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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:

Motors may be nixed in part of Everglades, Science News
November 30, 2009
FLORIDA CITY, Fla., Nov. 29 (UPI) -- Outboard motors may be banned from use in a portion of Florida Bay as part of an effort to protect seagrass in Everglades National Park, officials said.
Matthew Schwartz, Everglades chairman of the Broward Group of the Sierra Club, said the proposed no-motor zone would allow seagrass areas in the Florida park to recover from damage done by boat propellers, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Saturday.
"This is really a historic step for the National Park Service," Schwartz said. "It would actually be the first time in their history they took a piece of the marine environment and made it off-limits to motorized recreation."
Boaters traveling through the proposed no-motor zone would be required to move their vessels using push poles and paddles instead of motors.
The popularity of Florida Bay as a fishing destination has resulted in significant damage to the bay bottom, fishing guide Richard Grathwohl told the Sun-Sentinel.
"It's got a whole bunch of motor scars," Grathwohl said. "Every effort we put into this is going to help up in the long run."


Ocean acidification will cost us dearly
Miami Herald by Andrew Sharpless  
November 30, 2009
Enjoy serving shrimp, oysters or crabs during your holiday meals? Then you should pay heed to the big climate change meeting coming up in Copenhagen. What nations decide there could determine if our ocean will continue providing tasty shellfish - or instead become part of a perilous chemistry experiment that could ravage valuable fisheries and coral reefs.
The problem, strange as it may seem, is that the ocean is doing a wonderful job of slowing down global warming. Every day, it removes nearly 30 million metric tons of carbon dioxide - the main warming gas - from the atmosphere. That's nearly twice what U.S. power plants, cars and factories spew daily into the sky. So we owe the ocean a big thanks for putting a brake on climate change and giving us time to find solutions.
Unfortunately, that help comes at a steep price. When carbon dioxide in the air mixes with seawater, a chemical reaction creates a compound called carbonic acid - the same stuff that gives champagne its acidic zing. In the ocean, however, "acidification" is bad news for shellfish and corals. That's because as acidification increases - and it is increasing rapidly - the process locks up the carbonate molecules these creatures need to build their shells and stony skeletons. It would be as if you started building a house, and then discovered that someone had locked away your bricks. Imagine trying to survive without reliable shelter or a full skeleton.
So far, climate negotiators have paid scant attention to ocean acidification. That needs to change in Copenhagen. Already, scientists say the oceans are 30 percent more acidic than they were just 250 years ago. That's a disturbingly rapid shift, perhaps 100 times faster than anything Earth has experienced during the last 200,000 years. And the situation is about to get worse. If we don't act soon to curb emissions, acidity could double by the end of the century, making our seas more acidic than they've been in 20 million years.
Scientists are just beginning to fully understand the consequences of this massive chemistry experiment. Studies, for instance, suggest that adult fish and shellfish might survive more acidic waters but their eggs and larvae may not. So, over time, these organisms would become "dead species walking" - seemingly fine but reproductively doomed. Other research predicts that some ocean waters could become acid enough to literally dissolve the shells of the tiny creatures that form the critical base of the marine food chain. These "pteropods" are a favorite food of pink salmon, and even help sustain giant whales.
One of the first victims of acidification, however, will be the world's hard corals. Tiny coral polyps build their monumental, dazzling reefs by manufacturing tons of limestone. But the corals won't be able to keep up their masonry if acidification continues. In fact, several studies have concluded that if emissions aren't curbed, virtually all warm-water reefs could stop growing and start crumbling to rubble by the middle to end of this century. Among the potential U.S. casualties: reefs off Hawaii, Florida and the Gulf Coast that serve as backbones for some of the planet's richest habitats. And if the reefs go, so could iconic species that are part of America's cultural - and culinary - heritage, such as snapper, grouper and spiny lobster.
Such losses would have enormous social and economic consequences. Reefs support tourism and global fisheries worth billions of dollars annually, and more than 100 million people rely on them for their food and livelihood.
Still, you might be surprised by the names of the nations most vulnerable to ocean acidification. Japan, France and the United Kingdom, for instance, took the top three spots in a forthcoming risk analysis by Oceana scientists. In making the list, they considered each nation's seafood catch and consumption, the size of its coral reefs and the sensitivity of its coastal waters to acidification. They found that more than a third of the world's population lives in the 15 most vulnerable nations - including the 8th-ranked United States and 13th place China.
Luckily, the list also reveals that many of the most vulnerable nations are also in the best position to do something to prevent acidification. Like China and the United States, they are leading emitters of greenhouse gases - and next month in Copenhagen, they can help put the world on the path to healthier oceans by forging ahead with a global agreement to reduce emissions.
The goal must be ambitious. To protect coral reefs, for instance, scientists say we must eventually reduce atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels to 350 parts per million or less. Unfortunately, we are already at a worrisome level of 385 ppm. So time is running out for action to roll back acid-forming emissions. We've already squandered much of the "breathing room" the ocean has given us by soaking up these gases. Now, we need to recognize our debt to the sea around us, and start paying back if only because we want to savor a succulent shrimp or lobster in holidays to come.
Andrew Sharpless is CEO of Oceana, an international ocean conservation group. Readers may write to him at: 1350 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 500, Washington, D.C. 20036; Web site:
This essay is available to McClatchy-Tribune News Service subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.


Preserve the watersheds
Orlando Sentinel, Editorial
November 30, 2009
If you're like us, or, we'd wager, most any of your neighbors, you probably spend little if any time thinking about where the waste goes every time your sink drains or your toilet flushes. But if you care about the health of the Kissimmee River, Osceola County's lakes, Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades and the coastal estuaries of South Florida, you should start.
And, pay particularly close attention to what happens Tuesday at the Environmental Regulation Commission meeting in Tallahassee, where commissioners could act to endanger those environmental areas.
This is all about sludge -- where it's supposed to go, and, alas, where it actually ends up going. Florida's treatment plants produce tons of it each day by treating waste from Florida's
toilets and basins with bacteria that produces the mudlike byproduct no child would want to roll around in.
Thanks to the sludge-creating process, the days when poorly treated waste got discharged directly into rivers and lakes are history. And sludge actually has become highly beneficial to ranchers and farmers, who use it as fertilizer.
Problem is, because much of the sludge got spread in areas susceptible to rain runoff and flooding, its phosphorus and nitrogen content began choking environmentally sensitive waterways. More of it could turn already-strained-resources like Lake Okeechobee into a state of near-death, like Lake Apopka. It could set back the multibillion-dollar restorations of the Kissimmee River and the Everglades.
To its credit, the Legislature in 2007 banned the disposal of "domestic wastewater residuals" -- sludge -- within the ecosystem encompassing the Lake Okeechobee watershed, the Caloosahatchee River Watershed and the St. Lucie River Watershed.
But at Tuesday's hearing of the Environmental Regulation Commission, the Legislature's intent could get trampled. The commissioners, including Orlando's John Miklos, are set to take up a long-awaited "biosolids" rule that addresses sludge.
Crafted by staff at the state Department of Environmental Protection, it compromises needed protections for the watersheds south of Orlando. Not only would it allow the application of sludge to lands in basins given up to a 50 percent chance of flooding, it fails to address the duration of those floods.
Not only could lands that have a good chance of flooding receive tons of sludge that ranchers use for fertilizer, so could lands that typically flood for weeks. A counter-proposal by Audubon of Florida would keep far more of the sludge from flood-prone areas, and prohibit it entirely from areas that flood more than seven days. It makes sense.
But that proposal may not float if the commission instead follows the lead of several utilities that want the freedom to dump the sludge on any lands where farmers and ranchers welcome it. And many of them do, because the utilities operating the processing plants will haul and give it to them for free.
For their part, South Florida utilities don't want to haul their sludge any further than they have to. Why transport it several counties away instead of to a closer spot near the Everglades' headwaters?
More utilities should take their cue from the city of Orlando, which is transitioning to a system that will extract energy from sludge.
The Environmental Regulation Commission on Tuesday simply should do what's right, and that's protect the state's watersheds.

Southwest Florida enjoys year without storms
November 30, 2009
Boy, what a dull hurricane season.
For people who remember such names from past hurricane seasons as Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne, Katrina, Dennis and Rita, it was a wonderfully, gloriously, spectacularly dull hurricane season.
In fact, hurricane season, which ends today, was so dull that it doesn't even have the distinction of being the dullest season in the past 30 years.
Hurricane season 2009 by the numbers: nine named storms (the average is 9.6), three hurricanes (the average is five), and two major hurricanes (the average is 2.3).
No hurricanes made landfall in the United States - two tropical storms, Claudette and Ida, did come ashore in the U.S.; Ida reached hurricane strength Nov. 8 as it traveled between Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula, then lost strength the next day in the cooler waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Claudette, which hit the panhandle Aug. 17 with 50-mph winds, was the only named storm to make landfall in Florida.
In June, hurricane prognosticator William Gray and his team of forecasters at Colorado State University predicted 11 named storms, five hurricanes and two major hurricanes.
From top, NOAA satellite photos of Hurricane Charley in August 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, and a News-Press file photo of Hurricane Wilma in October 2005.
A NOAA satellite image of Hurricane Ida, 2009's ninth tropical storm and third hurricane.
One reason for the below-average hurricane season was El Nino, a warming of the water in the eastern Pacific Ocean, said Phil Klotzbach, lead author of the 2009 Colorado State forecast.
El Nino produces upper-level westerly winds that can break up developing tropical systems, so years when El Nino is present are usually light hurricane years.
 “In general, we think our forecast was somewhat successful - we'd like to have predicted three hurricanes," Klotzbach said. "Part of the reason we didn't go lower is we weren't sure how strong El Nino was going to be. It came on faster and stronger than we thought.
"There was a lot of dry air in the tropical Atlantic, dry and stable, and that reduces activity too."
Gray's team predicted a 48 percent chance that a major hurricane would make landfall somewhere along the U.S. coastline, a 28 percent chance that a major hurricane would make landfall along the East Coast and a 28 percent chance that a major hurricane would make landfall somewhere along the U.S. Gulf coast.
But no hurricanes, major or otherwise, hit anywhere in the United States.
"In general, landfall activity is reduced in El Nino years because fewer storms are in the ocean," Klotzbach said. "On the average, the United States gets two hurricanes a year. This year we had zero. The last time we had zero was 2006. There's about a 20 percent chance of getting none, and an 80 percent chance of getting one or more."
Hurricane season also fell short on the Accumulated Cyclone Energy index.
In simple terms, the ACE index reflects the intensity and duration of all tropical storms during a season.
To get the index value of a hurricane season, just add the square of sustained wind speeds, measured in knots, taken every six hours of every system while it is at least tropical storm strength.
"This year qualified as a below-normal season in the ACE index," said hurricane specialist Eric Blake of the National Hurricane Center. "Despite a near-normal number of named storms, their duration was
quite short-lived. So, according to our measure, this season was 60 percent of a normal system. That's the quietist since 1997."
For comparison, 1997 produced seven named storms, three hurricanes, one major hurricane and one landfalling storm, Hurricane Danny, which came ashore as a Category 1 hurricane July 18 just northwest of the Mississippi River delta.
Other comparisons, to show that the dull 2009 season wasn't the dullest in the last 30 years:
- Named storms: 2009 produced nine; nine seasons produced eight or fewer; 1983 produced the fewest, with four.
- Hurricanes: 2009 produced three; 1982 produced two.
- Major hurricanes: 2009 produced two; 11 years produced 1 or fewer, with 1994 and 1986 producing none.
So, 2009 was a dull hurricane season, not the dullest, but pretty dull, and that's OK, because, as the man said, "when there are no hurricanes, the weather of hurricane months is the best of all the year."


Who runs Big Cypress Basin
Naples by Dennis Vasey
November 30, 2009
Collier 101: Where to learn about ecology and have fun
Perhaps you have sensed, as I have, that residents want to believe that their home is protected from surface water damage.
For Collier County residents, it’s time, for the sake of our ecology, and above all, health and safety, to demand a county-wide surface water drainage plan because “when water falls from the sky in large amounts, there are a limited number of options for dealing with it. Basically the options boil down to retention or discharge, detention being somewhere between the two..." and right now each is in Limbo.
"Retention recharges the groundwater but causes flooding. Discharge minimizes flooding but allows the escape of much needed fresh water, possibly at too great a rate for the coastal ecology but that’s difficult to determine because that ecology isn’t what it was 100 years ago and it will change more as the sea levels rise faster than we can react politically.”
The dilemma of having so many choices presents a challenge that our brains were not designed to cope with. Now, while we no longer live in fear of being eaten alive if we make a false move, today the very complexity of our society is such that everywhere we look there is risk and confusion. Nature’s savagery has been replaced by levels of complexity that we are ill equipped to cope with. Moreover, the sheer volume of advice available, some of it exceedingly wise, is far beyond an inexperienced individual’s ability to sort through with confidence.
Never before has the quality of our lives been so dependent upon wise counsel. And yet, in spite of our best intentions, staff desires seem to prevail. Gone is our long history of championing reason, i.e., we depend upon an emotionally internalized moral guidance system to navigate our way through daily life. We act intuitively, relying on stored memory receptors in the emotional regions of the brain and then we reason away the aftermath of our actions with explanations that sound profound but very often have little to do with the ecological damage our poor ecological choices create.
We are surrounded by self-interested agents of every stripe, who tell us that they are looking out for us and that we have only to do this or that to succeed. More often than not, however, it’s not our interests but theirs that are best served by doing what they ask. Thus, of necessity, one has to be aware that sometimes the very suggestion of public health and safety may be reason to suspect deception.
If the South Florida Water Management District Board of Governors, all gubernatorial appointees, really had public health and safety in mind, they would take charge of their ambitious employees who are paying too much attention to their status and spend the money they pay for deputies and assistant deputies, at certified and licensed local businesses in our functional watershed.
For residents of Big Cypress Basin, because of economic necessity and the demands of Everglades restoration and the Okeechobee Basin, it’s time to require that our local gubernatorial appointees to the Big Cypress Basin Board do the job we need done.
It’s time to end the detached concern with surface water, floodplain, drainage, water quality issues, etc. We need a fresh perspective for our isolated basin. Inadequate can’t continue and we must shape Big Cypress Basin to improve our ecology and put management in the hands of the Big Cypress Basin Board; then have all employees work under a Director that reports to them and not West Palm.


Fla. Ag candidate says 'No, Baby, No' to drilling
Associated Press by Bill Kaczor   
November 24, 2009
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A Democratic candidate for agriculture commissioner has a response to Republican calls to "Drill, Baby, Drill."
Scott Maddox says "No, Baby, No."
The former Tallahassee mayor and ex-Florida Democratic Party chairman held a news conference Monday to declare his opposition to drilling for oil and natural gas off the state's beaches in federal and state waters.
Maddox said proposed state legislation that would open Florida waters to drilling between three and 10 miles offshore was a "bad idea."
It would interfere with military training and weapons testing in and over the Gulf of Mexico and threaten the state's beaches and the tourism industry they support with oil spills and other drilling-related pollution, Maddox said.
"It's like we've been asked to sell our favorite daughter and the Legislature has gone straight to 'What's the price and is it enough?'" he said. "Where's the moral outrage?"
At least one of his three opponents for the Democratic nomination, former Suwannee County Commissioner Randy Hatch of Branford, also opposes offshore drilling. The campaigns of former state Rep. Rick Minton Jr of Fort Pierce and Broward County Soil and Water Conservation Commissioner Thad Hamilton did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Both Republican candidates, U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam of Bartow and state Sen. Carey Baker of Eustis, support letting the governor and Cabinet, which includes the agriculture commissioner, decide where to allow drilling.
That was part of a bill the House passed during the last legislative session, but it died when the Senate declined to take it up. Similar legislation is expected to be introduced for the 2010 session that begins in March.
Putnam said in a telephone interview that he supports the legislation but hasn't yet decided whether he'd allow drilling as a Cabinet member. Nearshore drilling in Florida waters would have to meet higher standards for environmental protection than in federal waters to get his support, he said. Putnam also said he'd want assurance that drilling would not affect military activities.
In 2006, Putnam voted in Congress against continuing a moratorium on drilling in federal waters off Florida.
Baker said he supports drilling as long as it can be done safely because it would provide the state with much-needed revenue and reduce dependance on foreign oil.
Business and petroleum interests pushing to open state waters to drilling hired Orlando economist Hank Fishkind to do a study that predicts the state could reap $2.3 billion a year from drilling in state waters.
Maddox and other opponents say that figure is highly exaggerated, citing much lower revenue taking in by other Gulf Coast states.


Lead the way in saving our water
SunSentinel by Michael Clarchick, resident of Boynton Beach
November 24, 2009
It would be difficult to argue with the fact that Florida's most valuable resource is our water. Yet we waste water — more so than many other states. Everybody is now in an uproar about water restrictions. Talk is going on about building reverse osmosis factories because we have abused our aquifer by pulling water out in large quantities and not recharging the aquifers with the rainwater that naturally has done the job prior to man moving into the area.
The fact is we waste our water in large volumes. There is not a shortage of rainfall. Any given year, we could sustain the level of the aquifers with the volume that falls on our area. The problem is we discharge 60 percent of that water (our storm water) to the ocean and deep-water wells, where we can not longer use it. Low Impact Development techniques such as rain gardens, pervious pavement, green roofs, rain barrels, cisterns, etc., need to be incorporated into our existing developments, and any new construction to come. These systems actually cost less to install, maintain and manage storm water than conventional systems, as per the most recent EPA reports.
The thought of building a desalination plant is absurd when you think about the cost and the environmental effects. Especially since the freshwater is already here. If cisterns were handed out like recycling bins, we would never hear about watering our lawns again. If pervious pavements were used, then the aquifers would be full and void of saltwater intrusion.
The fact is LID is not new; it has been used successfully here in the United States and abroad for over 20 years. Progressive states like Washington, California, Oregon and now North Carolina have regulations to encourage the use of these systems. In the United Kingdom, you must design your storm water system to LID standards. On many islands, these systems are used for the purpose of having a freshwater supply residentially and commercially.
About 50 percent of our potable water is consumed by irrigation. We could easily reduce that number by recycling our water. Conservation is not enough. It's time for our local government to step up to the plate and do what the federal government has done — insist on LID standards for all of their building and rebuilding projects. Instead of restricting our water, they need to lead by example and show us how to save our most valuable resource.


Students Learn How Geographic Information Systems Help the SFWMD Protect the Everglades, Water Supply
TCPALM by South Florida Water Management District
November 24, 2009
WEST PALM BEACH — Nearly 130 students at the environmentally focused Pine Jog Elementary School became South Florida Water Management District geographers for the day last week as part of Geographic Information Systems Day. Students learned how GIS technology plays a key role in their everyday lives and helps the District conserve South Florida's water resources, ecosystems and the Everglades.
The energized group of fifth-graders collected data on school grounds using hand-held Global Positioning Systems, known as GPS, to create digital maps with computer mapping tools known as Geographic Information Systems, or GIS.
The activities were part of the global GIS Day, held each year during the National Geographic Society's Geography Awareness Week to raise awareness of GIS technology and the important contributions it makes in the fields of science, technology, information and the humanities.
"The students did a fantastic job using their GPS units and digital compasses to locate points around the eco-friendly campus and to document and map their surroundings," said Shannon Philippus, an SFWMD GIS data steward. "They really came away with a sense of how important GIS technology is and its many uses in helping to protect their environment."
From ensuring busses get to school on time to tracking endangered wildlife, GIS and GPS technology is useful for a variety of work. At the SFWMD, geographers, engineers, wetland scientists and many others use GIS and GPS for activities ranging from tracking exotic Burmese pythons in the Everglades to hurricane recovery efforts.


Conservancy urging cities to oppose reduced state water-quality rules
Naples Daily by TARA E. McLAUGHLIN   
November 23, 2009
BONITA SPRINGS — A move by the state’s environmental agency to change water quality designations will burden taxpayers, let polluters off the hook and endanger Florida’s rivers and estuaries, one local environmental group said.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is proposing to add new, lower-grade water categories to its system of water quality requirements.
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida has been lobbying governments, including Bonita Springs and Naples, to oppose the change.
“It doesn’t make sense to have lower standards upstream than downstream if you truly want to promote source control and protect downstream water quality,” said Jennifer Hecker, the Conservancy’s natural resources policy manager.
The current five-grade system has been in place for more than 30 years.
In July, the Florida Stormwater Association, which represents municipalities and water management districts, petitioned the DEP to include lower-grade categories, which come with less stringent requirements for pollution and cleanup.
Cities soon will be required to clean certain waterways that don’t meet their classification standards, said Kurt Spitzer, the association’s executive director. That includes concrete-lined ditches in urban areas that have the same standards as many rivers.
“The same standards where you would go swimming or fishing would apply to these urban canals and ditches,” he said of the current system. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Spitzer advocated shifting to downstream communities the responsibility for building costly stormwater treatment systems and meeting standards.
“That’s all very expensive in the urban area,” he said of land needed for stormwater treatment.
“Typically, where you get the biggest bang for your buck, keeping water quality higher, is the receiving water body. If we would not be forced to spend money on ditches, we would then have money to protect the downstream water.”
That’s exactly the problem for Bonita Springs Councilman Pat McCourt.
“It seems to me that the person who ought to pay to treat (pollution) is the person who is creating it,” McCourt said. “If they can’t treat it at that level, why should it be passed on to the community downstream where the taxpayer is going to clean up?”
The Conservancy has asked city officials to pass resolutions against the DEP’s plans. Naples leaders are to hear from the Conservancy on Dec. 14 and Bonita Springs officials are to hear from the DEP on Dec. 2.
McCourt is doubtful, however, that the DEP will take much stock in a resolution from Bonita Springs opposing the proposed changes.
Bonita Springs Mayor Ben Nelson disagreed, saying he trusted that the DEP wouldn’t set standards that would make cleaning Florida’s waters more difficult and that more reasonable standards should be set.
“The very idea that water in a ditch in an urban area, when the water flows from the road off into the ditch, we’re going to have to be sure that water is swimmable, fishable -- that’s not going to happen ever, ever, ever,” Nelson said. “In order to get those collections clean, we have to leave -- all of us -- and they still won’t be clean.”
The DEP staff was unavailable to provide information but its Web site maintained that the new system would bring more protection to the waterways.
“The expanded classification system will allow DEP to better protect pristine waters and establish more realistic goals for artificial waters,” it said.
The Conservancy proposed that developments be required to manage the pollution they generate on site, the same way developers now have to compensate for increased traffic.
Instead, Hecker said, the proposal could bring below-standard water into compliance and developers wouldn’t be required to manage it. Polluted water would flow into rivers and estuaries and downstream communities would be responsible for cleanup and DEP compliance.
If adopted, interested parties would have to petition for up- or downgrading with several levels of review before.


Florida coalition targets pending federal pollution rules
Miami Herald by Curtis Morgan
November 23, 2009
Business organizations and other influential interests say new rules to protect Florida's waterways and beaches wouldn't be worth the cost.
After losing on the legal front, a powerful coalition of agriculture and business interests, wastewater utilities, water managers and tax watchdogs is mounting a lobbying assault on pending federal rules that could force Florida to clean up pollution fouling lakes, canals, streams and beaches statewide.
The target: A settlement a federal judge in Tallahassee approved last week in a lawsuit brought by five environmental groups against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
It requires that federal regulators, for the first time, step in and set a state's water quality standards for nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus that flow into waterways from fertilized lawns, sewage plants, farms fields, cattle pastures and a host of other sources.
Opponents -- Associated Industries of Florida, Florida Farm Bureau, Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Stormwater Association, Florida Tax Watch, Sugarcane Growers Cooperative of Florida and some 60 other organizations that collectively wield considerable political clout -- argue the economic impacts could be staggering and far outweigh the environmental benefits.
They've called on state congressional leaders to block the EPA action, enlisted two former state environmental secretaries, Virginia Wetherell and Colleen Castille, and created a website branding the EPA rules a federal ``water tax.'' Their projections for the cost to local and state governments for the cleanup: As much as $50 billion -- and that's just for overhauling the state's sewage systems, a price tag that could double customer's bills.
``I wish Florida were in a financial position to be able to throw billions at this issue,'' said Wetherell, who ran the state Department of Environmental Protection from 1993 to 1998. ``I am concerned about the economy of Florida. I am concerned about how local government is going to fund all this.''
David Guest, an attorney for Earthjustice, a public interest law firm that sued the EPA for the environmental groups, called the opponents' projected numbers for cleanup wildly inflated ``smoke and mirrors.''
``They're just making them up,'' he said. ``You don't even know what the standards are going to be yet.''
Environmentalists said the tougher numeric standards are years overdue for nutrients, which have become the state's most widespread water woe.
High concentrations have triggered repeated algae blooms in Lake Okeechobee, the St. Johns, St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, along the beaches of Southwest Florida and other waterways. The nastiest blue-green blooms have left fish dead, waters too unhealthy to swim in and residents and tourists wheezing. The EPA, citing the Clean Water Act, first urged states to set legal water quality limits for nutrients more than a decade ago and warned the agency would set them itself by 2004 if states did not comply. Instead, Florida's Department of Environmental Protection adopted ``narrative'' standards that state regulators have insisted are needed to address varying natural conditions in the waterways and water bodies.
The environmental groups -- the Florida Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, St. Johns Riverkeeper and Environmental Conservancy of Southwest Florida -- sued in July 2008, arguing the state's standards were too vague, a point the EPA agreed with.
Under the settlement, approved over motions filed by lawyers for Florida Agricultural Commissioner Charles Bronson as well as objections from local governments and industries, EPA is scheduled to propose nutrient limits for lakes, streams and creeks in January and finalize them by October 2010. Limits for coastal waters and estuaries are due in January 2011, with final rules expected to be set by October 2011.
The agreement could have significant impacts on polluters big and small, potentially requiring sewage plants to add new layers of treatment before discharging to surface waters or limiting or banning fertilizer use by suburban gardeners. Former state environmental secretary Castille said agency scientists had worked for years to develop standards and a regional cleanup plan with the EPA that reflected, and protected, the diversity of the state's waterbodies.
Castille acknowledged the state still had a long way to go, but said its existing system was working and dramatically cutting nutrient loading. She pointed to one model, adopted with cooperation of utilities, that cut nutrient flow to the St. Johns River in half.
``When I left in 2006, I thought we were all ready to go,'' she said. ``Apparently, EPA changed its mind.''
Wetherell and Castille -- who led the DEP when state lawmakers overhauled Everglades pollution regulations, essentially pushing deadlines back a decade -- defended state oversight, calling Florida a national leader in water quality. Both became lobbyists after leaving the state but said they weren't representing clients in joining the fight against numeric standards they and other critics call ``scientifically unsound.''
But the bulk of the concern is the potential price tag of meeting those standards, whatever they may be, when Florida's economy and tax revenues remain in a free fall. Paul Steinbrecher, vice president of the Florida Water Environment Association Utility Council, said the EPA is rushing to meet an arbitrary deadline without adequately analyzing the costs. The $25 to $50 billion estimates to retrofit the state's sewage plants with microfiltration and reverse osmosis systems, he said, ``are just the tip of the iceberg.'' Cities might face far larger bills to clean fertilizers flushed from suburban lawns every time it rains.
``This is really about the return for the investment and the environmental benefits we will get,'' he said.
Environmentalists counter that foes are ignoring the long-term impact of stagnant lakes and estuaries and rotting fish on beaches to an economy that more than ever needs to draw visitors and home buyers.
They contend opponents are primarily looking to preserve revenue streams and profit margins protected by the vague ``narrative'' state standards that allow the continued release of high volumes of nutrients. The St. Johns, for instance, remains periodically under health advisories despite the state cleanup plan, they said.
``Asking for clean water is not a stretch,'' said St. Johns Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon. ``There are algae blooms even today in the St. Johns River. Moving forward quickly is an imperative.''


OIL & WATER: Once unthinkable, public and political opinion on the drilling issue may be changing
The by Paul Flemming
November 23, 2009
TALLAHASSEE -- On April 21, a tremor hit Florida’s political landscape.
On that day, with less than two weeks left in a tense, budget-constrained legislative session, Rep. Dean Cannon took the wraps off a then-startling proposal: An amendment offered by the Winter Park Republican would grant the state’s Cabinet power to lease sovereign Florida waters — roughly between 3 and 10 miles off the coast — for oil and natural-gas exploration.
The impetus behind Cannon’s proposal: the economic crisis gripping the state.
With more than 1 million people out of work statewide and gasoline prices as high as $3.50 a gallon, legislators and voters were willing to pause to consider what drilling might offer.
 “It’s being served up as the economy vs. the environment,” said Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples. “I think we need to be always cautious of the environment but right now we need to do something to create more jobs, more revenue for the state of Florida.”
Cannon’s proposal passed the House 70-43 a week after it was introduced last spring. Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, then refused to take it up in the waning days of the session.
But get ready for more.
In 2010, the dynamic is set to repeat itself, with a willing House pressing a reluctant Senate to act.
And in 2011, with the two men who will preside over the House and Senate ardent proponents of drilling exploration, the issue is almost sure to be a key issue.
‘Shooting craps’
A two-decade ban on drilling reflected conventional political wisdom: Floridians didn’t want drilling off their beaches. The Sunshine State’s pristine beaches and $60 billion tourism industry were too precious to risk.
But public opinion has evolved, reflected in Gov. Charlie Crist’s 2008 pronouncement that drilling was worth considering.
 “For a long time, people have said it’s outside the realm of possibility so we’re just not going to do it,” said Rep. Dave Murzin, R-Pensacola.
 “But they’ve dangled the string of money, they have dangled the string of jobs, and there are some real possibilities. You look to the west of us and you see income for the state, you see jobs being created.”
The idea also is being pressed forward by more than changing public opinion.
Florida Energy Associates LLC, a group of unidentified interests, has spent more than $369,000 on lobbyists and political contributions pushing for drilling. Studies and presentations commissioned by the group and other proponents of drilling paint the possibility of billions in state revenue and tens of thousands of new jobs, all built on a premise that’s unknown, but tantalizing.
Sen. Durell Peaden, a Crestview Republican, is among those who remain opposed.
 “Drilling for oil in Florida is like shooting craps, a big gamble,” he said. “The benefits they’re promising might be 20 years down the road, might be 50 years down the road. They’re selling it as the solution to our problems right now.”
Peaden worked in research for Texaco in New Orleans before becoming a doctor and an opponent of drilling.
“I think there’s some public policy in Florida that shouldn’t be for sale,” he said.
2010 and beyond
Experts think it’s likely there’s oil and gas in Florida’s Gulf of Mexico waters, but no one knows.
Atwater has called for extensive study to answer details missing, or disputed, in the debate.
The 2010 regular legislative session is a little over three months away, and his go-slow strategy is now little more than a tactic in the annual stand-off between House and Senate priorities.
But the next presiding officers of the House and Senate, Speaker-designate Cannon and President-designate Mike Haridopolos of Merritt Island, are chief proponents of exploration.
That means no matter what happens in the coming legislative session — expanded gambling, high-speed rail and the state budget are already certain to eat up big chunks of time — the drilling debate will stay when they take over after the November 2010 elections.
Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, whose district extends to Panama City, said coastal residents are generally opposed to drilling.
But in an election year, he said, many legislators can sell the argument of jobs and new revenue to their constituents rather than making more controversial and difficult tax and program decisions.
 “This measure is being sold as a way to generate income for the state,” Lawson said. “Members seem to be afraid to do what we really need to do — to have meaningful tax reform to help stabilize the economy.”


Study finds link between bacteria, red tide blooms
Tampa Bay Online by Neil Johnson
November 23, 2009
TAMPA - Researchers have found a link between bacteria and the algae that causes the red tide outbreaks that leave beachgoers wheezing and shorelines strewn with dead fish.
The findings may allow scientists to better predict when the population of algae will explode to create a bloom, said William Sunda, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist who co-wrote a report on the study.
And in the distant future, the discovery may point to a way to stop a bloom or diminish its effects, he said.
A red tide occurs in Florida waters when tiny algae grow into such prodigious numbers they turn the water a reddish color. They secrete toxins that kill fish and other marine creatures and can cause respiratory problems for people.
The algae constantly inhabit the waters around Florida but are normally in numbers too low to cause problems.
The NOAA research found that a type of bacteria provides a necessary element for the algae to blast into a frenzy of reproduction.
The bacteria and algae work together in a symbiotic relationship.
Scientists found that the bacteria release a compound that lets the algae absorb iron, something essential for photosynthesis in all plants but also difficult for the algae to get from seawater.
"The algae need a lot of iron," Sunda said.
Without the extra iron, there would be no algae blooms, he said.
In return, the algae produce nutrients for the bacteria so its population can expand and produce more iron for the algae.
"The whole process feeds on itself," he said.
Experiments that eliminated the bacteria either killed the algae or kept it from growing, Sunda said.
"We always knew the bacteria was there," he said. But scientists did not know its role in boosting the red tide blooms.
None of the current computer models used to predict red tide considers the bacteria populations as a factor in the forecasts.
"The next generation of models could include this," Sunda said.
If scientists can figure out a way to safely control the bacteria, it might reveal a method to control the red tide outbreaks.
"These particular algae and bacteria need each other," Sunda said


Bacterial contamination forces closure of Fort Island Gulf Beach
 Citrus Daily
November 20, 2009
Citrus County Parks and Recreation has closed Fort Island Gulf Beach after the Citrus County Environmental Health Department issued a warning for the county beach late Thursday based on the criteria for enterococci bacteria adopted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
The presence of the bacteria in water samples indicates that contact with the water may pose an increased risk of infectious disease, particularly for susceptible individuals.
The Environmental Health Department said in the advisory that it is not uncommon for lakes, rivers and oceans to become contaminated with germs from sewage, animal waste and water runoff following a rainfall.
The beach water will be tested again the week of Nov. 23. The results will be available Wednesday, Nov. 25. After evaluating the results, Environmental Health said, it will take the appropriate steps based on the results.


Next Phase of River of Grass Restoration Public Planning Begins
TCPALM by the South Florida Water Management District
November 20, 2009
WEST PALM BEACH — The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board has approved taking the next step in the public planning process for Everglades restoration on land being acquired from the United States Sugar Corporation. The second phase of planning involves the in-depth analysis of data generated during 15 project planning workshops to determine the most beneficial restoration project features.
"The extensive public participation so far in this planning process is helping to ensure that the U.S. Sugar property can provide maximum benefit to America's Everglades, South Florida's environment and residents," said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Eric Buermann. "The public input will help us move forward with this opportunity to restore the Everglades on a scale never before envisioned."
The first phase in evaluating conceptual project configurations began in January 2009 with a series of SFWMD Water Resources Advisory Commission (WRAC) Issues Workshops. A broad range of agricultural, environmental, governmental, tribal and public interests came together with the goal of determining viable configurations for constructing a managed system of water storage and treatment to support ecosystem restoration.
Working collaboratively with SFWMD engineers and hydrologists, the stakeholders generated nine conceptual configurations identifying specific water storage, water quality treatment and conveyance features. Each configuration was evaluated for its performance in meeting Everglades restoration goals.
"The public process is a critical component of the District's efforts to maximize the environmental benefits offered by this historic acquisition," said Ken Ammon, SFWMD Deputy Executive Director of Everglades Restoration and Capital Projects.
"Acquiring this land offers water managers the unprecedented opportunity to protect Florida's coastal rivers and estuaries while improving the delivery of cleaner water and reducing phosphorus deliveries from entering America's Everglades."
The second phase of the public planning process seeks to build on the work done so far by achieving several goals, including:
· Identifying the best performing features from the nine configurations.
· Developing optimized configurations based upon the best performing features.
· Refining evaluation tools to better test the performance of the optimized configurations.
· Utilizing all data collected to develop preferred/recommended conceptual plans for consideration by the SFWMD Governing Board.
Phase II began with an Everglades Science Workshop hosted by the District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) this week. The forum reviewed the latest science associated with hydrologic stage and flow targets and presented modeling results and ecological data that support restoration of the greater Everglades ecosystem.
The next River of Grass public planning meeting of the WRAC Issues Workshop will be held on December 18 in West Palm Beach.


Solar Power: Good for the economy and the planet
South Florida Times by ELIZABETH TETREAULT
November 20, 2009
America’s dialogue about clean energy took center stage last month when President Obama traveled to Arcadia, Florida to showcase FPL’s DeSoto Solar Energy Center. It is currently the largest solar photovoltaic power plant in the country.
Comparing this project to the building of the interstate highway system, Obama at the time said, “Now, it's time to make the same kind of investment in the way our energy travels -- to build a clean energy superhighway that can take the renewable power generated in places like DeSoto and deliver it directly to the American people in the most affordable and efficient way possible.”
At the same time, 3,000 miles away, the Solar Power International 2009 Convention was taking place in Anaheim, California. This year’s event, the largest in its six-year history, attracted over 23,000 participants and more than 900 exhibitors. On display were products that collect, store, transmit, and change light and heat from the sun into electricity or hot water.
In addition, panelists from companies such as Suntech, Sharp, First Solar and GroSolar discussed the future of solar power to boost our economy and provide green, clean American jobs. Rhone Resch, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, presented a “Solar Bill of Rights” and told of provisions in the stimulus package that were expected to create over 100,000 solar jobs in the next few years.
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis explained how 11 departments and agencies, and six White House offices worked to develop ideas to reduce energy costs for homeowners, to provide training for workers and support for entrepreneurs.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., named as one of Time Magazine’s “Heroes of the Planet,” said to the audience, “You”ll hear people say that we have to choose between environmental protection on the one hand and economic prosperity on the other, and that is a false choice. In 100 percent of the situations, good environmental policy is identical to good economic policy.”
Kennedy also spoke about the hidden subsidies and health costs of the oil, nuclear and coal industries, to the tune of more than $1 trillion each year, and contrasted that to the economic advantages to the taxpayer as we switch to solar and wind energy.
Other keynote speakers were Ed Bagley Jr., actor and environmental activist since the 1970s, and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who served as secretary of energy under former President Bill Clinton.
Although Florida, nicknamed the Sunshine State, produces less than 4 percent of its energy from renewable resources, Gainesville Regional Utilities presented information about its new program, which allows solar power users to sell their excess electricity to the utility at above-market rates. Hopefully, this effort and FPL’s high-profile solar plant will spur more interest among Florida’s citizens and politicians.
There was one glaring element missing from the country’s largest Solar Convention…..adequate representation from the African-American and Caribbean communities. This provides a terrific opportunity for entrepreneurs and employees, as programs become available for training and financing in the next few months.


South Florida Adopts Year-Round Water Conservation Rule
November 20, 2009
Recognizing the need to conserve water and increase protection for South Florida's water resources, the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board has unanimously approved sweeping year-round water conservation measures that place permanent limits on landscape irrigation throughout the region.
Developed with input from water users across the region after more than two years and 30 public workshops, the rule limits irrigation of existing landscapes to two days per week, with some exceptions.
"South Florida residents and businesses have repeatedly demonstrated a commitment to water conservation and reduced their water use to cope with short-term adversity," said SFWMD Executive Director Carol Ann Wehle. "The year-round rule calls upon South Florida to make a long-term change that will help protect our water resources and provide water to sustain our environment and economy for future generations."
The Year-Round Landscape Irrigation Rule is designed to curb water use in South Florida, which is the highest in the state at an estimated 179 gallons per person per day. District officials estimate the rule can reduce water use by up to 10 percent.
Outdoor irrigation uses up to half of all drinkable water produced within the region. Up to 50 percent of the water applied to lawns is lost to evaporation and runoff with no benefit to the landscape, according to the district.
"The year-round rule reflects the broad consensus among a wide range of stakeholders that we must act now to ensure a sustainable supply of water for South Florida's communities and environment well into the future," said SFWMD Governing Board member Michael Collins, who facilitated the development of the rule through the District's Water Resources Advisory Commission.
"The conservation measures outlined in the rule will provide meaningful returns and significantly reduce the amount of water devoted to landscape irrigation, which is the single largest use of household water in South Florida," Collins said.
The district has entered the 2009-2010 dry season with caution as water levels have begun falling after average wet-season rains. South Florida received only 1.16 inches of rain in October, the fourth-driest total for the month in the region according to district records dating back to 1932.
Under the new rule, no irrigation will be allowed on any day between 10 am and 4 pm.
While most counties can only irrigate two days a week, a provision in the rule allows for three-day-a-week irrigation in counties south of Lake Okeechobee, including Broward, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties.
Irrigation using reclaimed water, rain harvesting systems and various low-volume methods, such as micro-irrigation, container watering and hand watering with a hose and automatic shut-off nozzle, is not subject to restrictions.
Additional watering is allowed for up to 90 days following the installation of new lawns and landscaping.
The District may grant variances for "smart" irrigation technologies described in Senate Bill 2080, passed by the Florida Legislature this year.
Local governments may adopt more stringent landscape irrigation ordinances at their discretion, based on local water demands, system limitations or resource availability, such as the two-day-a-week ordinances implemented by Lee and Miami-Dade counties in 2005 and 2009, respectively, and being proposed by Broward County.
By reducing landscape irrigation, the district estimates implementation of the year-round rule may reduce overall potable water demand by five to 10 percent. That estimate is based on a recent SFWMD study of regional demand reductions experienced during the 2007-2009 water shortage.
The 44 largest utilities in the district saved an estimated 138 million gallons of water per day over a six month period during the emergency water shortage compared to usage before the water shortage.
Among its many benefits, district officials say water conservation may save taxpayers money by reducing demand for water and allowing utilities and local governments to defer or possibly avoid costs associated with construction of new public water supply facilities, including development of expensive alternative water supplies.
In addition, less frequent watering helps condition lawns to develop deeper, stronger roots, creating a healthier, more drought-tolerant lawn that can better respond to dry times.
The Year-Round Landscape Irrigation Rule is a component of the District's Comprehensive Water Conservation Program, approved by the Governing Board in September 2008. Numerous stakeholders worked with the district to define specific regulatory, voluntary and incentive-based programs and in-depth education and marketing plans that will help foster a year-round conservation ethic.


Thumb up: Government to set standards for assuring clean water
TCPALM Editorial
November 20, 2009
CLEAN WATER ACT-ION: The federal government will set water pollution limits in Florida, the first in the nation, under an agreement approved this week.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle accepted a consent decree between five environmental groups and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, calling on EPA to set numerical standards for nitrogen and phosphorous, the leading causes of algae blooms in waterways such as the Indian River Lagoon and the St. Lucie River. The pollution has caused fish kills and other illnesses among dolphins and other wildlife.
The environmental groups had sued the EPA for not following up on a decision in 1998 that states should adopt numerical standards in order to comply with the Clean Water Act of 1972. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection had taken no action to set standards.
The EPA is now supposed to propose rules for lakes, rivers and other freshwater bodies by Jan. 14, 2010, and issue a final rule-making by Oct. 15, the Associated Press reported. Rules must be proposed for coastal and estuarine waters in 2011.
Opponents say the schedule is too rapid considering the complexity of setting the standards according to good science. The judge, however, said potential delays are built into the procedures to assure the regulations are proper.
The Treasure Coast has experienced the results of pollution from urban and agricultural runoff for many years. With scientific restrictions on pollution, perhaps an end is in sight and the clean water, which should be a right for the citizens of this region and state, will become reality.


Bonefish preservation discussed
Miami Herald by Susan Cocking
November 19, 2009
LUCAYA, GRAND BAHAMA ISLAND -- A little more than two years ago, University of Miami bonefish researcher Mike Larkin escorted a small group of avid anglers on a tagging expedition to the bone-studded flats of Grand Bahama Island.
The goal was to learn how far bonefish range and to see if there is any mixing of the stocks between Florida and the more than 700 islands of the Bahamas.
In one week, the handful of anglers caught, tagged and released 71 fish. All were hoping for word that one of their fish had been recaptured.
They had to wait a long time -- until March of this year, when guide Ishmael Makintosh reported catching a 21-inch, tagged bonefish near Water Cay on the north side of Grand Bahama. It turned out the fish had been caught June 23, 2007, in the same area by Islamorada angler Jim Bokor and his brother, Art, when it was only 16 ½ inches long.
That fish is one of few recaptures of bones tagged in the Bahamas since the 1980s.
Other Grand Bahama guides, such as Phil Thomas, said they have caught a handful of tagged fish recently, but let them go without following up.
Some bonefish researchers, such as Aaron Adams -- executive director for the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust based in Key Largo -- hope to change that. Adams and several colleagues met with Bahamian bonefish guides last month in Nassau in a session organized by the island nation's Ministry of Tourism.
``They were all very forward-thinking about preserving their fishery, which was nice to hear,'' Adams said.
Bonefish & Tarpon Trust ( last year launched a large-scale project in the Bahamas, Caribbean, and Central America, working with fisheries managers, guides, resorts, and anglers with the goal of tagging as many as 2,000 bonefish over the next two years. Adams said they need to tag at least that many because the average return rate is low -- about 3 to 5 percent.
In South Florida and the Keys, guides and anglers working with BTT and researchers from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School have tagged more than 7,500 bonefish since 1998, with nearly 300 recaptures, according to Larkin.
From those tag returns, the scientists have learned that bonefish travel extensively between Biscayne Bay and the lower Keys, and that at least two bonefish tagged in South Florida traveled across the predator-infested Straits of Florida to be caught again near Andros Island in the Bahamas.
Far less is known about the species' travel among the islands of the Bahamas and elsewhere, Adams said. Hence the big push to get others concerned with the fishery involved.
``It's important to figure out movement patterns and home ranges so we can put that into management,'' Adams said. ``If it turns out [bonefish] move among the islands, then those guides would have to cooperate in conservation.''
Learning more about bonefish movements, life history and reproduction is vital, scientists said, because the species helps drive a powerful economic engine wherever it occurs. An annual bonefish census in South Florida, for example, shows each fish is worth about $3,500 per year, or $75,000 over its lifetime. Elsewhere, the species has a commensurate value, the scientists said.
BTT petitioned the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently to make bonefish a catch-and-release-only species. But some FWC officials have interpreted the request to mean designating bonefish a prohibited species, such as Goliath grouper. That would mean anglers would not be allowed to bring a bonefish out of the water to photograph it -- a notion that has some Keys guides and tournament organizers upset.
BTT officials now have withdrawn their request and are working with FWC on the wording of a possible rule change to protect bonefish without making them off-limits. The issue is expected to be discussed at the FWC's next meeting in December in Clewiston.


Clean Water Wins War, Now It May Be Time to Pay
The by Tom Palmer 
November 18, 2009
The most recent battle in the Clean Water Wars is over. Clean water won.
That was the news this week after a federal judge ruled in favor of a coalition of environmental organizations that sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to make the agency go farther than it has in the past to enforce the Clean Water Act.
That's the 1972 Clean Water Act.
The federal judge's ruling this week will require EPA officials to set pollution standards for lakes and rivers.
That will mean everyone - cities, counties, factories, farms - whose operations send pollution to waterways will have to come up with measures to quit polluting.
"The Clean Water Act is strong medicine," said David Guest, lawyer for Earthjustice, one of the groups that filed the suit. "The EPA can now get on with the work of setting standards that will clean up our waters. We're hoping to see safe drinking water, clear springs, lakes and rivers again."
"The long-lasting and worsening pollution of our lakes, rivers, beaches and springs hurts Florida's economy and needs to end," said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation, another of the groups involved in the lawsuit.
It's unclear whether the judge's ruling will be appealed.
Siding with EPA against the environmental groups were agribusiness groups, the people who either make or use the products responsible for a good portion of the pollution, such as Florida Citrus Mutual and the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, as well as the development interests, such as the Florida Engineering Society.
Some of the water management districts joined in to protest the tighter rules, too.
Like many protracted fights, quite a bit of money is involved. That's not hard to explain.
Pollution reduction is expensive.
In fact, the opponents of the new rules launched their own campaign leading up the court ruling.
They framed the enforcement of the Clean Water Act as a "federal water tax," arguing it would be unscientific, draconian, arbitrary, unfair, etc.
The only problem with their argument was they were criticizing a standard that hadn't even been issued.
The judge told them as much.
They also complained the environmentalists were not giving everyone enough time to deal with the issue.
But the judge pointed out that Florida has had 11 years to come up with standards and has not.
That seemed to have exhausted the normal anti-environmental arguments.
I talked so some of the local environmental officials. They're taking a wait-and-see approach on this.
In Polk County, the big issue is what kind of phosphorous standards the EPA will set.
There's a bit of common sense on that front.
One of the accounts I read revealed the thinking is to adopt regional standards within Florida rather than a single statewide standard.
That would be good news for Polk County.
Phosphorous and nitrogen are the two major pollutants that create conditions for algae blooms, fish kills, loss of clarity and a general decline in lake and river habitats, not to mention the effects downstream in estuaries and near-shore waters on the coasts.
The problem, some of local folks claim, is that even if all of the pollution runoff disappeared tomorrow, some water bodies in Polk County would fail some of pollution standards for phosphorous that have been circulating because phosphate is naturally occurring here in abundance.
That's why they have argued that the phosphorous standards should be different in this part of the state.
By contrast, in areas such as the Everglades, the majority of the phosphorous is from human sources, not nature.
At this point in history and with the decades of delays in adopting stronger pollution-control regulations, there's another complicating factor. That is the large amount of nutrients in the sediments on the bottoms of the lakes that will continue to recycle into the water.
Dredging the sediment is the probably the only way to make a dent in that source.
We know from the Banana Lake and Lake Hollingsworth projects that dredging is pretty expensive.
I expect some of this will be resolved in technical meetings involving the people who will actually have to figure out how to implement the anti-pollution measures.
And, yes, one of the outcomes may be more widespread stormwater utility fee.
We've all been benefiting for years from environmental protection on the cheap.
Now it may be time to pay.
Future generations will thank us if we take action and curse us if we continue to delay.


Ethanol vs. Natural Gas or Coal: Comparison Not Even Close
Seeking Alpha by Joseph L. Shaefer
November 19, 2009
The twisted, tortuous tale of ethanol as the great hope for an energy-independent America holds an object lesson for us all. What I wrote in my most recent article for SA, on a different subject, holds equally true here:
Entrepreneurs make money; early investors make money; and later investors make money if the business model is a good one and is able to adapt to changing conditions. But bureaucrats and politicians? They take money, they don’t make it! By the time a light bulb goes off over their heads to ride a successful wave, the wave has passed, friends. And they are left out at sea, after dark, with some mighty hungry sharks.
That’s exactly what happened with ethanol. Politicians and bureaucrats decided, against the advice of many geologists, ecologists and biologists who understood these things, that they needed to “do something.” It didn’t have to be the right thing as long as it made them look like they were "taking action." They swallowed and then regurgitated enough bad information to fool themselves and the rest of us, but long after the rest of us have caught on, they are still unwilling to admit they were wrong. There may have been some good intentions here but, like the man said, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
To begin, what is ethanol? It is basically a combustible alcohol made from plant material. It’s been used almost since the first Model Ts rolled off the assembly line but it didn’t catch on big-time until Your Government at Work decided to massively subsidize its production, using tax dollars to pay for subsidies to develop ethanol rather than something deemed less important like, say, fixing crumbling bridges or cleaning up government-agency pollution.
Ethanol for our cars can be mixed with gasoline in concentrations up to 10% without any modification to the drive train. Anything higher than this concentration, you’ll need to modify the engine or risk engine damage because of the higher corrosiveness of ethanol.
In Brazil, most cars are designed to run on a 25% ethanol / 75% gasoline (“gasohol”) blend. But this just goes to show that a solution in one place is not always readily transported to another. In Brazil, they make their ethanol from sugar cane which takes about 1 unit of sugar cane, production and human labor energy to produce 8 or more units of ethanol energy. Sugar cane grows like a weed along the equator and in the tropics. The sun does 90% of the work – the only energy we need to add is to fertilize, harvest and process the stuff.
In the US, however – farther from the benevolent equatorial sun – it takes 1 unit of crop cultivation and labor energy to produce just *1 to 3* unit of ethanol energy – and that doesn’t include transporting it from processing plant to end user. Instead of sugar cane, Americans typically use corn as our crop for energy. We are using a plant that has cash-crop value and could be sold for its nutritional value instead of converting it to energy for transportation. This results in a huge diversion of agricultural land from food production – and one that typically uses large amounts of scarce fossil fuels to power the ethanol production plants and beyond-common-sense amounts of water to process it.
Proponents like to say that we are currently only at step one, however, and the ideal, once we can figure out how to break it down to a usable liquid form, is to use the residue left in the fields after the edible corn has been harvested for food – the stalk, husk, leaves, and cob (collectively called the “stover”). Or to use the chaff left over after wheat is harvested, or trees specifically grown for use in ethanol production, or native prairie switchgrass or some other fast-growing weed. The problem is, no one is yet able to do this outside the lab (“But with enough grants and subsidies we think we could, honest!”)
On the good side, ethanol is at least easily transportable -- using fossil fuels to do so, of course. We can’t use existing oil or gas pipelines because of the corrosive nature of ethanol. So to figure the economics of ethanol honestly we’ll have to take into account the energy needed to mine and fabricate the new metals needed and the labor to transport them and lay them into the ground and maintain them if ethanol is to be anything but a hobby for Congressmen buying votes from farmers. Also on the good side of the ledger, if/as we figure out how to break down this tougher cellulose sometime in the future, cellulosic ethanol would have a lesser environmental impact than current fossil fuels.
On the bad side, ethanol’s energy density is about half that of the fossil fuels so it will require twice as much of the stuff to get the same bang for the buck. And until we can figure out cellulosic ethanol production, the sugar and corn we currently use will remain at higher prices than they would if the only demand was for food use. Remember when ethanol first caught on big in 2007? The price of corn tortillas, a dietary staple in Mexico, rose 400%. As the brilliant American microbiologist and ecologist Garrett Hardin once said, “We are limited by the basic theorem of ecology, ‘We can never do merely one thing.’ "
Unintended consequences lurk in every decision, even those well- and slowly-considered -- which this, of course, was not. Ethanol and other biofuels now consume 17 percent of the world’s grain harvest. If we continue to clear land of native vegetation to create “fuel crops” we risk releasing far more CO2 into the atmosphere (estimates range from 10 times more to 400 times more) than if we just stuck with extracting fossil fuels and used nuclear, hydro, geothermal, wind and solar as supplemental sources.
There is the further problem that corn ethanol uses 3 to 6 gallons of water for every gallon of ethanol produced. Water may be abundant and cheap today but it is an increasingly scarce resource the value – and price – of which can only go up.
Finally, the prospects don't look to improve. We are currently “growing” ethanol in the ideal environment -- in the American Heartland. If this is to be anything but a subsidy program for corn farmers, we must bring on significantly more production to meet the demand. And, while the economics currently don’t justify use of the product without subsidies, the economics get even worse as we expand beyond the optimal soil and climate conditions of Iowa and Nebraska. We cannot duplicate their environment in Oregon or Florida, so as we expand to less-ideal areas, yields will decrease -- and prices will rise.
So – what’s an investor to do? If you are invested in Brazilian ethanol producers, I say you might stand a chance. But in the US, I believe that ethanol faces a dim future except in “pork production” as politicians bring home the bacon by taking dollars from one set of citizens and giving to those in their home district. Ethanol is a product that uses nearly as much energy to make as it provides, and gulps precious water from aquifers to boot. It is a “hobby” fuel, unlike, say, natural gas and coal.
While seeking to harness genuinely renewable energy resources, we should not eschew the giant “batteries” Mother Nature has kindly placed under the earth and sea in the form of natural gas, coal, and (less and less in the USA) oil deposits. These are the absolutely most efficient forms of energy in terms of what it takes in dollars and energy (fuel and labor) to get to them versus the amount of energy they provide for those dollars and energy.
Dr. Charles Hall, professor of Systems Ecology at Syracuse, created the following to demonstrate, in one diagram, a snapshot of the Big Picture for US energy sources, usage and costs.

The vertical axis, titled “EROEI” (Energy Returned on Energy Invested) represents the ratio of net energy gained by finding and using a particular energy source. The horizontal axis shows the quantity used in the US as of 2005.
The “domestic oil” balloons connected by arrows are quite telling. They show that, around 1930, when the United States used about 5 quadrillion BTUs of oil for energy, we got a 100:1 return on our investment. That is, the labor, transportation, materials and energy used to get domestic oil cost one unit but provided 100 units worth of energy value. Cheap oil from easy-flowing big fields fueled our industrial might in those early years. But by 1970, even though domestic oil provided 5 times as much energy -- some 25 quadrillion BTUs -- we were only getting a 30:1 return on our energy inputs. And by 2005 domestic oil energy production provided somewhere around 15 quadrillion BTUs a year and our energy in / energy out returns had plunged to just 15:1.
Three other notes about Dr. Hall’s diagram:
The size of the balloon doesn’t represent percentage of use but rather the uncertainty factor in trying to assess all the variables involved in bringing a particular energy source to actual usage. So coal, for example, has so many different extraction, transportation, and labor variables that the chart reflects two facts: coal provides an energy return on energy invested of somewhere between 45:1 and 85:1 – and it provides 30 quadrillion BTUs of energy a year,roughly the same amount of energy as imported oil does.
The shaded area at the bottom of the diagram represents Dr. Hall’s estimate of the minimum EROEI required to sustain our industrial society. If you get much below a ratio of 5:1 or 10:1 you enter a danger zone where economically marginal nations and consumers of energy say, “We can’t afford it. We’ll just gather firewood and cow dung until that’s all gone and then starve or depend on the kindness of strangers.”
And finally, the “total photosynthesis” line 2/3 of the way to the right expresses the total amount of solar energy captured annually by all the green vegetation in the U.S. -- forests, fields, swamps, lawns, whatever. Regrettably, however, the amount of that energy currently captured by photovoltaics is pegged at the far left, close to zero down in the shaded area, and at one of the worst net returns on energy invested.
Looking at all this, I am ever more convinced that the money to be made as investors this year or this decade, rather than in our children’s or grandchildren’s lifetimes, remains in fossil fuels. It is therefore primarily in the politically-stable and relatively transparent US, Canadian and Australian natural gas and coal companies that I am putting my money and that of our clients.
The US and Canada mostly supply the world’s largest consumers of energy – that would be Americans. Australia is geographically almost next door to the #2 and #3 consumers of energy, China and Japan, with India coming on strong. I have written extensively on this subject so you may peruse previous articles if you care to (the most recent on this subject are here and here).
The logic of why we own what we do has already been stated in those previous articles, so I’ll just mention a few of the explorers, producers and transporters that we are long and invite you to do your own research to see if you agree with our conclusions:

  • Among the explorers and producers, we are particularly impressed by Encana (ECA), Imperial Oil (IMO), Exxon Mobil (XOM), Conoco (COP), Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.B), and Chesapeake (CHK).
  • Among transporters and pipeline firms, we own Magellan Midstream (MMP), Boardwalk (BWP), Enbridge Energy (ENB) and its US subsidiary MLP, Enbridge Energy Partners (EEP), Kinder Morgan (KMR), Buckeye (BPL), Enterprise (EPD) and Teekay Offshore (TOO).
  • Our favorite Canadian energy royalty trusts include Enerplus Resources (ERF), Pengrowth Energy (PGH), Provident Energy (PVX), Penn West (PWE), and Harvest Energy (HTE).
  • In coal, we prefer two coal royalty firms that buy coal-bearing lands then lease them to the big operators -- Natural Resource Partners (NRP) and Penn Virginia Resources (PVR). Also in coal, we like the world's largest producer of synthetic fuels, both coal-to-liquids and gas-to-liquids. That company is Sasol (SSL). Since 3 of the world’s top 4 energy consumers hold the most coal reserves (The U.S., China, and India) we see SSL’s technology as having quite a sustainable market.
  • Finally, for those who prefer the diversification of ETFs and Closed-End Funds, you might take a look at Market Vectors Coal (KOL), PowerShares Global Coal (PKOL). iShares MSCI Australia Index ETF (EWA), iShares MSCI Canada Index ETF (EWC), CurrencyShares Australian Dollar Trust (FXA), CurrencyShares Canadian Dollar Trust (FXC), Wisdom Tree Dreyfus Emerging Currency Fund (CEW). Gabelli Global Gold, Natural Resources & Income Trust (GGN), Enbridge Income Fund (EBGUF.PK), and First Trust ISE-Revere Natural Gas Index Fund (FCG).

Personally, I’d rather have a small piece of pie right here on the ground than waste my time and money reaching for that great big pie in the sky…


Everglades: North Florida is committed by Joseph Z. Duke
November 19, 2009
In a September statewide poll, 79 percent of North Florida voters indicated that Everglades restoration was personally important to them.
The top reasons for support included ensuring the freshwater drinking supply, saving jobs in the tourism, boating and fishing industries, and protecting wildlife like the Florida panther and bald eagle.
With the pending historic purchase of 73,000 acres of sugar cane land by the state of Florida, Floridians’ hopes of witnessing substantial Everglades restoration were raised considerably.
Environmental restoration efforts have been remarkable.
Along the Kissimmee River, which is halfway through its restoration process, there has been an immediate rebound of wildlife.
The progress achieved along the Kissimmee has been a bonanza for individuals and families who relish the fishing, paddling, camping and hunting opportunities made possible by this successful effort.
In Southwest Florida, where 55,000 acres of former wetlands known as the Picayune Strand are being restored, there are deer, wood stork, black bear and Florida panthers moving back into their original habitat.
To build on these successes, Everglades restoration must take the next steps:
- We must complete several spans of bridging over portions of Tamiami Trail — a roadway which currently serves as a dam to water that once flowed freely into Everglades National Park.
- The state should move forward with a critical project to fix the C-111 Canal, which will direct freshwater to the southern Everglades and northeastern Florida Bay.
- Gov. Charlie Crist’s bold proposal to purchase land from U.S. Sugar Corp. must move forward. This achievement will protect the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and their estuaries from damaging freshwater releases, while providing an enormous new supply of clean water to sustain the Everglades and 7 million Floridians’ drinking water supply.
- The state must restore water quality in the highly polluted Lake Okeechobee watershed. The abundance of nitrates and other pollutants poses great risks to the Everglades.
Florida is running out of time to salvage what is left of the Everglades. Working on a bipartisan basis, lawmakers should secure funding and implement key Everglades restoration projects.
Our children will judge us harshly if we fail in our responsibility to protect this spectacular, God-given natural resource.


Plan for new waste-to-energy plant eases need to create new county landfill
Palm Beach Post NEWS by Jennifer Sorentrue
November 19, 2009
Palm Beach County commissioners tentatively agreed Wednesday to build a waste-to-energy plant capability of burning up to 3,000 tons of trash a day — eliminating the need for a new western landfill for decades.
The Solid Waste Authority has already sold $70 million in bonds to buy land and build a new landfill. It has begun paying interest on the money.
That money cannot be used for to build the new plant, which could cost $600 million to $700 million. County Commissioner Karen Marcus, chairwoman of the Solid Waste Authority's governing board, said it was unclear what the authority will do with the bond money now that there's no immediate need for the landfill.
"Basically the construction of this mass burn facility will increase the life our existing landfill and diminish the immediate need for a new landfill," said Dan Pellowitz, assistant to the authority's executive director. "We can defer construction of a landfill for some time."
As recently as last month, Solid Waste Authority managers said the landfill off of Jog Road, just north of 45th Street, would run out of room in 2024.
Commissioners were considered purchasing land west of 20-Mile Bend for a new landfill, but dropped the idea Oct. 7. They hoped instead to save their money by swapping land they already had for land owned by the South Florida Water Management District that was more suitable.
The water district is poised to purchase 73,000 acres from U.S. Sugar Corp. for Everglades restoration. But since much of that land may not be needed for restoration, commissioners said they would explore trading for some of that land.
The authority owns 1,600 acres next to the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, the northernmost remnant of the Everglades. It once planned to build a landfill on the property, but county commissioners agreed in 2007 to pursue alternate locations. The decision came after environmentalists objected to the site.
Marcus said she still hopes to swap the authority's site with the district, but there is no longer a pressing need to finalize the deal, since plans for a new waste-to-energy plant will buy time.
"We have time right now," Marcus said. "A lot of time, as opposed to the push we were under."
A consultant working for the authority told county commissioners on Wednesday that the county won't need a new landfill until 2045 if it builds a plant that can burn 3,000 tons of trash a day, Marcus said.
The unit creates energy as it burns the trash. The energy can be sold by the authority.
The new facility would almost eliminate the need to put unburned or unprocessed trash in the landfill, Pellowitz said.


Research findings could help predict red tide outbreaks
Tampa Bay Online by Neil Johnson
November 19, 2009
TAMPA - Researchers have found a link between bacteria and the algae that causes red tide outbreaks that leave beach-goers wheezing and shorelines strewn with stinking dead fish.
The findings may, in the future, allow scientists to better predict when the population of algae will explode to create a bloom, said William Sunda, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist who co-wrote a report on the study.
And in the distant future, the discovery may even point a way to stop a bloom or diminish its effects, he said.
A red tide occurs in Florida waters when the numbers of a tiny algae called Ptychodiscus brevis grow into such prodigious numbers they turn the water a reddish color. The toxins secreted kill fish and other marine creatures and can cause respiratory problems for people.
The algae constantly inhabit the waters around Florida but normally in numbers too low to cause problems.
The NOAA research found that a type of bacteria provides a key element necessary for the algae to blast into a frenzy of reproduction.
The bacteria and algae work together in a symbiotic relationship – a scientific term for one hand washing the other.
Scientists found the bacteria release a compound that lets the algae absorb iron, something essential for photosynthesis in all plants but also difficult for the algae to get from seawater.
"The algae need a lot of iron," Sunda said.
Without the extra iron, there would be no algae blooms, he said.
In return, the algae produce nutrients for the bacteria so its population can expand and produce more iron for the algae.
"The whole process feeds on itself," he said.
Experiments that eliminated the bacteria either killed the algae or kept it from growing, Sunda said.
"We always knew the bacteria was there," he said.
But scientists did not know its role in boosting the red tide blooms.
None of the current computer models used to predict red tide consider the bacteria populations as a factor in the forecasts.
"The next generation of models could include this," Sunda said.
And, if scientists can figure out a way to safely control the bacteria, it might reveal a method to control the red tide outbreaks.
"These particular algae and bacteria need each other," Sunda said.


Crews search Big Cypress for missing hunter
The Associated Press
November 18, 2009
NAPLES, Fla. -- A search for a 30-year-old hunter who went missing in the Big Cypress National Preserve has resumed.
Crews from the Collier County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were using a helicopter and all-terrain vehicles to search for Jamey Mosch, who disappeared into the swamp Monday.
According to a 911 call, Mosch was hunting with a group of men but decided to trek into the preserve on his own. He never returned. The other hunters in the group called 911 when Mosch didn't return by Monday night.
Bob Degross, spokesman for the Big Cypress National Preserve, says emergency responders are hoping Mosch has found a dry patch of land. Degross says authorities don't believe Mosch is carrying a compass.


Editorial: Sprinkling restrictions ... it’s sound fiscal botany
November 18, 2009
Sorry. We didn’t know it was broken.
Maybe it wasn’t.
Still, the South Florida Water Management District has revisited sprinkling rules which had been in effect since a 2007 drought. Now we should be allowed, says the water district, to sprinkle three times a week rather than two.
While the non-scientists among us wonder where the additional rain has come from to prompt such a change, the practical and budget-minded side of our thinking says if watering twice a week or even less works for you, then by all means continue watering twice a week or less.
It will spare our plants adjusting to additional moisture, only to be parched again. Just because we can sprinkle more often does not mean we have to.
More fundamental: Saving water and money is saving water and money. True in 2007, true now.


Judge orders EPA to help clean up Florida waters
Public News Service by Gina Presson  
November 18, 2009
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - In a case with national implications, a federal judge in Tallahassee says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must take steps to stop the harmful algae blooms in Florida waters. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle says he will order the federal agency to comply with the Clean Water Act and set legal limits on pollution from sewage, animal manure and excess fertilizer that triggers the blooms.
David Guest, managing attorney with Earthjustice, says nutrient runoff from fertilizer and septic systems has fouled Florida's beaches and waterways, threatened public health, and even shut down a southwest Florida drinking water plant.
"Florida used to be a place that was safe to swim in. It was a place that attracted tourists from all over the world -- and we're in the process of ruining that and destroying our tourist economy. This is going to bring a halt to that."
In 2008, a Florida Department of Environmental Protection report indicated poor water quality in half the state's rivers and more than half of Florida lakes. Guest says drinking or even swimming in some of these waters can be hazardous.
"If you ingest the water containing toxic algae, you will get sick or you could even die. It is extremely dangerous to swim. There have been reports of people that got horrible rashes all over their skin."
Agricultural Commissioner Charles Bronson, four out of five water management districts, the Florida Farm Bureau and the Florida Pulp and Paper Association fought to derail the ruling, arguing that setting limits would be too costly. In Guest's view, however, the cost to Florida's tourist trade from polluted waterways and beaches outweighs the cost of reducing pollution discharges.
"I don't think Floridians think paying a few extra dollars a month for treating their sewage is a bad investment if what they're getting is safe drinking water, a place they can safely swim with their kids, and a place where they can go to the beach and not choke on the red tide."
The judge has given the EPA until October, 2010 to establish the specific limits for pollution discharge. Guest says having quantifiable, numeric limits for water quality means they will be easier to enforce, so the decision will also benefit other states.


Judge rejects objections to Fla. pollution deal
The Associated Press by Bill Kaczor
November 18, 2009
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The federal government will attempt to set Florida's water pollution standards — the first time it'll try that for any state — under an agreement approved Monday.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle rejected objections from state and local government agencies as well as agriculture and business interests. They had argued the agreement would result in hastily drawn, unscientific rules and that complying with them would be too costly as taxpayers and businesses cope with the recession.
In approving the consent decree between five environmental groups and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Hinkle noted that it allows for delays in the rule-making process to make sure regulations are proper. He said other objections are premature and must wait until after the proposed regulations have been drafted.
"This consent decree does not require an invalid regulation," Hinkle said at the end of a two-hour hearing. "This is a reasonable compromise."
The environmental groups had sued EPA, arguing it had a duty to step in under the federal Clean Water Act. They argued the Florida Department of Environmental Protection hadn't complied with a 1998 EPA decision that states should set numerical limits for nutrients in farm and urban runoff.
That pollution has been blamed for causing algae blooms in Florida's inland and coastal waters. The environmentalists' lawyers showed Hinkle poster-size photos of waterways clogged with lime-green scum.
"It's so serious that it's harmful for people to have human contact, dangerous for your pets to drink, shuts down drinking water plants," environmental lawyer David Guest said after the hearing. "It's a threat to the tourism industry. It's a threat to waterfront property values."
Guest represents the Florida Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida and St. Johns Riverkeeper.
The agreement is seen as a precedent that could serve as a model for other states. It won't be final until Hinkle issues a written order. He said he couldn't promise when he'll do that except that he'd try to be quick.
Lawyers for the objectors, including Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, said their clients have not yet decided whether to appeal.
Bronson isn't the only politician critical of the agreement. Attorney General Bill McCollum last week wrote Florida Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole a letter that said Florida shouldn't have been singled out. McCollum asked him for a status report on the dispute at Tuesday's Cabinet meeting.
The judge said he also planned to consolidate three separate lawsuits challenging a Jan. 14 EPA decision that Florida needs the numerical standards.
The state now has descriptive standards that determine when waters are polluted, but Guest said numerical standards would provide an early warning.
The decree says EPA must propose rules for lakes, rivers and other freshwater bodies by Jan. 14, 2010, and issue a notice of final rule-making by Oct. 15, 2010. It must do so for coastal and estuarine waters by the same dates in 2011.
Those deadlines are too soon, said Terry Cole, a lawyer for several agriculture and pulp and paper trade groups as well as the Florida Stormwater Association, made up of local and regional government agencies.
Cole argued the state should be allowed to set its own standards but would need more time because the scientific issues are complex.
Hinkle, though, pointed out Florida already has had 11 years to do that.
"How long do we need?" he asked.
Cole said he didn't have an answer.
The state could pre-empt the EPA regulations by adopting its own standards first.
EPA lawyer Martha Collins Mann disputed arguments that her agency would adopt a one-size-fits-all standard. She said the agency's proposed rules would take into account differences between various water bodies.


Palm Beach County opts not to fight watering rules
SunSentinel by Andy Reid
November 18, 2009
Palm Beach County commissioners Tuesday backed off plans to appeal new year-round watering restrictions.
Instead, consensus is growing on the board to consider imposing tougher landscape watering restrictions in Palm Beach County than those approved Friday by the South Florida Water Management District.
At least three of the seven county commissioners indicated they would be willing to follow Miami-Dade County's lead and make tougher twice-a-week watering a year-round requirement, instead of the three days allowed under the district's new plan.
The other commissioners wanted more information before committing to tougher restrictions.
Broward County also is considering going with twice-a-week watering limits.
Tuesday was an about-face for Palm Beach County, which had been among the city and county water utilities opposing the district's proposed year-round irrigation limits.
Commissioner Jess Santamaria said avoiding the appeal would "conserve both water and money."
The expense of appealing the new watering rules would have cost about $2,000 to begin with but could have grown to $100,000 over the long term, according to county estimates. That doesn't include legal costs for the district, also supported by South Florida property taxes.
"I just can't imagine that we are even considering the administrative challenge," said an exasperated Santamaria, who pushed for even tougher watering limits. "An administrative challenge is not cheap. … It's going to cost taxpayers money on both sides."
The South Florida Water Management District for two years has been trying to move from temporary, drought-driven watering cutbacks to standard, year-round irrigation limits like those in much of the rest of the state.
Potential appeals from other utilities still could derail the new year-round watering rules.
The Southeast Florida Utility Council, representing 35 utilities serving nearly 5 million residents, has argued that the water management district is crossing the line of its regulatory powers granted by the Legislature. The council called for a legislative committee, charged with overseeing the actions of state agencies, to weigh in on the district's year-round watering plan.
Water managers contend year-round limits are needed to conserve water supplies.
Palm Beach County's utilities department and others have questioned the potential savings. They argued that the loss of water sales from irrigation cutbacks leads to increased rates and surcharges for customers, to make up for the lost revenue.
To try to avoid legal challenges from utilities, the district agreed to scale back its year-round requirements for southeast Florida and go with a three-day-a-week watering. The new rule does allow communities to impose more stringent watering restrictions.
Just before the district's long-delayed vote on year-round watering restrictions, Palm Beach County was among the utilities that raised 11th-hour concerns about the new rules.
The utilities council wants a stronger guarantee from the district that as water conservation improves, the district will not cut back on the total amount of water utilities are permitted to pull from aquifers and the Everglades. Utilities contend that cutting water allocations will trigger the need to build costly new water plants sooner to meet the needs of growing populations.
Commissioners Burt Aaronson, Steven Abrams and Priscilla Taylor voted Tuesday for the proposed appeal. Aaronson complained that those opposing the appeal were "throwing away" the county's chance to negotiate with the district.
The twice-a-week watering rules for most of South Florida will remain until appeals of the new year-round rules are resolved.
If appeals do not surface, the district plans to start the switch to the year-round, three-day-a-week watering rules in mid-January.
"Challenging this rule is challenging water conservation," Jacquie Weisblum of Audubon of Florida told Palm Beach County commissioners Tuesday. "Water is the state's asset, not Palm Beach County's."


Seagrass beds grow along Gulf coastline despite increasing pollution
Tampa Bay Online by Neil Johnson
November 18, 2009
TAMPA - Seagrass in the 820 square miles of coastline between the Anclote River and Levy County appears to be holding its own, despite increasing pollution coming from springs and rivers.
A study of the seagrass beds by the Southwest Florida Water Management District shows slightly more than half the sea floor in the area is covered with dense seagrass. The coverage is similar to what the first mapping and survey of the same area found in 1985.
"At least we're finding consistent results. It's encouraging that we're not finding a decrease," said Keith Kolasa, a senior water management district scientist.
In all, the survey found seagrass coverage ranging from dense to patchy on 378,000 acres of Gulf bottom.
The water management district analyzed aerial photographs from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Service to determine the extent of seagrass coverage. District scientists also checked sites to determine whether the photos revealed seagrass or algae.
The survey covered a total of 525,000 acres in the Gulf of Mexico from the mouth of the Anclote River north of Tarpon Springs to the mouth of the Withlacoochee River near Ingles and out to 20 miles from shore.
District scientists found dense seagrass over 272,000 acres and sparse seagrass coverage on 87,000 acres. Patchy seagrass covered another 19,000 acres.
The grass covers a total of roughly 1 million acres going 30 miles into the Gulf.
It is the country's second largest seagrass meadow with only Florida Bay and the Keys larger at 1.5 million acres, Kolasa said.
This is the fourth time the area has been mapped with the first in 1985 and the latest in 1999.
The health of seagrass is vital to fisheries and it acts as a nursery for game fish as well as a home for other creatures including shrimp, crabs and scallops.
"No seagrass means no shrimp and no scallops," Kolasa said.
The main threat to seagrass comes from pollution, mainly nutrients that promote algae growth. The algae clouds the water and keeps sunlight from reaching the grass.
The nutrients also spur the growth of a variety of brown algae that drifts with currents and covers seagrass beds and reefs. More of the brown algae has been showing up off the stretch of coast included in the survey.
Kolasa said increasing amounts of nutrients are flowing out of rivers from Pasco through Citrus counties and being pumped into the Gulf through springs that vent offshore.
Much of the pollution, especially from the Weekiwachee River, comes from fertilizer that runs off lawns in Spring Hill.
This year's survey of the Gulf coast seagrass beds was the first to use digital photography that yields more detail. The water management district picked up $165,000 of the survey cost with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute kicking in the balance of $130,000.
Surveys will be done every five years with the next starting in 2011.
A similar survey by the water district of seagrass in Tampa Bay showed growth expanded by about 1,300 acres between 2006 and 2008. Seagrass now covers more than 29,000 acres in Tampa Bay, the most since the 1950s.
That is below the 39,000 acres of seagrass scientists believe covered the bay bottom in the 1950s.


Tropical Audubon Society wants South Floridians to go native
Miami Herald by Paradise Afshar
November 18, 2009
The Tropical Audubon Society wants South Floridians to go native when they plant in their yards and gardens.
Lisa Blackwelder's yard is always full of birds, butterflies and other creatures. It is also the envy of her neighbors.
Her secret?
She plants species only that are native to South Florida.
``I love native plants; I have 18 species of natives in my yard,'' said Blackwelder, 54 of Coconut Grove.
Blackwelder recently attended the Tropical Audubon Society's native plant sale to find more native plants for her yard. The sale is offered three times a year and is done in an effort to make Miami a greener place.
Landscaping with local plants, also called xeriscaping, probably won't produce the most eye-popping garden.
``Some people want to buy showy flowers,'' said Barros, president of the Audubon Society. ``These aren't flashy plants.''
But the practice does have other advantages: Growing native is cheaper, requires less irrigation and is better for the environment.
Natives, Barros said, ``provide a landscape that is not only attractive to migrating birds and butterflies [but also] provides shelter and food. They don't require water or fertilizer once established.''
Barros hopes that these sales, which have been going on for nearly two decades, will spark an interest in local gardens to take advantage of what grows best in South Florida.
Last week's event helped raise about $3,000 for the society.
The sale not only drew those who already are true believers. It also attracted some newcomers, such as Joe Laduca, a Cutler Bay resident whose yard is planted mostly with exotics.
``I have only Brazilians in my yard,'' Laduca, 52, said of the Brazilian pepper tree, which was introduced to Florida in the 1800s as an ornamental plant. It's now mostly a nuisance. ``I want something different.''
The paradise tree and American Beautyberry are among the native plants that are easiest to grow for new gardeners, Barros said. And even though the sale is over, Society members are willing to help anyone who's interested in going native in their own yards.
``Florida is a peninsula and on major migration routes,'' said Arlene Ferris, 63, of South Miami. ``I would like to see everyone with natives.''


Water birds almost gone from Pelican Island wildlife refuge
TCPALM by Eliott Jones
November 18, 2009
SEBASTIAN — Water birds have almost abandoned an island refuge set up decades ago to safeguard them: the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, the nation’s first national wildlife refuge.
Hurricanes are the suspected cause.
Since the middle 1800s the 3 1/2-acre coastal island in northern Indian River County has been known nationally as a leading bird gathering area, at times attracting thousands — to the point some could only circle over the island because there was no room to land.
But from 1995 to 2005 the number of pairs of nesting birds — from brown pelicans to stately great blue herons — declined from 564 to 154 in the spring, federal reports show.
In 2004 and 2005, the area was hit by a series of hurricanes.
In 2009, just 14 nesting pairs were recorded on the low island.
Also the number of individual migratory birds gathering there in the winter declined from 3,000 a day in 2002 to about 100 now, said refuge ranger Joanna Webb.
“There has been almost complete abandonment,” she said.
This is the third time birds have left the island in the last 100 years. They temporarily abandoned it following a hurricane in 1910 and when a large “stay out” sign was posted on the island in 1923 to keep people away, she said.
Currently, water bird populations don’t appear to be declining. This month the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the brown pelican from the threatened and endangered species list.
Webb suspects that hurricanes in this decade helped disrupt the aquatic birds, not just here but elsewhere in Florida.
“Other areas in Florida are seeing the shift,” she said. “Somehow the hurricanes changed the whole dynamics” in subtle way that only birds know, she said.
In Indian River County, aquatic birds now are gathering on two other islands south of the federal refuge in the Indian River Lagoon.
In the spring of this year one of the forested islands, an unnamed island dubbed Hobart Island, was heavily dotted with nesting birds, said Sandy Newstedt, an Indian River Mosquito Control District field inspector who is out on the Indian River Lagoon almost daily.
“I’m optimistic they will come back” to Pelican Island, Webb said.
The threat is the latest for a refuge that was established in 1903 because hunters were killing hundreds of birds there. Some were killed for plumes used on women’s hats.
By the 1980s there was a different threat: encroachment of housing developments. So the refuge was expanded in size. Now the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge is 5,413 acres.
Then in the early 1990s refuge officials became alarmed about erosion of the island because of waves from the Intracoastal Waterway. The island shrank to 2.3 acres from the 5.5 acres it had been the 1950s.
In 2006, Webb’s government agency and others spent $260,000 on protecting the island. A helicopter brought in oyster shells to build up a protective reef. Sand was added. Mangrove tree seedlings and grasses were planted around the island.
“Slowly we are seeing sediment built up,” she said.
Webb now will have years to wait.
Young birds learn where to nest from their parents and now they are nesting elsewhere.
Pelican Island remains attractive, though. It is off-limits to humans and is surrounded by natural areas.
“There is hope,” she said. “The birds have always returned after abandoning it in the past.”


Water less, sue less
Palm Beach Post, Opinion Staff
November 18, 2009
Public utilities in South Florida and the Treasure Coast succeeded in diluting watering rules to the point that they will be less effective. But the utilities still are not happy. They want to sue the South Florida Water Management District. But they’re not just taking on water restrictions.
Even though the district imposed three-day-a-week restrictions, instead of the more meaningful two-day-a-week limits in effect since droughts two years ago, the utilities question the district’s right to impose any conservation measures at all.
On Tuesday, Palm Beach County commissioners will consider filing the suit, backed by legal arguments developed by Tampa lawyer Edward de la Parte. He wants to extinguish the water management district’s role in conservation entirely.
 “This is the first time,” Audubon of Florida lobbyist Charles Lee said, “we have seen utilities come out of the box with this kind of aggressive attack on water conservation.”
The water district and the utilities will be out in force at today’s county commission meeting, which begins at 9:30 a.m. and is shown on Cable-TV Channel 20. Expect the issue to come up after 11 a.m.
We think watering restrictions are necessary to save the Everglades and keep Florida’s environment healthy. What do you think?


Judge hears objections to Fla. pollution agreement
The Associated Press
November 16, 2009
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A judge is considering objections to an agreement by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to set surface water pollution standards for Florida.
It's seen as a precedent-setting case that could serve as a model for other states.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle was set to hear arguments Monday on the proposed settlement between EPA and environmental groups.
If approved, the EPA for the first time will set limits on farm and urban runoff blamed for causing algae blooms in inland and coastal waters.
Opponents include business interests and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson. He says the standards would be too costly for farmers.


Solar Research Hits the Sunshine State
Green tech media by Ucilia Wang
November 16, 2009
University researchers in Florida are exploring ways to use sun’s power for desalination and killing germs in water. Other ideas possibly on the way involve module containing a solar cell and a LED and lithium-ion battery.
California and other western states get lots of ink for mega solar power projects and technology research, but the Sunshine State is eager to build a legacy in the history of solar energy.
Florida now claims to be home to the country's largest solar-panel installation. One of its cities, Gainesville, was the first in the United States to adopt a solar incentive policy that resembles the kind that has made Europe the center of solar energy generation.
A recent webinar hosted by Greentech Media highlighted solar and other renewable energy research being undertaken by the Florida Energy Systems Consortium, a state-funded effort to bring together researchers from 11 universities to work on renewable energy technology development.
Tim Anderson, director of the consortium and a professor at the University of Florida, noted that although solar is an even more intermittent resource in Florida than it is in the western deserts because of its cloud cover and other issues. 
The state gets a good share of hurricanes, which also pose a technical challenge for operating and maintaining a field of solar panels or mirrors for harnessing the sun's heat. In fact, Ausra ditched a solar thermal power project in Florida after realizing its equipment could be toppled by hurricanes.
Here are some projects under developing by the consortium:
Sunlight to Hydrogen Fuel: The process begins with mirrors to concentrate and direct the sunlight to a tower for heating zinc oxide and then reducing it to metal. When combined with water, the zinc metal oxidizes and produces hydrogen. Combine the hydrogen with an organic material to produce transportation fuel. When the engine runs, a catalyst releases the hydrogen, which is burned as fuel. The organic material is then recycled to pick up more hydrogen. "It's a recycled closed system to solve our transportation problem with solar thermal," Anderson said.
There is a complementary research project on developing a fluidized bed reactor to create a more efficient conversion of metal oxide to hydrogen.
Solar-Powered Desalination: This research focuses on using the sun to create drinking water from seawater. The process involves using solar energy collectors to heat the seawater at above the boiling point to collect evaporated water, which then contains no salt. The vapor is condensed after going through a heat exchanger that uses cold seawater. The fresh water is then position to fall 10 meters or more to run a vacuum, which increases the evaporation rate. The brine, with concentrated salt, is sent back to the ocean.
Germ Killer From the Sky: Early research is in place to use solar energy to disinfect water. The idea is to create a catalyst using materials such as titanium dioxide that can absorb sunlight and create free radicals. The free radicals then seek out and kill microbes in the water.
A Cooler Way to Generate Solar Thermal Power: Solar thermal power needs to be cheaper in order for it to be competitive with conventional power, Anderson said. Cutting the equipment cost by about 50 percent is the way to do it. But how? Researchers are exploring the use of ammonia to generate solar thermal power at a much lower temperature. The lead researcher of the project, Yogi Goswami, has gotten funding from venture-backed and India-based SunBorne Energy, where he serves as its technology advisor, to commercialize his research. He's planning a pilot plant at the University of South Florida. 
Solar Cell/LED/Battery Module: A solar cell produces direct current. A light-emitting diode runs on a direct current. A battery can store direct current. So why not combine them together to create a lighting system with energy storage? That's idea behind the research to build a solar cell with transparent organic material on top of an organic LED. The LED emits light downward and sits on top of a transparent platform that's embedded with lithium-ion batteries. The solar cell charges the battery during the day, and the batteries can power the LED light at night.
This design would make solar energy more efficiently because there will be no need for an inverter, Anderson said. Packing all these functions into the same module also would save material costs, he said. "It might be a perfect application for a parking lot."
Other research being undertaken by the consortium includes improving the rate of producing solar cells with copper, indium, gallium and selenium; the use of magnetic coupling to transmit solar power wirelessly from the outdoors to inside a building; and a microinverter with built-in controllers and software to communicate with the grid.


Water folly in S. Florida
Orlando Sentinel
November 16, 2009
The gist: Public officials, utilities fumbling their duty to protect state's dwindling supply
In July, we added this side-splitting entry to Florida's Big Book of Water Conservation Jokes: the South Florida Water Management District's plan to impose thrice-weekly lawn irrigation restrictions.
Whoa. Talk about tough. And the fear that hard-as-nails restriction must have struck in the hearts of the millions of residents in the district who water their lawns just once or twice a week.
It ranked right up there with this supreme laugher from the St. Johns River Water Management District. Perched on its soapbox, the District tells everyone that they need to conserve. Then it delivers this punch line: "Everyone" doesn't mean the California-based Niagara Bottling company. It gets to take nearly 500,000 gallons a day from the aquifer.
Why does it get to ?  Because Niagara asked; because the District said it could. Funny.
Seminole County asked, too, and got to pump 5 million gallons a day from the St. Johns River. Ha. To add to the laughter, Seminole County then sued the nearest straight man, the St. Johns Riverkeeper advocacy group, which had labored to block the water withdrawal. "Pay our $1.4 million in legal expenses,' said the county. Funny.
Only the continuing mockery of the importance of conserving Florida's dwindling water supply is a bad joke that needs to end, though it shows no signs of ebbing. The South Florida Water Management District actually had planned on making what were its twice-weekly watering rules permanent for its 16 counties. It should have. But it scuttled them in the wake of opposition from several South Florida utilities.
The utilities had claimed they couldn't make a go of things thanks to the economy and existing water restrictions that worked to cut demand by nearly 25 percent. So the District and the utilities reached an accommodation – the ridiculous three-days-a-week "restriction," which the District stood ready to approve at its meeting in Key Largo on Friday.
Yet as July turned to August, the utilities' thirst grew, and with it, their view of their compromise with the District soured. With an attorney – the same one tapped by Seminole County to sue the Riverkeepers for legal fees – 35 of the utilities petitioned the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee of the Legislature.
They basically claimed the district had no authority to impose meaningful conservation measures. Their lawyer said varying social, economic and cultural conditions among Florida's utilities demands that they have the flexibility to tailor water conservation measures to their particular needs.
That one-size-fits-all irrigation limits from Key West to Orlando won't work; that thrice-weekly irrigation for all won't wash.
The petition added that other conservation rules the District sought to impose lacked adequate standards that a reasonable person couldn't make heads or tails of. But remarkably, as examples it cited clearly defined prohibitions against leaving unattended hoses on driveways with water flowing, and letting water fall through broken sprinklers. What persons other than perhaps some managing the utilities couldn't grasp those restrictions ?
Relying not just on getting the committee to object to the new rules, the utilities also let the district know they'd sue it if it voted to impose them.  The threats angered some of District's board members. They could have stood them down and imposed meaningful, twice-weekly watering restrictions for all its jurisdictions, for example.
Instead it voted, as had been expected, for two-day watering in six Central Florida counties. And it left 16 southern counties with the option – the option – of trice weekly watering.


Before the deluge . . .
Miami Herald by KATY SORENSON
November 13, 2009
Climate change is upon us and will challenge the people of South Florida in innumerable ways. At a dozen feet above sea level at most, the southern peninsula has been identified as one of the most vulnerable places on Earth to a rising sea.
Miami-Dade County recognized this threat early and joined an international community of local governments to come up with a plan to cut our carbon emissions. The county adopted its plan in 1995 and has been working ever since to try to reduce our carbon footprint back to 1988 levels.
Since then, the world community has embraced the science behind climate change, but unfortunately it has come too late to prevent the impacts. We now know that there's already so much carbon in the atmosphere that changes in our climate are inevitable. The oceans are swelling from melting glaciers and from the mere fact that water expands when heated.
Local efforts
As we await a national climate bill, Miami-Dade continues to combat carbon emissions at the local level -- pledging to reduce our countywide emissions (from government, residences, businesses -- everyone) by 80 percent -- yes, 80 percent -- by the year 2050. We have hybrid vehicles in our fleet, we're cutting our electric consumption by 20 percent and we require all new construction to be built to green standards.
We have convened a group of local experts in science, business and government to recommend actions for the county to achieve its goal and have taken the unprecedented step of calling for a strategy to adapt to the expected impacts from the carbon already in the atmosphere. Our Climate Change Advisory Task Force has stated that we have to plan for 1.5 foot or greater sea level rise within the next 50 years. That may seem like a long way off, but believe me, it will pass by in a blink. My last 50 years certainly did.
The county is assessing the vulnerability of public infrastructure such as roads, water and sewer pipes, drainage systems and buildings to determine what is most at risk.
The South Florida Water Management District will need to evaluate flood-control systems to see how they can adapt to climate change while providing drainage to the urban area, protecting our drinking water and restoring the Everglades.
Galdes plan helps
So if the ocean is rising, why bother with Everglades restoration? Well, ironically, the threat that climate change presents to the Everglades is probably the best argument for pushing for full and immediate restoration. The water flowing into the Everglades feeds the aquifer that provides the water we drink, and that water source is very easily infiltrated by saltwater.
The boundary separating the salt water from fresh has been moving inland from Biscayne Bay at an alarming rate, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. As a result, worried water managers declared Phase-3 water restrictions for parts of South Miami-Dade this past summer.
The fix for pushing the ocean back? Fight water with water. The Everglades restoration plan includes projects designed to deliver fresh water to parched wetlands. Delivering new water to the greater Everglades ecosystem will help push back that salt front and protect our water supply.
In many ways, Miami-Dade is a test case for the nation on how to adapt to climate change. We would rather not be, but we don't really have a choice at this point.
Such news should be a rallying cry, and for local governments here it is. Led by Broward County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Monroe counites have joined forces to create a ``Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact'' to share information and model legislation to combat and adapt to climate change.
Seeking sustainability
At the same time, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez created the Mayor's Sustainability Task Force made up of creative business, environmental and academic leaders to help reshape our community and work toward a greener, more sustainable future.
We have no time to waste. It's time to abandon urban sprawl and focus on smart growth. It's time to build and fund a robust mass-transit system. It's time to invest in renewable energy solutions (hint: we are the Sunshine State).
There are actions that each of us can take individually and collectively. To see how you can join the effort, go to


Developers face new water quality requirements
November 13, 2009
NAPLES — South Florida water managers issued a new memo Thursday about what developers should do to comply with water quality rules.
The memo updates a 2004 memo that required developers to do more to treat runoff into polluted waterbodies — particularly nutrients that spur algae blooms that can smother waterbodies.
“It’s not a new issue for us,” Terrie Bates, the South Florida Water Management District’s assistant deputy executive director for regulatory affairs, told the district’s Governing Board meeting in Key Largo.
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida filed a legal challenge in 2003, saying the district’s environmental permitting review was too lax.
With Thursday’s update, the Conservancy has agreed to keep the challenge on hold for another 18 months.
The district memo is intended to fill in the gap while the state Department of Environmental Protection works on a statewide stormwater cleanup rule.
A timetable calls for the DEP rule to be adopted by next July but could take longer.
“We feel, meanwhile, the resource continues to get degraded so we wanted something more immediate,” Conservancy natural resources policy manager Jennifer Hecker said.
Hecker called the memo a “breakthrough” for preventing nutrient pollution in South Florida waterbodies.
For example, she said the memo puts a new emphasis on the use of pervious pavement, which can absorb polluted runoff.
Permit reviewers had considered a project to be in compliance if it increased by 50 percent the amount of stormwater a project treated.
The 50 percent rule had applied only if a project directly discharged into polluted waterbodies, but the new memo applies if a polluted waterbody is anywhere downstream from a project.
Under the new memo, developers must provide a site-specific analysis to prove that a project won’t increase pollution.
The memo also adds information on options for developers to consider to stem runoff.
They include reducing turf coverage, using native plants, recycling stormwater, sediment traps and vegetated swales.


Don't be quick to criticize cattle farmers
SunSentinel by Cary Lightsey
November 13, 2009
My family has raised cattle in Florida for eight generations. We love it, but I won't try to tell you our work is glamorous.
That's why I've been surprised that all of the sudden agriculture has become such a popular topic. Modern food production has been the topic of magazine cover stories, books and even movies. Much of the information has been critical of the work we do, and much of it has been wrong or misleading. We are criticized for the care we give our animals, the safety of the food we raise, or we're accused of not being environmentally responsible. Sometimes it's all that and more at the same time.
Often it seems like the greatest criticism comes from people who have spent the least time around actual farms and farmers. I've spent my whole life working around cattle, so I think I have a pretty good idea of what we actually do. Providing beef to consumers has indeed changed since my family got into this business in the 1850s here in Florida. I am proud of the innovative advances in land and product stewardship that our family and the cattle industry, in general, has made.
Thanks to the efforts of today's cattle farmers and ranchers, American consumers have more beef choices at great value than they did even a decade ago. Our industry invests in research that improves food safety, and our family spends money every year to make our operations better and more efficient.
At the same time, though, we uphold the standards of the beef industry and the legacy and expectations of our own family. We take good care of our cattle and our land. We have to: For beef producers, the land is our livelihood and our legacy. If our cattle aren't healthy or the water they drink isn't clean, we'd be out of business.
Our land is located in Polk, Highlands and Osceola counties, headwaters to the Everglades. As a sixth generation Florida cattle rancher, environmentalist, father and grandfather, I take very seriously my responsibilities for providing consumers with beef. I'm proud to do it in a responsible, sustainable way.
The next time you hear criticism about beef and cattle, please take the time to find the full story. As a first step you might visit a farm or ranch. You are always welcome.
Cary Lightsey is with Lightsey Cattle Company from Lake Wales.


Former Fla. DEP heads oppose EPA water settlement
The Associated Press
November 13, 2009
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Two former state environmental secretaries are opposing an agreement by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to set surface water pollution standards for Florida.
They joined organizations that represent Florida businesses Tuesday in warning residents that meeting the standards could cost tens of billions of dollars to upgrade wastewater treatment facilities.
The EPA plans to set standards for farm and urban runoff as part of a lawsuit settlement with Earth justice.
Former environmental secretaries Virginia Wetherell and Colleen Castille said the EPA is setting nonscientific, unreachable limits which will push aside state efforts to study and clean waterways.
But Earthjustice lawyer Monica Reimer said opponents haven't even seen what the EPA standards are and they'll have an opportunity to challenge them once they're set.


South Florida Water Management joins fight against python importation
November 13, 2009
On Nov. 5, George Horne, South Florida Water Management District’s deputy executive director of operations and maintenance testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Crime Terrorism and Homeland Security in support of HR 2811.
Sponsored by U. S. Rep Kendrick Meek and co-sponsored by U. S. Rep Tom Rooney, the bill would classify non-native pythons, such as the Burmese python, as “injurious animals” and ban their importation into the country.
As a top predator and prolific breeder, these exotic snakes threaten state and federal efforts to restore the Everglades, and the prey on the natural wildlife that call the Everglades home.
Here, in its entirety, is Horne’s testimony.
As matter of great importance to the South Florida Water Management District, we thank you for the opportunity to submit this testimony on H.R. 2811, to amend title 18, United States Code, to include constrictor snakes of the species Python genera as an injurious animal. While our regional agency maintains more than 2,600 miles of flood protection and water management canals/levees in 16 Florida counties, the South Florida Water Management District is also charged with protecting and restoring the greater South Florida ecosystem, including Lake Okeechobee, the largest natural lake in the southeastern United States, and America’s uniquely diverse Everglades River of Grass.
Additionally, the South Florida Water Management District is the largest single landowner in the region with more than one million acres of public land within our boundaries. Our continued ability to successfully restore and manage these important natural resources is hampered by the growing presence of exotic giant, invasive constrictor snakes, which are now found free-ranging in Florida’s vast wilderness areas.
Our written testimony today focuses on the importance of limiting introductions of non-native, giant constrictor snakes. We have a long history of successful invasive plant management and experience, but only recently have we had to commit more and more resources to the emerging populations of the Burmese python and other non-native constrictors appearing across our landscape. If effective preventative programs were in place to limit introductions of non-native constrictors, such as the legislation now under consideration, these much-needed taxpayer-funded resources could be redirected to other important resource management efforts. Today, however, the negative impacts from the unlimited importation of new pest animals require active responses on our part. Effective prevention of additional introductions of potentially-invasive constrictor snakes, as proposed in this bill, is the only path to prevent these costs from continually increasing. While Florida, California and Hawaii are among the states most impacted by introduced invasive species, every state is affected. Globally, exotic invasive species, including pest animals, weeds and pathogenic diseases, are a major cause of global biodiversity decline. In particular, nonnative animals compete for food and habitat, upset existing predator/prey relationships, degrade environmental quality, spread diseases and, in our case, may threaten the integrity of flood protection levees and canal banks, and electrical power delivery. Nationally, more than 50,000 species of introduced plants, animals and microbes cause more than $120 billion in damages and control costs each year (Pimentel 2005).
Already, 192 non-native animal species are established in Florida, calling for the development of methods to forecast and respond to the potential economic loss, environmental damage and social stress caused by both new non-native animal introductions and long-established invasive organisms.
Collaborative management, education, training and broadening public awareness, along with baseline population analyses, may provide a foundation for building effective control strategies and tools. Several states, including California, Hawaii and Idaho, are devising non-native animal invasion prevention programs and/or lists. This bill makes an important contribution towards prevention by limiting the importation of two snake species with high invasion potentials in the U.S.
Specific support for H.R. 2811, To amend title 18, United States Code, to include constrictor snakes of the species Python genera as an injurious animal.
The South Florida Water Management District strongly supports the draft language of H.R. 2811. Prompt action is needed at the federal level to limit the number of invasive pythons released into the wild. Designating these species as injurious to the welfare and survival of the wildlife resources of the United State is an important step toward that goal. Our specific comments on the draft bill include:
The South Florida Water Management District petitioned the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to include the Burmese python as an injurious wildlife species under the Lacey Act (18 U.S.C. 42) in June 2006. To date, the Service has not made a determination for listing this species. This amendment to the Lacey Act recognizes the clear and present threat of the Burmese and African python, and provides immediate limitations on their importation.
The inclusion of the African Rock python (also known as Northern African python) is timely given recent evidence of breeding Northern African pythons in Miami-Dade County near the Everglades. This giant constrictor shares many physical and ecological traits with the Burmese python, prompting concern that this species may become highly invasive in Florida and elsewhere.
African rock python is an English common name used for two closely-related python species, Python sebae and P. natalensis, which are indigenous to northern and southern Africa, respectively. To avoid confusion, some prefer to use the common names, Northern African python and Southern African python, to distinguish these species. Although the Southern African python is less common in international trade, it is rarely distinguished from P. sebae among importers. Therefore, we support amendments to H.R. 2811 that unambiguously designate both species of African pythons (P. sebae and P. natalensis) as injurious wildlife.
The amendment could also be expanded to include all giant constrictor species determined by the U.S. Geological Survey, or USGS, to have medium or high invasion risk potential. The recently published USGS risk assessment for giant constrictors (Reed & Rodda 2009) ranked nine species as having either a medium or high overall risk potential for invasion in the United States. These species include the Beni Anaconda, Boa Constrictor, Burmese Python, DeSchauensee’s Anaconda, Green Anaconda, Northern African Python, Southern African Python, Reticulated Python and Yellow Anaconda. We strongly support inclusion of these species in H.R. 2811 in order to immediately limit importation of species that our best science predicts will be invasive. Rather than wait for the next Burmese python to become established in the United States, a proactive approach such as the proposed legislation being discussed today is urgently needed to protect our environment, economy and quality of life not just in Florida but throughout the nation.
Current measures
In 2005, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission created an invasive animals management section. One of its key recommendations led to a new Florida rule limiting commerce in “reptiles of concern,” including the world’s five largest non-venomous snakes and the carnivorous Nile monitor. These animals were selected as most threatening because of their large size and extreme predatory natures. Now in force in Florida Administrative Code, the rule requires $100 annual possession permits, and they must be identified via implanted microchip.
Prior to this action, however, these species were already present in Florida’s pet commerce and, to varying degrees, have been reported in Florida’s wilds. In fact, Burmese pythons are now thoroughly established in South Florida’s natural areas. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Burmese python population estimates range from 5,000 to more than 100,000 in the Everglades.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s exotic animals section is engaged in serious management efforts against species present only in isolated areas and in small populations. Broader management efforts would benefit from federal engagement. Burmese Pythons in Florida Upfront prevention of the introduction of new pests will not only prevent damages to natural areas but would also preclude economic loss stemming from an injurious species’ gaining
economic value in the pet trade only to be regulated later.
For example, the non-native Burmese python is a top predator that is known to prey upon more than 20 native Florida species. Notable among these are the federally listed Key Largo wood rat, white-tailed deer, American alligator, bobcat and numerous wading birds common to the Everglades, including the wood stork. The South Florida Water Management District is deeply committed to preserving and restoring South Florida’s environmental health and, unfortunately, the Everglades ecosystem is now home to this invasive snake. Attempts to manage Burmese pythons divert taxpayers’ funds from these other urgent primary restoration and protection tasks. Yet, failure to do so will leave this aggressive animal as a serious impediment to our Everglades restoration progress.
The Burmese python also threatens agricultural interests as small livestock are also likely prey. In 2008, the U.S. Geological Survey published a climate tolerance model predicting that this snake will likely survive throughout most Southeastern states and westward across the southern reaches of the country to the Pacific.
The significant value of current sales of the Burmese python would be affected if commerce in the species is regulated. Such economic loss could have been avoided if the Burmese python had earlier been identified as a serious potential pest and trade had focused on less threatening snakes.
Since 2000, the South Florida Water Management District and Everglades National Park, have removed 1,248 Burmese pythons from the Everglades. As a top predator and prolific breeder, Burmese pythons threaten ecosystem restoration efforts and natural wildlife, including species already threatened or endangered. Adverse experience already gained in Florida strongly indicates the need to regulate the importation and sale of this snake. Without stronger regulation and control resources, adverse impacts of Burmese pythons will continue to get worse, and the python’s population will continue to expand north of the Everglades and likely into South Florida’s urban areas.
Florida’s Other Non-Native Giant Constrictors
Given South Florida’s abrupt boundaries between dense human population centers and vast subtropical wilderness areas, it comes as no surprise that numerous giant constrictor species have been observed in Florida. While most observed animals are presumed to be released pets, three additional constrictor species are now considered established or potentially established in Florida—the common boa, Northern African python and yellow anaconda. All three species are identified in the USGS risk assessment as having a high overall risk of establishment in the United States.
The common boa has been repeatedly observed in South Florida, primarily on the Deering Estate in eastern Miami-Dade County, but also near Everglades National Park. Between 1989 and 2005, 96 common boas were captured in South Florida (Snow et al., 2007). Recent confirmed sightings of Northern African pythons near the eastern boundary of the Everglades and yellow anacondas near Big Cypress National Preserve and Myakka State Park in southwest Florida are also cause for alarm. All three of these species share traits with the Burmese python that are considered important factors for invasive potential (Reed & Rodda 2009), and like the Burmese python all three species will be very costly to control should they become widely established.
As the South Florida Water Management District and other agencies try to contain the documented damage and growing threat of the Burmese python and other invasive animals in Florida, the flow of potentially harmful exotic animals across our borders continues. To use just one example, roughly 144,000 boa constrictors were imported into the United States between 2000 and 2007 (LEMIS data). Federal action is needed now to address the immediate threat posed by giant constrictors which have or are likely to establish in our nation’s wilderness areas. Without preventative measures to limit future introductions, we will continue to inherit costly and permanent management responsibilities at taxpayers’ expense. Quite simply, prevention is not only financially efficient, it is the only feasible means of controlling invasions of adaptive and cryptic organisms like the Burmese python. While this amendment does not meet the larger need to modernize the injurious wildlife provisions of the Lacey Act, it is an important stopgap to limit importation of high risk giant constrictor species and that is a sorely-needed measure to help us protect and restore the Everglades ecosystem.
Pimentel, D., L. Lach, R. Zuniga, and D. Morrison. 2005. Update on the environmental and economic costs
associated with alien-invasive species in the United States. Ecological Economics 52:273-288.
Reed, R.N., and Rodda, G.H., 2009, Giant constrictors: biological and management profiles and an establishment
risk assessment for nine large species of pythons, anacondas, and the boa constrictor: U.S. Geological Survey Open-
File Report 20091202, 302 p.
Rodda, G. H., et al. 2007. Climate matching as a tool for predicting potential North American spread of brown
treesnakes. In: Proc. of managing vertebrate invasive species symposium. 7-9 August 2007, Ft. Collins, CO. USDA
APHIS Wildlife Services, Ft. Collins, CO.
Snow, R.W., Krysko, K.L., Enge, K.M., Oberhofer, L., Warren-Bradley, A., and Wilkins, L., 2007. Introduced
populations of Boa constrictor (Boidae) and Python molurus bivittatus (Pythonidae) in southern Florida, in
Henderson, R.W., and Powell, R., eds., Biology of the boas and pythons: Eagle Mountain, Utah, Eagle Mountain


US to lease 36 mln offshore acres for oil drilling
Reuters – Update-1 by Tom Doggett
November 13, 2009
WASHINGTON, Nov 13 (Reuters) - The U.S. Interior Department said on Friday it plans to lease nearly 36 million acres (14.6 million hectares) to energy companies next spring to drill for oil and natural gas in the central Gulf of Mexico, but will shorten the time that the firms have to develop the tracts.
The area to be leased could produce up to 1.3 billion barrels of crude oil and 5.4 trillion cubic feet of gas according to the department.
"Continued development in appropriate areas of the Outer Continental Shelf, such as in the areas we will offer in the Gulf of Mexico, is a key component of our efforts to reduce our country's dependence on foreign oil," said U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Lease Sale 213 will involve about 6,800 tracts spread over 35.9 million acres located 3 to 250 miles (5 to 400 km) off the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The blocks are in water depths from 10 feet (3 meters) to more than 11,200 feet (3,400 meters).
The proposed sale blocks include about 4.2 million acres in an area know as 181 South, near the Alabama-Florida offshore border. Drilling off Florida in the Gulf is only allowed far from the state's shoreline.
The central Gulf lease sale would cut the term energy companies would have to develop oil and gas resources on certain tracts.
"This new approach to lease terms will better ensure that taxpayer resources are being developed in a timely manner," Salazar said.
However, the American Petroleum Institute slammed the policy change, calling it another roadblock from the Obama administration that discourages the development of domestic oil and gas supplies.
"The shortening of lease terms does nothing to guarantee more discoveries but rather takes away from companies the flexibility necessary to operate in an extremely challenging and risky environment," said API President Jack Gerard.
The initial lease term for blocks in waters 400 to 800 meters (1,312 to 2,624 feet) deep would change from 8 to 5 years, but when an exploratory well is drilled the life of the lease would be extended to 8 years.
Blocks in 800 to 1,600 meters deep would have lease terms of seven years instead of 10 years, and commencement of an exploratory well would extend the lease term to 10 years.
Energy companies will have to pay the government a royalty rate based on 18.75 percent of the value of the oil and gas they drill in the offshore tracts.
Initial terms for the lease sale, to be held next March 17, will be published on Nov. 16 in Federal Register of government regulations.


Water conservation a must in Florida
Sun Sentinel Editorial
November 13, 2009
New reservoirs also needed to preserve rain water
ISSUE: Utilities want to water down drought restrictions.
Recent years of rain-stingy skies have taught Florida a vital lesson: No longer can the Sunshine State afford to indulge its water guzzling ways. We've found out the hard way that water is not the infinite resource we've long treated it as, so conservation is the best way to ensure adequate supplies for future generations.
Especially in South Florida, home of the state's biggest guzzlers, at an average of 179 gallons a day per resident, with about half of that being poured into lawns and other irrigation uses.
Of course, not everyone is onboard the conservation train. While the South Florida Water Management District is trying to send the right message by keeping consistent lawn-watering restrictions in place year-round, the utilities are pushing back against the tide.
The reason is money, and it's no small consideration, especially because ratepayers are the ones footing the bill when water utilities can't make up the lost revenue from the drop in usage. They also worry that, with the population expected to continue to bloom, the district will put a crimp on their ability to pull water from underground aquifers and the Everglades, eventually requiring expensive desalination plants that will cost customers millions.
So, first, the utilities persuaded the water management district to relax proposed year-round watering limits from two days a week to three. Now, still unsatified, the utilities are turning to the Legislature, asking whether the district is pushing the bounds of its regulatory authority with the year-round rules.
The legal question is for lawyers to decide, but the public policy question is easy: The district is doing the right thing. The year-round rules are a must. In fact, maintaining a conservation-minded user base is the best way to help assure adequate supplies for those future population increases.
But admittedly, it's not enough on its own. The district must adopt a greater sense of urgency in building additional reservoirs. That's the only way to preserve the water from rains that do fall, and to finally end the wasteful practice of dumping water-logged canals into the ocean to ease the flood threat in the rainy season.
Treating our resources as a money question is short-sighted. Conservation, especially in the short term, can be costly, and so will building new reservoirs. But if Florida ever hopes to keep the taps running in the future, we have little choice.


Water managers adopt year-round irrigation limits; 3 days per week no change for Collier
Naples by Naples Daily News staff report
November 13, 2009
South Florida moved closer to year-round watering restrictions Friday, but sprinklers in Collier and Lee counties already comply with the proposed limits.
The South Florida Water Management District Governing Board, meeting in Key Largo, voted unanimously to enact three-day-per-week watering restrictions — drought or no drought — throughout the district’s 16 counties.
The vote capped more than two years of wrangling with utilities over the rules, which at one point would have required two-day-per-week limits.
Utilities, including Collier County, remain opposed to the new limits, which still must undergo a 21-day challenge period and survive a legislative review.
The water management district estimates that the year-round restrictions would reduce water use by up to 10 percent.
Water conservation advocates, though, said the new rules don’t go far enough.
The year-round restrictions would replace stricter two-day-per-week emergency watering rules that have been in effect since a 2007 drought.
“That’s not a step forward, that’s a step back,” said Jacquie Weisblum, Everglades team leader for Audubon of Florida.
The district’s year-round restrictions would not prohibit local governments from enacting more restrictive limits, district officials said.
Lee County has had year-round two-day restrictions since 2005.
Collier County and the cities of Naples and Marco Island already have year-round restrictions that limit watering to three days per week.
Still, the fine print of the year-round restriction rule is making waves for utilities.
“We’ve been in this (water conservation) game for a long time,” Collier County water director Paul Mattausch said.
“There’s just a couple issues that are still hanging out there,” he said.
Collier County objects to part of the district’s year-round rule that would change water users on their own wells into permitted users of the district.
Mattausch said he is concerned that change of status would interfere with county attempts to hook up well users to central water plants or require backflow prevention devices.
Another concern: Will the district cut the county’s drinking water allocation based on savings that come from the year-round restrictions?
Utilities have sent a letter to the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee, comprised of three state House and three state Senate members, raising concerns that the restrictions will lead to cuts in water allocations.
The committee has authority to oversee whether legislatively delegated powers, such as to water management districts, comply with state law.
The letter annoyed some district Governing Board members, who saw it as a last-minute betrayal of a four-month effort to reach a compromise on the year-round restrictions.
Weisblum, with Audubon, said the utilities are making a grab for a public resource.
“This isn’t their water,” she said.


Army awards $53-million contract for  Everglades  restoration
Sun Sentinel Editorial by Naciann Regalado
November 10, 2009
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Nov. 8, 2009) -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $53-million construction contract Nov. 4 for the Picayune Strand Restoration Project as part of Everglades restoration in Collier County, Fla.
The contract award was made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed earlier this year by President Obama, according to Corps of Engineers officials in the Jacksonville District responsible for the contract. They said it is the first federally funded construction project of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
Nearly $40 million provided by ARRA allows full funding of the project, accelerates the construction schedule, and helps create much-needed jobs in southwestern Florida, officials said.
Work to be performed under the contract awarded to Harry Pepper and Associates of Jacksonville, Fla., includes construction of a pump station, plugging of miles of canals, and removing crumbling roads built for a failed subdivision. Construction is scheduled to start in December and take about two years to complete.
"This is a huge advance for Everglades restoration," said Jacksonville District Commander Col. Al Pantano. "We're moving into a period of intense construction activity around the ecosystem."
"This project, when combined with the contributions already made by the state of Florida, will show the positive effects of restored hydrology in a fairly short amount of time. This is another great example of federal, state and local entities working together to accomplish more than any one could achieve on its own," Pantano said.
The Picayune Strand project area includes 55,000 acres of native Florida wetlands and uplands between Alligator Alley (Interstate 75) and the Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41) in the southwestern corner of the state.
The land was formerly a privately owned subdivision called Southern Golden Gate Estates. Decades ago, canal excavation and road construction disrupted the natural water flow and over-drained the area, which led to reduced aquifer recharge, greatly increased freshwater discharges to southern estuaries, and increased invasion of upland and non-native vegetation. All of this caused the loss of ecological connectivity and habitat expanses sufficient to support the endangered Florida panther and other wildlife, officials said.
In 1974, Collier County commissioned the first study to determine how to reverse the impacts of the failed development.
"Picayune Strand is a crown jewel of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan," said Paul Souza, field supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's South Florida Office. "Four decades ago, this area was slated to become a suburb of Naples. But today, because of leadership shown by our Everglades partnership, we're one step closer to achieving its restoration potential.
"This latest step by the Corps underscores our federal commitment and sets the future of the Picayune Strand in motion. Our endangered Florida panther and many other species will benefit," Souza said.
The project area is almost entirely surrounded by public lands including the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Collier-Seminole State Park and the Picayune Strand State Forest.
In the 1980s, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection began land acquisition that ultimately cost about $250 million. To expedite restoration, the South Florida Water Management District moved ahead with an effort to plug the northern seven miles of the Prairie Canal, remove about 200 miles of roadways adjacent to the canal, and clear exotic plant species from the canal banks. This work was completed in 2006.
The South Florida Water Management District also moved forward with much of the design effort and completed construction on one of four phases of road removal.
"It is extremely gratifying to see Picayune Strand restoration continue forward with this construction contract," said Ken Ammon, South Florida Water Management District deputy executive director for the Everglades Restoration and Capital Projects. "With the state-federal partnership strengthened by new federal funding, we're going to see real benefits to South Florida's ecosystem."
"This project now focuses on the Merritt Canal area. With the future award of two additional contracts beyond the Merritt Canal contract, we'll virtually complete the restoration of Picayune Strand," Pantano said.
The Merritt Canal project includes installing 55 plugs in 13.5 miles of the canal which was originally dug to provide flood protection for the abandoned Golden Gate Estates residential project. The contractor will build an 810-cubic-feet-per-second pump station and spreader canal that will allow natural resource and water managers to direct fresh water to drained wetlands, as well as to maintain flood protection on land outside the project area.
Ninety-five miles of crumbling roads will be removed, along with non-native vegetation, to further enhance restoration efforts. The project will restore fresh-water wetlands, and will improve estuarine water quality by increasing groundwater recharge and reducing large and unnatural freshwater inflows.
The Corps will award two additional contracts to complete Picayune Strand restoration under the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, Jacksonville District officials said.


A few notes from the Everglades
The by Tom Palmer
November 10, 2009
Recently I visited Everglades National Park for the first time in a few years.
The changes were striking. The Flamingo Lodge was gone, though I heard that there may be more money available under the new administration in Washington to get something going to replace it.
I used to stay there occasionally. It was about as far from everything as you could get on the south end of the Florida mainland.  It was a good place to relax and to clear your head. The campground is still there, though, which is something.
I saw some evidence of the budget strain, perhaps, when I hiked Snake Bight Trail. It was clear the trail hadn’t had any recent maintenance. In a couple of places I regretted not bringing a machete. The mosquitos were absent because of the drought and perhaps the breeze. The highlight was what I took to be a a mangrove water snake. I also saw a  fair assortment of butterflies and wading birds.
 I plan to visit more often now, thanks to an advantage of getting older that I recently discovered. Once you’re 62, you plunk down $10 and receive a card that’s good for entrance into any national park for the rest of your life.
Life is good.


Friends of the Everglades is Down, but Not Out
National Parks Traveler by Bob Janiskee
November 10, 2009
Friends of the Everglades, a National Park Service partner of 40 years standing, is going through some tough times and must now regroup and rebuild. There’ll be tough sledding ahead for the venerable NGO, but nobody’s ready to panic.
When conservationist superstar Marjory Stoneman Douglas founded Friends of the Everglades back in 1969, a main purpose being to fight a proposed jetport that threatened the sanctity of Everglades National Park, environmental activists rallied to the cause and swelled the organization’s ranks. The Kissimmee/Okeechobee/Everglades ecosystem was clearly under assault from a wide variety of serious threats, and Friends of the Everglades was seen as just the sort of instrument needed to defend and restore it.
In the organization’s own words:
Our Mission is to preserve, protect, and restore the only Everglades in the world.
Our Goals:
 • Compel government agencies to comply with existing environmental laws, and resist any efforts to weaken such laws
• Encourage politicians to recognize the long consequences of their actions.
• Spread awareness of the importance to the South Florida ecosystem.

Things worked out pretty well for Friends in its first 30 years or so of existence. It deservedly drew plenty of praise and lots of national attention for defeating the jetport proposal and helping to fend off threats to the Everglades ecosystem and Lake Okeechobee posed by water diversion, agricultural runoff and other pollutants, the westward sprawl of greater Miami, and related activities. Though Friends has strongly criticized the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (on grounds that it fails to adequately address many critical needs), it endorses the CERP’s broadly stated goal of restoring the Everglades ecosystem to something approximating natural functioning.
As anybody familiar with the organization’s hard-fought battles with the South Florida Water Management District and federal agencies can tell you, this NGO hasn’t shrunk from doing legal battle and has become very good at it. In the last decade Friends has filed or joined in at least ten lawsuits against the Federal government alone.
While the organization is best known for its legal actions in behalf of the Everglades, it has made important contributions of many types. Encouraging public awareness and participation in environmental issues is an important aspect of the Friends mission, and promoting environmental education in the Dade County public school system has been a pet cause. The organization’s Young Friends of the Everglades program is well run and very effective.
When Marjory Stoneman Douglas stepped down, she turned the Friends reins over to very capable leaders. One who played an especially vital role was Miami Herald environmental reporter Juanita Greene, who took over as Friends president and later served as conservation chair. (If you watched Ken Burns’ national parks documentary, you may recall that Ms. Greene not only championed Everglades causes, but also played an instrumental role in getting Biscayne National Park established.)
In its heyday, Friends of the Everglades attracted a lot of people and a lot of money. The NGO’s paid membership eventually topped out at about 4,000 and it had an operating budget of around $100,000. That’s a support base that many friends organizations would love to have. By 1994, Friends was operating out of an office in Miami, had two part-time employees (an administrator and a clerk), and seemed fated for bigger and better things.
But things have not been going well for Friends lately. Tough economic times have badly eroded the organization’s base of support. Paid membership has declined precipitously, reportedly to around 500. Revenues have fallen sharply as well, even though legal expenses and other costs create ever more pressing financial needs. The Miami office was recently closed, and the paid staff is down to one part-time clerk. To make things even worse, Juanita Greene recently retired and moved to Tallahassee to be nearer to her daughter, vacating her key position as Conservation Chair/First Vice President.
The organization is left with no choice but to regroup and rebuild. Acting president Connie Washburn has expressed confidence that this can be done well, albeit not quickly and easily. Good leadership is a vital component of the process, so it’s good to see that Juanita Greene’s replacement as conservation chair is Alan Farago, a lifelong activist with a strong environmental track record and a good feel for the South Florida political and environmental scenes. He and the other members of the Board of Directors can be expected to work very hard (and hopefully very effectively) to expand membership and boost the revenue stream.
Time will tell whether Friends of the Everglades can restore the membership levels and revenue stream that it enjoyed in its heyday. If you believe in this organization’s mission, you should fervently hope so.
Postscript: Friends of the Everglades founder Marjory Stoneman Douglas, daughter of Miami Herald founder Frank Stoneman, authored the influential book The Everglades: River of Grass in 1947. She died in 1998 at age 108 and her ashes were scattered in the Everglades.


Middle school students take Fairchild Challenge at Palmetto High in Pinecrest
Miami Herald by CHRISTINA MAYO
November 10, 2009
With arms waving to mimic the grasses of the Everglades, almost 250 middle-school students and their teachers across the county began the Fairchild Challenge at Palmetto High School in Pinecrest.
Many came dressed for the challenge -- as turtles, egrets, tourists, panthers and alligators.
After all, it was The Everglades: River of Grass contest hosted by Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables.
Participants from 33 schools vied to perform the best original skits of rap, spoken word and music.
This year more points were given for audience participation, so there was an enthusiastic entourage of teachers, families and friends.
Students from Arvida Middle School in Kendall were the first to go on stage.
They quickly had the audience moving to this chant: ``The Everglades suffers and you still don't care? Wave your hands in the air.''
``This is our third year in the Challenge,'' said Arvida's drama teacher, Lesley HoSang. ``It's the first year we've seen this much excitement, and I think it's because of the audience participation addition.''
``It took us a month to prepare,'' added Arvida's creative writing and journalism teacher Ishani Persaud. ``Even though there were only eight students and two teachers on stage, there were 60 students working behind the scenes.''
``All the costumes and materials were reusable items,'' HoSang said. ``We tried to keep everything recyclable from start to finish.''
Jesse Martin, a seventh-grader from The 500 Role Models Academy of Excellence in Liberty City, said the event was the first time he played drums on a stage. He has been drumming since he was 5.
``My favorite part is getting to play music in school,'' Jesse said.
Designed in 2002 for high schools, with middle schools added in 2003, the Fairchild Challenge has encouraged more than 57,000 South Florida students to do the right things to help the environment.
Everglades National Park Superintendent Dan Kimble thanked the middle students for their enthusiasm at the Oct. 29 competition.
``We have a biological marvel. There are no other Everglades,'' he said. ``We have the largest eco-restoration system ever attempted on the planet right here in South Florida. Thank you, students.''
They roared with applause.
Throughout the program, they were equally enthusiastic about their ecological mission.
Students from Frank C. Martin K-8 Center in Richmond Heights dressed in plastic bags and sang to Michael Jackson's Beat It.
Only they improvised with ``Save It. Just save it.''
Many students said they couldn't wait to continue the Challenge, which has 11 options for middle-school students. Points are accumulated through May, and then awards are given to the winning schools.
``This is really fun,'' said Georliam Rodriguez, an eighth-grader at South Miami K-8 Center.
``I learned a lot,'' said eighth-grader Sigure Williams of 500 Role Models Academy.
``The most fun I had was when I was speaking,'' fellow performer Rose Tillett said.
The 500 Role Models Academy Science's Coach Judy Rosenblum said the students brainstormed and wrote everything. They found an Everglades-related word for every letter in the alphabet, such as M for Marjory Stoneman Douglas and N for night blooming epidendrum, an Everglades wildflower.
Students at David Lawrence Jr. K-8 Center in North Miami made their skit into a land over the rainbow.
``Just follow the river of grass,'' they sang to the Wizard of Oz song Follow the Yellow Brick Road.
The students dressed as Dorothy, Munchkins, a tin man, lion, scarecrow, witch and wizard for their two-minute skit.
``Boas, parrots and mahoe, oh my!'' they chanted. The mahoe is a type of plant, and all three are considered alien invaders in the Everglades.
Students from Coral Way K-8 Center in Little Havana dressed in green and covered themselves with cutout leaves. Then they rocked the house with music by Queen played on saxophones and garbage cans and lids. ``We will, we will, rock you,'' they sang.
Students in the audience held up their illuminated cellphones with approval.
Judges for the event included Kimball and Everglades National Park rangers Larry Perez, Christina Admiral and Maria Thomson. Also appraising the students were Kirk Fordham, CEO of Everglades Foundation; Richard Gibbs Sr., director of communications of Everglades Foundation; Art Herriot, retired Florida International University scientist; Barbara Hobbs, writer and Fairchild Challenge supporter; Alex Suarez, South Florida Water Management District media specialist; Robyn Wolf, donor, graphic designer and Fairchild Challenge supporter; and Jonathan Walton, New York poet and writer.
``It was inspiring to see kids more passionate about the Everglades than even their parents and some of our lawmakers,'' said Fordham, of the Everglades Foundation.
Eighth-grade journalism students Michael Diaz-Silveira, Carlos Cabrales, Joseph Cacioppo and Anthony DeFurio of Epiphany Catholic School in High Pines all agreed the Challenge was fun.
``I'm also a Boy Scout, and it is great to help the environment,'' Michael said.
The night ended with a poetry performance by Walton, who encouraged the students to ``turn down Beyoncé and Lil Wayne and take a trip to the Everglades. It is the living picture of mucky perfection.''
Caroline Lewis, Fairchild's director of education, celebrated the students' art and told them to honor the teachers who helped them prepare.
``Teachers are golden,'' she said. ``Here's to every teacher out there.''


For Photographer Clyde Butcher, The Swamp Is A Beautiful Place
November 9, 2009
Clyde Butcher and Ansel Adams have a few things in common: big cameras, a love of landscapes, and beards. (Although in a beard contest, Butcher would undoubtedly win.) He's an award-winning environmental photographer based in the Florida wetlands; he actually has a house in a preserve called "The Loose Screw Sanctuary." His black-and-white images show a surreal land of gnarly tree limbs, drooping Cyprus branches and the puffiest of clouds.
Greg Allen for NPR followed Butcher through the swamps, waist-high in water on the job. An intrepid documentarian, Butcher carries a large-format camera around the swamps on his back, like a time traveler hailing from the days of uncharted America.
Butcher is currently shooting photos for a project that will document the entire Everglades ecosystem, from the headwaters near Orlando all the way down to Florida Bay. He's working to turn that into a multi-media exhibit that will tour the country called, "The Everglades: America's Amazon."


Gulf Coast residents stay put ahead of Ida
Associated Press by JAY REEVES
November 09, 2009
GULF SHORES, Ala. — Weather-hardened Gulf Coast residents refused to retreat from a rare late-season tropical storm that weakened as it crept toward shore Tuesday, bringing heavy rain, stiff winds and some flooding.
Ida's winds had dissipated to about 50 mph (85 kph), and at 4 a.m., the center was about 60 miles (95 km) south-southwest of Mobile. It was moving north at about 9 mph (15 kph) and expected to make land later in the morning.
The center of the storm was losing its shape, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact point of landfall, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
Tropical storm warnings were out across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, where governors declared states of emergency.
Still, few people evacuated or sought refuge along Alabama's coast, where the former hurricane that once had potent winds over 100 mph was expected to come ashore. Officials said fewer than 70 people were in shelters that opened in Mobile and Baldwin counties, with a population of 565,000.
Andrew Abbott stood under a sheltered area at Gulf Shores' public beach as rain blew sideways under street lights and frothy sea water washed up against the seawall. He was glad he lives a few miles inland from the beach, away from the threat of flooding and wind damage.
"Where we are we'll be fine, and this shouldn't be a big deal here," said Abbott, who was with his two young children and ex-wife.
Ida started moving across the Gulf as the third hurricane of this year's quiet Atlantic tropical season, which ends Dec. 1.
Rain and some flooding seemed to be the biggest threats. Up to 8 inches could fall in some areas, with most of the coast getting between 3 and 6 inches.
Earlier in the week, a low-pressure system that the hurricane may have played a role in attracting had triggered flooding and landslides in El Salvador that killed at least 130 people. Near New Orleans, a 70-year-old man was feared drowned when trying to help two fishermen whose boat had broken down in the Mississippi River on Monday, said Maj. John Marie, a Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's spokesman.
But in Pascagoula, Miss., which still bears scars from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the storm didn't interrupt dinner for Daniel Sullivan, 22, and his fiancee, Markita Jones, 21, who were the only customers waiting to be served at a drive-in restaurant.
"It's just a little bit of rain and wind," Sullivan said. "I actually thought the streets would be flooded by now."
Five hours after Jackson County's lone shelter in Pascagoula opened, only one person had checked in.
Doris Moorman, who was managing the Red Cross shelter, said she staffed a similar place last year during Hurricane Gustav that housed more than 500 people. She's concerned residents weren't taking the threat seriously, perhaps letting their Gustav experience lull them into a false sense of security.
"That doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be fine this time," she said.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist on Monday warned people to remain vigilant, saying Tropical Storm Fay was blamed for more than a dozen deaths in his state, Haiti and the Dominican Republic last year. No mandatory evacuations were ordered, but authorities in coastal areas encouraged people near the water or in mobile homes to seek shelter. Many schools closed, and several cruise ships were delayed as the U.S. Coast Guard closed Gulf Coast ports.
The streets were quiet Monday night in downtown Mobile, about 40 miles northwest of Gulf Shores, with many stores and restaurants closing early. Stiff winds and sheets of rain made driving hazardous, and many residents opted to stay off the roads, although few said they were leaving town.
Forecasters predicted Ida's storm surge could raise water levels 3 to 5 feet above normal. In Pensacola, Fla., the Gulf was rough and building and winds were howling. In north Georgia, which saw historic flooding in September, forecasters said up to 4 more inches could soak the already-saturated ground.
The approaching storm wasn't enough to drive Bobbie Buerger, owner of Ship & Shore Supplies general store, off Dauphin Island in the Gulf south of Mobile.
"I'm going to try my best to hang through it. It's not been bad yet," she said.
Not everyone was complacent. In Navarre Beach, a few miles east of Pensacola, Roger Dick, 64, boarded up his windows and readied his generator at his home a block from the beach, as he and his wife prepared for their first storm as Florida residents.
"Even though we're rookies, we know there's cause for concern and we've taken precautions, obviously," he said.
In Louisiana and Mississippi, officials were concerned about hundreds of people still living in federally issued trailers and mobile homes after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
Rick McClendon, owner of the Bayou Shirt Co., in Bayou La Batre, Ala., said he and others refused to scramble.
"We're not panicking. After you go through Katrina, it's got to be a big storm to panic. And this isn't," he said.
Others marveled that they were dealing with such a storm at all so late in the season.
"It's just so bizarre ... It's cold. We're not supposed to have to handle this so close to Thanksgiving," said Amy Vice, a property manager on Dauphin Island.
"When they were talking about the system last week I thought, 'No way.' Now, it's 'way.' I thought hurricane season was over. I won't ever say that again."


Let state shape Everglades
Palm Beach Post Editorial
November 09, 2009
Letting the Palm Beach County Commission continue to make decisions that shape the Everglades is like letting the Los Alamos (N.M.) County Commission design the nation's nuclear weapons.
Commissioners allow themselves to be used by large landowners and rock-mining interests, approving permanent changes in the 700,000-acre Everglades Agricultural Area without taking into account the damage to Everglades restoration those changes may cause. Every time one of the commissioners asks the experts at the South Florida Water Management District a direct question - Will the mines get in the way of Everglades restoration plans? - they get back the same answer: No, not at this time. And the commission moves ahead with plans that, over time, will hurt the Everglades.
No one seems willing to state that Everglades restoration plans, not yet 10 years old, are functionally obsolete. The plans rely on storing huge amounts of water underground, science that was shaky a decade ago and is shakier now. In attempting to buy some of U.S. Sugar's vast holdings, Gov. Crist and the water district are trying a sensible alternative: storing water above ground. That means converting EAA farmland to water storage because it offers vast stretches of flat land. Without that water storage, Everglades restoration is a pipe dream. That reality makes the push from critics of the U.S. Sugar deal to pursue existing plans little more than a dodge.
Without plans that reflect the new reality, the Palm Beach County Commission shrugs and allows more obstacles. In addition to four mines consuming 16,000 acres, the commission is likely to go to court in support of Florida Crystals' right to build a rail yard and warehousing district on up to 3,500 acres. The commission, correctly, at least has halted its search for a landfill.
The effect, however, is that mining or warehouse districts, not science, is driving water storage decisions. Landowners say they can't wait for water managers to figure out the science. At the same time, rival growers work to block the U.S. Sugar sale, slowing the science. What is certain is that more than Palm Beach County's industrial growth is at stake. For more than a year, environmental groups have proposed a state takeover of planning for the region. Last month, the growth management advocate 1000 Friends of Florida called for a cautious first step by creating a committee to bring the conflicting voices and state agencies together.
Farmers worry that the state's agenda is to seize their land and flood it in the name of Everglades restoration. Environmentalists worry that farmers seek to drive up the value of their land artificially. Certainly, though, the Palm Beach County Commission is not qualified to determine where to draw the line between commerce and the environment. That requires a regional perspective, and only the state can provide it.


Palm Beach County trying to stop state from taking inland port, jobs also coveted by St. Lucie County, Clewiston
SunSentinel by Andy Reid
November 09, 2009
Political wrangling threatens to hijack a proposed “inland port” counted on to become a job-producing lifeline for Glades communities struggling with 40 percent unemployment, say frustrated Palm Beach County officials.
County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor and a group of more than 30 representatives from South Bay, Belle Glade and Pahokee gathered Friday at the Port of Palm Beach to rally support for putting the proposed industrial distribution center in western Palm Beach County.
Taylor and the group fear state officials are trying to steer the project, originated by the Port of Palm Beach, away from Palm Beach County sugar cane land in favor of putting it near Clewiston in Hendry County.
Also a finalist for the inland port: The Treasure Coast Intermodal Campus, which is located west of Port St. Lucie. The industrial distribution center that could bring thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in new state and local tax revenue to the winning location.
The St. Lucie County location, which would house a center that includes a freight yard that could have 20,000 jobs, has received public support from Port St. Lucie and Fort Pierce officials. The campus is the only finalist on the Treasure Coast and would be on a 7,000-acre piece of land that fronts Glades Cutoff Road and the rail line in western St. Lucie County.
The reason for concern over the Clewiston location is that Gov. Charlie Crist’s proposed half-billion-dollar Everglades restoration land deal with Clewiston-based U.S. Sugar Corp. is putting pressure on state officials to attract businesses there to compensate for agricultural jobs that could be lost as sugar production gives way to environmental projects.
The answer shouldn’t be taking the inland port that South Bay, Belle Glade and Pahokee are counting on to deal with existing unemployment, Taylor said. She called it “disconcerting” that the state would try to use the inland port project to “backfill” agricultural jobs that possibly could be lost in Clewiston.
“It really just makes no sense,” Taylor said. “The need for these jobs has never been greater.”
The inland port distribution center would connect the Port of Palm Beach, Port Everglades in Broward County and the Port of Miami. It would allow for delivering cargo to and from the coast via truck routes and rail lines crisscrossing the state and linking with routes to the rest of the country.
Land owned by sugar producer Florida Crystals along U.S. 27 in western Palm Beach County is competing against two sites near Clewiston and the site west of Port St. Lucie. One of the Clewiston sites is a partnership between U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers.
State officials in October succeeded in getting the Port of Palm Beach to delay until next month a decision on where to build the inland port. State agencies have arranged a meeting Monday in Clewiston to discuss the four sites vying for the port project.
Environmental groups object to the proposed Florida Crystals site, saying it threatens to get in the way of Everglades restoration.
Port of Palm Beach officials on Friday maintained that they still have the power to decide where the project goes and that Monday’s meeting coordinated by the state is not an attempt to take over.
But Monday’s meeting has Glades communities concerned the state is laying the groundwork to put the distribution center in Clewiston. Community leaders see the inland port as the answer to decades of economic hardship that now leaves the three cities suffering with unemployment hovering near 40 percent.
“There’s an atrocity that is taking place in the Glades,” said state Rep. Mack Bernard, a Democrat whose District 84 seat includes the Glades communities. “This is a state of emergency. The people out in the Glades need jobs.”
What could start with cargo storage and distribution on a few hundred acres is projected to grow to about 3,500 acres with spin-off businesses and as many as 20,000 jobs, according to port projections.
The goal is to have the inland port ready to receive cargo by 2014, when improvements to the Panama Canal are expected to allow larger shipments to Florida.
Glades community leaders are adamant that fallout from the state’s Everglades land deal should not cost them the inland port project.
“We need to get the politics out of it and do the right thing,” Pahokee Mayor Wayne Whitaker said.


Wet season not quite rainy enough in area by Kevin Lollar
November 09, 2009
Southwest Florida had another dry wet season this year, which is good for some things and not so good for others.
An average of 42.16 inches of rain falls at Page Field during the wet season, which runs from May through October; this year's wet season total was 33.42 inches, 8.74 inches below average.
For the year, the rainfall total is 15.97 inches below average.
Despite the lack of rain, Southwest Florida water supplies are in good shape, said Phil Flood, director of the South Florida Water Management District's Lower West Coast Service Center.
"There's nothing to be alarmed about," he said. "We may be in a little better shape than the rest of the district because they rely on surface waters and canals, and most of our water comes from aquifers. But we're moving into the dry season, and the message has got to be to continue to conserve water."
Some rain from Tropical Storm Ida would help, Flood said; according to the National Weather Service, Lee County has a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms today, a 40 percent chance Wednesday and a 20 percent chance Thursday.
Dry season is also fire season, but forestry officials haven't issued fire warnings for Lee County, said Victor Hill, a wildfire mitigation specialist with the Florida Division of Forestry.
A 9-acre wildfire in Alva on Sunday is an indication that the fire season is on its way, Hill said.
Among the things benefitting from this summer's lack of rain are the Caloosahatchee River and estuary.
In wet years, water levels in Lake Okeechobee rise, and water managers release large amounts of nutrient-rich fresh water down the Caloosahatchee.
At the same time, nutrients in runoff between the lake and Gulf of Mexico pour into the river.
Excess nutrients cause massive algal blooms that can smother seagrasses and deplete oxygen in the river and estuary.
"We didn't get a lot of rain, so we didn't get big releases," said Loren Coen, director of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Marine Laboratory. "The seagrasses seem to be in pretty good shape, and we don't have the algae that was a problem last year."
Lack of rain and releases from Lake Okeechobee also allow salt water to move up the river - at Fort Myers, the salinity is 18 parts per thousand; full sea water is 35 ppt.
That means animals that like higher salinities will be moving up the river, Coen said, but higher salinities can kill important low-salinity aquatic plants such as widgeon grass and tape grass.
A red-shouldered hawk perches on a snag at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary Monday
Terrestrial plants can also be affected by dry conditions, said Roger Clark, a Lee County Parks and Recreation manager.
Such non-natives as Brazilian pepper, for example, can take advantage of dry wetlands.
"In Six Mile Cypress Slough, we see Brazilian pepper seedlings coming up that are normally drowned out when rainy season water levels come up," he said. "A lot of our native plants are adaptable, but a lot of them are living on the edge in Southwest Florida because they're at the edge of their range. When they get stressed by things like drought, it's tough for them to survive."
Lake Okeechobee water levels were 13.88 feet Monday, which is close to normal for this time of year - in July 2008, the lake was down to 9.54 feet; the record low, set July 2, 2007, was 8.82.
"It's perfect - the lake appears the best it's been in 15 years," said Don Fox, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist. "The water came up. We have a lot of young-of-the-year bass. There are dragonflies and insects everywhere. There are frogs everywhere. The water is going down slowly, which is fine."
In an apparent hydrological contradiction, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, the largest wood stork nesting colony in North America, received 62.1 inches of rain over the first 10 months of the year - Corkscrew's yearly average is 58.12 inches.
But the water level at the sanctuary's Lettuce Lake is a foot below normal and the lowest Nov. 1 water level on record.
"It's fairly spotty: Some areas are close to normal, and we happen to be in a Bermuda Triangle of dryness," sanctuary resource manager Jason Lauritsen said. "I can't explain how we got almost 4 inches above average on the rain gauge, but we're not seeing that sort of response in the marsh."
Corkscrew's dry conditions might bode ill for endangered wood storks.
For a successful nesting season, which can start as early as November if conditions are right, wood storks need a wet rainy season, which raises water levels in area wetlands.
When water levels are high, the small fish and invertebrates that wood storks and other wading birds eat reproduce in huge numbers.
No water in the wetlands means no fish and invertebrates.
"There's a possibility we might have some nesting this year," Lauritsen said. "If I had to guess, it would be late in the season. But given the fact that a lot of the area is still below normal levels, I wouldn't be surprised if Corkscrew drew a goose egg."


Viewpoint: EPA ignoring science of Florida's water standards by Charles Bronson is Florida's commissioner of agriculture
November 06, 2009
A great deal of misinformation is being circulated about efforts by state water management districts, cities and counties, utilities and industries across Florida in response to efforts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to impose arbitrary nutrient standards for nitrogen and phosphorus in Florida waters.
The dispute has been characterized by some as an agricultural issue, but the concern is far broader, affecting industries, local governments and other agencies in their ongoing programs to restore the quality of Florida's waters.
What is not in dispute is that Florida's agricultural producers and other parties concerned about the proposed federal action have long been active supporters of state efforts to establish science-based standards to address nutrient issues.
What is particularly ironic is that Florida is recognized as a national leader in aggressively implementing permitting and stormwater management programs to protect its waters. These programs have dramatically limited nutrient discharges into lakes and rivers, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has spent tens of millions of dollars evaluating the quality of Florida's surface waters so that measures relying on sound science can be put into place to reduce pollution further.
And yet the EPA, in an effort to settle a lawsuit brought by Earth Justice, is proposing to preempt DEP's science-based approach by imposing arbitrary numeric nutrient standards on lakes, streams and water bodies throughout Florida.
No other state is being asked to accept similar arbitrary regulatory action by the federal government, and there is widespread scientific disagreement as to what the appropriate standards should be, or whether the new standards are even attainable.
There is, however, general agreement that imposing those standards would carry a hefty price tag — millions and possibly billions of dollars — and would be borne by citizens and businesses during a period in which Florida is attempting to recover from an 11 percent unemployment rate and the current recession.
Local governments and taxpayers would be hit particularly hard as retrofits to public utilities and drainage facilities would have to be undertaken. Panhandle utilities have preliminarily calculated that the capital costs of increased wastewater treatment could range from $4 to $8 a gallon.
From a public safety standpoint, it is unclear whether the EPA proposal would enable Florida to continue its longstanding practice of doing prescribed burning to reduce the wildfire threat. Long recognized by professional land managers and conservationists as vital to protect lives, property and wildlife, burning the underbrush that contributes to the spread of wildfires sends pollutants into the air, some of which settle in or around bodies of water.
Yes, agricultural producers would be impacted, perhaps to the point that many of our locally grown foods could be replaced by offshore sources whose safety standards are far more lax than ours. And along with the absence of much of our local food supply, the state would lose major portions of its second-largest industry.
The sensible solution is to allow DEP to continue developing, through a transparent public process with full and open debate as required by Florida law, science-based nutrient standards that consider the diverse, unique qualities of Florida's waters.
A decision between two parties behind closed doors that rushes this process to an arbitrary conclusion, that fails to consider the extensive scientific data and water quality expertise that Florida possesses, and that was arrived at without open public discussion and participation by all interested parties, is not the way to address this important issue.


Offshore drilling debate heats up in Florida by  Judson Parker
November 06, 2009
Debate is heating up in the Florida Legislature and across the state as the oil industry makes a big push for Florida decision-makers to lift the 26 year old offshore oil and gas drilling moratorium. With energy prices rising and consumers feeling pressure from prices at the pump, many Floridians are starting to wonder if drilling could help alleviate some of the high costs. However, even some supporters are leery of the industry plan to drill as close as 3 miles to Florida beaches.
"This particular issue is one that has obviously reached critical mass," says Florida Congressman Adam Putnam. "We recognize our obligation as Floridians as major energy consumers, that we have an obligation to review our previous position, to recognize the improvements in technology, but frankly, 3 miles off our coast is an unacceptable alternative."
Many argue that any drilling, no matter how far off-shore, is a bad idea. "Offshore drilling is dirty, dangerous and it doesn't deliver," said Adam Rivera, legislative advocate for Environment Florida.
At each stage of testing, exploration, and production, drilling inevitably produces contaminated water. The oil and gas business uses toxic drilling muds, and periodically spills oil and sometimes even radioactive drill lubricants into the ocean. Pollutants like mercury and persistent hydrocarbons contaminate fish and sea life near platforms and massive spills kill seabirds, sea turtles, fish and marine mammals. These pollutants also make their way into the food chain when consumers eat fresh sea food in Florida's thriving coastal communities.
Another argument against drilling is the potential for spills, which even industry experts say are not completely avoidable. Just a few years ago, hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed over 100 drilling rigs and platforms and over 450 pipelines. The Minerals Management Service estimated almost one million gallons spilled during the hurricane from offshore facilities; the Coast Guard documented an estimated nine million gallons from onshore and offshore oil facilities were spilled.
Other figures show that economically speaking, offshore drilling may not add up for the Sunshine State. According to the Florida Chamber of Commerce, tourism accounts for over $65 billion in revenue to the state each year. The absolute highest estimates by the oil industry for state revenues are somewhere in the $2 billion range. If even a few small percentage points of tourism were lost because of tar balls on the beaches, coastal residents choosing to relocate because of the risks associated with living near a rig, or potential spills (which occur no matter how good the technology is), Florida would actually stand to lose, rather than gain, revenue because of offshore exploration and drilling.
It appears that some time in the near future, we will see if the Florida Legislature agrees that the stakes are too high to open Florida's pristine, world class beaches to the interests of the oil industry, or if they believe a quick energy fix that has potential to bring jobs and boost the economy outweighs the substantial risks.


Sulfur-generating bacteria may be the problem with Chinese drywall, scientists say
TCPALM by Isaac Wolf
November 06, 2009
WASHINGTON — Samples of Chinese drywall have been found to contain significantly more sulfur-generating bacteria than comparable North American drywall, a finding scientists believe could provide a pathway to help desperate and furious homeowners.
While federal officials and industry experts say that there is no silver bullet for cleaning tainted drywall -- and they’re skeptical of any company that promises a quick fix -- there is increasing interest in exploring whether Chinese drywall's high bacteria count may be generating chemicals that make people sick and blacken appliances.
"We think we've isolated a bacteria," said D. Douglas Hoffman, CEO of the National Organization of Remediators and Mold Inspectors, an Abita Springs, La. organization that focuses on indoor air quality and mold problems.
The bacteria is believed to be consuming the main ingredient of drywall and releasing hydrogen sulfide, which has a nauseating rotten egg smell.
Hoffman's group is studying bacteria in drywall in two research labs, and, though he is not ready to announce definitively that bacteria may is the culprit for high quantities of sulfur, he thinks the research is promising: It could mean that affected houses could be cleansed by bacteria-killing disinfectants.
Chinese drywall is having an impact on residents and real estate all around the entire Treasure Coast. Many residents have complained that drywall has made them sick or blackened their appliances.
The problem has been especially noticeable in Port St. Lucie, a city that boomed with construction during the years the bad drywall was being imported. It also was used to repair some buildings damaged in the 2004 hurricanes. The storms aggravated the shortage of building materials, leading to more imports from China.
Some of those Treasure Coast residents have been forced to move out of their homes. Others are still trying to figure out what to do.
The financial stakes are growing. The U.S. House of Representatives last week approved legislation to help pay to repair tainted drywall, scores of lawsuits are piling up and homebuilders are setting aside millions of dollars for fixes. Chinese drywall is believed to have been used in 60,000 to 100,000 houses built in 2006 and 2007.
Led by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, federal authorities are trying to pinpoint why almost 2,000 homeowners -- many in Florida -- have complained about that drywall. The federal investigation is expected to release its findings by Thanksgiving, and an interim report last week found that samples of Chinese drywall released 24 times as much sulfur as North American drywall.
The reason tainted Chinese drywall is releasing so much sulfur gas may be because it's loaded with a sulfide-producing bacteria, says Mike Shaw, executive vice president of Interscan Corp., a Chatsworth, Calif. company that makes toxic gas detection equipment. Lab tests have shown Chinese drywall samples to contain up to 10,000 times as much sulfur-producing bacteria as North American samples, Shaw said in an interview at Interscan's suburban Washington, D.C., office.
The elevated bacteria levels could be the result of contaminated water or paper, he added.
Federal authorities have expanded their investigation to include research on bacteria, said Scott Wolfson, director of public affairs for the CPSC. In an interview, he cautioned against rushing to premature scientific judgments.
"The science should drive the solution of how to help these families, many of whom have been displaced or are suffering health effects while in their home," Wolfson said. "We are conducting the most expansive investigation possible, so that we provide the right answers and solutions to these affected homeowners, as quickly as possible."
If bacteria are generating the sulfur -- and the elevated sulfur levels are the cause of respiratory problems, bloody noses and corroded metal appliances -- then the solution could be based in fumigation, Shaw said. A heavy-duty disinfectant, chlorine dioxide, could be used to fumigate houses and kill the bacteria. But Wolfson and other experts cautioned that the bacteria could easily move from one piece of drywall to another.
Hoffman, of the industry group, said that an effective toxic drywall cleanup would require not just one round of fumigation but also follow-up checks, because some bacteria might evade the initial effort.
He said that while his group is developing a protocol for neutralizing homes with toxic drywall, "I don't think there's any one silver bullet."


Feds approve key Everglades restoration project
South Florida SunSentinel by Andy Reid
November 05, 2009
Long-stalled Everglades restoration took a welcome step forward as the Army Corps of Engineers today announced the approval of a construction contract to turn a failed development back to its natural state.
The $53 million Picayune Strand project in Collier County becomes the first federally funded construction project in the state and federal Everglades restoration plan that has struggled to make progress since 2000.
Everglades restoration is a multibillion-dollar effort to build reservoirs and treatment areas to recreate the water flows that once naturally replenished the River of Grass.
Picayune Strand includes 55,000 acres between Alligator Alley and Tamiami Trail in southwest Florida, surrounded by preserves and Everglades National Park.
The federal work, to begin next month, involves plugging 13.5 miles of drainage canals, removing 95 miles of roads and building a pump station to redirect water, according to the corps.
The corps announced today that it awarded the work, expected to take two years, to Harry Pepper and Associates of Jacksonville.
About $40 million of the price tag will be covered by federal economic stimulus money, which helped speed up the construction timetable.
"The reclamation of Picayune Strand will be a case study in realizing the positive economic and environmental benefits of restoration," Kirk Fordham, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, said in a statement released Wednesday.
While waiting for federal help, the South Florida Water Management District in recenty years has already been at work on Picayune Strand, clearing out exotic plants, plugging northern sections of the Prairie Canal and removing roadways.
Giving an additional boost to Everglades restoration, the district last month approved a $44 million contract for the C-111 project to start repairing environmental damage caused by a 15-mile-long canal in southern Miami-Dade County.
In addition, the district is pursuing a $536 million land deal with U.S. Sugar Corp. to buy 73,000 acres, much of it in Palm Beach County, to use to build reservoirs and treatment areas.


South Florida among nation's 'most toxic cities'
South Florida Business Journal
November 05, 2009
Forbes magazine has ranked the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach metropolitan statistical area 23rd on its list of the nation’s 40 “most toxic cities."
Atlanta was the most toxic, and Las Vegas was the least toxic.
Forbes said it looked at the country’s 40 largest metropolitan statistical areas based on data provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It then counted the number of facilities that reported releasing toxins into the environment; the total pounds of certain toxic chemicals released into the air, water and earth; the days per year that air pollution was above healthy levels; and the total number of Superfund sites (contaminated areas that the federal government has designated for cleanup efforts) in each area.
According to the data, South Florida has 42 Superfund sites, 81 facilities releasing toxic chemicals, 2.3 million pounds of released toxic chemicals, and the worst air quality of the 40 areas on the list.


Water Restrictions Could Soon be Permanent
News 12 by Alf Pefley
November 05, 2009
Dry conditions are a big problem throughout south Florida.
Looking at the drought index nearly every county in our area is about 500.
Anything over that level is high.
Because of these dry conditions we are still under year 'round water restrictions.
Water managers say it's important to do your part to conserve water now.
George Hannah is a retired firefighter who lives in suburban West Palm Beach.
His lawn has some brown spots, he says, because it's been so dry.
But he's okay with the current restrictions that allow him to water his yard only two days a week.
"I think I'm getting used to 'em. As long as they don't go back to the only washing your car here and there and stuff like that. But watering the lawn two days a week is usually enough. You can live with that, huh? I can live with that," Hannah said.
Now the two-day-a-week restriction on lawn watering could soon be permanent, year 'round. Hannah is not convinced it's necessary to make it a permanent thing.
"The year 'round, I really don't think we need it. Why is that? Well we have a lot of water here. We're in the tropics. And it does rain a lot," Hannah said.
But experts at the South Florida Water Management District say October could go down as the driest October on record.
And the dry season which usually starts in November has started early this year.
It's almost inevitable that we will have to go to permanent water restrictions.
"The prudent thing to do is to go to some sort of year 'round conservation just because the weather is so unpredictable down here," said Randy Smith, spokesman for the South Florida Water Management District.
Smith says we've already got some monitoring wells that are in the yellow and red stage, a sign that the underground aquifer where most of our drinking water comes from is lower than normal.
Water restrictions are in effect for our entire viewing area, in Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin, Okeechobee, and Palm Beach County. Odd-numbered addresses can water lawns Wednesday and Saturday, even addresses can water Thursday and Sunday.
Year around water restrictions could be coming soon, and your thirsty lawn may see little relief.
Violating the two-day-a-week water restrictions could result in a warning or a fine of over $100.
You can wash your car anytime. The restrictions apply to lawn watering only.
Smith says the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board could decide to make the water restrictions permanent when it meets next week in Key Largo.


Forecasters watching, but Caribbean system no threat to Florida
Tampa Tribune by Neil Johnson
November 04, 2009
TAMPA - Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami believe an area of low pressure tucked near Central America could become at least a tropical depression anytime today.
Forecasters have watched the thunderstorms in the extreme southwestern Caribbean Sea since the weekend, and the system has continued to become more organized.
It has barely moved the past few days and is expected to remain about stationary a couple of days longer.
A U.S. Air Force hurricane hunter is scheduled to fly through the system today.
If it does become a depression or tropical storm, it is not likely to present much threat to Florida. High pressure over the state and trade winds blowing across the Caribbean would push any storm toward the western edge of the Gulf of Mexico.
Most forecast models keep the system pretty much in place for the next several days, while one had it tracking north across Honduras and Nicaragua and back over open water south of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Another has it crossing Central America and working into the Pacific Ocean.
Another low pressure area the hurricane center watched three weeks ago in the same part of the Caribbean also migrated into the Pacific.
Few of the intensity forecast models take the system even to tropical storm strength over the next five days.
Water in the western Caribbean and Gulf remains extremely warm, even with less than a month left in hurricane season. Storms in October and November generally form in those areas and frequently from areas of low pressure caused by fronts that stall south of Cuba.
Ida is the next name on this season's list.


More Florida wildlife on the loose, and we don't mean South Beach
SunSentinel by Barbara Hijek
November 04, 2009
Those Burmese pythons slithering through the Everglades? So yesterday's news.
Wildlife experts now warn of another invasive reptile found near Sarasota -- the African rock python.
The rock python makes Burmese pythons look "like pussycats," experts say, reports the Sarasota Herald Tribune.
In April a 13-foot rock python dragged a Kenya man up a tree before police rescued him, according to the BBC. And these suckers breed like crazy. Python clutches contain 30 to 100 eggs, depending on the snake's size.
Large snakes eat deer, pigs, livestock, alligators and could even swallow a Florida panther.
Happily, they're less popular as pets than the Burmese because they're not as attractive and have a bad habit of biting their owners.
Hmmmm. Karma maybe?


Time Magazine writer discusses Everglades pollution, restoration
The Gainesville Sun by Curt Devine
November 04, 2009
Michael Grunwald spoke about his new book on the subject.
"This is the story of America's last frontier," said Michael Grunwald, senior correspondent of Time Magazine.
Discussing topics from his book "The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida and The Politics of Paradise," Grunwald described the political controversy surrounding Florida's wetlands to a group of more than 100 in the Ocora Room at Pugh Hall Tuesday night.
"The story of the Everglades is about us," he said, "about how we destroyed it and about how we now have to restore it."
Grunwald outlined the history of the Everglades in explaining the difficulty of restoration in the face of pollution, development and economic recession.
He said Florida's wetlands have been slowly disappearing ever since development began in the 19th century.
Water-drainage efforts, real estate and phosphorus pollution from farming communities have permanently damaged much of the region, he said.
As an example of Florida's uncontrolled development, Grunwald described the Florida Panthers hockey arena in Miami, which was built on top of wetlands where panthers are now endangered.
"The region has become so unnatural," he said. "Strip malls and golf courses are overrunning the area and destroying one of the world's most unique environments.
Grunwald proceeded to describe conservation efforts, focusing on the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
The $22 million plan, approved in 2000, aims to restore and protect water resources in Florida by reducing pollution, improving drainage systems and replacing contaminated water with clean water.
However, Grunwald said that conditions are getting worse because, while the issue has received political attention, that attention has not turned into action.
He asked, "Will we throw more money at the issue or will we really commit to restore it?"
Grunwald joked that he enjoys being in Gainesville because people seem to have more interest in a book called "The Swamp."
He also said speaking in the Graham Center at Pugh Hall was appropriate because former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham influenced some of his book.
He quoted Graham, who said that "restoring the Everglades will be like restoring an omelet you ate for breakfast into an egg."
Jeff Ivey, a University of Florida political science junior, said he came to hear Grunwald because he considers the Everglades a national treasure.
"When you consider our budget cuts and the state of our economy, restoration seems tough," he said. "But I think it's an issue worth tackling."


To Drill Or Not To Drill For Oil Beneath Big Cypress National Preserve, That Is The Question
National Parks Traveler by Kurt Repanshek
November 04, 2009
If there weren't enough controversial issues swirling about Big Cypress National Preserve, a cash-strapped Miami-Dade County has been mulling the possibility of drilling for oil beneath the preserve.
Why? To help pay for the expansion of Miami-Dade International Airport.
According to the Broward Group of the Sierra Club, the county owns 23,840 acres within Big Cypress that once upon a time was viewed as the footprint for a new airport. The bulk of the mineral rights beneath that property belong to Collier Resources, Inc. In return for letting the company drill for oil, the county would get royalties of approximately 8 percent, according to the chapter.
"The oil is of small quantity and of low grade - on an annual basis the money would not be significant. But with its location on the boundary between the Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park, the consequences of this industrial operation could be enormous," chapter officials say.
"Blasting which occurs during oil exploration, the dredge and fill operations which would be needed to create a stable pad for the pumps, the road building necessary to service the operation, and the always present danger of spills of petroleum and other chemicals are completely incompatible with the years of effort being exerted to restore Florida's Everglades. It is also contrary to the conditions necessary to sustaining habitat for a countless variety of increasingly rare plants and animals."


Science-based nutrient standards needed for Florida waters - My View by Charles Bronson
November 04, 2009
A great deal of misinformation is being circulated about efforts by water management districts, numerous cities and counties, utilities throughout Florida and industries across the state in response to efforts by the federal government, through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to impose arbitrary nutrient standards for nitrogen and phosphorus in Florida waters.
The dispute has been characterized by some as an agricultural issue, but the concern is far broader than that, affecting industries, local governments and other agencies in their ongoing programs to restore the quality of Florida's waters.
What is not in dispute is that Florida's agricultural producers and other parties concerned about the proposed federal action have long been active supporters of state efforts to establish science-based standards to address nutrient issues in our waters.
And what is particularly ironic about the situation is that Florida is recognized as a national leader in aggressively implementing permitting and stormwater management programs to protect its water bodies.
These programs have dramatically limited nutrient discharges into lakes and rivers, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has spent tens of millions of dollars in the last decade alone evaluating the quality of Florida's surface waters so that measures relying on sound science can be put into place to reduce pollution further.
And yet, the EPA, in an effort to settle a lawsuit against it brought by Earth Justice, is proposing to preempt DEP's science-based approach to cleaning up our water bodies by imposing arbitrary numeric nutrient standards on numerous lakes, streams and water bodies throughout Florida.
No other state in the nation is being asked to accept similar arbitrary regulatory action by the federal government, and there is widespread scientific disagreement as to what the appropriate standards should be or whether the new standards are even attainable.
There is, however, general agreement that imposing those standards would carry a hefty price tag — millions and possibly billions of dollars — and would be borne by citizens and businesses alike during a period in which Florida is attempting to recover from an 11 percent unemployment rate and the widespread economic effects of the current recession.
Local governments, and the taxpayers who fund these governments, would be hit particularly hard as retrofits to public utilities and drainage facilities would have to be undertaken. Palm Beach County utility companies estimate it would cost them $125 million in improvements to store reclaimed water while Panhandle utilities have preliminarily calculated that the capital costs of increased wastewater treatment could range from $4 to $8 a gallon.
From a public safety standpoint, it is unclear whether the EPA proposal would enable Florida to continue its long-standing practice of doing prescribed burning to reduce the wildfire threat that we face virtually every year.
Long recognized by professional land managers and conservationists alike as vital to protect lives, property and wildlife, burning the underbrush that contributes to the spread of wildfires inevitably sends pollutants into the air, and some of them settle in or around bodies of water.
And yes, agricultural producers, too, would be impacted perhaps to the point that many of our locally grown food products could be replaced by food coming from offshore sources whose food safety standards are far more lax than ours. And along with the absence of much of our local food supply, the state would lose major portions of its second largest industry.
The sensible solution to this situation is to allow DEP to continue developing, through a transparent public process with full and open debate as required by Florida law, science-based nutrient standards that consider the diverse, unique qualities of Florida's waters.
A decision between two parties behind closed doors that rushes this process to an arbitrary conclusion, that fails to consider the extensive scientific data and water quality expertise that Florida possesses, and that was arrived at without open public discussion and participation by all interested parties is not the way to address this important issue.
Charles H. Bronson is Florida Commissioner of Agriculture.


Don't go drill crazy in the Everglades
Miami Herald Editorials
November 03, 2009
OUR OPINION: Everglades jetport best for environmental mitigation bank.
In search of money to help pay off Miami International Airport's expansion, officials want the county to consider drilling for oil and gas at an old jet port that's now part of the Big Cypress National Wildlife Preserve as one potential way to get money.
Other options on the table: rock mining at the 23,840-acre site between Miami and Naples or allow a park for off-road vehicles that tear up the terrain.
As desperation moves go, these options are the mother of all dunderhead schemes.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez pulled the jet port option proposal from the county commission's Tuesday calendar, according to his spokeswoman, Victoria Mallette, because the “mayor is not comfortable with it.”
Wise call, Mr. Mayor.
No easy budget fix
Mr. Alvarez -- already under tremendous pressure to raise funds during this recession when county workers are facing pay cuts or the unemployment line and taxpayers already feel overburdened -- has his work cut out for him. But drilling is not the easy “fix” that some folks would like to make it seem, and the mayor is right to hit the brakes.
Yes, Exxon has operated one drilling well near the old jetport for decades, and Collier Resources still holds 70 percent of the mineral rights under the jetport. But those drilling rights were granted before there was the political will to protect the Everglades and create the Big Cypress preserve in 1974.
After the public outcry, the county was left with a 10,000-foot runway that big jets use occasionally for training. It's also an emergency landing site for the space shuttle or can be used by the Department of Homeland Security.
By 2015, Miami's international airport will have added 3.4 million square feet and its operations and construction budgets will grow by about $400 million combined. The county is right to look for ways to find the money to pay the debt off quickly. However, uses at Big Cypress that have the potential to cause more harm to the environment should never have been an option to begin with.
A better solution
A better move would be to use the land as a mitigation bank, which the airport study suggests could bring in about as much money as allowing drilling. Developers wanting to build on small patches of wetlands elsewhere in the county could pay the county to do so and that money could help improve areas already damaged by off-road vehicles at the preserve.
Selling the county-owned land for conservation also should be part of the discussion.
Seeking royalties from oil drilling by cutting a deal with Collier, as airport managers would like, is not a good solution. Besides, talk of drilling ignores the political reality -- and the history of why Big Cypress was designated a wildlife preserve.
The federal government is investing heavily in Everglades restoration, after years of neglect. And state and federal officials also want to protect the Florida panther that roams Big Cypress.
Drilling, mining and, perhaps to a lesser yet still troubling extent, a park for off-road vehicles to traverse, do not belong there.


Everglades National Park Officials Considering "Pole and Troll" Boating Zone to Protect Resources
National Parks Traveler by Kurt Repanshek
November 03, 2009
In a move that might not go over well with motorboaters, officials at Everglades National Park are thinking of creating a "pole and troll" boating zone in Florida Bay to protect seagrass and marine-life. However, such a zone could prove popular with paddlers, wildlife viewers, and some anglers.
According to the park, the idea for this project emerged following General Management Plan meetings earlier this year when new scientific and visitor use information, along with a new set of preliminary marine area alternatives, was presented to the public. That effort resulted in meaningful public input on the ways to improve future management of Florida Bay.
"Among the many great ideas we heard from stakeholder groups and long-time users of Florida Bay, was the suggestion for park managers to consider an initial pole and troll zone in Florida Bay before completing the GMP," said Everglades Superintendent Dan Kimball. "The park is now pursuing this idea and over the summer my staff and I visited several pole and troll zones in Florida to learn first-hand about implementation and management options. The value of these zones for protecting shallow-water resources and providing better visitor use opportunities has been demonstrated, and we plan to use these lessons learned to better inform our efforts to improve resource protection and visitor experiences in Everglades National Park."
Between now and the end of November the park is seeking your thoughts on this proposal. While park staff visited four areas of Florida Bay to see which might be best suited to a pole and troll zone, they settled on Snake Bight, an area immediately east of Flamingo. If the zone is created, it would be off-limits to combustion boat motors. Inside the zone, boats would only be permitted to use push poles, paddles, or electric trolling motors.
Implementation of the zone places a heavy emphasis on education and outreach. The park would develop and widely disseminate maps, brochures, and other materials in an effort to communicate the new zone to the public. In addition, the park would implement a monitoring plan to help assess the zone's effectiveness over time in protecting seagrass and wildlife habitat, enhancing fishing and other recreational experiences. If a decision is reached to implement the Snake Bight pole and troll zone, access to the zone would be enhanced through on-plane transit via the Snake Bight and Tin Can Channels while adjacent Jimmie’s Lake would allow idle-speed transit in waters deeper than 2 feet.
The proposed zone is not associated with future decisions to be made in the GMP; however, public input on the GMP earlier this year demonstrated public interest for this idea in advance of completing the GMP.
"Our stakeholders have clearly communicated support for a pole and troll zone in Florida Bay to enhance resource protection and visitor experiences," said Superintendent Kimball. "This zone should result in increased protection of seagrass, higher quality fishing opportunities, better wildlife viewing, and better paddling trips, in a very popular area. If this project is implemented, I expect that its monitoring activities would provide valuable information to support GMP implementation and adaptive management strategies in the years ahead."
Comments are welcome on all aspects of the proposed project including objectives; alternative locations in Florida Bay under consideration; the boundary of the proposed Snake Bight zone; activities to effectively mark, educate the public, and enforce the zone; and monitoring activities to determine the success of the zone. A slide presentation describing the project and questions the park would like feedback on about the project is available for review at the park website link below and will be presented at two upcoming meetings. Public input can be provided in several ways.
There are two upcoming public meetings to discuss the proposed pole and troll zone:
Monday, November 9, 6:00 to 7:30 P.M., John D. Campbell Agricultural Center, 18710 SW 288th Street, Homestead, FL
Tuesday, November 10, 6:00 to 7:30 P.M., Key Largo Holiday Inn, 99701 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, FL
At both meetings, park staff will be available to discuss the project, answer questions and record public comments. At 6:30 P.M., there will be a presentation about the project, followed by a formal public comment session.


Experts tackle drilling
News Journal capital bureau by Jim Ash
November 03, 2009
TALLAHASSEE — Offshore drilling would pose relatively little risk to Florida's environment, according to academics and industry experts who participated Monday in a symposium sponsored by Florida State University.
Tanker collisions and coastal storage facilities that are susceptible to hurricane storm surges are more threatening than drilling rigs and pipelines, the experts said.
"Blowouts and spills are rare by design," said Norman Guinasso, an adjunct professor in the Department of Oceanography at Texas A&M University and one of the developers of the Texas Automated Buoy System, which monitors water conditions in the western Gulf of Mexico.
Guinasso described the 1990 explosion of the super tanker Mega Borg, which spilled 5.1 million gallons of light Angolan crude south of Galveston.
Half of the crude burned off and a quarter of it evaporated, leaving about 1.3 million gallons in the water. Predictions that the spill would mar Corpus Christi didn't pan out, but tar balls were reported as far away as Louisiana.
In 1995, another tanker collision spilled 2,000 barrels of oil south of Galveston. Guinasso said studies suggested the spills had little impact. Coastal tourism in Texas was worth $12 billion annually in 2007, double its worth at the time of the spill, he said.
Kenneth Schaudt, an industry consultant who for 20 years served as lead oceanographer for Marathon Oil, cited studies that show that most of the oil released into the water, 62 percent, comes from natural "seeps" on the sea floor.
The symposium, which cost $50,000 to organize, was sponsored by FSU's Institute for Energy Systems, Economics and Sustainability. Organizers stressed before the event that the institute takes no money from the industry.
But environmentalists, who were mostly absent from the forum, quickly pounced on the institute's claims of being honest brokers in the hottest debate in the Florida Legislature — a proposal by Republican leaders to lift Florida's two-decade ban on drilling in state waters.
"What we really need to look at is what's going on right now, where we see rigs actually leaking, like the one in Australia," said Eric Draper, a veteran lobbyist for Audubon of Florida, a chief drilling opponent.
Draper was referring to a dramatic blowout on a well in the Timor Sea off of the northwest coast of Australia that has been leaking an average of 400 barrels of oil a day for the past 10 weeks. Well owner PTTEP Australia was still attempting to cap it this weekend when the rig burst into flames.
State Rep. Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, voted against a House bill this spring that would have given Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet the power to grant leases. The bill surfaced in the waning days of session and was killed by the Senate.
After listening to the symposium, Aubuchon said his mind is still not made up. He said he still wants to know how the state would regulate safe transport and storage.
"One of the challenges I had was that it came up so quickly," Aubuchon said. "What protocols could we put in place to manage those challenges? I didn't hear that today."
Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda of Tallahassee dramatically broke with fellow Democrats to vote for the bill in the spring. Vasilinda said she supported the bill, which did not get a hearing in the Senate, only because it would have used oil and gas revenues to pay for renewable energy programs.
"I like the fact that we're having a more dispassionate review of the facts," she said.
If Florida decides to go ahead with offshore drilling, experience in federal waters and other states suggests that lawmakers should design an economic scheme that limits the amounts of leases that can be granted at any one time, said Kenneth Hendricks, an economics professor at the University of Texas who is considered one of the nation's leading experts.
That's the best way to encourage more competitive bids and get the best revenue for the state, he said.
"You should be thinking about as measured a pace as possible," he said.


Misinformation about water managers across Florida
Naplesnews. com by Charles H. Bronson - Florida Commissioner of Agriculture
November 03, 2009
A great deal of misinformation is being circulated about efforts by water-management districts, numerous cities and counties, utilities throughout Florida and industries across the state in response to efforts by the federal government, through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to impose arbitrary nutrient standards for nitrogen and phosphorus in Florida waters.
The dispute has been characterized by some as an agricultural issue, but the concern is far broader than that, affecting industries, local governments and other agencies in their ongoing programs to restore the quality of Florida’s waters.
What is not in dispute is that Florida’s agricultural producers and other parties concerned about the proposed federal action have long been active supporters of state efforts to establish science-based standards to address nutrient issues in our waters.
And what is particularly ironic about the situation is that Florida is recognized as a national leader in aggressively implementing permitting and stormwater management programs to protect its water bodies. These programs have dramatically limited nutrient discharges into lakes and rivers, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has spent tens of millions of dollars in the last decade alone evaluating the quality of Florida’s surface waters so that measures relying on sound science can be put into place to reduce pollution further.
And yet, the EPA, in an effort to settle a lawsuit against it brought by Earth Justice, is proposing to pre-empt DEP’s science-based approach to cleaning up our water bodies by imposing arbitrary numeric nutrient standards on numerous lakes, streams and water bodies throughout Florida.
No other state in the nation is being asked to accept similar arbitrary regulatory action by the federal government, and there is widespread scientific disagreement as to what the appropriate standards should be or whether the new standards are even attainable.
There is, however, general agreement that imposing those standards would carry a hefty price tag — millions and possibly billions of dollars — and would be borne by citizens and businesses alike during a period in which Florida is attempting to recover from an 11 percent unemployment rate and the widespread economic effects of the current recession.
Local governments, and the taxpayers who fund these governments, would be hit particularly hard as retrofits to public utilities and drainage facilities would have to be undertaken. Palm Beach County utility companies estimate it would cost them $125 million in improvements to store reclaimed water while Panhandle utilities have preliminarily calculated that the capital costs of increased wastewater treatment could range from $4 to $8 a gallon.
From a public safety standpoint, it is unclear whether the EPA proposal would enable Florida to continue its long-standing practice of doing prescribed burning to reduce the wildfire threat that we face virtually every year. Long recognized by professional land managers and conservationists alike as vital to protect lives, property and wildlife, burning the underbrush that contributes to the spread of wildfires inevitably sends pollutants into the air, and some of them settle in or around bodies of water.
And yes, agricultural producers, too, would be impacted, perhaps to the point that many of our locally-grown food products could be replaced by food coming from offshore sources whose food safety standards are far more lax than ours. And along with the absence of much of our local food supply, the state would lose major portions of its second-largest industry.
The sensible solution to this situation is to allow DEP to continue developing, through a transparent public process with full and open debate as required by Florida law, science-based nutrient standards that consider the diverse, unique qualities of Florida’s waters. A decision between two parties behind closed doors that rushes this process to an arbitrary conclusion, that fails to consider the extensive scientific data and water quality expertise that Florida possesses, and that was arrived at without open public discussion and participation by all interested parties is not the way to address this important issue.


Permanent water restrictions ? by Glenn Glazer
November 03, 2009
WEST PALM BEACH, FL-- Did you know you can't water your lawn anytime you want?
"We've had some sort of water restrictions in place for over two years now," said Randy Smith, District Spokesperson for South Florida Water Management.
We just finished one of the hottest and driest October's ever on record, with rainfall totals three to five inches below average for the month.
"We've already got some monitor wells that are in the yellow and the red stage, meaning that they're lower than where they historically would be.  So, we have to be very cautious in approaching this," said Smith.
Cautious means making sure we don't go overboard using our fresh water, as we sometimes have a tendency to do.
"Especially if you have no restrictions in place, there tends to be a lot of landscape irrigating.  And that is one of the biggest areas where you can reduce the amount of water," said Smith.
The penalties aren't just costly to the environment, but to your pockets as well.
"Some are well over a hundred dollars for your first violation and then it's tiered so if you get caught a second time, it's even more.  So, there's plenty of incentive not to get caught," said Smith.
Right now businesses and residences with odd number addresses can water their lawns on Wednesdays and Saturdays at specific times.  Even numbered addresses can water on Thursdays and Sundays.  But these restrictions might not just be temporary.
"What we're going to see is that the district is going to move toward some sort of permanent water conservation," said Smith.
Until that happens, under the current restrictions, can we still wash our cars and stuff like that?
"The one's that we're in right now are specifically aimed at landscape irrigation.  There's no restrictions on any of the other activities other than it's a good idea to use common sense," said Smith.
Common sense that can help save water, our future generations, and the other creatures that share the world around us.


County discusses fertilizer ordinance
TampaBay Newspaper by SUZETTE PORTER
November 02, 2009
CLEARWATER - More than 150 people showed up for the Board of Pinellas County Commission’s Oct. 27 work session to take part in a discussion on a proposed fertilizer ordinance to help protect water quality in Tampa Bay.
The commissioners conceded an ordinance was needed; however, some questions remained as to its exact structure. Some commissioners favored a ban on the sale and use of fertilizer during the rainy season from June 1 to Sept. 30, and most favored making the ordinance countywide with an opt out for municipalities.
Two dominant points of view were expressed by the public. One group favored imposing the strictest measure possible to protect the water quality. A second group recommended less stringent measures.
 Studies have shown that stormwater runoff is a primary source of water pollution due primarily to improper fertilization techniques and overuse.
Will Davis, director of Pinellas County Environmental Management, said many facets were involved in any proposal toward a solution. He said the issue was a concern for Pinellas County as well as the state of Florida.
 “You’ll hear differences of opinion today, and you’ll hear consensus of opinion today, Davis said at the beginning of the work session.
He said much of the discussion would involve how to lessen the surface water impact by decreasing the total maximum daily loads of pollutants coming from improper fertilizer applications (either too much or at the wrong time).
Currently, the county has $30 million in budgeted capital improvement projects aimed at improving water quality of impaired waterways.
Davis said at a minimum it was recommended that the county adopt the state’s model ordinance which sets limits fertilizer amounts and time of application plus requires certification by professionals among other measures.
 Holly Green, executive director of Tampa Bay Estuary, talked to the board about the model fertilizer ordinance approved by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program Policy Board.
She also talked about the negative impact or excess nitrogen which is considered a major pollutant. She pointed to the 14-mile algae bloom in Tampa Bay this summer as an example problem.
Tampa Bay Estuary recommends the ban of fertilizer during the rainy season. The state model ordinance does not.
The ban is recommended to decrease the use of fertilizer at the time of the year when fertilizer most likely would be washed away by the rain to then run off into local waterways as a pollutant.
However, experts from the University of Florida cautioned the board to be wary of unintended consequences resulting from being too strict.
One of the university’s experts, George Hochmuth of the Institute of Food and Agriculture Science, said there was no science to prove that a summer ban on fertilizer sales and use would help improve water quality.
Representatives from the fertilizer and landscaping industry also were opposed to the summertime ban. The experts and those in the businesses outlined the benefits and needs of fertilizing during the summer months and the potential consequences to turf grass and other plants if a ban was imposed.
Some also were concerned about loss of business.
The commissioners said they did not intend to cause economic problems for professionals. Commissioner Ken Welch asked staff to “get on the phone” and talk to people in Sarasota County, which passed a fertilizer ordinance two years ago, to find out if any businesses had sustained losses because of the ordinance.
Welch and Commissioner Karen Seel suggested some allowances be included for professional application of fertilizer.
Commissioner Susan Latvala, who along with Commissioner John Morroni was most vocal in support for the summertime ban, said any allowances for professionals was nothing more than socio economic discrimination since only those who could afford to pay could fertilize in the summer.
Other concerns discussed included an effective date, the need for public education, code enforcement and requirements for the county’s municipalities. Gulfport and St. Petersburg have already passed a fertilizer ordinance.
All agreed that public education was a critical aspect since homeowners were more likely to misuse fertilizer than professionals who attend certification classes on fertilizer application.
The commissioners directed staff to draft an ordinance for future consideration.


Dry soil heightens wildfire threat
Palm Beach Post by ELIOT KLEINBERG
November 02, 2009
In Florida, a wildfire is as close as the next dry spell.
Even though the dry season started just days ago, an index that measures the dryness of soil, and thus the potential for fires, already shows all of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast is in the range of concern.
The National Weather Service last week predicted a wetter and cooler winter than usual.
But it and state Division of Forestry officials say a stretch with little or no rainfall, accompanied by heat, low humidity and high winds, can quickly lead to wildfires.
The Keetch-Byram Drought Index for South Florida shows disturbing patches of yellow, orange and red.
On the dryness scale of 1 to 800, Palm Beach County is between 450 and 500, Martin between 500 and 550, and St. Lucie and Okeechobee between 550 and 600.
Indian River is above 600.
"When you start hitting 400, it's time to start getting ready," said Scott Peterich, Florida Division of Forestry spokesman.
He warned that the figures reflect countywide averages and that some spots already are higher.
Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast have sandy soil that can dry out quickly, but soil in those counties' coastal areas is a little heavier and might be less prone to wildfires, Peterich said.
"Some of the areas where it's sandy, our rainfall is really easing off," Peterich said.
"The reality is right now we're seeing some of these areas that were holding water a month ago, there's no water in them."
The threat is not as potentially grave as it was in the past few years, when an extended drought dried out wetlands and dropped the level of Lake Okeechobee, leaving much of the former lake bed high and bone-dry.
Even with the drought easing, conditions can quickly deteriorate.
"If you go through a period of two weeks where you're supposed to be getting rain and you're not, that throws everything out," Peterich said.
"We hope it's a wetter than normal season," he said. "But we have to live day to day. If we don't get rain for a period of time, we're right back in that situation of a wildfire threat."
In fact, on one day this year, May 12, firefighters statewide dealt with 187 wildfires covering nearly 14,000 acres.
With summer rainfall slightly above the historical average, "there's lots of potential fuel out there," Peterich said.


'Environmentalists' hinder Everglades restoration
Palm Beach Post Letters to the Editor by GEORGE H. WEDGWORTH
November 02, 2009
The Everglades Foundation's rhetoric in its Oct. 26 letter to the editor regarding the foundation's desire to develop a collaborative relationship with "other" growers in the Everglades Agricultural Area to protect the Everglades cannot be taken seriously.
What they mean is that they support taking as much land in the EAA out of private ownership and limiting any land use through bogus buyouts, regulatory restrictions or land-use decisions.
All the farmers in the EAA have implemented best management practices that have resulted in a 68 percent reduction in phosphorus leaving the farming region in the 2008-09 water year. The long-term average reduction is above 50 percent, or twice what's mandated.
Additionally, all farmers pay a special tax of $25 per acre, or more than $200 million, to help pay for construction and operation of the regional treatment system. Under this program, according to the South Florida Water Management District's 2009 Environmental Report, more than 2,848 metric tons of phosphorus have been removed. This is the only significant project operational and providing benefits to the Everglades ecosystem.
Backed by the Everglades Foundation, the water district's efforts to accelerate key Everglades projects have been stalled or abandoned in favor of buying some of U.S. Sugar's land. Adding insult to injury, after wasting a half-billion dollars to "buy" 72,000 acres of scattered parcels and paying $1.5 billion in interest, U.S. Sugar will continue to farm the land for the next 20 years.
How does this advance Everglades restoration? In fact, it hampers restoration by virtually pledging all of the district's financial resources to implement a bogus land purchase deal cloaked as "restoration." Our tax dollars would be better spent completing the state's legislatively endorsed Acceler8 Program and the Northern Everglades Plan.
As the debate over where Palm Beach County should site an inland port continues, one message seems to be overlooked: The facility should be in Palm Beach County. It's the Port of Palm Beach's facility and it should benefit Palm Beach County, not Martin, not Hendry and not Glades.
The Palm Beach County Commission and Planning and Zoning Commission have determined that the site adjacent to Florida Crystals' Okeelanta industrial complex would be a compatible land use. The jobs and taxes would benefit Palm Beach County. Since the Okeelanta site is already industrial, the idea that a co-located inland port would hamper Everglades restoration is nothing more than a red herring. Don't be fooled by environmental activists' rhetoric.
George Wedgworth is president and CEO of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida.

Regional summit highlighted problems associated with climate change
Sun Sentinel Editorial Board
November 02, 2009
THE ISSUE: South Florida officials gather to discuss climate change.
The session had all the jargon that you'd expect at a "green" convention. The buzzwords were certainly well-known — "adaptation strategies," "global climate change," "regional collaboration," and "sustainable environment.
But, don't dismiss last month's "Regional Climate Leadership Summit" in Broward County as just another run-of-the-mill confab. The problems associated with climate change are real and are being felt in small but noticeable ways.
Flooding in parts of Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood can no longer be passed off as an inconvenience that can be simply fixed by unclogging sewer drains, experts at the summit pointed out. There's no simple solution either for Key West officials who must spend $350,000 to elevate a street in that city because rising sea levels have flooded out sections of the street.
Summit participants face their share of skeptics. Americans are in some ways no more worried about global warming than in years past, according to a Gallup Poll done earlier this year. The poll also found that only a third of respondents say that immediate action is needed to maintain life as we know it.
Amid a recession and two major wars, who has time to worry about the next four decades? The themes at the summit, however, merit our attention now.
Fortunately, the leaders gathered at the summit have taken steps to counter apathy as elected officials in Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach counties signed a compact that puts the four counties on a path to obtain federal funding to protect drinking water, encourage the use of alternative fuels and implement other environmentally friendly initiatives.
Taking a regional approach has merit, particularly when dealing with state and federal officials who believe that united efforts carry greater weight than attempts by individual jurisdictions in addressing complicated problems.
It should also serve as a model for other regions of the state to emulate, to draw the attention of federal policymakers and to help convince their own constituents that climate change is important to Florida now, not just in some far off future world, and deserves greater attention than it now receives.
BOTTOM LINE: Summit should be the first step in a regional approach to climate change.


Wet and wetter by DAVID DONALD
November 02, 2009
LEESBURG -- As water withdrawals threaten Florida's underground water supply, the state has been pushing local governments to find alternative sources of water for residential and commercial users.
That's why the city has partnered with Holloway Technology, which has developed an irrigation system to water trees and plants, while at the same time conserving and recycling water and eliminating the need for groundwater.
The partnership could help the city find ways to control water use and encourage water-friendly landscaping at the entrances of new residential subdivisions and commercial parks.
"We felt that we needed to find and provide better solutions," said Ray Sharp, Leesburg's director of environmental services and public works departments. "We can adapt those same principles and technologies to conventional landscaping."
At Holloway's research facility, 2620 Griffin Road in Leesburg, there are several large basins -- each about the size of a football field -- that are flooded to provide water directly to the roots of the potted ornamental trees and plants growing on the farm.
Any water the trees and plants don't use flows down into a retention pond where it is stored and ready to be used on the plants again. The ponds also capture rain and stormwater runoff
Sharp is working with Rufus Holloway, a medical doctor and Leesburg native who invented the hybrid irrigation system, on a project to test his irrigation methods on residential and commercial landscaping applications.
Plants surrounding a scenic pond rest in soil on top of an impermeable layer, which prevents water from seeping into the ground. Instead, the layer directs any water the plants don't use into the pond.
Water from the pond is regularly pumped underground to soak the roots of plants. And then the cycle repeats itself. Any unused water the plants don't use flows back into the pond.
To Holloway's and Sharp's surprise, in only three months time, the project's plants have flourished and matured so much it looks like any other landscaped area that's taken years to become established.
"The advantages are tremendous," Holloway said. "Plants grow more evenly and it doesn't use groundwater."
Soon, commercial and residential developers could have the option of using the same techniques and principles developed by Holloway in their subdivisions. Sharp said it could speed permitting with the water management district if an alternative water source is used to irrigate landscaping.
Holloway has received three U.S. patents for his irrigation inventions, according to the U.S. Patent Office. He's also been given several state and federal grants to continue developing his water-conservation projects.
His work has gained the attention of governments around the world interested in conserving drinking water.
"I don't think we've been very good guardians of our fresh water, as far as the world," Holloway said. "We're going to try, in our small way, to make a difference."


At 90, artist continues to paint, find beauty in the Everglades

Miami Herald by Annie Vazquez
November 1, 2009
Ever since Sam Vinikoff laid his eyes on the Everglades, he hasn't stopped painting the national park.
``You can't get bored of painting it,'' says Vinikoff, a London transplant, whose work hangs in galleries today and has amassed quite a following throughout the years. ``There's always something new to see when you go there.''
At 90, and battling severe arthritis, Vinikoff, who lives just north of Coral Gables, still manages to pay homage to nature -- only with a painting brush instead of pen.
While he is known best for his work on the River of Grass, his latest masterpiece to receive acclaim is actually an oil painting that shows an entirely different image.
Titled ``A View From Matheson Hammock,'' the painting illustrates just that at the park.
There are egrets and sea gulls hovering in a twilight sky, lush mangroves jutting out from beneath brackish water and in the distance Miami's skyline.
The painting was selected as the 19th Annual In the Park With Art's commemorative poster.
``We chose it because it depicts South Florida and the famous Matheson Hammock Park,'' said Yolly Buchmann, the president of the Cultural Council, a nonprofit made up of volunteers that brings artistic and cultural events to the South Dade community.
In the Park With Art continues this Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at The Palmetto Bay Village Center, 18001 Old Cutler Rd.
Copies of Vinikoff's painting will be for sale as well as some of his original works.
Vinikoff began participating in the fair when it first kicked off in 1986. He says he is flattered by the council choosing his painting for its annual poster.
``It's a great honor,'' he says. ``I still get emotional when people say they like my work.''
His eyes sparkle with excitement when he recalls the first time he was recognized for his talent.
He was 9 and was asked to draw a few pictures, one of them being the House of Parliament in London.
``All the children were asked to do it and the headmaster liked mine so much he made a big deal of it,'' he says.
The praise prompted him to keep drawing, then painting, even while growing up poor. He had to go to work at age 12. He toiled in a garment factory.
``I always found a way to paint and to take classes whenever I could,'' says Vinikoff, the son of Russian Jews who fled the Communists taking over in 1917.
His parents met and married in London, where Vinikoff was born.
He has been passionate about continuing his painting even when he worked other jobs.
``The only time it was hard was when I was in the British army,'' he says.
He served for seven years and fought in World War II, working mostly as a radio operator. It is an experience he doesn't like to speak about.
After years of working in the garment industry for a company called Windsmoor, he decided to move to Miami in 1957 with his family. Here, he was able to earn a living as an artist by drawing caricatures at hotels in Miami Beach and at weddings. He even penned a book, How To Speak Yiddish: One Easy Lesson.
The book he says was filled with caricatures of all the characters he had met in his life.
These days, Vinikoff prefers to paint the characters he meets.
And he still ventures off to the Everglades as many as four times a week to paint there.
From sunrise to sunset, he will be with his easel, canvas and paint, peacefully absorbed in his surroundings. Sometimes, the park rangers who all know him will take him deep into the Everglades on swamp buggies so he can paint certain scenes.
Neither the heat nor the creatures bother him.
In fact, he'd rather not have it any other way.
``I'm an outdoorsman. I spent most of my life indoors working,'' he says. ``Coming from London where it's dark and gray outside -- [but] the Everglades has color and trees and animals. In the Everglades, you never know if you're going to see a bear or a panther or a snake ready to bite.''
He says he has seen them all. The thrill of it is just as exciting as when he notices something like the layers of color on a tree bark.
``You don't see them right away,'' he explains. ``But there are purples and Indian red and browns.''
Only the eyes, of an artist like Vinikoff would notice such a thing and he knows it.
``I consider myself a very lucky person to be alive,'' says Vinikoff. ``I may have a few days left, but I'll continue to do this till my dying days.''


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