake Okeechobee from back-to-back years of dipping to depths below environmental protection standards.
However, in 2010 and the years to come, continued manipulation of water levels is expected to strain the environmental health of the lake that doubles as South Florida's back-up water supply.
Twice in the past six years, Lake Okeechobee dropped too low for too long, violating state standards — called minimum flows and levels — used as environmental benchmarks for the water body that historically fed the Everglades.
Dikes and draining turned Lake Okeechobee into a giant reservoir, sacrificing the health of the lake for the sake of agriculture and development.
In recent years, growing public-safety concerns about the earthen dike that protects lakeside communities from flooding prompted the Army Corps of Engineers to start keeping the lake about a foot lower than usual year round.
That leaves less lake water to use for irrigation and to back up South Florida water supplies. During dry weather, it also makes the lake more prone to dropping below the minimum-level standards intended to protect its environmental health.
Water managers say the answer is completing ongoing repairs to strengthen the lake's dike and also building reservoirs planned for Everglades restoration that would provide a water supply alternative to the lake.
The problem is both of those solutions are expected to take decades to complete.
"It's not a good thing, but until the levee is fixed … that lake is going to be violating," said Ken Ammon, deputy executive director of the South Florida Water Management District. "I would expect this to happen frequently."
Those frequent occurrences are expected to mean more receding water lines that allow lakeside marshes to dry out, damaging habitat vital for the endangered Everglades snail kite.
It also can lead to worsening water-quality problems that choke out the life-giving underwater grass beds needed for fish habitat.
In addition, lower water levels can result in a higher concentration of polluting phosphorus ending up in the water that heads south toward the Everglades.
Without more funding to jumpstart dike repairs and Everglades restoration, the problem of yo-yoing lake levels is expected to continue.
"We don't like to see minimum flow and level [exceeded], but it's just a fact of life," said Paul Gray, a scientist for Audubon of Florida. "They are not getting addressed fast enough."
Lake Okeechobee once naturally replenished the Everglades with water that drained in from the north, overlapping the lake's southern rim and sending a sheet of water that slowly made its way to Florida Bay.
Decades of draining South Florida led to the dike and canals that allow lake levels to be manipulated.
During the rainy season, Lake Okeechobee serves as a massive retention pond and when the level rises too high for the dike to bear, water is dumped out to sea to avoid flooding.
During the dry season, lake water is sent south for irrigating the hundreds of thousands of acres of sugar cane fields and other farms that now separate Lake Okeechobee from the Everglades. Lake Okeechobee water can also be used to boost South Florida drinking water supplies.
The standards for minimum flows and levels are intended to ensure that there is enough water remaining to protect the environmental health of the lake.
According to the minimum flows and levels standard, Lake Okeechobee should not be allowed to drop below 11 feet above sea level for more than 80 days during any 18-month period. Environmental groups prefer to keep the lake in the 12.5- to 15.5-foot range.
The endangered Everglades snail kite is the poster child of Lake Okeechobee environmental concerns, Gray said.
Lake Okeechobee once was the heart of snail kite territory. But the up-and-down water levels all but wiped out the lake's apple snail population — which is the primary source of food for the medium-sized bird of prey.
The snail kite population dropped from about 3,000 birds to 700 during the past 15 years, Gray said.
Andy Reid can be reached at or 561-228-5504.


Sarasota Artist Awarded Grant for Everglades Project
December 26, 2009
Sarasota artist, Kathy Wright, has been awarded a Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant in the amount of $25,000 in support of her Everglades Project, a series of paintings based on her experience as Artist in Residence (AIRIE).
The Everglades National Park AIRIE program offers artists the opportunity to live and work in a unique environment. Wright has been a full time painter since 2002 and worked at Everglades during December 2008 and November 2009.
"This grant is great news for Ms. Wright and highlights the park's AIRIE program that will continue to provide opportunities for artists to be inspired by the parks wonderful natural and cultural resources," said Superintendent Dan Kimball.


Sugar's sweet deal sours Glades' prospects
Orlando Sentinel by Mike Thomas
December 26, 2009
Gov. Charlie Crist fumbles chance to revive River of Grass
The world's largest empty swimming pool, a massive 26-square-mile reservoir two years in the making, sits high and dry in the middle of the Everglades, abandoned after taxpayers invested $280 million building it.
The original intent was to store water that would be used to nourish the nation's most endangered swamp. But last September, the South Florida Water Management District paid the contractor $12 million just to walk away from the job.
The district blames environmental groups for filing a lawsuit against the project, which is complete rubbish. They supported the reservoir and wanted to see it finished. Their litigation was aimed at ensuring the water in it would go to the Everglades and not farmers. This is clearly documented in court records, correspondence and even a news release put out by the Natural Resources Defense Council when the lawsuit was filed.
So why blame the environmentalists?
A more realistic explanation is that the district ran out of money. And the reason for that is Gov. Charlie Crist's intervention in the ongoing Everglades-restoration project.
In June 2008, Crist announced a blockbuster deal to buy out U.S. Sugar Corp. and use its 187,000 acres of farmland to store and cleanse water in the massive swamp. But it morphed into a sweetheart deal for U.S. Sugar.
And now it's very much a tossup whether Crist's plans will save the Everglades or doom them.
This isn't easy for me to write because, as a big Glades guy, I was one of those who showered Charlie with confetti 18 months ago.
For decades, the politically powerful sugar growers have held on to their land with a death grip. And that pretty much thwarted plans to save the dying ecosystem because their farms sat in the heart of the Glades, on top of thick muck soil that is black gold to the farmers.
The farms covered about 500,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee. This blocked the natural southern flow of water from the lake into the remaining Glades. It also displaced billions of gallons of water that once covered this land, making the whole region more prone to floods, droughts and pollution.
Competing interests, political complexities, prohibitive costs and myriad government agencies thwarted restoration efforts for decades. But finally, in 2002, the state and federal government agreed on a plan designed around the sugar farms.
Naturally, it got bogged down. The feds didn't come up with their share of the loot. To finally get something going, then-Gov. Jeb Bush jump-started the plan in 2005 with an infusion of state money. This got construction of the massive reservoir under way. It would have been bigger than Lake Apopka.
Even so, it would not have been enough. The problem of inadequate water storage remained because the sugar land was off limits.
Crist's deal to buy out U.S. Sugar was to be the missing link. It meant an overhaul of the 2002 plan, but that was an acceptable trade-off given that, at long last, a permanent solution to the Everglades was in sight.
Lost in the celebration was the reality that we couldn't afford the $1.7 billion price tag. So Crist shrank the deal, and we still couldn't afford it. So he shrank it again, this time to $536 million for 73,000 acres.
Every time the deal got smaller, it got sweeter for U.S. Sugar. The reason was obvious. Crist had so much political capital invested, he had to salvage something. That gave the farm the upper hand in negotiations. U.S. Sugar also had two of the biggest Republican lobbyists in Tallahassee on its payroll, Brian Ballard and J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich. Ballard has been one of Crist's key fundraisers.
The farm demanded that the water district buy its three citrus groves totaling 32,000 acres. The district agreed even though the groves are far-flung, and it may well end up selling one of them as surplus.
Why was U.S. Sugar so eager to dump the groves ?  A deadly citrus-tree disease known as "greening'' is devastating the industry. Some experts have predicted it could wipe out citrus in Florida. Growers have spent millions of dollars battling it by spraying and bulldozing trees.
One of the hardest-hit groves, covering almost 18,000 acres, is owned by Southern Gardens Citrus, a subsidiary of U.S. Sugar.  In January, The Palm Beach Post quoted Southern Gardens' plant scientist, Mike Irey, as saying, "We can't continue to do what we are doing. The price of fruit and juice is down. Production costs are up 40 to 50 percent.''
The price of groves also has fallen considerably.
Now U.S. Sugar gets to unload its citrus land and then keep farming the groves without paying a lease. Most of its profitable sugar-growing land is left out of the deal. And it can lease back the sugar land it does sell to the state for up to 20 years. That may well happen because the district doesn't have the billions of dollars required to build marshes and reservoirs on it.
There also is no telling when it would have the money to buy the remaining U.S. Sugar property. The district is funded by property taxes, which have taken a major dive in South Florida.
"Sitting here today, no, we don't have a funding source, but we are beginning to work on getting a funding source,'' said water district Chairman Eric Buermann, a Crist appointee. "We will need help from the state and federal government."
Both of which also are flat broke.
As flawed as the 2002 plan was, at least it was a plan, and it had moved off dead center. That can't be underestimated when you're talking about the Everglades. The land purchase already is tangled up in the courts, challenged by another sugar grower, Florida Crystals, because it gives U.S. Sugar such a competitive advantage over the other farms.
Says district board member Mike Collins, "The whole thing is just bizarre."
Mike Thomas can be reached at 407-420-5525 or


Kissimmee River rebirth helps SW Fla. - Editorial
December 21, 2009    
The successful restoration of the Kissimmee River north of Lake Okeechobee has earned world renown; wildlife, plant life and water quality have come roaring back in a once-magnificent river system that had been straightened in the 1960s into a sterile flood-control canal.
So why should Southwest Florida care about a river 70 miles away?
Because the water quality of the lake is determined to a large extent by how much pollution is dumped into it by the Kissimmee. Water quality in the lake, in turn, affects the Caloosahatchee River and Lee County's coastal estuary because excess water in the lake has to be diverted into our river - at least until a better southerly flow way is developed.
"The health of the Caloosahatchee is predicated on what goes into Lake Okeechobee from the Kissimmee," says Charles Dauray, who is Lee, Collier, Hendry and Charlotte counties' representative on the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District. "The health of our economy and environment is directly related to what's going on in Lake Okeechobee."
A special report in The News-Press last week examined the impact on Southwest Florida of the Kissimmee restoration, part of the $10.9 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
Plugging parts of the main channel and diverting water back into the old, meandering river channel and onto the wide natural flood plain not only restores superb wildlife habitat, but allows the slow-moving water to be filtered and cleansed of urban and agricultural pollutants, the way it was before straightening.
The less of that junk that reaches the lake, the less that reaches Lee County, triggering algae blooms that can add toxins to the water, cover grass beds with mats of muck and blot up so much oxygen that fish and other critters expire.
Restoration started in 1999. When it's complete in 2015, 43 miles of river and 24,000 acres of marsh will have been returned to their natural function.
It's one piece of the plan to partly undo the wasteful re-plumbing of southern Florida's natural system, conserving and cleaning enough water to provide for nature, farms and cities.
The theoretical lesson is not to mess with nature too much in the first place. But we never learn that one, so the practical lesson is fix what you've broken.


Turning Wetlands Into Rock Mines
Couterpunch - by ALAN FARAGO
December 21, 2009
Destroying the Everglades at 25 Cents Per Ton
In early December, on an unseasonably hot and humid Florida day, I sat under a large tent in a crowd of hundreds at the edge of a man-made canal draining the Everglades. On stage, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, deputy assistant secretary of the Army ‘Rock’ Salt who oversees the Corps of Engineers, Gary Guzy, deputy director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and assorted dignitaries to celebrate the decision by the Obama White House and Congress to invest in the elevation of the roadway—one mile of Tamiami Trail—allowing fresh water to flow and hopefully nourish parts of the Everglades that remain as a pale reminder of spectacular biodiversity. Make no mistake: among serial claims of historic accomplishments for restoring the Everglades, this was a big deal. The first hard dollars for a project to restore water flow into the Everglades.
A few hundred feet away, cars and trucks sped across the highway seemingly oblivious to the proceedings. They might have slowed if it were a car crash, an instant fatality, of passengers and drivers thrown from the cars. But the Everglades is another kind of wreck; happening in slow motion over such a long period of time that the easiest course is to forget. It is easy enough to do, in Florida.
From the highway, one cannot even see the Everglades to the north. It is blocked by limestone spoil dredged from the canal and set back from its edges to nearly twenty feet. Even from the tent and rows of folding plastic chairs—brought in by a caterer for the occasion—to see the Everglades you would have to scramble up the spoil bank. The bank itself is only authorized to public access pending approval of half a dozen law enforcement agencies. For me, standing on that spoil was itself an historic occasion. From that vantage, you could simultaneously grasp the speeches, the travelers beyond encased in cars of steel, aluminum and molded plastic, and the Everglades, dammed, diked, and deformed.
Just like the drive-by motorists who have no inkling of the tent and its meaning, and the fishermen ignoring toxic mercury contamination of the fish caught in the canal, many of the attendees at the event were themselves oblivious —or simply could not hold contradictory images at once—that just a few miles away, the Corps of Engineers is about to permit more destruction of Everglades wetlands for industrial rock mining. These permits for wetlands destruction, to be issued soon at the end of nearly a decade of litigation, will likely rob some of the water meant to flow beneath the raised Tamiami Trail costing more than $100 million.
If they wanted, senior officials of the EPA and White House Council on Environmental Quality could elevate the Lake Belt permits sought by industry from the Corps to a higher review. The way things stand, is that DC defers to the local office of the Corps, that defers to the state, the state defers to local jurisdictions that defer to big contributors to political campaigns from the Growth Machine and the engineering cartel. A 2005 St. Petersburg Times special report detailed how in fifteen year period during which “no net loss of wetlands” was federal policy, 84,000 acres of Florida wetlands simply disappeared. (“Paving Paradise: Florida’s vanishing wetlands” by authors Craig Pittman and Matthew Waite was expanded into one of the most important books of 2009.)
The tent sheltered seasoned veterans in the matter of assembling the puzzle of public policies with odd shapes, ownership of land tracts, and laws intersecting at angles that rarely fit into a coherent piece, strong enough to withstand special interests, polluters, and the voracious need of cities for water supply to fuel more growth. A strange division of labor unites the group. Like supervisors who constructed the pyramids of Egypt in the desert, they are informed by a vision and ideal that this damaged ecosystem can rise like a Phoenix.
Maybe. You could glean the tenuous nature of this prospect of man-made resurrections of man-made damage to the environment from a report that appeared a week after the mash-up in the Everglades. The article in the South Florida Sun Sentinel is titled, “South Florida firm now exports cement”. Here how the story begins, “Loading a ship in Broward with tons of cement made in west Miami-Dade is ‘like filling a swimming pool with a coffee cup and stake that cup 30 miles each way’, said (a spokesman) for cement maker Titan America.
The story manages to avoid, utterly, the key point: that the cement coming 30 miles away is coming from Everglades wetlands. There, a foreign corporation based in Greece, paying no tax to the federal treasury on its profits, is excavating Everglades wetlands to ship lime rock to Panama. Consider: at the same time the Everglades are valued highly enough to collect ministers, top political appointees, congressmen and county commissioners, not to mention environmental leaders from hither and yon, only a few miles away the same Everglades are cheap enough to dynamite, chop and grind and ship to Panama.
The ironies pile up so fast you need a IPhone App to keep track. While District Engineer in South Florida in the 1990’s and director of the Governor’s Commission for A Sustainable South Florida, the Corps’ top political official, Rock Salt, was involved in the rock miners’ permits judged to be illegal. Judge William Hoeveler, in his July 2007 ruling, wrote, “In three decades of federal judicial service, this Court has never seen a federal agency respond so indifferently to clear evidence of significant environmental risks related to the agency's proposed action”. While it has taken nearly a decade for federal litigation to wind its way toward a victory for environmentalists, the current permits under which miners operate are expiring. The rock miners, one of Florida’s wealthiest and most secretive constituencies, are confidently lining up more permits. Win, but lose.
Back under the tent, the Republican congressman whose district encompasses the Everglades, Mario Diaz Balart, talked enthusiastically about the bipartisan love in the Florida delegation for the Everglades. The theme: “Yes it is hard and we have differences, but we are working together” could have been pulled from any speech for the Everglades by a public official; five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago. The same utterances were available from the speakers podium in Palm Beach County in October 2004 when Governor Jeb Bush announced a multi-billion dollar commitment by the state to accelerate restoration of the Everglades. But the Jeb Bush money was for water supply projects benefiting cities and agriculture first, not the Everglades or only at the back end of the investment, and when a longtime Republican congressman, Clay Shaw, had the temerity to say so he was not only banished from the platform wrapped in red, white and blue bunting, in his next campaign he was targeted by the radical, conservative wing of the G.O.P. that had engorged itself on the fictions of the housing market bubble, of wetlands “mitigation” schemes, and the cartel created from serving highly engineered water supply to new suburbs; a game of leap-frogging infrastructure and other cartwheels of public policies that flourished by ignoring its porous financial underpinnings and fraudulent environmental benefits.
But jobs are jobs. That’s what the Sun Sentinel says. “The story behind the first boatload carrying South Florida cement from Port Everglades to Panama this week proves how much work it takes to shift trade gears and save local factory jobs during the U.S. business slump.”
For decades, the United States had permitted the destruction of Everglades wetlands to provide cheap cement for the overdevelopment of Florida. From this point of view, wetlands destruction in Florida partnered with wealth destruction on Wall Street, to balance an unprecedented boom in Florida real estate on the tip of economic and financial catastrophe. Thousands of millionaires floated on the bubble. They depended on Everglades marshes like characters from Glengarry Glen Ross inflated to the size of Macy Day Parade floats. The biggest include sugar billionaires and rock miners, even more secretive and contained behind barbed wire fencing, security cameras, and massive drag lines.
The rock miners don’t want the wetlands. They scrape them clean. What they want is underneath a scrim of soil covering cap rock. Once the limestone—made from fossilized coral – is dynamited and gobbled up by crushers, exposing the aquifer, it is converted to base material for cement and asphalt. A thousand highways growing like kudzu and shopping malls blooming like bougainvillea and new tracts of farmland or wetlands opened to sprawl: all are derivatives of Florida wetlands.
The rock pits left behind after the wetlands are dug out are also convection routes for pollution (Judge Hoeveler also ruled that the Lake Belt rock mines had put the drinking water wells serving more than 2 million residents of Miami-Dade County at risk of contamination) and political corruption. In Palm Beach County, a 1999 deal to put one rock mine in public ownership—for the purposes of “water storage”—eventually landed three of five Palm Beach county commissioners in federal prison but not before a well-connected Republican campaign contributor grossed $200,000 per acre from the state.
This free market folly rises to nearly the height of new nuclear reactors sought by FPL, the largest utility in the state, at the water’s edge of Biscayne National Park; the cost to be borne by ratepayers, $20 billion, is what is estimated to restore the entire remaining Everglades. An important project feature includes a rock mine-- presented by the engineering cartel as a faux restoration feature—for provide enough fill to raise the reactors twenty five feet above sea level.
In the Lake Belt in West Miami-Dade County in 2002, the US Army Corps of Engineers issued ten-year permits to Florida rock miners for 5600 acres of Everglades wetlands destruction. Those permits have been judged to be illegal in federal court. There is time for the Obama administration to fairly balance the costs to the Everglades and the public. The price the rock mining industry pays per ton for its privilege to destroy Everglades wetlands in the Lake Belt Area is 25 cents.

Alan Farago writes on culture, the environment and politics in Coral Gables, FL. He can be reached at


County eyes pollution
December 20, 2009
WESLEY CHAPEL - Somewhere off the unpaved western end of Chancey Road, near the on-again, off-again stream known as New River, a septic tank is leaking.
Pasco County officials know this because they've found human intestinal bacteria in the water flowing in New River after heavy rains. Those bacteria suggest other potentially more harmful microbes could be lurking in the New River, making it unfit for human use.
Federal and state environmental officials want Pasco to clean up the New River and other streams feeding Tampa Bay - a task that could cost the county millions of dollars and change the habits of residents, business owners and developers alike.
The concern is that storms could flush bacteria, excess fertilizer and other pollutants from eastern Pasco downstream to the Hillsborough River and into Tampa Bay. In the Bay, those pollutants harm fish nurseries and promote harmful algal blooms such as the red tides that plagued the coast in 2006. On the Gulf Coast, those same pollutants cause Pasco's few beaches to be closed more often than they're open.
State and federal environmental officials set pollution limits for Tampa Bay a decade ago. Now they're working their way upstream, trying to stop pollutants at their source. In most cases, those sources are the parking lots, rooftops and backyards that come with development.
State and federal officials are drawing up specific limits for pollutants for nearly 2,000 Florida water bodies that the Environmental Protection Agency considers unfit for swimming and fishing.
In Pasco, those limits are hitting New River, Trout Creek and Cypress Creek - all of which flow through fast-growing Wesley Chapel on their way to the Hillsborough River. Some limits are already in place; others remain in the works.
As those limits evolve, two questions loom over them: Where is the pollution coming from and what can be done about it?
Neither question has a simple answer, says Mike Garrett, who oversees the county's stormwater management program.
"Part of the reason we haven't been proactive is: Where do you spend the money?" Garrett said recently. "If you spend it in the wrong place, you've wasted it."
Polluted storm runoff happens anywhere rain falls on hard surfaces such as roads and roofs, or on land saturated with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Every car, every lawn and every grazing cow contributes to the problem. That makes runoff hard to clean up.
Retention ponds - the go-to method for catching and cleaning polluted runoff - work well for some pollutants but not others. Ponds may have to be redesigned using sand filters and native plants to pull more pollutants out of the water, Garrett said.
Pricey proposition
A consultant hired five years ago to put a price tag on cleaning up Pasco's polluted stormwater came up with a whopper: $350 million - more than $2,100 per Pasco household at the time.
The county has a tax-funded stormwater utility that grapples with the runoff issue, but its coffers aren't nearly that deep. Imposing the kind of taxes needed to meet that $350 million estimate would be unreasonable, Garrett said.
Instead, county officials hope to take a gentler approach to reducing Pasco's pollution load. But that could mean changing the habits of thousands of homeowners, dog owners and landscapers.
It could mean treating storm runoff as a resource - using it for irrigation - rather than a nuisance and replacing asphalt with porous pavement where possible. Developers might get credit against future permits for taking those approaches.
"Part of this is having as many tools in the toolbox as you can," said Clark Hull, who oversees wetland issues for the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
It could also mean imposing new rules on big developers, such as forcing them to give up more of their land for massive detention ponds. New statewide rules might also force builders to ensure the water leaving their project is nearly as clean after development as it was before, said Jan Mandrup-Poulsen, who oversees water pollution programs for the DEP.
Developer opposition
So far, developers have resisted steps to strengthen water quality on their projects.
"We've run into a lot of opposition when we try to put water quality stuff into these (big developments)," Garrett said.
The prospect of new rules governing development got the attention of the developers of Wiregrass Ranch. The 5,000-acre ranch at the heart of Wesley Chapel hosts the headwaters of Trout Creek, which flows south into Hillsborough.
The Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency have drawn up pollution limits for Trout Creek based partly on the levels of nitrogen turning up in the lower Hillsborough River.
Pasco officials have challenged those limits - about one-third the creek's natural state - as unduly restrictive and nearly impossible to meet. They're trying to come up with their own limits.
The developers of Wiregrass Ranch foresee changes to the plans for their property.
"We have got our engineers and our attorneys looking into the implications," said David Evans, spokesman for the Porter family, which owns the ranch.
The county's Trout Creek research will be part of about $1 million in testing Pasco will do next year on the streams in Wesley Chapel. The hope is to pin down Pasco's exact contribution to the Hillsborough River's problems to avoid getting saddled with an unfair share of the cleanup costs, Garrett said.
County commissioners will consider early next year new rules governing the use of fertilizer on lawns and green spaces. Garrett says those rules are unlikely to be as strict as the summertime ban on fertilizer sales now in the works in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
Through a combination of carrots and sticks, county and state officials hope to keep water pollution in check when development in Pasco eventually rebounds.
"We're probably going to have to get pretty creative," Garrett said.
Reporter Kevin Wiatrowski can be reached at (813) 731-8168.


Jobs vs. environment fight over inland port similar to Scripps standoff
Sun Sentinel by Andy Reid
December 20, 2009
"Remember Scripps" has become the rallying cry for environmental groups lining up to fight an industrial distribution center planned on sugar cane land in Palm Beach County.
The Port of Palm Beach voted Thursday to build a sprawling "inland port" on Florida Crystals' land south of Lake Okeechobee – despite concerns that industrial development could get in the way of Everglades restoration.
Supporters hail the proposed cargo shipping hub as an economic savior for lakeside communities plagued with unemployment. But environmentalists say the proposed location opens the door to mushrooming industrial development that would foil plans to restore water flows to the Everglades.
They are preparing a legal challenge, similar to the approach that torpedoed Palm Beach County's ill-fated plans to build a "biotech village" anchored by The Scripps Research Institute on citrus groves west of Palm Beach Gardens.
After years of ignoring environmentalists' arguments that the proposed Scripps site would bring too much development to rural areas, a legal challenge in 2006 persuaded Palm Beach County to move Scripps to Florida Atlantic University's Jupiter campus.
Now environmental groups warn that the thousands of jobs promised to struggling residents in Pahokee, Belle Glade and South Bay won't materialize any time soon if the inland port project becomes tied up in legal fights.
There's something "tragic" about environmentalists and people in need of jobs being on opposite sides of the inland port site selection issue, said Matthew Schwartz, of the Sierra Club's Broward County group.
"Folks in this community are being given false hope," Schwartz said.
Florida Crystals attorney Clifford Hertz called it "misleading" for environmental groups to suggest that putting the inland port on the company's land would get in the way of Everglades restoration.
While Florida Crystals' plans offers the hope for new jobs, Hertz said that environmentalists' "wait, wait, wait solution will starve out the Glades."
The land-locked Port of Palm Beach hopes to expand by teaming with Broward County's Port Everglades, and the Port of Miami to build an industrial distribution center that would link coastal ports to rail and truck routes across the country.
On Thursday, Florida Crystals' proposal to build the facility near the company's Okeelanta power plant west of U.S. 27 beat two competing sites near Clewiston and another near Port St. Lucie.
Environmental groups maintain that an inland port can work, as long as it doesn't get in the way of restoration. They contend the Florida Crystals location poses the most risk to hampering multi-billion-dollar restoration efforts.
Restoration plans call for using farmland in the vast Everglades Agricultural Area, south of Lake Okeechobee, to build a series of reservoirs and stormwater treatment areas to re-establish water flows from the lake to the Everglades.
Florida Crystals contends that current restoration plans put those reservoirs and treatment areas west of the company's Okeelanta plant and that the proposed inland port doesn't conflict with Everglades efforts.
But restoration plans aren't finalized and the potential environmental problems go beyond the exact location of the distribution center, said Kirk Fordham, CEO of the Everglades Foundation. Spinoff businesses and extended rail lines are among the expected byproducts of building the inland port, and that could threaten Everglades restoration, Fordham said.
Officials from long-suffering lakeside communities in western Palm Beach County say they cannot afford for environmental concerns to swamp the inland port project.
The unemployment rate in Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay hovers around 40 percent. A lack of job opportunities has been a decades-long problem, long before the nation's recent recession.
"We need this inland port in western Palm Beach County," Pahokee Mayor Wayne Whitaker said. "We need the jobs."
There is already a legal challenge in the works to Palm Beach County's plan to change its development rules to allow the inland port on Florida Crystals' land. Environmental permits needed to build the facility can also expect a challenge that could delay construction.
"Everybody wants to do something for jobs, but it's not realistic here," said Richard Grosso, of the Everglades Law Center, who also helped wage the Scripps fight.
Andy Reid can be reached at or 561-228-5504.


East coast vs. west coast dispute simmers over Lake Okeechobee releases by Charlie Whitehead
December 19, 2009
FORT MYERS — Every gallon of water collected in Lake Okeechobee during the dry season is a gallon that doesn’t flow down the Caloosahatchee River to keep salinity down and protect sea grasses.
But every gallon of water sent down the river is one that’s not available for thirsty east coast utilities or for sugar cane growers around the lake.
Somewhere in the middle is the balance a South Florida Water Management District committee is struggling to keep. The group met this past week for a day-long workshop in Fort Myers.
The extremes on each side are obvious, with east coast and agricultural interests looking to keep water in the lake for east coast drinking water and crop irrigation. West coast interests want enough freshwater from the lake to keep sea grasses and coastal estuaries healthy.
But both sides agree the lake management strategy should strive to keep the level above that point where conflicts begin.
That got harder when the new Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule went into effect in 2008. The new schedule cut maximum lake height by a foot to protect the Herbert Hoover Dike that rims the lake.
Tom MacVicar, a member of the district’s Water Resources Advisory Commission who represents agricultural interests, said the schedule benefited the Caloosahatchee by establishing base flows and benefited the dike by lowering the lake level.
“Ag got nothing but harm,” he said. “The (schedule) was very heavy-handed and one-sided and developed in a hurry.”
West coast residents don’t see it that way.
Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah said he’d never seen evidence the schedule harmed agricultural interests, though keeping the lake level lower did reduce the high-water releases that also harm the river and estuary.
Barbara Miedema, a water commission member who represents the Florida Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative, said water restrictions and drought cost $100 million in lost crops in the last two years.
Judah cited an after-action report by the Corps of Engineers that said all of the river releases last year only knocked a little over an inch off the lake level.
“It’s insignificant to water supply and irrigation,” he said. “It’s very significant for the Caloosahatchee.”
While relative peace has prevailed for the past two years as dry weather has kept those major flushes to a minimum, Cal Neidrauer chief engineer in the district’s operations department, said the new system has yet to be tested by high water.
“If what we got in 2003, ‘04 and ‘05 happened again the system would have been trashed regardless,” Neidrauer said.
The district is revising protocols for management when lake levels begin to drop to the level in which conflicts begin to occur between various demands.
“We try to operate in such a way that it’s win-win,” said Susan Gray, chief scientist for the district’s restoration sciences department. “When we get to the area where there’s conflict we try to minimize the conflicts.”
Last year, coastal interests bristled when a decision to stop river releases was made hastily, they said.
Just a few weeks ago, water commission member Rae Ann Wessell of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation said the district board did it again.
At a Dec. 9 meeting, without public notice of the discussion, the board decided not to begin river releases.
“Once again with no notice there ended up being an extensive discussion about environmental releases,” she said. “It’s extremely aggravating.”
Gray urged the diverse interests to keep working for something with which they all can live.
“I’m hoping the long-term forecast is right and we have a wet winter,” she said Wednesday, prior to Friday’s 2-inch rainfall. “We need this.”


Citizens voice water concerns by Fred Hiers, Staff writer
December 18, 2009
Nearly 150 Marion County residents showed up to speak with members of the Florida Senate Select Committee on Inland Waters on Wednesday.
Nearly 150 Marion County and area residents had no shortage of concerns over water rights, spring contamination and river protection issues to share with members of the Florida Senate Select Committee on Inland Waters on Wednesday.
Most who came to the public meeting at Central Florida Community Center's Klein Center spoke to members of the committee wanting assurances that Tallahassee lawmakers weren't going to change "local sources first" statutes.
Many also said water conservation should take priority over finding alternative water sources and that it was time the Legislature step in to stop unwanted nutrients from continuing to contaminate Florida's springs.
The meeting, scheduled for three hours, ran longer.
But before taking questions, Committee Chairman Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, said he saw no movement in the senate to change laws requiring counties to first exhaust their own water resources before venturing beyond their borders to take water from elsewhere.
Despite a recent report from his staff, which many interpreted as recommending a single water czar to decide over the state's water issues, Constantine said he was a "firm believer" in communities using their own water first, adding, "that's not a philosophy I want to revamp."
He said staff reports were meant to be starting points for discussion and that he had no interest in pursuing an agenda that piped water across Florida.
Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville, a member of the select committee, said he wanted no part of moving water from North Florida to the more densely populated South Florida.
"We all believe in local sources first. There's no piping going to happen," Oelrich said.
Robert Knight, a University of Florida professor and consultant to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, urged members of the committee to pursue legation next year to set state-wide standards for many of Florida's springs.
There are 700 springs in Florida, 35 which are of first magnitude.
During the senate's last session, Constantine proposed springs protection and watershed restoration legislation.
The bill did not pass the Senate, but the select committee is expected to build on the failed proposal next year and again propose similar legislation.
The bill set standards for nutrient levels that pollute springs and set time lines for their restoration.
Knight said his studies and the work of other scientists' shows that springs are suffering from too many nutrients and the main culprit is nitrogen.
And while new technology allows scientists to determine whether nitrogen in springs is from human or animal waste, or fertilizers, King warned it would likely be too difficult for many years to determine where the unwanted nutrient came from and how it got to each spring.
Constantine said lawmakers shouldn't wait, but should act now to set limits for pollutants that enter the groundwater.
In addition to Constantine and Oelrich, select committee member Charlie Dean, R-Inverness was in attendance.
Jerry Brooks of the FDEP told the members and audience that while a low number of septic tanks didn't do significant harm to springs when they released nitrates, communities should hook up homes to county or city utilities when density reaches certain limits.
"Some areas, including Marian County ... these densities, I can tell you, represent a significant load into our springs systems," Brooks said.
Brooks also urged legislation setting nutrient limits, saying that if we waited until all the science about nitrate origins was in, "we are not going to be successful in protecting our springs."
Part of the solution, he said, was continuing to recycle wastewater and that reuse was a philosophy "we must learn to embrace. We need to continue to expand the process we've begun."
Chad Johannesen, vice president/division manager of Maronda Homes in Ocala, warned that before lawmakers set nutrient reduction goals, they should first make sure there were proven technologies available to help reduce nitrates in septic tanks and spray fields where waste is often deposited.
Lawmakers should also focus on the state's struggling economy, he said, adding, "If we don't have an economy, we won't have anyone living here and the springs will be saved."
Johannesen is running for the Florida House of Representatives.
Environmentalist Neil Armingeon urged the select committee to also focus on conservation of Florida's water rather than finding alternatives to ground water.
He said finding alternative sources typically meant siphoning surface waters such as from the St. Johns River and the Ocklawaha River.
Eventually, surface water sources won't be enough at the rate Floridians use water, he said.
Charles Lee of Audubon Florida agreed.
Lee showed the select committee data about the Withlacoochee River in which portions of the river were dry only three times over 70 years of data collection.
Each of those times were in the past nine years, he said.
"Rivers like the Withlacoochee do not belong on a list of alternative water supplies," he said.
Environmental activist Guy Marwick warned that the Ocklawaha River's flow had already declined during the past few decades.
Meanwhile, the St. Johns River Water Management District was planning to us it as an alternative water source, preparing to withdraw about 100 million gallons per day.
He said that during times of drought, the river's flow already drops to about 300 million gallons per day and that removing a third would be catastrophic.
The meeting had been organized by Dean. Constantine said another such meeting would likely be held before the 2010 legislative session, probably in Alachua County.
Contact Fred Hiers at 352-867-4157 or


Conserving water still critical
The Tampa Tribune
December 18, 2009
Water is the most critical conservation issue in Florida. We ping-pong between having enough and drought conditions, and it affects everything from economic development to the health of our citizens.
Still, only about 5 percent of our water is used for drinking. All the rest of water is used for habits we have in daily living. All habits can be modified, so 95 percent of our water use can be affected by conservation.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District is encouraging everyone to skip a week watering their lawns during the winter months of December, January and February.
According to research by the University of Florida, grass doesn't need to be watered as often during the cooler months. In fact, one-half to three-quarters of an inch of water every 10-14 days is sufficient. Overwatering can actually contribute to disease and attract pests.
So, changing the habit of watering every week to a habit of walking out to the garage and turning your sprinkler system to "off" every other week will conserve lots of water - and save money. SWFWMD officials say about 50 percent of household water use is used outdoors - for the lawn, the pool, washing the car, etc. The potential for conserving is great.
The next logical step to conserving water is looking for leaks. SWFWMD estimates a dripping faucet can waste 300 gallons of water a month. You can use your water meter outside to check for leaks. Turn off all water and water-using appliances. Allow for the water heater and ice cube maker to refill. Check the meter. Wait 30 minutes and check the meter again. If it has registered use, you have a leak.
From there, options for conserving water are innumerable. Everything from washing full loads in the clothes washer to planting drought resistant plants in the yard. The decisive move is to be more aware of how you use - and waste - water in and around your home. In addition to entering the dry season, our region is experiencing the effects of a four-year drought. All 16 counties in SWFWMD's area of jurisdiction are under one-day-per-week lawn watering restrictions through the end of February.
For more tips on conserving water, go to</SPAN< a>>.


Hope for the Everglades
New York Times – Editorial
December 18, 2009
A one-mile bridge does not sound like a big project, any more than $81 million sounds like big money. But the recent groundbreaking for a one-mile, $81 million bridge on Florida’s Tamiami Trail was a huge event for people who care about the Everglades. It was one more encouraging sign that the effort to restore South Florida’s ecosystem remains alive.
The bridge project will raise one section of the Tamiami Trail’s roadbed to allow water to begin flowing into the Everglades and south to Florida Bay — much as it did before commercial development, canals and roadways deprived the Everglades of the freshwater flows that had made it one of the richest ecosystems on Earth.
The bridge symbolizes the Obama administration’s determination to get cracking on the $8 billion (now $12 billion) Everglades restoration project approved by Congress in 2000. The project was supposed to be a 50-50 deal shared by Florida and the federal government, but Washington has failed to honor the bargain. The state has provided $2.4 billion, the feds only one-fifth of that.
Now, not just the bridge but other federally financed projects are leaping off the drawing boards. Two important wetlands restoration projects on the state’s southwest and southeast coasts are to begin early next year.
There are two reasons for the change. One is an infusion of federal cash. The administration included more than $100 million for Everglades restoration in the stimulus package, and Congress anted up another $100 million. The other is an infusion of high-level interest. Carol Browner, President Obama’s top environmental adviser, is a longtime Everglades champion. Ken Salazar, the secretary of the interior, is equally committed. The notoriously dysfunctional Army Corps of Engineers, which will have to do much of the actual work, is finally in the hands of people who care.
Other sections of the trail must be elevated, other projects begun. Gov. Charlie Crist’s ambitious plan to buy and retire from production thousands of acres of sugar cane fields north of the park must be brought to fruition. (The deal would reduce pollution and provide room for reservoirs to store water that could be released during the dry season.)
The Office of Management and Budget wants major cuts in Everglades spending next year. The White House should resist them. Re-establishing momentum has not been easy, and it would be silly to arrest it now.


Rains help recharge aquifer, area lakes
Hernando Today, Tampa Tribune, by M.D. Bates
December 18, 2009
December, typically a dry month for the area, brought 2.87 inches of rain to the area, which allowed the aquifer to post its second positive reading in two weeks.
But even with that much rain, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud, has not eased its one-day-per-week watering limits for Hernando County. While improving, lake levels remain below normal.
"The effects of our four-year drought can still be seen in our lakes, rivers and groundwater," said Granville Kinsman, Swiftmud's hydrologic data manager.
Kinsman said forecasters are predicting above-normal rainfall through mid-spring, which could improve conditions.
Hernando County and the other counties encompassing Swiftmud's northern district have already received more rain in the first 16 days of December than they normally do for the entire month.
Historically, December brings 2.66 inches of rain.
The rains have also recharged the aquifer, the underground layers of rock and sand that hold water.
That's good news for local bodies of water because any drop-off in the aquifer level causes a decline in groundwater that charges lakes.
As of Dec. 16, the level was at 0.26 feet, up from a negative 0.05 feet this same period last year, according to Swiftmud.
The normal aquifer range for this area is anywhere between 0 and 4 feet.
In November, rainfall was within the normal range.
Don't look for the rains to go away any time soon.
Jennifer Colson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin, said there is a 90 percent chance of rain today as an area of low pressure over the Gulf of Mexico moves over the state.
This area could receive 1 to 2 inches today, she said.
The moisture should move out by Saturday and leave a cold front in its wake. Forecast highs for Saturday are the mid-60s and the mercury probably won't get past 60 on Sunday.
The coldest night should be Sunday night and into Monday morning when the temperatures should be in the mid-30s. Colson said.
Reporter Michael D. Bates can be reached at 352-544-5290 or



Clean Energy Can Help Agriculture - by WAYNE GIDEONS
December 17, 2009            
The United States has been known as the agricultural breadbasket to the world. We have fed ourselves and underdeveloped nations with staples like milk, juices, grain and meats. Agriculture, our nation's oldest industry, has provided a good life for millions of American families. To make the industry stronger for future generations we must change our behavior by investing in cleaner ways of tending our fields and recreating a strong alliance between man and earth.
The agricultural community is dependent on predictable conditions and reliable ways to acquire supplies and dispose of waste, but increasingly farmers are feeling the effects of changing climate conditions through floods and droughts, shifts in growing seasons and reductions in crop yields. Every effect of pollution in our water, land and air is multiplied in the agricultural community tenfold. We are reaping the damages of polluted air for our disregard in releasing toxic air emissions that expedite global warming. We discard human, animal and food waste onto our fields at nutrient concentrations far beyond what the crops are capable of absorbing, creating dangerous levels of contamination to the soils that provide our food sources. We contaminate our water resources through nutrient runoff that makes the water undrinkable without purification processes and kills wildlife, fish and vital microorganisms in the soil.
Like the Clean Water Act that was imposed in the early '70s to protect water bodies and our supply of potable water, today we must also aggressively take actions to develop clean energy technologies. The Clean Energy Jobs Act proposed by Senate promotes domestic clean-energy incentives while reducing pollutants. Transitioning to a clean-energy economy by increasing our investments in renewable-energy sources and energy efficiency can save our farmers money while also saving our agricultural resources from being polluted. Energy expenditures cost U.S. farmers more than $10 billion per year. Farmers can qualify for federal tax credits by purchasing energy-efficient appliances and renewable-energy systems, helping to make their homes and farms more efficient while also saving money on energy bills.
My company, Yaroke USA, is one of the companies showing that jobs can be created and costs lowered while using clean and renewable energy. What most of us have considered as waste, destined to be dumped, is now becoming a treasured commodity for renewable energy. For more than 3,000 years, man has converted waste to usable forms of energy on a small scale. Working with farmers today, Yaroke USA's anaerobic digestion is exemplifying a 21st-century high-tech capability to provide solutions to the agricultural industry as well as the waste industry. The animal industry has a tremendous need for solutions to the age-old process of handling manure, wastewater, odors and strict EPA regulations. They are also looking for new income streams to be able to survive the onslaught of low milk prices, low meat prices and the increasing cost associated with running the farm. With anaerobic digestion, Yaroke USA can address these concerns while capturing greenhouse gases, providing new income streams and producing renewable electricity, natural gas, compost, bottled carbon dioxide and nutrient rich water.
Agricultural animal farming provides valuable food and drink resources, while stimulating the economic engines in rural America. A Florida study on a 2,100-dairy-cow business found that it has an economic impact of 179 jobs, contributes an average of $3.8 million in household spending to Tampa's economy and $16.97 million to Hillsborough County's economy. This same dairy farm has an investment in excess of $8 million in construction facilities to handle cows and nutrients. The state of Florida also receives an economic impact of over $15 million in statewide spending and 27 additional full-time jobs. When Yaroke USA installs its technology for processing clean energy through anaerobic digestion, another 80 jobs are created, an average of $1.5 million in household spending occurs and $8 million is introduced to the county's economy. Yaroke USA is providing solutions for jobs, stimulating the economic engine, turning manure to energy, reducing odors, water pollution, greenhouse gases, and improving dairy cow health, stimulating construction, electricity, heating, compost, nutrient water for crops, EPA compliance and most of all, helping to keep the farmer in business.
Implementing new solutions like anaerobic digestion has the potential to make a significant contribution to the nation's efforts to address climate change and to transition to a clean energy economy. Failure to take action to address the climate crisis will continue to have devastating impacts on our agricultural industry and the families that depend on farming. Incentives for clean energy, reducing greenhouse gasses and keeping jobs here in America make the Clean Energy Jobs Act an important first step in helping America's oldest industry become its strongest.
[ Wayne Gideons is president of Yaroke USA in Seffner. ]


Palm Beach County gets inland port, despite environmental concerns
Sun Sentinel by Andy Reid
December 17, 2009
Environmental warnings failed to stop Palm Beach County port officials Thursday from deciding to put a sprawling, inland industrial distribution center in an agricultural area targeted for Everglades restoration.
The proposed "inland port," now planned on sugar giant Florida Crystal's land in western Palm Beach County, would become a South Florida distribution hub linked by rail lines and truck routes to coastal ports that could tap into cargo shipped around the world.
The land-locked Port of Palm Beach hopes to grow by working with Broward County's Port Everglades and the Port of Miami to create the inland industrial distribution center.
Where to build the inland port turned into a politically charged decision, pitting job-hungry communities near Lake Okeechobee against each other and drawing threats of legal fights from environmental groups.
On Thursday night, the Port of Palm Beach board chose sugar producer Florida Crystal's proposal to build the facility near the company's Okeelanta power plant west of U.S. 27. Florida Crystals beat out two competing sites near Clewiston and another near Port St. Lucie.
The "desperation" of unemployment in Glades communities, coupled with the increase in cargo shipments expected from the upcoming widening of the Panama Canal makes now the time to act on the inland port, Port of Palm Beach board chairman Edward Oppel said.
Florida Crystals' site was chosen after a "fair and rigorous" process that factored in environmental concerns, Oppel said.
"There is no time to wait," Oppel said.
Palm Beach County officials pushed for their hometown port to pick the Florida Crystals site so it would provide jobs for Belle Glade, South Bay and Pahokee, where unemployment hovers near 40 percent.
The need for jobs outweighs potential environmental concerns, business and community leaders argued Thursday.
"We need to have economic development. We need to have jobs in the Glades," said state Rep. Mack Bernard, who represents western Palm Beach County.
Environmental groups object to the proposed Florida Crystals site, saying it threatens to get in the way of plans to use agricultural land to build reservoirs and treatment areas to restore water flows to the Everglades.
Environmentalists have warned that picking the wrong site could lead to years of legal fights that end up delaying the inland port and the jobs it could bring.
Richard Grosso, of the Everglades Law Center, called for port officials to delay a decision until restoration plans are finalized.
"It just seems as though they have not had a real level-headed look at all this," Grosso said after the port board's decision Thursday. "This is not the final word on the subject at all."
Port officials in October delayed a decision on picking a site after state officials questioned the potential effect on Everglades restoration.
Gov. Charlie Crist is pushing a $536 million deal to buy 73,000 acres from U.S. Sugar Corp. to use for Everglades restoration. If the deal survives a legal challenge, the sale could go by the summer.
Florida Crystals maintains that its location along U.S. 27 is ideal for the inland port and that the land is outside areas planned for Everglades restoration. Florida Crystals attorney Cliff Hertz said the environmental objections are "misleading and false."
Andy Reid can be reached at abreid@SunSentinel or 561-228-5504.
Report Comment:
If this is the best approach regarding consolidation and the movement of goods, much care must be taken regarding the sensitivity of a fragile Everglades eco-system. Wetlands are the most effective way Nature filters surface waters as they migrate into groundwater. You can not change the currents of rivers, nor can you stop human progression. A responsible approach in developing an inland port is critical; remembering how human development has often been careless and reckless by taking a big damaging and often irreversible bite out of nature. Clear headed sanity with common sense should characterize the actions that lead to the inland port's development. Good luck and don't let money be the tie breaker in every decision along the way.
Clearcut75 (12/18/2009, 5:27 AM )


Portion of Everglades burned to deter wildfires
Miami Herald, by CURTIS MORGAN
December 17, 2009
Fire crews put the torch to a swath of Everglades National Park in a program that helps keep the ecosystem healthy and reduces wildfire dangers.
It's the dry season, when uncontrolled wildfires in South Florida can threaten man and nature. That's why fire crews spent Wednesday torching 1,500 acres of Everglades National Park.
In the Everglades, fighting fire with fire is more than a simple platitude. It's a complex practice -- one scientists and park managers call crucial to keeping the River of Grass healthy and communities that surround it safe.
`We've learned we need to burn the Everglades,'' said Rick Anderson, the park's fire-management officer. ``If we don't burn it when we can control it, it will burn when can't.''
The park began its annual cycle of ``prescribed burns'' -- meaning intentional burns -- in popular Shark Valley off the Tamiami Trail.
Though fire can leave the Glades looking like a wasteland, the effect is short-lived.
The charred soil, recharged with nutrients from ashen plants, erupts within a week, even days, with green shoots. They, in turn, lure grazing wildlife and birds. Beyond fertilizing new growth, fires prune the dead, decayed, diseased and exotic.
The Glades evolved over centuries of burns triggered by lightning. It actually needs regular doses of fire to thrive, something park scientists recognized decades ago, conducting the first prescribed burn ever in a national park.
Sawgrass is actually `built to burn,'' said Anderson. Its thin blades go up like paper, but its roots survive in the soggy mud.
Because the Everglades has been dried out by drainage canals and dikes, some fires can be damaging -- particularly during droughts or in areas that haven't been burned for long periods. They also can quickly get out of control.
In May 2008, at the peak of the dry season, a fire probably ignited by a bulldozer -- ironically working on an Everglades-restoration project -- turned into one of South Florida's largest wildfires in years. It burned for 10 days and consumed 40,000 acres, including part of the nesting grounds used by the endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow.
It could have been worse. A prescribed fire at the park's edge the previous year cut down vegetation -- fuel the fire could have used to threaten nearby homes and schools in Southwest Miami-Dade.
Though sawgrass may be built to burn, nature wasn't cooperative so early in the dry season. Standing water shimmered across Shark Valley. Humidity remained stubbornly high. A gentle wind wasn't much of a fan.
Some 40 firefighters from the park and other federal and state agencies doused sawgrass with diesel flu. They shot it with flares. They bombed it with ping pong ball-size balls filled with a flammable cocktail -- by hand, with a Dragon Egg Gun, which resembled a super-soaker squirt gun, and by air, with a helicopter.
Flames crackled and popped here and there. ``The sound you hear is the oxygen bubbles in the plants exploding,'' Anderson said.
But the fire mostly moseyed along. Then, in late afternoon, it rained.
Controlled burns aren't intended to clear everything. The goal is to leave a mosaic of black and green.
In the end, Katie Budzinski, a park fire information officer, estimated 25 percent of the zone had burned. Enough. More important, fire never threatened to go where it was unwanted -- the primary goal. ``This is how we like it,'' said Anderson, ``slow and boring.''


Governors of Ala., Ga., Fla. predict water pact
Associated Press, by Phillip Rawls
December 16, 2009
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The governors of Georgia, Alabama and Florida predict that they will have a solution to their three-state water sharing dispute before they leave office in one year.
Emerging from a private meeting Tuesday that lasted nearly two hours, they provided no details on what a solution might look like. But they all expressed optimism that after nearly two decades, a solution can be found.
The three Republican governors last met to discuss water sharing in December 2007 in Tallahassee, Fla. They also predicted success then, but the conflict grew even testier and court rulings generally went against the interests of Georgia.
This time, they said, the outlook is different, partly because of a tight timetable before all three turn over their jobs to new state chief executives.
"We only have so much time left as governors of our respective states to accomplish this mission, and that's why we are as optimistic as we are that it's going to happen," Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said.
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue said having a deadline fosters cooperation.
"We agree that it would be shameful, frankly, if we let the learning curve that we have been on and learned about transfer to another generation of elected leaders," he said.
Terms of office are not the only deadline facing the governors.
A federal judge ruled in July that Georgia has few legal rights to Lake Lanier, a federal reservoir on the Chattahoochee River and the main source of water for Atlanta. The judge gave the states and Congress until 2012 to agree on water sharing.
The Chattahoochee flows down the Georgia-Alabama border before forming the Apalachicola River and flowing through Florida into the Gulf of Mexico.
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said negotiating teams from each state will work out details of water apportionment and conservation. Then the governors plan to present the plan to their state legislatures in the spring for approval. From there, the plan will go to Congress for approval before year's end.
"If we do that, I think each one of us can look back and say this was a successful venture that took too long, but we ultimately crossed the goal line," Riley said.
The three states have been fighting in court since 1990 over how to allocate the water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin in all three states and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River Basin in Georgia and Alabama.
The outcome will affect employment, growth opportunities, drinking water and recreation in all three states.
A Georgia task force created by Perdue recently reported that there are plenty of ways to replace Lake Lanier's water for Atlanta, but they would be costly and none would provide enough water for the city to meet the federal judge's deadline of 2012.
The governors traded sharp words after the judge ruled in July. But their attitudes were much different Tuesday, with the three hugging and voicing optimism.
"Maybe part of it is the season we are in," Crist told reporters.


Florida's Everglades: A vast classroom on ecosystems
EarthTimes by dpa
December 15, 2009
Miami, Florida - Immediately, one is hit by a bad conscience. "The water which you took a shower with in your hotel in Miami comes from the Everglades," says Dan B Kimball, head of the Everglades National Park office west of the town of Homestead.
"It did not absolutely come from the National Park, but it did come from the ecosystem," Kimball adds. He is not being accusatory, but he does want his visitors to think about it. For, whoever comes to visit the Everglades should not only do so in order to see a few alligators. The extreme southernmost point of the US state of Florida is also an ecological classroom.
A flat landscape, high grass, canals and lakes - this is how many tourists in the US think of the Everglades as being. At first glance, Nature seems to be untouched. But in actual fact, human beings have massively affected the ecosystem. Pointing to a map, Kimball says, "only 20 per cent of the former volume of water now reaches the Everglades."
On the map, the natural flow of water from Lake Okechobee in central Florida runs southwards. In the rainy period, it fills up the Everglades, which then slowly dry out again.
But ever since the late 19th century, a system of canals has knocked this river off-balance - and now it directs rainwater to the Atlantic Ocean and to the Gulf of Mexico, where the water requirements for residents and tourists alike have risen.
The result of what Kimball calls an "ecological disaster" can be viewed on the Anhinga Trail, a footpath for visitors in the Royal Palm region of the eastern part of the national park.
A wooden walkway leads over a slough, where the water flows slowly through a grassy aquatic landscape where fish, alligators, turtles, snakes and frogs thrive.
On this day, park ranger Leon Howell is on duty and he is scanning the scene to point out the tall long-legged wading birds for his visitors. He doesn't have to wait long before spotting some, but there also aren't that many Canadian herons to be seen.
"Compared to the year 1900, only ten per cent of the wading birds are still remaining," Leon says, apologetically.
It takes about 45 minutes to walk the Anhinga Trail. It is named after a bird which hunts its prey under water and afterward stretches its wings out in the sun to dry.
The bird can do this all the time in the slough, since even in the dry season there is always water. But in other parts of the Everglades, this is no longer the case for many months of the year.
The goal of environmentalists and the US government is "to find a balance between Nature and the requirements of five to six million people in southern Florida," explains Mark L Kraus, vice president of the Everglades Foundation.
To accomplish this there is the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, the largest project in the world aimed at restoring a natural environment.
Many tourists make day excursions from Miami to the Everglades. The main route leads through the eastern national park entrance via Royal Palm and from there to the Pa-hay-okee lookout point. From there, the road leads southwards to the visitors' centre in Flamingo.
An alternative route is a drive westwards from Miami in the direction of Fort Myers. There, at the Shark Valley visitors' centre, a side road leads off to the national park.
Dan B Kimball is worried about the long-term effects, not only regarding the freshwater from the north, but also the salt water from the Florida bay which may be forced into the park. Due to climate change, ocean water levels around Florida might rise by up to 90 centimetres by the year 2100.
But some 60 per cent of the national park lies at most just one meter above sea level - not a very promising prospect for the park's sensitive ecosystem.
For further information:,,,


Lee County firm to help fix bay water woes by Kevin Lollar •
December 15, 2009
Thanks to the C-111 canal in southern Miami-Dade County, Florida Bay has become a salty mess.
High salinity in the bay has decreased wading bird, fish and invertebrate populations in the 850-square mile estuary, 700 square miles of which are in Everglades National Park.
Early next year, three companies, including Wright Construction Group of Fort Myers, will begin the $24.9 million C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project in an effort to reduce salinity in the bay and, thus, improve its health.
The project is part of the $10.9 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, which is under the direction of the South Florida Water Management District and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
This won't be Wright's first environmental restoration project: The company created the Billy's Creek Filter Marsh and 10-Mile Filter Marsh and was involved with de-mucking Lake Okeechobee.
"The C-111 project fits into our portfolio," said Keith Moyer, vice president of Wright's Building Operations. "We have an environmental sensitivity, if you will. From a work perspective, this is a great opportunity: Not a lot of people out there can do this."
Authorized by the federal Flood Control Act of 1962, the C-111 canal was built for flood control and water distribution.
Like many Everglades projects over the years, the C-111 canal had unintended and unfortunate environmental consequences.
Before the canal was built, fresh water flowed from Taylor Slough into Florida Bay over a broad area, creating a healthy estuary. An estuary is a water body where fresh water from the land and salt water from the sea mix to form brackish water.
An estuary's health depends on the balance of fresh and salt water.
After C-111 was built, water from Taylor Slough flowed into the canal and emptied into the far eastern part of Florida Bay, never mixing with water in the central part of the bay.
So salinity levels rose in the estuary, and the balance was upset.
"Now salinities are exceedingly high: We regularly get hypersaline conditions," said Jerry Lorenz, Audubon of Florida's director of research. "When salinity regimes are out of sync with the natural system, that screws everything up."
High salinities can change wildlife populations.
Many fish species, for example, move out of the area, and then bird species, such as the roseate spoonbill, that feed on those fish produce fewer young, and their populations decline.
When the C-111 project is finished, water from the canal will be redirected to Taylor Slough and then flow into Florida Bay to bring the salinity to natural levels.
"We should see results almost immediately, to be honest," water district project manager Jorge Jaramillo said. "We'll monitor it for five years to see if it provides the anticipated benefits. If for any reason we don't see what we expect to see, we can revisit it to see where we can improve the project."
Wright Construction has the key role in the C-111 project: The company will build two pump stations that will take water from the canal and pump it west into Taylor Slough.
This part of the project will cost $7.2 million, which comes from the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan Fund and Save Our Everglades Trust Fund.
Other project components:
- West Palm Grading Inc. will grade the land in the Frog Pond Detention Area west of the pump stations to give water a path to the slough - $10.8 million, from the Save Our Everglades Trust Fund.
- GlobeTec Construction of Deerfield Beach will fill canals in the C-111 system - $6.9 million, from the Save Our Everglades Trust Fund.
"The interesting thing about these pump stations in South Florida is that the design is like a cookie cutter," Moyer said. "The only difference is in size."
Although the pump stations are like cookie cutters, they do present challenges.
The water table in that area is 2 feet below the ground, and Wright will need to dig two 6,400-square-foot holes 26 feet deep, which means workers will be digging 24 feet below the water table.
At 15 feet below the ground, crews will run into solid rock, which they'll need to blast through.
Wright will do 40 percent of the work in-house; the rest will employ 100 to 150 people including blasting crews, electrical crews, piling crews and painting crews.
Work on all C-111 projects will begin in early February and must be complete 480 calendar days from when the companies receive their notices to proceed, which should be in early January.
"We're excited, first because of where it is and second because of what it is," Moyer said. "It's a challenge because of the nature of the construction and being at the end of South Florida - the back of my truck will be full of fishing gear. It's just a neat project."


Federal Bill Blocks Boa Constrictors, Anacondas
FOX 4 by Stephanie Hockridge & Meagan Kelleher
December 14, 2009
Big changes have been made to the federal bill that banned all 40 species of python.
A Senate committee decided to add both the boa constrictor and anaconda to the bill, which would make it illegal to import, export and take them across state lines.
"There's no known problem with the boa constrictor anywhere in the US," Jason Hormann at the House of Scales said. "In fact, there's no problem with any of these things in the US, other than in the Everglades. No one really knows why they added boa constrictor."
At the same time, the committee also removed 36 of the 40 python species previously listed on the bill.
Although it sounds like a partial victory, Hormann said the legislation still includes two of the most common species of python in the pet trade.


Kissimmee River making comeback, Fort Myers, by Kevin Lollar
December 14, 2009
Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series looking at the Everglades Restoration project and its effect on Lee County.
An almost day-and-night biological change met passengers last week as the pontoon boat entered the restored section of the Kissimmee River from the C-38 canal.
While the 300-foot-wide, laser-straight C-38 was dull and lifeless, the 25- to 50-foot-wide, serpentine, restored river channel exploded with wildlife, especially birds.
Among the busy, often-noisy cast were great blue, little blue and tri-color herons, ospreys, wood storks and lots of alligators.
So far, the largest river restoration project in history — a joint effort of the South Florida Water Management District and Army Corps of Engineers — is working, said Clarence Tears, director of the Big Cypress Basin, a part of the water district.
“This restoration is so exciting: The river is actually recovering,” said Tears, who was aboard the pontoon boat last week. “When we looked out over the marshes and saw it was wet again, that was exciting. And the wildlife flying and moving around. It was neat to see so many wood storks and yellow-crested night herons and birds with fish in their beaks.”
Restoring the Kissimmee River is an important part of the $10.9 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, said Cathy Byrd, an Army Corps biologist.
“The Kissimmee restoration is at the headwaters of the Everglades,” she said. “Everglades restoration begins there. Kissimmee restoration is the cornerstone.”
Although the Kissimmee is in the center of the state, restoring it and its floodplain will improve water quality in the Caloosahatchee River and its estuary.
“The health of the Caloosahatchee is predicated on what goes into Lake Okeechobee from the Kissimmee,” said Charles Dauray, a member of the water district’s governing board who represents Lee, Collier, Hendry and Charlotte counties. “The health of our economy and environment is directly related to what’s going on in Lake Okeechobee.”


The Exotic Menace, Daytona Beach - by Dinah Voyles Pulver
December 14, 2009
When pets become problems
Dressed for battle in wetsuits, masks and fins, four volunteers waded into Blue Spring early one morning to catch and remove invasive armored catfish thought to harass Florida manatees and damage the spring's sandy banks.
They quickly piled a canoe high with the bony plated fish, more than 800 in just a few hours. They had done the same thing just two weeks earlier.
After removing thousands of catfish during the past eight years, Melissa Gibbs, an assistant professor of biology at Stetson University, has begun to wonder if her quest is a losing battle.
"There are still just as many," Gibbs said. Even more frustrating to those who care about the natural environment, the catfish are only a small part of a much larger problem. Florida faces a growing invasion by exotic animals that escaped into the wild or were released by their owners.
More than 150 former pet or aquarium species not only survive but thrive in the state's temperate climate. That includes five of the 37 fish species found in Blue Spring. Everglades National Park has three times that many exotic fish.
Elsewhere in South Florida, monk parakeet nests foul utility poles and lines, costing utility customers thousands in outages and repairs. And in Cape Coral, Nile monitor lizards eat native burrowing owls.
In Volusia and Flagler counties, more than a dozen pythons or boa constrictors, pets that either escaped or were released, have been found on the lam the past two years, as well as assorted iguanas and monitor lizards.
Dozens of creatures that started as pets threaten and compete with native plants and animals, cause scary encounters with people and raise a host of complex issues surrounding captive wildlife ownership. Scientists, government officials and even many in the booming pet trade agree action is needed -- and soon -- to slow the flow of exotic animals to the woods and waters of Florida and the nation.
"Something has to be done to prevent these situations from occurring again; and to address the problems on the ground that exist right now," said Jamie Reaser, member of the invasive species advisory committee to the National Invasive Species Council and adviser to the national Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council.
Scientists and government officials say the industry needs better regulations to improve scrutiny of exotics and determine which species can be safely imported. Other ideas include limiting species that could be owned as pets, building public awareness of the problems and costs, educating pet owners and enacting stiffer penalties for people who don't follow the rules.
One problem is clear.
Far too many people dispose of unwanted pets by taking the animals to the nearest woods "singing 'Born Free' and letting it go," said Gary Nichols, an invasive species coordinator for the St. Johns River Water Management District. He often finds released pets on district-owned lands.
The problem isn't new. Animals have been abandoned in Florida since the first Spanish explorers left behind pigs and other livestock. Escapees from early roadside attractions luring tourists with monkeys, parrots and other animals added to the problem.
But the variety and number of former pets found in the wild has increased dramatically, lending new urgency to the issue. Last summer, officials announced the Everglades is home to tens of thousands of Burmese pythons. In August, as a South Florida cable company worker leaned against a tree, he was bitten by a venomous green mamba and had to be rushed to the hospital.
Responsibility for regulating exotic pets and issuing captive wildlife permits in Florida falls to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The agency has gradually beefed up regulations designed to require more responsible pet ownership and reduce the number of exotics in the wild and is considering further changes.
The wildlife commission recently appointed an expert panel to look at the rules for its six reptiles of concern, including boa constrictors and Burmese pythons. The panel may consider requirements for better building standards for facilities that house venomous snakes or dangerous wildlife. Most scientists believe the snake situation in the Everglades began after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 destroyed several breeding facilities near Miami and allowed the inventory to escape into the wild.
Meanwhile, state senators have proposed at least two bills to rein in the trade, including one that would prohibit ownership of certain snakes. For some, that seems the easiest answer.
"There's no reason people need to have these things," said John Malin, a community service officer in South Daytona who picked up two big boa constrictors in the past two years, as well as an assortment of iguanas and potbellied pigs. "If you want to see one of these, go to the zoo."
Wildlife advocacy groups say state and federal legislators should limit ownership of the most dangerous pets, those with great potential to harm their owners or create havoc if released into the wild. Peter Jenkins, director of international conservation for the Defenders of Wildlife, said among 2,300 species now being imported into the country legally, only about 300 are considered dangerous. People should be able to find desirable pets among the remaining 2,000, he said.
Local pet dealers and representatives for the national Pet Council say they would probably support additional limits for some species. But the group favors better education of pet owners rather than regulation.
Animals that pose public health and safety risks, or an environmental risk, should be regulated under far more stringent standards than traditional animals and pets, said Marshall Meyers, chief executive officer for the Pet Council. But, he said, a broad-based reptile ban wouldn't "do a thing" to help the Everglades or control thousands of animals already roaming free in Florida.
Banning a species can scare pet owners, spurring them to release animals into the wild, and denying them opportunities to make the right choices, Reaser said. "You're going to end up with a whole lot of snakes out there that wouldn't have been out there in the first place."
That may be happening already. Some officials think they've seen an increase in released exotic animals since 2007 when the wildlife commission changed its rules to require $100 permits for reptiles of concern .
Either way, Florida still must find ways to cope with both existing and arriving exotics.
Officials with the wildlife commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say it's hard to find money for eradication efforts. Scott Hardin, invasive species coordinator for the wildlife commission, hopes the state can create an early warning system and a response plan to go after breeding colonies when they're discovered.
For example, they know they have a small but growing population of tegu lizards in Hillsborough and Polk counties they'd like to go after. They have people trying to "find a slice of time" but no resources to put a group of people out there to trap the lizards, he said. "It's very frustrating."
The "golden moment" for preventing an exotic animal invasion is to capture creatures when first discovered, said Stetson's Gibbs. Animals may reproduce quickly and eradication becomes much more difficult and expensive.
"With a lot of the invasive species we have here and throughout the world, once they become established -- reproducing and doing well -- it's virtually impossible to get rid of them," Gibbs said.
As the case may prove with armored catfish and pythons, "once everyone is finally ready to do something about them, it's usually too late."
Balancing rights, responsibility of owning exotic snakes
Carl Barden has helped save countless lives through a life's work that most people find more than a little creepy -- extracting venom from some of the world's deadliest snakes.
If a tolerant mother hadn't let him have a snake as a youngster, Barden doubts his life would have taken this direction. Barden, director of the Reptile Discovery Center and Medtoxin Venom Laboratories in DeLand, produces venom used by pharmaceutical companies to manufacture life-saving anti-venins given to both human and pets bitten by poisonous snakes.
"It all started with a garter snake I had for a pet when I was 6," Barden said. "Owning any animal is a window into a fascinating world of whatever it might be, whether it's reptiles, amphibians, birds or fish."
Many people involved with animals and the captive wildlife industry have similar stories and backgrounds. They say responsible ownership of such pets can encourage science careers and lead to a lifelong love of wildlife.
As former owners of large snakes, the authors of a recent U.S. Geological Survey report on giant constrictors in Florida would agree.
"The love of nature is often originally fostered in one's own arms, where close contact with living things engenders a connection not otherwise possible," the report states. "The social value of protecting native ecosystems must be weighed against the social value of fostering positive attitudes about the protection of nature through giant constrictor ownership."
Finding a good balance is the challenge facing state and federal lawmakers as they consider rules to force more responsible pet ownership amid growing concerns over escaped and released exotic pets. Like the pet industry in general, local pet dealers do not favor proposals to ban ownership of many snake species.
"You have lawmakers wanting to do radical things about banning ownership and that's not the answer," said Larry Grosky, owner of Larry's Reptile Farm in DeLeon Springs.
Also a lifelong reptile owner, he takes in unwanted reptiles, saving snakes, tortoises and iguanas from an uncertain future, either when he's contacted by a pet owner or when wildlife officers bring him pets that have been confiscated from homes without proper licensing or found in the wild. It bothers him to find snakes that have been mistreated.
Just because a few people do something wrong, Grosky said, it shouldn't mean everyone else who would like to own a big snake should be punished.
Grosky and Anthony Zaffuto, owner of the Mr. Petman store in South Daytona, support state rules that require permits for owning some snakes. To them, it seems a good compromise toward preventing problems while still allowing people to own wild animals.
"It's one more hurdle you have to jump through," Zaffuto said. "Hopefully that weeds out more people that would possibly let it into the wild."
Exotic Pets in Florida
· Individuals and businesses in Florida have 5,475 current licenses and permits to keep captive wildlife in Florida, including 169 in Volusia and Flagler counties. The permits cover homes in residential neighborhoods, zoos, hotel lobbies and pet stores small and large, allowing exotic cats, birds, monkeys, apes and snakes of all varieties.
· In Flagler County, 19 permits are issued and in Volusia County, 150, including 46 permits for the annual reptile trade show at the Ocean Center.
· The only two local cities with no residents or businesses licensed for captive wildlife are Ponce Inlet and Flagler Beach.
· Ten permits in Volusia are for either reptiles of concern or venomous reptiles. None of those permits is issued in Flagler.
· Statewide, the permits include 456 licenses for game farms and 3,444 permits for exhibition and sale of wildlife.
· Nearly 20 percent of the 451 permits for reptiles of concern and venomous reptiles are in two South Florida counties. Miami-Dade has 53, and Broward has 28.
Federal Researchers Consider Risks from Big Snakes
Giant snakes, such as the constrictors and pythons found across South Florida, may pose a high risk to Florida's natural areas and native species, a pair of scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey has concluded. The scientists, Robert Reed and Gordon Rodda, who both have owned giant snakes as pets, examined the ecological risks posed by nine species of giant snakes. The species are considered "giant" constrictors because they can reach lengths of 20 feet or more. The report was released in late October. Here's what it concluded:
Which snakes pose an "exceptional threat" to natural ecosystems?
Five of the nine, the Indian python, including subspecies known as the Burmese python, the Northern African python, the Southern African python, the boa constrictor and the yellow anaconda. They could be "extremely detrimental to native species" because they eat almost every type of land-dwelling vertebrate and may transmit serious diseases. Young snakes may climb trees and all can survive in urban areas.
How many species already are seen in South Florida?
Of the nine, three have established breeding populations: Burmese python, found across thousands of square miles of South Florida; Northern African python, found on the western boundaries of Miami; and boa constrictor, established south of Miami. The fourth, the yellow anaconda, is seen occasionally in the wilds around Big Cypress National Preserve.
Do they pose a human-safety risk?
Only a minimal risk is posed by the largest of adult snakes. Worldwide, nonvenomous snakes kill only a few people each year in the wild. Unprovoked fatalities have been attributed to three snakes in their native regions: reticulated pythons, Burmese and African pythons.
How many giant constrictors have been imported into the United States the past 30 years?
1 million, with about 60 percent of those boa constrictors. Also included are 300,000 Indian pythons, 150,000 reticulated pythons, 33,000 northern and southern African pythons, 13,000 green anacondas and fewer than 2,000 yellow anacondas. The total does not include any snakes bred and sold in this country. More Burmese pythons probably have been bred and sold here than imported. The risk comes not from import but from accidental or intentional releases into areas where big snakes can survive and thrive.
What areas of the mainland U.S. are most at risk from the snakes establishing breeding populations?
Florida and southern Texas.
Which species may be hardiest?
Burmese python is "exceptional" in its ability to tolerate cold weather through hibernation. Others may be able to survive short periods of below-freezing temperatures by going into the water or shallow burrows. Some snake experts dispute this view, saying the big snakes can't take extreme cold and won't move north of Central Florida.
How do the snakes reproduce?
Pythons lay eggs, possibly more than 100 at a time. Anacondas and boas bear live young.
Can an established snake population be eradicated?
Only if it's done very early on a small population, for example a colony the size of the boa constrictor population in Miami. No eradication involving the scale of the Burmese python population in South Florida has ever been attempted on a snake species. Anacondas and pythons would be harder to eradicate because they can live in water.
Did the scientists consider another population of invasive snakes?
The brown tree snake in Guam. Introduced accidentally after World War II, it eliminated 10 of 12 native forest birds on the Pacific island, most of its bats and half its native lizards. As a result, the snake altered native ecological processes, such as pollination.
Various species of exotic animals
Island apple snail
Island apple snails were probably introduced to Florida in the 1980s by the aquarium pet trade. The snails expanded their range rapidly throughout the state. Floodwaters help relocate the snails, which grow nearly twice as large as the native apple snail and lay hundreds more eggs. Scientists say it has a voracious appetite and consider it a serious agriculture pest. So far, the only successful control method is hand removal of the snails and their large masses of pink eggs. Native apple snails leave white egg masses. Pink eggs should be scraped from trees and dropped in water, which keeps the eggs from hatching.
Cuban tree frog
A large native of the West Indies, the Cuban tree frog was first recorded in Miami in 1952. Found in Central Florida by the 1980s, it's now confirmed in, at least, 36 counties. It may be tan, gray, brown or olive green in color and is commonly found in high places, such as in trees, on walls and above windows. It preys on smaller native tree frogs such as green tree frogs and squirrel tree frogs, as well as southern toads and southern leopard frogs. It excretes a noxious substance through its skin that makes it undesirable to some birds and snakes, but black racers, yellow rat snakes and barred owls have been seen eating the frog.
Eurasian collared dove
A western European game bird first released in the Bahamas in 1974. About 1,200 pairs were counted in Dade and Monroe counties by 1987. Now confirmed in every Florida county.
Nine-banded armadillo
This native of the southwestern United States arrived here in two ways. It expanded its range and also was introduced along Florida's east coast in the 1920s and in southern Alabama in the 1960s. By the 1970s or early 1980s the two populations had merged and armadillos are now found in every county. Homeowners find them a nuisance when they dig up lawns looking for food. It is believed to threaten young reptiles and amphibians.
Vermiculated sailfin catfish
In the aftermath from Tropical Storm Fay in 2008, Melissa Gibbs walked on to the flooded swim dock at Blue Spring State Park and couldn't believe her eyes. It was covered with about a "bazillion" larval catfish about 1 inch long, Gibbs said. "They'd just hatched, and they were just everywhere." Covered with bony, armor-like plates, these are one of several "armored" catfish probably introduced by the release of aquarium fish into the wild. The fish, reaching lengths up to 20 inches and weighing up to 3.5 pounds, use their suction cup-like mouths to attach to objects and feed on algae. They create spawning burrows along shorelines that may cause banks to collapse and undermine the root system of trees.
Wild hog
Hogs arrived with early Florida colonists and are found throughout the state. Other wild boars also have been introduced over the years. The animals have serious impacts on native plants and wildlife, including sea turtles, gopher tortoises and shorebirds. They transmit diseases to native and domestic animals, including trichinosis, eastern equine encephalitis and bacterial brucellosis. However, they're also considered prey for native species such as the panther, black bear and bobcat.
SOURCES: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, University of Florida, and Melissa Gibbs, Stetson University
About the Series
Plants and animals imported from around the world are changing Florida's natural areas and threatening native species. In this series, The News-Journal looks at the problem and how it can be solved.


Bill to ban imported large snakes advances
U.S. News
December 11, 2009
WASHINGTON, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- A bill approved Thursday by a U.S. Senate committee would ban the importing of large constrictors like the Burmese pythons that have invaded South Florida.
The measure was sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. In addition to Burmese pythons, it lists reticulated pythons, two types of African pythons, boa constrictors and three species of anaconda, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.
Burmese pythons, which can grow to more than 20 feet long and weigh 200 pounds, are known to be breeding in the Everglades, with a population estimated at 100,000. The snakes are believed to be descended from pets released when they became too large for their owners to handle.
"As steward of our country's vast public lands and natural resources, we have to deal with the threats posed by invasive species," Nelson said in a statement after the committee vote.
The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council has been lobbying against the bill, arguing the problem can be dealt with by regulation and education. The Humane Society and environmental groups support a ban.


Wading birds' rebound is boon for Everglades
Miami Herald by Curtis Morgan
December 11, 2009
After the third strong breeding year since 2002, there is increasing optimism that wading birds are rebounding from decades of decline in the Everglades.
Wading birds, the most beautiful residents of the Everglades and key measuring sticks of its biological health, have been breeding in numbers last recorded more than a half-century ago.
An annual survey released Thursday counted more than 77,000 nests in the Everglades and South Florida's sprawling wetlands this year. One species, the endangered wood stork, was found doing the wild thing at a rate that would put Tiger Woods to shame, its nesting activity increasing an astounding 1,776 percent over a terrible 2008.
``It's just one of those years,'' said Sonny Bass, a biologist at Everglades National Park. ``All the stars aligned just right.''
Those stars -- a not completely understood combination of water levels, rainfall timing and food supply -- have aligned with increasing frequency in the past decade. That's often enough that scientists are cautiously optimistic that populations are recovering after decades of development and water mismanagement put the birds into a death spiral.
``It seems to be a rebound,'' said Mark Cook, a senior environmental scientist with the South Florida Water Management District who compiles the South Florida Wading Bird Report with the help of other scientists across the region.
Because nesting is so closely tied to water levels, sharp year-to-year swings are common in the Everglades. But 2009 proved the largest yet of three strong nesting seasons since 2002, matching the historic highs of the 1940s, when flocks of wood stork, white ibis, snowy egret and other elegant birds darkened the marsh sky.
Equally encouraging, birds have returned in increasing numbers to long-abandoned nesting grounds -- settling down in Lake Okeechobee marshes, along the floodplain of the restored sections of the Kissimmee River and in the coastal estuaries of Everglades National Park, once thriving rookeries that had been largely lifeless for decades.
While state-owned water-conservation areas bordering suburban Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties remain the main breeding areas, Everglades National Park recorded 15,432 nests -- the largest number since 1941. That was six years before the park was created and Marjory Stoneman Douglas published The Everglades: River of Grass.
Bass was particularly surprised by wood storks, a rare wader typically fortunate to produce one or two chicks. Nesting numbers and chicks roughly doubled the average over the past decade.
``It was amazing to go up in these nests and see them with three or four young standing there,'' he said.
The wading birds of the Glades were nearly blasted into oblivion in the 1900s by plume hunters supplying a craze for feathered hats. By the 1930s and '40s, after a public outcry brought a crackdown on hunting, breeding rebounded, resulting in 35,000 to more than 200,000 nests each year.
But after the '40s, drainage canals, flood-control levees and rampant development reduced the historic Everglades by half, cutting populations of the nine surveyed species by an estimated 70 to 90 percent. Poor water-management practices helped drive nesting to a low of just 5,000 in 1983 and 1985.
There have been occasional upticks -- about 56,500 nests in 1972 and 1992 -- but it's only been over the last decade or so that the trends began steadily improving.
Scientists don't fully understand everything driving the recent surge, which is happening without any of the promised benefits of the $12 billion Everglades restoration plan.
Droughts appear to spark the bird booms, with exceptional nesting years occuring two years later. The prevailing theory, said Cook, is that the dry spells knock back populations of large fish that feed on crayfish and smaller fish that make up many birds' primary diet. When the water comes back, the plentiful prey help power the avian sexual surge.
``We've been observing that pattern for a good number of years now,'' he said.
Birds begin breeding as water levels fall, so rainfall timing and volume are clearly key. But other factors certainly play some role, as well, said Cook -- from declining levels of mercury, which can weaken birds, to a larger breeding stock after several good nesting years, to wiser water-management decisions.
Biologists now regularly sit in on water-management meetings, and, when possible, the district will divert or delay water releases that might impact foraging or nesting.
``We can't say with any certainty what has caused it,'' Cook said. ``We can say we have managed the system better.''
While wading birds are considered ``indicator species'' -- or barometers for the broader Everglades -- scientists aren't ready to pronounce the struggling River of Grass healthy again. For one thing, the numbers of some wading species -- the snowy egret, tricolored heron and roseate spoonbill -- remain low or in decline.
``Things do look better,'' Bass said. ``We have colonies back in the areas where they were historically. Now the question is, will that persist?''


South Florida water district OKs pump station at former Martin County ranch
TCPalm by Jason Kane
December 10, 2009
A former Martin County ranch is one step closer to being transformed into a massive wetland that will help clean up Lake Okeechobee.
The governing board of the South Florida Water Management District gave the final nod Thursday morning for the construction of a pump station at the future Lakeside Ranch Stormwater Treatment Area.
Scheduled for completion in December 2011, the facility will be the largest treatment wetland in the Northern Everglades for improving the quality of water that flows into the lake.
The 2,700 acres of former ranchland was acquired by the agency in 2003 to create the wetland area, which will also double as a preservation area.
The pump station primarily will direct stormwater from the Taylor Creek and Nubbin Slough drainage basins into the Lakeside Ranch treatment area — between Warfield Highway and Southwest Conners Highway in western Martin County.
There, plant life will remove about 19 metric tons of phosphorous a year and the clean water will be funneled into Lake Okeechobee.
Officials are concerned with removing the phosphorous because it fuels algae blooms, which in turn suck oxygen from the water and kill other forms of wildlife.
During seasons when stormwater runoff is not high, water in the lake will be recirculated into the treatment area for additional phosphorous removal.
“I think this will be a good thing for the lake as well as the local area,” said Jeff Kivett, director of the agency’s Everglades Restoration Engineering Department. “At all of the stormwater treatment areas, we have seen increased wildlife and great birding views.”
Typically, fish and birds thrive in treatment wetlands, and the 2,700 acres that make up Lakeside Ranch should be no exception.
The property will be open to the public once the construction work is finalized, and Kivett predicts that hiking, bicycling, bird-watching tours will be very popular in the area.
Michigan-based Douglas N. Higgins Inc., a contractor with offices in Naples and Key West, was selected to build the pump station, the water control structure and a 500-foot canal improvement.
Combined, the project will cost nearly $6.8 million and will represent a portion of the $34.4 million first phase of the construction efforts at Lakeside Ranch. Work has already begun on the 925-acre treatment wetland, which also is included in the first phase.
A total of $3 million of that money will come from the Save Our Everglades and the Lake Okeechobee trust funds, with the remainder being funded by the water management district in the next two fiscal years.
The second phase will involve the construction of a second stormwater treatment area and pump station at the southern part of the property.
Two years ago, the district also purchased Brady Ranch — a 2,000-acre piece of property adjacent to Lakeside Ranch — for use in a future expansion. No plans are currently in the works for the property.
Martin County officials have been extremely supportive of the Lakeside Ranch project and other efforts to reduce nutrient levels in Lake Okeechobee.
When the lake is high, one of the fastest ways to discharge some of the water into the ocean is to push it through the St. Lucie River — and ultimately the Indian River Lagoon. If nutrient levels are high, it can have adverse effects on plant, fish, and animal habitats throughout the county.
“The cleaner that water is, the less adverse effects will come our way,” said Paul Millar, the county’s water resource manager. “Anything that would help clean up the lake is in our best interest.”


UF researchers find lone culprit behind greening
University of Florida News - by khowell
December 9, 2009
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida researchers have shown that the disease that threatens to devastate the world’s citrus crop is almost certainly the result of a lone species of bacteria, and not that of a combination of bacterial or viral pathogens as some have feared.
Using three types of next-generation genetic analysis, researchers from UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences examined inner bark from Florida citrus trees infected with citrus greening.
While the team conclusively found the genetic fingerprint of the bacteria commonly suspected to be behind the disease, Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus, the analysis showed no other DNA of suspect viral or bacterial pathogens.
The research, published in the December issue of the journal Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions, is important because the disease has been especially difficult to analyze, said Eric Triplett, chairman of UF’s department of microbiology and cell sciences and lead researcher on the study.
Normally, researchers would prove that the bacteria is behind the disease by capturing a sample of the bacteria, growing it in a petri dish, and then inserting it into a healthy tree to see if it causes the disease.
However, scientists have not yet found a way to get the bacteria to grow in a petri dish. This means that scientists are having trouble using their normal approaches to researching the pathogen.
This genetic analysis is just one of the innovative ways UF researchers have dealt with the irksome bacteria. For example, researchers have developed complex 3-D computer models of the bacteria in infected tree tissue, while other efforts have focused on stopping the insects that spread the pathogen.
“This research tells us that our work, much of which has been focused on Liberibacter, is dead-on, on-target,” said Jacqueline Burns, director of the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center at Lake Alfred. “And it gives us confidence to move on with research that helps target this pathogen.”
Along with potential treatments, the genetic analysis could help lead to new quick and inexpensive testing methods that can be early indicators of disease.
Greening slowly weakens and kills all types of citrus trees, while making their fruit malformed and discolored. However, one of the most problematic issues with greening is that infected trees often go years before showing any of these symptoms.
This gives the disease plenty of time to spread without detection. Since there is currently no cure for greening, the only solution is to destroy infected and possibly infected trees.
So far, greening has devastated citrus crops in Asia, Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and Brazil.
In the U.S., it has been sporadically found through Louisiana, Georgia and South Carolina. The biggest presence, however, is in Florida. Since its presence was first confirmed in Florida in 2005, it has been found in 34 counties — making it a major threat to the state’s $9.1 billion citrus industry.


Construction set to begin on Tamiami Trail bridge project
South Florida Business Journal - by Bill Frogameni
December 4 and 7, 2009
Decades in the planning, construction is finally scheduled to begin on the 1-mile Tamiami Trail bridge.
After years of study and a long legal fight, the $81 million project to restore some of the historic water flow to the lower Everglades should begin at the end of December or the first part of January, said Dennis Bahls, who will oversee the project for the general contractor selected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sunrise-based Kiewit Southern Co.
In June, a Miami federal judge cleared the way for the bridge, setting aside an injunction that she issued last year - the result of a lawsuit filed by the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. The tribe had argued that the bridge could result in flooding.
But, now the project is set to go – and that’s a big win for the environment and business, said Kirk Fordham, CEO of the Everglades Foundation. Maintaining the health of the Everglades is critical, he noted, because the swamp generates billions of combined dollars in ecotourism, fishing, boating and park revenue. Plus, South Florida depends heavily on the Everglades for its water supply.
“This is a long-awaited step,” Fordham said.
Between subcontractors and direct Kiewit employees, about 65 to 75 people will work on the project for between three and 3.5 years, Bahls said. He estimated it will take about a year to ramp up to full employment levels.
About 20 subcontractors will work on the job, Bahls estimated.
Kiewit is well along in the subcontracting process, and most deals are nearly finalized, he said.
In addition to the 1-mile bridge section – located about a mile west of the intersection of Tamiami Trail and Krome Avenue – Kiewit will also raise and reinforce an additional 9.7 miles of Tamiami Trail, allowing for higher water levels.
Environmentalists had fought to have the project – once dubbed the Everglades Skyway – become an 11-mile bridge instead of the mile that is planned. They argue that a longer length would better help the Everglades return to its more natural state, before the Tamiami Trail was built and the southward water flow was drastically altered. But, with high cost projections, the federal government eventually settled on the 1-mile bridge.
Nonetheless, Fordham said there’s still discussion of extending the bridge incrementally as funds allow. In addition to the environmental benefits, an 11-mile bridge running through the Everglades could be an iconic structure, much like the Seven Mile Bridge in the lower Florida Keys.
Even so, the 1-mile bridge will offer travelers a great view of a unique part of the world and it will enhance Miami-Dade County’s tourism industry, said Bill Talbert, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“This is an infrastructure improvement,” he said. “We will sell it and it will be one of those things that distinguishes us.” | (954) 949-7511


Governors Set Water Meeting
GPB News by Edgar Treiguts
December 7, 2009
ATLANTA — The governors of Georgia, Florida and Alabama have set a date to meet over the issue of the ongoing water dispute between the three states. A press release from Governor Sonny Perdue’s office says the meeting will be the afternoon of Tuesday, December 15th in Montgomery, Alabama.
Lake Lanier is at the center of a dispute over water rights between Georgia, Florida and Alabama.
For the past few months, Perdue has been pushing his counterparts to huddle over the topic of water rights in the region.
In July, a federal judge ruled that the Atlanta region was illegally tapping Lake Lanier. He said Georgia would lose access to the federal reservoir in three years if it can't push a settlement through Congress authorizing the use. The ruling gave Florida and Alabama the upper-hand in the states' two-decade dispute over river basins in the region.
Since the ruling, Georgia officials have worked to attack the problem on several fronts: an appeal of the July-decision ; urging Congress to reauthorize use of Lake Lanier for current needs of Georgia ; and meetings of a so-called water task force, made-up of political and business leaders.


Board Members Meet to Discuss Residential Fertilizer Ordinance
Tampa Environmental Policy Examiner by Bonnie Aylor
December 6, 8:05 AM
The Pinellas Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) met for their regular monthly agenda on December 1, 2009. To the Suncoast Sierra Club and it’s constituents, including the Surfriders organization, this was no ordinary meeting. It was an opportunity to speak to the board in regards to their suggestions about the proposed fertilizer ordinance. The Sierra Club was mainly concerned with the portion of the ordinance that allowed for one exemption to the no nitrogen during rainy season rule if the rule also applied to the summer months. This particular regulation was put into place for citizens who wanted to participate in a study by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) program. The exemption was struck by the BOCC at the meeting and a public hearing meeting was set for January 19, 2010.
The ordinance has been introduced to the board as a copycat from the proposed Tampa Bay Estuary Program’s (TBEP) new Fertilizer Ordinance. The TBEP ordinance attempts to limit the use of nitrogen and phosphorous in residential fertilizers during rainy seasons. Limiting the use of nitrogen and phosphorous should significantly reduce nutrient loadings to the Hillsborough River and the Tampa Bay Estuary. Reducing these loads also reduces sources of chlorophyll that feed the algae blooms that inhabit the waters and contribute to a reduction in the waters ability to support other wildlife that might live in and along the waterways. Pinellas County constituents believe that adopting a similar ordinance could help reduce Red Tide along its beaches.
Red tide is caused by excessive growth of algae blooms. The common form of algae associated with Red Tide is Karenia brevis. This bloom releases a toxin affecting the central nervous system of fish, hence ending in fish deaths. The alga may discolor the water a red, green, brownish and sometimes purplish color. In Pinellas the affect of the bloom has also assisted in the depletion of oxygen from the water to the point that even the fish immune to the toxin cannot survive for lack of oxygen once they reach the waters. This has created a large, prevalent problem along the beaches. There is more information about Florida’s Red Tide on the Red Tide Alliance website, a program joint with the Florida Department of Health and the Mote Marine Laboratory.
Language in regards to grass clippings falling into the gullies along residential roads was also of concern at the meeting. The ordinance specifically states that property owners will be fined regardless of whether the clippings were placed there intentionally or accidentally. Basically, in order to be able to enforce the regulation it will need to cover for both accidental and intentional deposits.
Susan Latvia specifically mentioned the exemption regulation. Her concern was that citizens may not even know about the IFAS program and that it would do no good to include that portion. She also stated that if the county were to say not to use the fertilizer then citizens shouldn’t be able to use the fertilizer, regardless. Nancy Bostock agreed, also wanting to know where the citizens might be able to purchase the wrong fertilizer since the ordinance includes a ban on the selling of the nitrogen and phosphorous containing fertilizer(s) during the down season.
During the citizens open talk forum it was brought to the attention of the board that the fertilizer ordinance has not been introduced to the commercial growers and other similar constituents in enough time to allow proper commentary and research discussion into the topic. It was stated that a few representative organizations had studies to introduce showing how use of the fertilizers were either imperative to business success or not harmful to the waters along the Pinellas County shores. Bostock responded that the current meeting was put in place merely to approve a public agenda meeting in which both sides could discuss and debate the ordinance. The meeting was originally scheduled for January 5, 2010 for a morning session that would start at 9:30am. The meeting date and time was changed, at the request of the Sierra Club, by Commissioner Calvin Harris to January 19, 2010 during the evening session that begins at 6:30pm. This will allow for greater public availability to attend the meeting.
The issue of providing proper notice to businesses and the public in regards to interest related agendas was also brought up during the discussion of the digital signs moratorium. Incidentally the moratorium was put in place with no real notice to businesses and concerns were placed across the board in regards to the effect such short notice might have on the success of stakeholder businesses.
The county clerk stated that the meeting agenda, which includes diagrams and a copy of the ordinance, would be placed on the county’s website the day after the meeting, on December 2, 2009. However, the meeting minutes would not be placed on the site for at least one month. The minutes would first have to be approved during the next agenda meeting and then posted afterwards.


Everglades Restoration Project Finally Breaks Ground (click to LISTEN TO STORY)
NPR by Greg Allen
December 6, 2009
This past week, state and federal officials broke ground on a long-awaited project key to the restoration of the Everglades. The project is part of a plan passed by Congress in 1989. It's long overdue and could be important in getting water back to the parched Everglades National Park.


Interior Secretary pledges to protect lagoon
December 6, 2009
MELBOURNE BEACH — Ken Salazar, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, visited the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge Saturday morning, pledging to protect the national parks and fight global warming at the worldwide conference in Copenhagen next week.
Salazar stopped in the Treasure Coast on his way back from breaking ground on a one-mile bridge on the Tamiami Trail, a key component of efforts to revive the Everglades. He spent a few hours touring Pelican Island and speaking with local environmental officials at the Barrier Island Sanctuary, just a few miles north of the Sebastian Inlet.
The $81 million Everglades project is the largest construction project in the history of the National Park Service and aims to restore fresh water flows to Everglades National Park and the South Florida ecosystem.
"If we can succeed in that restoration, it will be a template for major ecosystems all around the world," said Salazar, the 50th secretary of the interior and a former U.S. senator and attorney general for Colorado. "Thousands of people from the U.S. and around the planet will come to see how we succeed."
Salazar said Saturday that Pelican Island and the Indian River Lagoon played a key part in that Florida ecosystem and would continue to receive federal attention. He said the area could benefit from a portion of the $300 million targeted in stimulus money for land restoration.
"This is an area of high interest especially because of its historic significance," Salazar said.
Pelican Island was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 as the nation's first National Wildlife Refuge. More than a century later the U.S. has more than 500 national parks geared toward protecting natural ecosystems and wildlife.
The island is gradually sinking into the Indian River Lagoon and officials are hoping more funds and federal attention can help save the land.
Salazar had planned Saturday to publicly dedicate a new section of the refuge's Centennial Trail and take a guided kayak tour, but rain nearly flooded the refuge and shortened his visit.
Salazar also spoke with FLORIDA TODAY about his trip to Copenhagen next week, where he'll be one of the U.S.'s delegates at the United Nations Climate Change Conference.
Conference attendees hope to sign a climate treaty in Denmark, aimed at curtailing greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide and methane. Manmade emissions of these gases are the cause of global warming, scientists say.
"The world needs to turn the page to a new era of energy," he said.
Some believe a recent scandal centering on more than 1,000 e-mails from scientists at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Reasearch Unit in Britain, could harm the success of the climate conference. Some say they point to evidence that scientists have manipulated evidence to support global warming.
Salazar did not seem fazed by the controversy and said it would continue to be a priority under Obama.
"There were skeptics of global warming when I came into politics, but now that's pretty much a rarity," he said. "Most people understand that we are facing global warming and that we need to do something about it."
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Near-Shore Oil Drilling: Slick Technology Sham
December 6, 2009
Floridians and their legislators have had many reasons to be skeptical since proposals surfaced rapidly to open near-shore waters to exploration and drilling for oil.
With little notice and even less scrutiny, the state House of Representatives quickly passed a bill last spring to lift a well-established ban on exploration and drilling within three miles of the coastline.
There was no good explanation for the rush, and the bill sailed through the House despite the lack of a cost-benefit analysis or basic review of the proponents' claims.
Fortunately, state Senate President Jeff Atwater refused the join the rush, demanding a "dispassionate review" of drilling methods, environmental impacts and the dubious claims that oil extraction would be a boon to Florida's economy and promote "energy independence."
As a result, the House bill died.
Unfortunately, the efforts to promote drilling in state waters - as well as in federal waters farther from shore - are alive.
The proposals might not get very far soon, however, because of growing skepticism on the part of some legislators.
For example, state Rep. Doug Holder, a Sarasota Republican whose district includes the coast, and other legislators recently said were led by lobbyists to believe that new technologies would make drilling safe and "virtually invisible."
Indeed, interest groups such as Florida Energy Associates presented legislators, the public and the media with simple, slick brochures picturing virtually invisible alternatives to conventional drilling rigs.
A leading proponent of the legislation - state Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, prospective speaker of the House for late 2010 through late 2012 - followed the industry line.
"Today, temporary ship-based rigs can drill wells far out of sight from shore, using directional drilling and subsea equipment to avoid surface visibility and to protect coastal vistas," Cannon wrote in a May 24 guest column in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Holder and other rank-and-file House members should have been more skeptical, but they fell into line and passed the bill.
But now Holder and other legislators have reason to question their reliance on the oil industry's representations.
Directional drilling and subsea equipment haven't been used extensively, if at all, in shallow waters such as those near Florida's west coast, according to some experts cited in a recent news article by the Herald-Tribune's Jeremy Wallace. Among those interviewed by Wallace were a spokeswoman for the American Petroleum Institute and a Louisiana State University professor.
These methods are either expensive - and possibly cost-prohibitive - or they require pipelines and other infrastructure lacking near the coast.
Florida Energy Associates and other drilling proponents contend that if they were allowed to explore for oil and if they found significant deposits, then they would meet the technological challenges to ensure safe development - or not drill.
Or, as Dave Mica of the Florida Petroleum Council told us in a recent e-mail: "Shallow-water drilling is generally done with temporary jack-up drilling rigs. Once the drilling is complete, the drilling rigs are removed and replaced with a production system. Fixed production platforms are typically installed after most of the drilling is completed."
It's doubtful that coastal residents will find any appeal in the prospect of temporary jack-up rigs and fixed production platforms within three to five miles of shore.
Whatever the case, the proponents have the process backward. There is no rush to consider eliminating the near-shore protections until Floridians - and their legislators - understand what drilling is all about.


Florida utilities, state politicians take on federal EPA over clean water regulations by Fred Hiers, Staff Writer
December 5, 2009
The Environmental Protection Agency is continuing on its course to set new Florida water quality standards by next year, despite pleas from utilities that the new criteria would be too stringent and cost billions of dollars to meet.
As those parties battle, federal lawmakers who represent Florida are trying to slow down the EPA. More than two dozen Florida lawmakers, including Sens. Bill Nelson and George LeMieux, wrote EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on Thursday asking that her agency tread cautiously in deciding its water quality standards for the state.
They also asked that federal scientists work more closely with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, known as FDEP, before setting standards in January.
The group sent the letter after a federal judge on Nov. 16 declined a request by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. It wanted to block the federal EPA from setting the standards and instead allow the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to do the job. The state department's fear, and that of a group of utilities, is that EPA's standards will be too tough to meet.
Jim Alves, a lawyer for the utilities opposing EPA, said that fear stems from some of the data that's already been released by the federal agency, suggesting what its criteria for the state will be. The standards are not for chemical pollutants, but for nutritional pollutants - namely phosphorous and nitrogen - which feed vegetation in rivers and lakes and cause problems for their wildlife.
Alves said the new standards under discussion are unfair because they would apply only to Florida, would over regulate the state, and would be applied to water bodies that aren't impaired.
"If that's not throwing Florida under the bus, I don't know what is," Alves said Friday. "It's bad science and it's a mistake."
Florida already has limits for the maximum amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous that can enter water bodies. It doesn't have such standards when it comes to average allowable limits.
Instead, Florida water officials have for many years only said that nutrient levels, such as for phosphorous and nitrogen, should not create an imbalance between flora and fauna. EPA officials said new quantifiable criteria were needed for nutrient pollutants in Florida.
"Despite Florida's widely recognized efforts, substantial water quality degradation from nutrient over-enrichment remains a significant challenge in the state and one that is likely to worsen with continued population growth and environmental and land-use changes," wrote Benjamin Grumbles, EPA assistant administrator for water, in a January letter to the FDEP.
"EPA has determined that numeric nutrient water quality criteria are necessary for the State of Florida to meet the Clean Water Act requirement to have criteria that protect applicable designated uses," he wrote.
As part of EPA's basis for intervening in setting nutrient standards, the agency on its Web site cited Florida's own 2008 Integrated Water Quality Assessment.
That study "revealed that approximately 1,000 miles of rivers and streams, 350,000 acres of lakes, and 900 square miles of estuaries [in Florida] are impaired by nutrients."
"The actual number of miles and acres of waters impaired for nutrients is likely higher, as many waters that have yet to be assessed may also be impaired," the EPA said.
Originally, the FDEP was working with the EPA to help establish average allowable limits for unwanted nutrients in water, but stopped when EPA was sued over the issue.
The EPA has also rejected standards previously proposed by FDEP, saying they were not stringent enough.
EPA spokeswoman Davina Marraccini said critics of EPA's plans should wait until the standards are released in January and then vetted for public review and discussion during the next 10 months.
She also said it's wrong to say Florida's been singled out by the EPA.
Marraccini said that some parts of the Clean Water Act have already been used to set standards in other states, but that this was the first time "numeric nutrient criteria" will be imposed on a state.
Alves said the problem is the FDEP, which has collected data and worked on water bodies for decades, was better suited than the EPA to set standards for Florida's rivers and lakes. The problem is that the EPA's plan is to establish one phosphorous and nitrogen standard for all of Florida.
"There is no one-size-fits-all," he said. "Every water body is different."
Marraccini said she was not familiar enough with the issue, though, to discuss specifics of the case and recommended that media contact EPA staff in Washington.
They did not return telephone calls from the newspaper.
Meanwhile, Alves said EPA isn't taking into account the economic burden its nutrient level standards would place on Florida.
Consultants for the Florida Water Environment Association Utility Council, which is made up of more than 50 utilities including Ocala, reported that the estimated cost of upgrading Florida's water infrastructure to meet the proposed EPA requirements would range from $24.4 billion to $50.7 billion.
Alves said that could mean that local water treatment plants and communities suspected of adding to nutrient levels of area rivers and lakes could face astronomical new costs while already struggling to meet infrastructure needs.
But Grumbles' letter to FDEP said that while the state's water officials have tried to fix its water problems, there hasn't been enough progress and that Florida's water resources were too valuable to allow to continue to get worse.
He said that studies show that water bodies in some areas of Florida have nutrient pollution levels that haven't improved since 1980.
"Additionally, Florida's recurrent harmful algal blooms continue to pose threats to public drinking water supplies and recreational sites," he wrote. "Nutrient pollution in Florida has a predictable and widespread impact."
He also wrote, "Despite the state's substantial efforts ... EPA concludes that, based on the available data, information, and trends, Florida's (current) nutrient criterion alone is not sufficient to protect" Florida's waters.


Secretary of Interior visits Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge
TCPalm by Tyler Treadway
December 5, 2009
PELICAN ISLAND NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE — Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar got a soggy look Saturday morning at the site considered the birthplace of the nation’s conservation movement.
“It all started when Theodore Roosevelt set up Pelican Island as the first of our national wildlife refuges,” Salazar said. “Because of that, I wanted to come Pelican Island within the first year of my job as secretary; and that’s why I’m here today.”
In 1903, President Roosevelt established Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge on the Indian River Lagoon north of Vero Beach in an effort to save several species of birds — including roseate spoonbills, great and snowy egrets and brown pelicans — from extermination by hunters seeking feathers for hats.
Despite a steady rain, Salazar, with a cadre of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees, helped install planks in a boardwalk that acts as a timeline for the refuge program: The first plank represents Pelican Island, and subsequent planks are etched with the names of other refuges added to the system in chronological order. Three planks were added Saturday for this year’s additions: Wake Island Atoll, the Mariana Arc of Fire and the Mariana Trench, all in U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean.
Seeing that the new planks are near the end of the boardwalk, Salazar asked, “What’s going to happen when we add more refuges?”
“We’ve got plans to extend the boardwalk,” replied Charles Pelizza, the refuge manager.
Salazar said later there were no specific plans to add to the country’s 551 wildlife refuges.
“Our first priority is to take care of the ones we have,” he said. “Our second is to work with our partners beyond the borders (of the refuges), and third is to identify areas that are not yet protected that need to be.”
Salazar said more than $300 million from the Federal Recovery Act is earmarked for national wildlife refuges and, although he couldn’t say how much would be coming to Pelican Island, he called the refuge “a high priority because of its historical significance.”
On Friday, Salazar helped break ground on a mile-long bridge along the Tamiami Trail that proponents say is key to reviving water flow into the Everglades. On Saturday, wearing an Everglades National Park baseball cap instead of his trademark cowboy hat, the former Colorado senator said he sees Everglades restoration as including related projects along the Treasure Coast, some of which have been approved but not yet completed.
“We have to see the issue as one ecosystem that needs to be dealt with in a coherent manner,” he said. “The federal government is one of the partners in Everglades restoration, as are the state and nonprofits. ... We’re not going to back up on the commitments we’ve made.”
One big leap for Everglades restoration
OUR OPINION: cf,gtm The Tamiami Bridge headlines a rash of cleanup projects going forward
As projects go, the Tamiami Bridge, while not cheap at $81 million, is modest compared to, say, the $515 million stadium for the Marlins or even its adjacent parking garage, now priced at $135 million. Then there's the Miami Seaport tunnel, which rings up at around $1 billion for construction.
But the bridge's significance is huge in proportion to its cost or even size at only one mile long. Even though it's not the 11-mile skyway once envisioned, it will nevertheless raise Tamiami Trail's roadbed in one section to allow water once again to begin flowing south to Taylor Slough and into Florida Bay in Everglades National Park. After its completion in 2013, the slough will again be replenished in a way it hasn't known for 85 years, when the Trail was built.
The bridge is a key component to completing the complex Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), which the state of Florida and the federal government agreed to fund jointly in 2000.
In fact, the bridge -- or some other remedy to restore the sheet flow -- was first authorized by Congress in 1989. After years of lawsuits, cross-agency squabbling, design revisions, cost cutbacks and other delays, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and other notables joined in the bridge groundbreaking Friday.
The pace quickens
At the same time, a number of other CERP projects that have been idle are leaping off the drawing board. Finally, after nearly a decade when about the only movement forward was from the state's putting up $6.8 billion for land purchases and restoration and water-filtering areas, the federal government has picked up the pace.
How? With money and a vigorous recommitment from the Obama administration. Not long after his appointment, Secretary Salazar visited the Everglades, bringing with him $360 million in economic stimulus money for this fiscal year and a promised additional $278 million in 2010.
Bridge is first phase
Two important federal projects in the Picayune Strand in Southwest Florida and the Indian River Lagoon on the Southeast coast will begin in 2010. So, too, will a number of smaller but vital related projects.
The Tamiami Bridge is supposed to be the first leg in a plan that will elevate other sections of the roadbed to, as close as possible, restore the historic flow to the now parched slough. Congress has given the Interior Department the go-ahead to conduct environmental studies and report to it with a plan for the next elevation phase next fall.
None of this is easy. Biologists had to wrestle with easing disruptions to the endangered seaside sparrow and Everglades snail kite once the water flow returns. The Miccosukee Indian tribe has concerns for fluctuating water levels and water quality on its land.
In the big view of overall progress, many federal and state employees who have worked on Everglades cleanup for years have had to overcome political infighting, old animosities, endless court cases and occasional misunderstandings to get to this point. Their tenacity and dedication are commendable.
The cost of CERP has risen to about $22.5 billion. That deceptively dwarfs the $81 million Tamiami Bridge's significance. Without it to break the road's dam to free up water flow at the southern end of the Glades, no other project would function as effectively as was intended to bring the River of Grass back to its healthy splendor.


Interior Secretary Praises Groundbreaking of Tamiami Bridge, Effect it Will Have on Everglades National Park
National Parks Traveler by Kurt Repanshek
December 4th, 2009
The groundbreaking Friday for a 1-mile-long bridge along the Tamiami Trail is a key step toward reviving the Everglades, according to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Though seemingly small in extent, the bridge is the first step to improving water flows through the "river of grass." The project has been 20 years in coming.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Tom Strickland joined officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the State of Florida and the South Florida Water Management District to break ground Friday on the bridge. The $81 million project is the largest construction project in the history of the National Park Service and a key component of the Modified Waters Delivery Project to restore fresh water flows to Everglades National Park and the South Florida Ecosystem.
“Today we have reached an historic milestone in the restoration of the Everglades and in our agenda to help protect America’s great outdoors for future generations,” the Interior secretary said. “The Everglades are one of America’s most-treasured places, but for more than 90 years, the Tamiami Trail has effectively served as a dike, interrupting natural water flows that are vital to the natural ecosystem. Today, thanks to the hard work of many stakeholders in South Florida, we are building a bridge that will help to restore those water flows while still allowing the Trail to serve its important transportation function for the people of this state.”
At the National Parks Conservation Association, which long has lobbied for the project, Sara Fain said the project is a key towards restoring unimpeded water flows into Northeast Shark River Slough, the historic shallow river that serves as the main source of water for the park and Florida Bay.
“We applaud the efforts of the federal government for starting the process of bridging Tamiami Trail,” said Ms. Fain, NPCA Everglades restoration program manager. “However, this is only the beginning and we can’t stop here. Ten miles of road continues to block water from reaching the park, which is the lifeblood of the Everglades.”
The Tamiami Trail was constructed in the 1920s with the intention of linking Tampa and Miami, hence its name. The latest bridge project, which is expected to be completed in May 2013, is located in Miami-Dade County, adjacent to the northern boundary of Everglades National Park.
The process to reach agreement on the bridge was at times complex and time-consuming, involving many stakeholders and subject to rigorous environmental review. In November, the Army Corps of Engineers awarded an $81 million contract that includes constructing the bridge, and raising and reinforcing an additional 9.7 miles of the trail.
As a major component of the Modified Water Deliveries Project – also known as Mod Waters – the bridge will specifically restore more natural water flow to Northeast Shark River Slough, a portion of Everglades National Park which Congress added in 1989. Once completed, Mod Waters will provide a foundation for other restoration projects that will be implemented in the future to increase the quantity, quality, timing and distribution of fresh water to the Everglades.
According to NPCA officials, groundbreaking for the 1-mile bridge can be built upon in the second phase of Tamiami Trail bridging. Science shows that the only way to meaningfully restore Everglades National Park and the wildlife it protects is to build a series of bridges along the 11 miles of Tamiami Trail that cuts through Northeast Shark River Slough, according to the park advocacy group.
The Park Service is developing a plan to build additional bridges along this 11-mile stretch that blocks flows into the national park, NPCA said.
Secretary Salazar noted that the Obama administration has made Everglades restoration a high priority in its efforts to protect America’s great outdoors. The president’s economic recovery plan included $117 million for the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of the Interior to restore habitat and to provide additional fresh water for the South Florida ecosystem.


State admits violations, seeks more Everglades cleanup time
The Miami Herald - by Curtis Morgan;
December 3, 2009
Water managers and environmental regulators have acknowledged the state is in violation of a landmark legal agreement requiring Florida to halt the flow of polluted water into the Everglades. At the same time, however, they're urging a federal judge overseeing the progress not to declare them in violation or, in fact, do anything at all.
Admitting to the violation reflected a notable change of tone and tactic for state agencies that have long resisted federal oversight and insisted that efforts to reduce levels of phosphorus -- a fertilizer ingredient that flows off sugar farms, cattle pastures and suburban lawns -- were working and on track.
But despite two recent ``exceedences'' of the damaging nutrient in eight months in a national wildlife refuge in Palm Beach County, attorneys for the South Florida Water Management District and Florida Department of Environmental Protection delivered much the same argument they have in previous hearings over the past six years before Chief U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno:
Trust us -- we've got a plan and we're getting there.
But the judge said he had heard it all before. Moreno likened the legal wrangling over the ongoing, 21-year-old settlement to a soap opera. ``No matter how long ago it was you watched it, within a few minutes you see it's the same things they're still talking about,'' he said.
In a Tuesday hearing in Moreno's Miami courtroom, water district attorney Kirk Burns said the state was close to completing $1.1 billion in projects and is pursuing a $536 million purchase of 73,000 acres of sugar farms and citrus groves that could greatly expand cleanup efforts. The state also is in the midst of negotiations with federal agencies that could potentially produce tougher pollution restrictions.
``We are making substantial progress,'' Burns said. ``We would appreciate the opportunity to be able to finish our hundreds of millions in remedies before being asked to add to it.''
Burns asked Moreno to give the state and federal agencies until Feb. 1, 2010, to report back on the results of their negotiations -- a request endorsed by Edward Gelderman, an attorney for the U.S. Justice Department, representing the Interior Department and other federal agencies.
But the Miccosukee Tribe urged the judge to act now, saying the state has repeatedly blown deadlines and broken promises to meet water quality standards -- delays that have spread pollution deeper into the Everglades and threatens tribal lands there.
The tribe, which has filed multiple lawsuits opposing the $536 million land deal with the U.S. Sugar Corp., asked Moreno to order water managers to immediately restart work on a massive reservoir the district halted in May 2008 -- an order that could scuttle the sugar deal.
Dexter Lehtinen, the tribe's attorney, argued the revenue-strapped district couldn't afford to build anything on the sugar land for decades and that pollution problems were far worse than the two high phosphorus readings the state acknowledged. They were recorded in the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in November 2008 and June 2009.
Repeated delays and bureaucratic red tape are poisoning the Miccosukee's homeland, Lehtinen charged.
``Process has destroyed the Indians,'' he said. ``They don't need more process, they need performance.''
The district halted work on the $800 million reservoir, first citing a separate lawsuit by environmental groups, then Gov. Charlie Crist's controversial sugar land deal. Moreno, who in 2003 assumed oversight of the 21-year-old settlement that forced Florida to reduce pollution flowing into the Everglades, rejected a similar tribe motion 16 months ago, saying he didn't want to threaten what was then a total buyout of U.S. Sugar.
Charles DeMonaco, an attorney for the DEP, argued that aside from the reservoir and improvements to an associated canal, the state is adhering to its plan to expand pollution treatment marshes and cut farming pollution. He urged the judge to reject the tribe's motion to build the reservoir, saying the sugar land promises an opportunity for even greater benefits for the Everglades and tribal land in the long run.
``The tribe would have you believe we're doing absolutely nothing,'' he said. `'We did what we promised.''
DeMonaco also argued that under the consent decree, Moreno's authority was largely limited to monitoring progress -- particularly since the state was admitting the violation. The consent decree allows the state and federal agencies to address the problems, DeMonaco said, without any need for the judge to step in.
Moreno said he would rulesoon but noted that ``the tribe has a right, based on history, to be cynical.''
The case, he said, made him feel ``like a gerbil. We keep going around and around . . . Nothing gets done except talk.''


Clean water won't hurt economy
The Tampa Tribune, Opinion
December 3, 2009
State Agriculture Secretary Charles Bronson and other opponents of a federal plan to decrease the pollution of Florida's rivers, lakes and bays say the restrictions would generate billions of dollars of costs for businesses and local governments.
They want Florida's congressional delegation to curb the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to limit nutrient pollution.
But the delegation, rather than heeding Bronson's scare tactics, should recognize nutrients are the leading cause of water pollution in Florida. Existing rules are inadequate.
Runoff from suburban yards and agricultural fields and discharges from industrial and municipal plants taint most of the state's waters. It causes destructive algae blooms, clouds the water and chokes sea grasses that are vital to marine life.
A Florida Department of Environmental Protection report last year found half of the state's rivers and more than half of its lakes had poor water quality. Many of the state's fabled springs, including Wakulla and Silver springs, are fouled by nutrients.
This widespread contamination is a far bigger threat to Florida's economy than water-quality rules. And the feds would not have gotten involved if the state had addressed the situation.
The EPA ordered the state in 1998 to devise nutrient restrictions for its waterways and set a 2004 deadline. The state failed to produce specific standards. When the deadline passed and EPA did nothing, a number of environmental groups sued the agency, claiming it had failed to enforce the Clean Water Act.
Earlier this year, EPA agreed it would act to curtail nutrient pollution in Florida waters. Opponents challenged the agreement, but a federal judge last month approved it. This has Bronson and others in a dither.
But their claim that cleaning up our waters would bankrupt the state is not credible. EPA has not even established its rules. The standards will be developed by scientists using information supplied by DEP.
There is no reason to expect unrealistic standards from the agency, which was reluctant to get into this conflict. Opponents raised similar fears about the Clean Water Act, which, if anything, boosted the nation's economy by restoring abused waterways.
The critics don't seem concerned about the impacts to the taxpayers and the economy of allowing polluters to defile the resources that supply our drinking water, sustain our tourist industry and make Florida such an appealing place to live, work and play.
The EPA, in devising rules, needs to be sensible about costs and deadlines. It should recognize effective actions that have already been taken.
For instance, a regional task force with representatives from local governments, private industries and regulators worked on developing nitrogen rules for the areas surrounding Tampa Bay. The rules are science-based and realistic.
It's reassuring that EPA officials have indicated they will adopt those standards. This underscores how opponents' fears are exaggerated.
But not every region has been as proactive as ours. Reasonable nutrient controls are overdue.


Computer model reveals where food pathogens grow
University of Florida News
December 3, 2009
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — An outbreak of food-related illness, such as E. coli-tainted spinach, often leaves food safety experts scratching their heads over the source of the contamination.
Thanks to a new computer model developed by researchers at the University of Florida, Wageningen University and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, food safety experts may have a better chance of predicting where contamination risks lie and what can be done to minimize those risks.
The program, dubbed COLIWAVE, can predict the growth and death of pathogenic bacteria in substances like compost, soil and water. The program uses variables such as oxygen availability, temperature and substance characteristics to predict how much bacteria is present at different periods of time.
As they describe in a paper in the online version of the journal Ecological Modelling, the researchers have already used the model to predict the growth of harmful E. coli in composted manure used as fertilizer on organic farms. Organic farming typically relies on compost or manure rather than chemical fertilizers.
“Many people have been skeptical of organic foods because of reports that the manure can be a source of contamination,” said Ariena H. C. van Bruggen, a researcher for UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and the Emerging Pathogens Institute. “However, what we found is that manure, when properly stored and treated, is actually safer than we previously thought.”
Before being spread as fertilizer, manure is composted. This process allows beneficial bacteria to “digest” the material, breaking it down into nutrients more easily absorbed into the soil.
This digesting process emits heat, and compost piles can often exceed 150 degrees — temperatures that kill many harmful pathogens.
However, the model revealed that it’s not just the heat that makes the manure safe, it’s the changing temperature. As the pile is mixed and turned, the temperature of the material rises and falls. Those changes put more stress on the harmful bacteria than high temperature.
As a result, the pathogenic E. coli in the turned pile had a 70 percent shorter survival period. Within eight days, the dangerous bacteria could no longer be detected.
Heat isn’t the only factor affecting pathogens. For example, the model also shows that the presence of other bacteria, such as nonpathogenic strains of E. coli, is beneficial because they compete for the same resources as the dangerous strains.
“Bacteria lead complicated lives,” van Bruggen said. “This is a way of looking at the bigger picture.”
Along with UF colleagues such as food safety expert Anita Wright, van Bruggen is now using her methods to examine potential sources of salmonella in Florida, such as ponds and other bodies of water.
“You might not expect it, but if there’s bacteria in a pond used for irrigation, that might be enough to cause a problem,” Wright said. “As we continue to find out, it’s important to take an intelligent look at things and not just assume we know what’s going on.”


Fla., EPA cooperation sought on surface water regs
Associated Press
December 3, 2009
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida's congressional delegation has asked the nation's top environmental regulator to work closely with the state when setting water pollution standards.
Florida's two U.S. senators and 23 of its 25 representatives sent a letter Thursday to Environmental Protection Agency Administration Lisa Jackson.
A federal judge last month approved an agreement between EPA and environmental groups to set first-in-the-nation standards for Florida to limit nutrients that have been blamed for causing algae blooms.
Agriculture and business interests are opposed to that plan, arguing that it would cost them millions of dollars.
The letter urges that all concerned parties be heard before the standards are adopted.


Fla.: Delay Everglades pollution crackdown
UPI, Science News
December 3, 2009
MIAMI, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- Florida asked a U.S. judge to give it more time to comply with an ecological accord requiring the state to halt the flow of polluted water into the Everglades.
But the Miccosukee American Indian tribe living in Florida urged Chief U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno to act now, arguing the state repeatedly missed deadlines and broke multiple promises to meet water-quality standards.
Those delays spread pollution deeper into the Everglades' subtropical wetlands and threatened tribal lands there, Miccosukee lawyers argued.
South Florida Water Management District attorney Kirk Burns said the state was completing $1.1 billion in projects and pursuing a $536 million purchase of 73,000 acres of sugar farms and citrus groves that could greatly expand cleanup efforts, The Miami Herald reported.
"We are making substantial progress," Burns said. "We would appreciate the opportunity to be able to finish our hundreds of millions in remedies before being asked to add to it."
But tribe attorney Dexter Lehtinen argued repeated delays and bureaucratic red tape were poisoning the Miccosukee's homeland.
"Process has destroyed the Indians," he said. "They don't need more process; they need performance."
Moreno said he would rule soon, but noted he felt the tribe had "a right, based on history, to be cynical" of government promises.
He added the long-running case made him feel "like a gerbil: We keep going around and around. ... Nothing gets done except talk."


It’s the phosphorus, stupid
The by Tom Palmer
December 3, 2009
The Miami Herald reports that the South Florida Water Management District is back in court in the suit filed by the Micosukees about the district’s failure to control pollution flowing into natural areas in the Everglades.
This has been going on for a while, despite the PR spin from the water officials about the great job they’re doing.
The reality is otherwise, according to even SFWMD’s own admissions in court, where spin isn’t so readily accepted.
Meanwhile, I read that state wildlife officials are resuming the python hunts down there.
Everyone wishes the hunters good luck, but it seems as though they’re going to be about as successful in controlling the biological pollution  as the water management district is in controlling the chemical pollution.


Scientists study Florida's fish with electroshock
Florida by Jim Waymer
December 3, 2009
'Stunned' snook and bass reveal diets, habitats
SEBASTIAN — State biologist Eddie Leonard steers the rattling aluminum research boat along the St. Sebastian River bank, under two large palms that lean over the water.
A few homes and an occasional heron poke out from thick forest along this placid stretch of water, where the din of boat motors breaks the silence and the tug of mammoth snook and bass breaks fishing lines.
Researchers Kevin Johnson and Josh Taylor stand at the bow, long green dip nets in hand. A generator hums 90 amps through steel cables that hang into the water to shock up the fish and see what's in their stomachs. They hope their electrified catches yield clues about the eating habits and most-favored habitats of snook and largemouth bass -- two of the most important inshore recreational fish in Florida.
The three-year study ends this year and involves state fish and wildlife labs in Melbourne, St. Petersburg, Tequesta and Gainesville. It cost about $403,000, with about $302,000 from a federal grant and $101,000 from the state.
As the boat glides under the two palms, "stunned" snook flop to the surface, each about 2½ feet long. Johnson and Leonard stab their nets into the water.
"Look at that snook!" Bob Eisenhauer, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, shouts from another boat. "My God, one barely fits in the net!"
The two species reel in an estimated $11.6 billion per year to Florida's economy, so learning what threatens them could help guard a vital natural and economic resource, scientists say. They want to know how their diets overlap, where they go to feast and spawn, and where lie the crucial habitats
that need protection from development.
Most of the money for the study came from a federal sport-fish restoration fund that taps fees and taxes on the sale of recreational fishing tackle and noncommercial motorboat fuel.
The study's final results are expected in June.
A close look
The scientists tag and release snook and largemouth bass in the St. Sebastian, St. Lucie and Loxahatchee rivers. Some snook also have been tagged in the Indian River Lagoon and its inlets.
This day, within just a few hours, they shock up seven snook and one big largemouth bass in a random section of the St. Sebastian. Johnson puts the shocked-up fish into a holding tank.
He holds up one snook as Taylor stuffs a plastic tube into its throat. The fish gurgles from the water the tube blasts into its gut. It's undergoing a gastric lavage, a French term for stomach pumping.
"C'mon, spill up a big ol' mullet," Johnson says.
But not much trickles out onto the filter below. The fish likely ate the night before, not this morning.
Johnson jabs yellow dart tags at the base of each fish's dorsal fin, clips a fin to collect DNA, then lets the fish go close to where they were caught. They want to know how different genetic populations interact.
Fish tales
Biologists have studied largemouth bass and common snook for years using electrofishing gear in South and Central Florida. But they are just beginning to examine the fish in saltier estuaries and coastal locations.
Both species struggle against fishing, pollution and loss or alteration of habitat, especially crucial spawning and nursery areas, biologists say. Scientists don't know much about how the two coexist -- competing for or sharing limited prey and other key habitat.
They sample with electrofishing boats and nets. Electrofishing boats deliver a pulsating direct current that uses the aluminum boat hull as the cathode and a pair of bow-mounted boom electrode arrays.
In the St. Lucie River, they implant some fish with acoustic "pingers" to monitor fish movements. Stationary acoustic receivers record the fish movements.
Fishermen help, too, by reporting the tagged fish they catch.
Biologists listen for fish in the Sebastian, Jupiter and Fort Pierce inlets and downstream in the St. Lucie River.
After spawning ends, biologists track the tagged fish as they swim into the "high" estuary and into Lake Okeechobee.
One surprising discovery: A snook tagged in the south fork of the St. Lucie River in Fort Pierce managed to pass through the lock and dam, along the canal to Lake Okeechobee, then swim back again. It made the more than 60-mile round trip in less than a year.
"Always telling us new stories, so that's pretty cool," said Jynessa Dutka-Gianelli, a Florida fish and wildlife biologist and one of the lead researchers.


From the Toilet to the Tap
boingboing by Maggie Koerth-Baker
December 2, 2009
Cloacina was the ancient Roman goddess of sewers. Think about that for a minute. To the Romans, the ability to take vile, disgusting wastewater and just get it the heck out of Rome was such a miraculous feat that they created a whole deity to watch over and protect the pipeline.
Now, how much more impressive would Cloacina have been if she could turn the sludge into usable water again?
Today, cities around the world are shifting away from the historical focus of wastewater management (i.e. the miracle of making the wastewater go away somewhere where we can't see it) and adopting a new paradigm of re-use. David Sedlak, professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Berkeley, studies wastewater and spoke about water recycling at the 2009 Nobel Conference on water conservation issues at Minnesota's Gustavus Adolphus University. He said that people are often turned off by the idea of cycling water from the toilet to the tap and back again, but water recycling is very different from simply filling a glass out of the John.
In fact, you could be drinking recycled water and not even know it.
The idea of reusing wastewater isn't really anything new. Back around the turn of the 20th century, U.S. farmers used to set up shop at the end of sewage pipes, flooding their fields with wastewater fertilizer. Sewage farms grew massive, prize produce. Unfortunately, they were also breeding grounds for parasitic worms and other nasty gastrointestinal diseases.
It wasn't until the 1970s and 80s that people began to take a second look at watewater reuse. Orange County, Cali. began purifying sewer water in 1976, injecting it back into local aquifers to protect them against infiltration by salty seawater. Just about two years ago, the county launched a massive expansion of this program, opening the world's largest wastewater recycling plant. About 10 percent of the water people drink in Orange County comes from highly purified wastewater, Sedlak said.
"The system basically starts with effluent, the output from conventional sewage treatment, and subjects that first to micro-filtration, and then to reverse osmosis, and then to advanced oxidation and disinfectant and then out in the environment," Sedlak said. "Most of the advanced treatment plants built in the US use something called UV peroxide process, which treats water with ultraviolet light in the presence of hydrogen peroxide. The UV splits the hydrogen peroxide and forms hydroxl radicals, strong oxidants that break down organic contaminants and destroy microbes. Usually, the water isn't reused straight, but after these treatments it gets injected into a groundwater aquifer and recaptured later on."
And it's not just happening in the Southwest. Over the past decade, Sedlak said, cities in Texas, Georgia and Florida have picked up on water re-use as well.
The really interesting thing here, though, according to Sedlak, is that water recycling forces us to think about all wastewater in a different way. In reality, no matter where you live, effluent makes up a large part of the free-flowing rivers and lakes. That effluent is treated and cleaned, but nowhere near as extensively as the stuff coming out of Orange County's recycling plant. And, ultimately, it's recycled, too. Effluent-laced water is used by farms, it becomes a place where fish and other animals live, and it's part of the hydrologic cycle--eventually ending up back in the tap.
But most of us don't think of wastewater as something that's reused and we don't pay attention to what goes into our sewers. Sedlak hopes intentional community wastewater recycling will change that. We need to think about our sewers less like they're a fast train out of town, he says, and more like they're a part of our ecosystem.
Recognizing that water goes down the drain ends up in surface waters or drinking water supplies might decrease the unnecessary use of toxic household products, like socks that are coated with silver nanoparticles or shirts and hats that are coated with insecticides," he said. "These products are leached from clothing in the wash and end up in sewage. They'd be filtered out by a water recyling system like Orange County's. But the toxic compounds can pass through standard treatment processes, and they have the potential to harm aquatic organisms in rivers."


Legislators hold hearing on Everglades Restoration
The Associated Press
December 2, 2009
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- A hearing has been scheduled to discuss Everglades restoration efforts in Homestead.
Florida lawmakers are set to meet Wednesday afternoon.
The Florida House Joint Legislative Committee on Everglades Oversight is seeing public opinions. Some Everglades issues include the controversial $536 million U.S. Sugar land deal; concerns about the C-111 canal overhaul increasing flood risks to South Miami-Dade farms; even efforts to push Miami-Dade's urban development closer to Everglades National Park.
The committee is chaired by Republican Representative Julio Robaina of Miami.


PennEnvironment: New Report Presents Policy to Tackle Environmental Health Threats of Marcellus Shale Drilling
December 2, 2009
PITTSBURGH - In the face of ongoing environmental damage and public health threats posed by Marcellus Shale drilling, a statewide environmental advocacy group released a new policy blueprint Tuesday that will tackle these challenges as drilling continues across the commonwealth.
 “Drilling for gas in the Marcellus Shale reserve began here just over three years ago, and already too many local drinking water supplies and waterways have been contaminated because of this drilling,” said Erika Staaf, Clean Water Advocate with PennEnvironment. “The faster Pennsylvania’s leaders work to pass comprehensive policies and regulations on this type of gas drilling, the less likely we’ll be to see yet another gas leak or wastewater spill, and the safer we’ll all be.”
The report, entitled Preserving Forests, Protecting Waterways outlines the most urgent and widespread environmental and public health concerns associated with Marcellus Shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania. The report also proposes a set of policy and regulatory solutions to address these problems.
Preserving Forests, Protecting Waterways outlines several concerns about the deep-well drilling process, also known as hydraulic fracturing. These concerns range from the large volume of water used for drilling; to the toxic makeup of the resulting waste fluid from deep well drilling that has created treatment and disposal challenges across the Commonwealth; to the contamination of drinking water supplies and rivers and streams that has already occurred across Pennsylvania due to improper drilling and wastewater handling practices.
In the report, PennEnvironment unveiled a blueprint showing simple and commonsense policies that could be put in place to protect the public’s health, drinking water sources and the environment as gas drilling continues in Pennsylvania.
The report calls on Pennsylvania’s elected officials to pass drilling protections that:
-Improve the public’s right to know and access to information about drilling;
-Put areas that supply drinking water, critical habitats, and public lands off limits to drilling;
 -Pass mandatory minimum penalties for polluters who violate laws or destroy the environment, and implement severe penalties using existing clean water laws;
-Increase funding to the Department of Environmental Protection to allow for expanded enforcement, permit review and onsite review of drilling; and
-Strengthen existing clean water laws to deal with the rapid expansion of drilling.
 “Our elected officials are going to have to make a decision: are they going to protect the public’s health, or are they going to put polluter profits ahead of the health of the Commonwealth’s citizens and environment?” said Staaf.
The Marcellus Shale gas reserve runs underneath portions of a handful of states from New York all the way down to Maryland. However, the largest stretch of the formation is found under Pennsylvania, across nearly two-thirds of the state. In total, the Marcellus shale gas reserve covers about 54,000 square miles, equal in size to the state of Florida, and runs 5,000-8,000 feet below the surface. The gas is found in the pores and pockets created by the Marcellus Shale.
 “With several thousand natural gas wells expected to be drilled on Pennsylvania state forest land in the next 10 to 15 years it is critically important that we adopt the recommendations contained in PennEnvironment’s report,” said State Rep. Greg Vitali (166th Legislative District).
As part of the hydraulic fracturing process, drilling companies use a cocktail of chemicals and sand to help break up the shale and access the gas. Companies in Pennsylvania have been shown to use between 85 and 150 different chemicals in this process, including arsenic, benzene, xylene, pesticides, among others. Many of these chemicals are suspected or known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, or causes of respiratory, neurological other serious health problems.
PennEnvironment pointed to examples of river, stream, and groundwater pollution in several Pennsylvania locations. In Dimock, located in Susquehanna County, Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation was ordered in September to cease all drilling activities after it spilled roughly 8,000 gallons of dangerous drilling fluids killing fish and wildlife in the area. This cease and desist order was later lifted. Near Pittsburgh, improperly treated Marcellus drilling wastewater was discharged into the Monongahela River, causing a drinking water advisory for 325,000 citizens.
PennEnvironment asserted that the gas drilling industry’s lobbying efforts will make it challenging to implement some of these solutions. Gas drilling industries spent over $1 million in lobbying money this year.
 “PennEnvironment’s policies ideas should serve as a blueprint for Pennsylvania’s leaders. If the legislature implements the policies, the state will be on its way toward allowing safe drilling while protecting public health and preserving our natural heritage for future generations of Pennsylvanians,” concluded Staaf.


Town-hall event to focus on nuclear power
Miami Herald by LAURA MORALES
December 2, 2009
A Dec. 10 town-hall meeting will address the health effects of high-voltage lines, nuclear-reactor safety and the environmental impact of nuclear plants.
Over the past year, a chorus of concern about Florida Power & Light's push to expand its Turkey Point facility has steadily grown louder.
Several cities have voiced opposition to the high-voltage lines that would carry power from the larger plant along U.S. 1 to downtown Miami.
In response to the worries of those who could be affected, the newly incorporated activist group Citizens Allied for Safe Energy is inviting everyone interested in the matter to a town-hall meeting Dec. 10.
A group of speakers will address general issues on nuclear safety, the health effects of power-line magnetic fields, and environmental problems associated with nuclear plants.
Florida International University biologist Philip Stoddard will talk about studies that link high-voltage lines to higher rates of child leukemia and Alzheimer's disease.
``Those magnetic fields are a possible carcinogen,'' he said.
Fishery scientist Eric Prince will discuss the possible impact of an expanded Turkey Point on marine ecosystems to the east and south.
``The backup water supply is the bay,'' Prince said, adding that many marine animals vital to the area's ecology and economy live in waters near the plant and could be affected.
Prince also said that, while nuclear energy is often touted as ``green'' by proponents, ``it's only green in terms of carbon emissions.
``Spent nuclear fuel could be around for thousands of years.''
George Cavros, an attorney with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, will address the economics of nuclear power and energy efficiency.
``To us, it doesn't make sense to spend billions on new nuclear reactors before you've exhausted lower-cost options,'' Cavros said. He added that providing incentives for rate payers to use energy more efficiently would be wiser than spending so much money on new reactors amid a recession that has reduced demand for power. Speakers from the Tropical Audubon Society and Clean Water Action will address Everglades restoration and saltwater intrusion into the Biscayne aquifer.
FPL has previously defended the expansion plan, saying it would use waste water and sea water -- not fresh water from the aquifer -- to cool the new reactors.
The utility has also argued that saltwater intrusion into the aquifer, a source of drinking water for south Miami-Dade, predates Turkey Point's construction in the early 1970s.
FPL spokesman Mayco Villafaña said Tuesday that the project is key to meeting future energy demand.
``The addition of new nuclear power helps balance our generation resource mix to meet the needs of South Florida with an energy solution that is efficient, clean, safe and reliable,'' he said.
Stoddard said the discussion will not include political issues surrounding FPL's proposal.
As a way to save time, Stoddard said, the group will pass out index cards and take questions in writing. The Citizens Allied for Safe Energy town hall will be held at 7 p.m. Dec. 10 at South Miami City Hall, 6130 Sunset Dr.


Federal court to hear arguments in Lake Okeechobee run-off case
TCPALM, by Tyler Treadway
December 1, 2009
MARTIN COUNTY — The Rivers Coalition and the Army Corps of Engineers are gearing up for a hearing Friday in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., to determine the course of billions of gallons of water in South Florida.
Judge Lynn J. Bush will hear arguments in a lawsuit filed by the Stuart-based coalition on behalf of 22 Treasure Coast property owners to force the Corps to end discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie Estuary. Both sides are seeking summary judgments that would end the case filed Nov. 9, 2006.
About 10 Treasure Coast residents are expected to be in the courtroom for the hearing at 1 p.m. Friday, including Karl Wickstrom, head of the coalition’s legal defense fund; Kevin Henderson, a coalition board member representing the St. Lucie River Initiative; Stuart Vice Mayor Michael Mortell; Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard; and John Mildenberger, one of the plaintiff property owners in the lawsuit.
The Washington law firm of Marzulla and Marzulla represents the property owners and the Rivers Coalition, a group of Treasure Coast businesses, environmental groups and civic organizations.
The coalition’s lawsuit claims the discharges of nutrient-rich freshwater from the lake pollute the estuary and the Indian River Lagoon and violate the riparian rights of the landowners.
“It’s what’s called a ‘takings’ case,” said Leon Abood, chairman of the coalition, “in that when the Corps releases dirty water, they’re denying property owners the right to use their property and reducing the value of that real estate.”
Abood said the discharges affect both the quality of life and the “economic engine” of the entire Treasure Coast.
Attorneys from the Department of Justice will represent the Corps. Nanciann Regalado, a spokeswoman for the Corps, said its attorneys would not discuss ongoing litigation.
Paperwork filed by the government indicates the Corps has claimed the releases are made only in response to unusually high rainfall events, such as the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005 and Tropical Storm Faye in 2008, that threaten the dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee and so are beyond the Corps’ control. The Corps also claims the influx of water doesn’t constitute a “taking” of property because the water isn’t permanent.
The plaintiffs are asking for a $50 million award from the Corps, but Abood said any award will go toward river restoration.
“What we’re really hoping for,” he said, “is to stop the discharges and a court order to the Corps to move the (Okeechobee) water south.”
Such an order would dovetail into plans by the state to buy sugar company land south of the lake to re-establish the flow of water from Okeechobee into the Everglades.
“Federal court oversight of the acquisition of land and development of the flow way,” Abood said, “would be a huge victory for the people of this area.”


Protesters opposed to FPL plant near Loxahatchee wildlife refuge meet with state regulator
Palm Beach Post
December 1, 2009
WEST PALM BEACH — Palm Beach Post Staff Report
About 20 protesters gathered outside Florida Department of Environmental Protection offices Monday as a delegation of activists met with state and federal environmental officials to air complaints about greenhouse gas emission rules.
Regulators granted the noon meeting at the request of Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition Co-Chairman Panagioti Tsolkas. The coalition's chief grievance: construction of Florida Power & Light Co.'s newest power plant, the gas-burning West County Energy Center, near the northern tip of the Everglades, the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.
During the hour-and-a-half meeting, both sides largely spoke past each other, as regulators emphasized their limited role in changing or influencing policy while activists urged them to push harder from within their agencies for better monitoring of emissions and a move to renewable sources of energy.


Sweetwater hit by flood map
Miami Herald by Curtis Morgan and BEATRICE E. GARCIA
December 1, 2009
New FEMA flood-risk maps will help some, but cost other, South Florida homeowners when they get their insurance bills. Among the hardest-hit: residents of Sweetwater, despite $50 million spent on drainage fixes.
After 15 years of booming development and tropical deluges, federal emergency managers have redrawn Miami-Dade County's badly outdated flood-risk maps. Broward is in the midst of a similar update, with preliminary maps due out for public review in June.
The changes are literally across the map, mostly in small pockets but large swaths, too. Much of Sweetwater, for instance, went from unclassified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to high-risk flood zone -- a tag that comes with a price.
``We fought tooth and nail against it,'' said Mayor Manuel Maroño. ``I find it extremely ironic since we spent over $20 million on improvements. It's one of those Catch 22s.''
The city bought huge pumps and other upgrades to fix notorious drainage woes. State and federal agencies, FEMA among them, spent $50 million on two massive storm water basins. Yet lower risk added up to higher premiums, Maroño said -- about $1,400 a year for flood policies many residents will now require.
``I've got a lot of phone calls and a lot of complaints,'' he said. ``I'm extremely unhappy about being put on the map.''
On the flip side, a third of unincorporated Miami-Dade was dropped from high-risk to lower-risk zones. That could potentially save homeowners money in reduced premiums -- but they may need to look up the changes themselves to find out.
The map updates are part of a $1 billion-plus nationwide effort by FEMA to improve and modernize obsolete, often inaccurate topography maps used to set federal flood insurance rates and local building code elevations. FEMA spokesman Clark Stevens said pinpointing flood hazards more precisely helps protect residents and property from catastrophe.
``This process ensures that communities have the best possible information when making decisions on how to mitigate and insure against the risks posed by floods,'' he said.
But thousands of homeowners in South Florida and the state -- who already hold three times more National Flood Insurance Program policies and pay three times more in premiums, nearly $1 billion, than the next closest state -- will feel the difference where it hurts: the wallet.
For starters, last month FEMA raised annual flood premiums nationwide, by 8 percent on average, 10 percent for highest-risk coastal real estate. Map changes may help offset the hike for some homeowners, but shifting zones and higher elevations will hit others with hundreds, even thousands of dollars more in insurance costs.
Miami-Dade's flood map changes became official in September, but many residents first learned about them in recent weeks in letters from banks, mortgage lenders and insurance agents demanding federal flood insurance. It's required for federally backed mortgages in flood zones, and many private lenders insist on it as well.
Despite a string of public meetings, mailings, advertisements and outreach efforts by FEMA, cities, Miami-Dade's Department of Environmental Resource Management and the South Florida Water Management District during the two years it took to develop the maps, flood mapping remains poorly understood by most of the public.
The vast majority of Miami-Dade and Broward -- low-lying, heavily populated counties bordered by the Everglades and the Atlantic Ocean in a hurricane hot zone -- were and remain in flood-risk zones. But the remapping brought new technology, and precision, to FEMA's measuring stick of risk: a hypothetical one-in-100-year flood.
``These lines go down to street and single blocks. A flood demarcation line could split a [property] lot,'' said DERM Director Carlos Espinosa.
The biggest upgrade: aerial laser surveys, which are far more accurate than ground data that was decades old in some cases. Historical flooding, development, drainage improvements, climate and weather trends, and tweaks to FEMA's complicated risk models also factored in.
Basically, homes built above flood level, called the base elevation, pay lower rates or may not require insurance at all. Homes built below it typically pay more, on a sliding scale.
FEMA doesn't supply county-level data, so it's unclear how many homes or areas saw flood risk or elevation changes, either in or out. But spokesman Mary Hudak said that impacts were ``modest in most communities'' -- aside from Sweetwater, where a history of flooding over the last decades years outweighed the fixes in assessing risk.
Risks and elevations were raised for property along canals in many places, reflecting concerns about storm surge pushing into inland waterways. Florida City, on the other hand, saw flood elevations drop from nine feet on old maps to a range of three to seven feet, suggesting a reduced risk of floods.
Flood maps break Miami-Dade and Broward into hundreds of small sections. They are so detailed that Espinosa said DERM doesn't produce a countywide map or duplicate them digitally. Instead, Miami-Dade and Broward residents can type addresses into online data bases to determine zones or download smaller sectional maps through FEMA's website,
DERM assessed changes only in unincorporated Miami-Dade, finding 34 percent of the largely inland area dropped from high-risk to moderate or lower risk, which Espinosa credited to $400 million in drainage improvements. Only 4 percent of the area went into higher-risk zones or saw increased elevation requirements.
Getting bumped up, like in Sweetwater, wasn't a welcome change.
At the Kendale Lakes Townhomes, six miles west of Dadeland, the shocked homeowners association was forced to shell out $32,000 for flood insurance and another $3,000 for surveys. The complex was built in 1971, before FEMA created its first flood maps.
Brenda Alt, secretary for the association, has lived there 18 years and said the 39 buildings escaped Hurricanes Andrew and Irene and the drenching no-name storm of 1999. The complex stood high and dry on a plateau of fill, while surrounding streets turned into ponds.
With 235 units, flood coverage will cost each homeowner only about $136 a year, but Alt called it a ``waste of money.''
``It doesn't sound like much, but in a budget meeting in a condo, they can fight over every dollar of rising fees, especially in today's economy,'' she said.
Individual homeowners can challenge and sometimes change FEMA's designations.
Brent Spencer, a Pompano Beach surveyor whose firm, Florida Floodzone Services, helps homeowners navigate FEMA's appeals process, said even the new maps don't account for every natural ridge or for homes built on extra fill.
Spencer's mapping database pinpoints thousands of homes in South Florida that already have won exemption from FEMA designations, including 2,150 in Broward and 775 in Miami-Dade. Spencer, who typically charges $250 to $350 for his one-stop service, said accurately determining a home's elevation can pay big dividends for homeowners.
He doesn't advise anyone in South Florida to drop flood insurance altogether but a successful appeal can qualify homeowners for significantly lower rates that can save them hundreds of dollars a year. ``You can still get insurance, but it's dirt cheap,'' he said.
Besides insurance rates, the maps also could have other long-term impacts.
FEMA base elevations are used to set local building codes, meaning they determine how high off the ground new homes and buildings must be constructed. Because much of South Florida is already developed and existing structures are exempt, elevation changes don't mean much now.
But coastal cities could face not only higher rates but the costly prospect of rebuilding higher up, even on stilts, if a major hurricane bulldozes beachside homes and buildings.
FEMA, which is revising a coastal risk model that the National Research Council found outdated in a study released early this year, hasn't indicated when it might reassess South Florida's coastal cities. FEMA officials said they couldn't speculate on if or how much flood elevation might change.
But in Mississippi, still rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the impact has been dramatic. New FEMA maps released last year jacked required elevations from a pre-Katrina 13 feet above sea level along the Gulf Coast from 17 to 26 feet, meaning homes built on pilings, much like in the Florida Keys.


‘Skip a week’ of watering, FL agency urges
Water Tech Online
December 1, 2009
BROOKSVILLE, FL — In an effort to conserve water and reduce lawn pests and disease, the Southwest Florida Water Management District is asking residents to skip a week of lawn watering during the cooler winter months of December, January and February.
The district quotes research by the University of Florida which found that one-half inch to three-quarters of an inch of water every 10 to 14 days is sufficient for a healthy lawn growth.
The district, which in recent years has had to issue severe drought restrictions to help its 16-county service area cope with water shortages, said on its Web site that too much irrigation makes lawns less able to survive droughts, encourages pests and disease, and wastes water.
The district also has extended restrictions in place through the end of February that limit lawn watering to once per week unless local utilities or governments have stricter restrictions in place. Water restrictions apply to water supplied by utilities, private wells and surface water sources.


Water quality: New rules punish consumers opinion by DOMINIC M. CALABRO
December 1, 2009
For the first time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is poised to impose stringent new water quality regulations on the state of Florida that will cost our state and its businesses and families billions of dollars a year.
These arbitrary regulations — which would apply to Florida but no other state — will impose additional economic hardship to the Florida economy.
These rules are unfair because they are a result of a lawsuit from an environmental group, instead of a deliberative scientific process.
They are also unfair because the rules will require Florida to spend funds to clean rivers that were polluted by other states without any obligations for those other states to contribute their fair share.
Why should Florida purify all of the water that comes down from Georgia and Alabama?
Water treatment facilities would be required to make billions in investments in new technologies and infrastructure.
Local governments will have to pay for massive retrofits to drainage facilities and public utilities.
Cash-strapped local governments will be forced to raise fees and cut services, and families and businesses will have to pay more for their monthly water bills.
According to the Florida Water Environment Association, the new criteria imposed by the EPA could force utilities to spend $50 billion in capital costs.
When Florida businesses face such higher costs, it reduces their ability to expand employment, increase wages and make investments.
Many businesses will relocate to other states or countries due to these higher costs. In addition, new businesses will be deterred from coming to Florida.
This is especially a concern now when we badly need new business activity.
The additional costs borne by households will provide incentives to move away from Florida or to stay away in the first place — further robbing Florida of the growth that has fueled its economic engine.
These regulations fail on a fairness level, on an environmental level, they lack good science and they violate sound economics.
This unilateral federal action would put a stake in the heart of job creation and put the brakes on Florida’s economic recovery, just when it is needed the most.
DOMINIC M. CALABRO,,  President and CEO,  Florida TaxWatch, Tallahassee, FL.


Groundbreaking For Tamiami Trail Bridge That Will Aid Everglades National Park Water Flows Set for Dec. 4
National Parks Traveler
November 30, 2009
It'll be a short ceremony, but when officials gather December 4 to mark the groundbreaking of the Tamiami Trail Bridge, they'll set in motion a construction project that should carry significant benefits for Everglades National Park. So significant, in fact, that even Interior Secretary Ken Salazar plans to be on hand for the (invitation only) groundbreaking.
The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. on the fourth. The project includes a one-mile bridge and other roadway modifications that will allow increased water flows to Everglades National Park. This will mark a new beginning for the park and a major milestone along the journey to restore America’s Everglades, according to National Park Service officials.
The Tamiami Trail was built in the 1920s to allow vehicle travel between Tampa and Miami, early hotspots of population growth in southern Florida. From a transportation standpoint it met that goal, but in recent years the highway has been identified as a serious threat to the health of the Everglades. The biggest problem with the Tamiami Trail isn't traffic or pollution, it's the highway itself. The elevated roadbed functions as a dike, interrupting the natural flow of fresh water southward into the Everglades. The result has been described as "the most formidable barrier to fresh water flows to northeastern Everglades National Park," and water is critical to the health of this ecosystem.

To learn more about efforts to restore the "river of grass," check out this site:


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