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County Commissioners delay vote on allowing rock mining
SunSentinel by Andy Reid
September 30, 2009
PALM BEACH COUNTY - A Palm Beach County Commission vote on whether to allow rock mining in an area targeted for Everglades restoration was delayed Tuesday until Oct. 22.
Star Ranch, mined by Broward County businessman Ron Bergeron's excavation operation, would expand its digging to almost 600 acres west of U.S. 27 in southwestern Palm Beach County.
Star Ranch, owned by Noel Shapiro, is next to land the South Florida Water Management District acquired as part of multibillion-dollar efforts to store and clean water to replenish the Everglades.
Environmental groups have objected to expanded rock mining in the agricultural area, saying it threatens to lead to water pollution and tie up land potentially needed for Everglades restoration.
Bergeron serves on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. He contends his mining operations do not get in the way of Everglades restoration.


EPA points to chemical threats, calls for expanded authority
Miami Herald by CURTIS MORGAN          
September 30, 2009
Top administrators are calling for expanding the EPA's authority to deal with growing concerns about public health threats posed by chemicals.
There are tens of thousands of chemicals in use in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency can't say for sure if many of them are safe and routinely takes years to assess the risks of ones in common use.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson called Tuesday for an overhaul of how the nation manages and assesses chemicals risks.
She branded existing laws -- regulated under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act -- as too slow, weak and tangled in red tape to address public anxiety about toxic threats in everyday items, from phthalates in plastic baby bottles to lead in toys.
``Not only has [the act] fallen behind the industry it is supposed to regulate, it has proven inadequate to assess the risks the public may face,'' she said.
Two key proposals could face industry resistance.
Jackson said manufacturers should be responsible for providing data showing chemicals are safe, rather than waiting for the EPA to determine they're dangerous.
She also called for industry to pick up more of the bill for assessing environmental and health risks.
The EPA's oversight of the chemical industry has been questioned for years.
In March 2008, the General Accounting Office issued a scathing report saying the EPA lacked ``adequate scientific information on the toxicity of many chemicals'' and was backlogged and sluggish in assessing commercial chemicals.
The EPA, the report found, completed only nine chemical risk assessments in three years and much of its information on 540 high-use chemicals was at risk of being obsolete.
As lax as the EPA has been on regulating chemicals, activists said the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has been even softer.
``It's a huge problem and Florida is even more behind than the EPA,'' said Linda Young, director of the Clean Water Network of Florida.
In June, arguing that Florida had ignored EPA standards for years, the group petitioned federal regulators to expand water quality and fish consumption standards for 54 potentially toxic chemicals.
DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said the 54 chemicals had not been found in Florida waters but the DEP planned to propose standards in the future ``in an abundance of caution.''
The DEP had been poised to do that last year, she said, but put it off because the EPA, as the result of a separate environmental lawsuit, also has demanded new nutrient pollution standards.
Jackson, in a conference call, outlined ``core principles'' intended to help shape expected new legislation. In hearings in June, Congress criticized EPA oversight.
While she also called for broader EPA review of chemicals, she didn't embrace the sweeping overhaul adopted by the European Union in 2007.
It will eventually require manufacturers to submit comprehensive toxic assessments, including for some 2,000 chemicals long in use.
Dan Newton, government relations manager for the Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates, said the industry agreed the system needed strengthening but called the EPA proposals too sketchy to assess.
He did applaud Jackson for ``resisting attempts by industry critics to adopt the monolithic European approach.''


Everglades reservoir halt leads to lawsuit
Palm Beach Post by Paul QUINLAN
September 30, 2009
WEST PALM BEACH — Even after the state pulled the plug on construction of a massive Everglades restoration reservoir, a new lawsuit threatens to add to the nearly $280 million South Florida taxpayers have spent on the cancelled project.
One of the contractors, the Kansas-based company Black & Veatch, says that the South Florida Water Management District's slow decision-making caused their 11-month portion of the job - which included design of pumps, bridges and other waterworks - to stretch approximately two years.
"There was indecision on what exactly they wanted," said attorney Mike Piscitelli. That cost Black & Veatch money, the company says.
They wrote the water agency last October, asking for $2.4 million on top of the contract's agreed-upon $3.4 million price tag. The district refused to pay more.
The water district declined to comment in detail on the suit, which was filed Sept. 14 in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.
"It's in litigation, and the district is preparing to file the responsive pleadings," said spokesman Randy Smith.
The agency killed the reservoir project in December so that the larger Everglades restoration plan could be reworked to include the 73,000 acres of farmland Gov. Charlie Crist has proposed buying from U.S. Sugar Corp. for $536 million. The change-of-course has proven expensive. The district paid about $25 million in fines and penalties to the primary contractor, Barnard Parsons Joint Venture, to have them put the project on hold and, ultimately, walk away.
About 200 workers who say they were promised several years' work were suddenly laid off and also are suing, alleging that Barnard Parsons owes them for unpaid overtime.


New nuclear reactors for South Miami-Dade ?
September 30, 2009
Environmentalists urged residents to think beyond planned power lines that may be installed along U.S. 1 and within Everglades National Park starting in 2012.
The main issue for them is Florida Power & Light's plan to build two more nuclear reactors at the Turkey Point nuclear power station east of Homestead.
``We need people to understand that this is a water-heavy project and we don't have enough water to give away,'' said Laura Reynolds, executive director of Tropical Audubon Society. The society held a workshop last Thursday with about 40 people at the Pinecrest Library, 5835 SW 111th St.
The shift in focus may or may not portend a split among groups that oppose all or some aspect of FPL's plan to expand their nuclear facility over the next12 years.
In recent months, residents and elected officials have complained about FPL's plan to install a 230-kV overhead transmission line along nearly 18 miles of U.S. 1 to connect Turkey Point to a substation in downtown Miami.
The lines are part of the overall plan to bring more nuclear reactors to Turkey Point. People have said they would prefer to see the lines buried.
``Most of the communities have not taken a stand on the nukes themselves,'' Cutler Bay Town Councilman Timothy Meerbott said Friday. ``There are 10 different points of view on this.''
Reynolds and other environmentalists said water, not power lines, is the key issue to focus on. The reason? ``The expanded plant would over tax our limited water supply,'' she said.
FPL spokesman Mayco Villafaña disputed that claim. ``The new units would be designed to recycle waste water that would otherwise not be reused,'' he said.
The company proposes to use up to 90 million gallons of treated waste water daily to cool the new reactors.
``The wastewater to be used by FPL,'' Villafaña said, ``does not diminish the allocations already made by the county for aquifer storage and recovery or ecosystem restoration, including Everglades restoration.''
But Reynolds said if Miami-Dade did not provide enough recycled water, a secondary source of water for the reactors would be wells drawing water from the Biscayne Aquifer.
Villafaña said she mischaracterized the proposal.
``The backup supply draws in seawater -- not freshwater -- in an environmentally safe manner,'' he said. ``The radial collector wells are respectful of the unique environment in the region and designed to have no significant adverse environmental impact.''
Environmentalists also worry that FPL's existing system of cooling canals is contributing to an underground saltwater wedge that could pose risks for drinking water wells for Homestead and Keys residents.
Villafaña said there is evidence that saltwater intrusion was occurring before the utility built its plant in the 1970s.
``The closest county drinking water well is approximately six miles from our site and there is no evidence whatsoever that water from the cooling canals has reached either of these sources,'' he said.
Walter Harris, president of the South Miami Homeowners Association, said he came to the Audubon meeting because as he learned more about the power lines, he realized there were bigger issues at hand, such as water and nuclear waste.
He disapproves of FPL's practice of storing used fuel rods at Turkey Point.
Attendees discussed writing letters to Gov. Charlie Crist and his cabinet, holding a protest march from Homestead to Turkey Point in November and proposing solar power instead of nuclear, as the way to generate more energy for the region.
South Miami Vice Mayor Brian Beasley attended the meeting and said he was comfortable that different groups ``are working on parallel tracks,'' referring to both anti-nuclear and anti-power-line efforts.
In the past month, South Miami has put on hold a resolution to hire consulting firm Kimley-Horn and Associates to study alternate routes and present them to FPL in a report.
Beasley said the city is trying to come to an agreement with the other affected municipalities to split the $86,000 tab for Kimley-Horn's services and give more heft to their efforts.
``We need to do this as a body of cities,'' he said.
Beasley also said state environmental regulators have given the cities more time to file alternate route studies.
The deadline for such proposals was extended from early October to January. Originally, the alternate routes being considered by South Miami included:
• Overhead lines, set up on existing FPL easements, running from the Davis substation at 13701 SW 127th Ave. east to the Don Shula Expressway and northeast to the Palmetto Expressway. From there they would run north to the Dolphin Expressway and east to the Downtown Miami substation.
• The same ``East Route'' proposed by FPL, with the power lines installed underground within South Miami's boundaries, on the stretch between Southwest 80th Street and Red Road.
Beasley said the second option is no longer being considered. He recently met with officials from the other affected cities to discuss other route possibilities.
``Problem is, nobody wants them in their backyard,'' he said.


Shovels Ready to Break Down the "Asphalt Dam" and Restore Everglades Water
Public News Service By Gina Presson
September 30, 2009
MIAMI, Fla. - It's been 20 years in the making, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is awarding an $81 million contract this week to a south Florida firm to break open what some call the "asphalt dam" across the Everglades - a portion of the Tamiami Trail. The project would replace some of the highway that has blocked waterflow in the River of Grass for 80 years, with a one-mile bridge the Corps is predicting will increase waterflow by 90 percent in the area.
According to Secretary Michael Sole, who heads the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the project will help revive native habitat for more than 60 threatened and endangered species.
"It's one of those critical projects which will allow water to flow more naturally into Everglades National Park. It's kind-of like a cork at the end of the funnel - and unless we release that cork, we're not going to get the water to where we need it."
Sara Fain, manager of the National Parks Conservation Association's Everglades Restoration Program, says Everglades National Park has been dying because of lack of water caused by the Tamiami Trail blockage. Such dry conditions have harmed the ecosystem by increasing wildfires, invasive plants and algae blooms, she explains.
"It's functioned as this unnatural dam that doesn't allow the water that Everglades National Park needs. In the Everglades, water is life - without water the Everglades ecosystem can't function - and this has just wreaked havoc on the ecosystem."
Fain calls the bridge a first step; plans for another 10 miles of bridges are on the drawing board for the U.S. National Park Service. She says they're also needed to unblock some of the deepest waters in the Everglades and to fully restore the River of Grass.
Sole agrees, protecting the Everglades should be a priority.
"So many people in Florida rely on these resources to make a living. So, we need to protect it, and we need to find sustainable ways to ensure their longevity."
The Miccosukee tribe had filed lawsuits to try to block the project, claiming that cleaning out existing culverts would provide faster relief. But Sole says the new bridge is a better method to help restore the ecosystem he says is critical to the south Florida economy. Construction could begin within a month, he says.


The harsh reality of bottled water
Herald by KAYLA GOGGANS H-T Intern
September 30, 2009
Bottled water is convenient, but cities throughout the country are finding that its costs outweigh the convenience and are taking steps to ban it.
Only 24 percent of plastic bottles are recycled into products such as clothing, fleece blankets and artificial lumber, according to an American Chemistry Council report.
The other 76 percent of water bottles end up in landfills, where they take hundreds of years to decompose while producing a toxic chemical called phthalate that is released into the soil.
In Florida, the water bottle could easily end up in the ocean, polluting the water and allowing marine life to eat toxic particles.
Locally, the environmental group ManaSota-88 has recommended that plastic bottles and bags be banned from landfills.
A bill to ban plastic bags failed in the state Legislature last year.
Compared with other communities, Florida cities have been slow to act on the plastic threat.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is taking an aggressive stance as part of California's campaign to go green.
In June, Newsom signed an executive order banning all use of city funds to buy single-serve bottles of water. In addition to the recycling problem presented by the container, Newsom points to problems with the contents: There is little difference between bottled water and tap water except for the cost.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require bottled water companies to disclose where the water came from, how it is treated or the contaminants that remain in the water.
The FDA surveyed 188 bottled water companies, and only eight revealed their water's source.
"One gallon of bottled water costs the same as 10,000 gallons of tap water," Newsom told Newsweek. "Developing the plastic for the water bottles and the cost of the water has a huge environmental and economic impact."
San Francisco is not alone; Seattle, Chicago and Salt Lake City are all moving to ban plastic bags and plastic water bottles. Mayor Greg Nickels of Seattle, like Newsom, is signing an executive order to stop the city from buying bottled water. Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson has banned all employees from using plastic water bottles. Chicago is putting a tax on water bottles, raising the price about 30 percent. Making the bottles also consumes millions barrels of oil annually.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission limited pthalates in toys and pacifiers in 1998 after multiple studies found that pthalates can cause cancer and disrupt the endocrine system.
The chemical makes plastic more pliable but it breaks down easily, according to a Commission report. That is why it is not a good idea to freeze water bottles or drink from them after they have been heated up in a car.


Town of Palm Beach Begs Residents: Stop Guzzling H2O
New Times by Gail Shepherd
September 30, 2009
Residents and businesses on the island of Palm Beach got a harsh green lesson this week when they were invited to the first of three water conservation "workshops" on Monday, to discuss a dirty little secret that many have known but few have talked of openly: the town is guzzling water. Palm Beachers use almost three times as much water as the rest of us -- an average of 1300 gallons a day per household, as compared to an average of 500 gallons for the hoi polloi across the bridge.
Workshop speakers admitted that the usage seemed excessive. Even accounting for the gigantic lawns, 25 foot hedges, and statues of peeing cupids favored by Palm Beach residents, along with his-and-her matching dishwashers, automated carwashes, and high-pressure bidets, they're still frankly using way more than they need to, officials said.
Mike Brown, the Civic Association's communications director told the Palm Beach Daily News that his goal was to get Palm Beach to reduce its water consumption by 60 percent, which would save 2.4 million gallons a day. The town's water contract with West Palm Beach expires in 2019, and the town is considering desalinization, or a reverse osmosis expansion to the existing West Palm plant -- steps that might not be necessary if residents hop on the conservation train and become "good stewards" of the environment
But in a town that hasn't shown much interest in downsizing, except for the minute blip after the Madoff scandal, Brown may find himself paddling upstream.


Anticipating global warming, scientists are measuring the long-term effect of extra carbon dioxide on marsh plants
Baltimore Sun by Timothy B. Wheeler
September 29, 2009
This lush marsh south of Annapolis seems like an alien landscape - clear plastic bubbles dot the watery plain, with curved white pipes poking, periscope-like, out of the tall, green grass.  The odd-looking structures spread across Kirkpatrick Marsh are providing researchers with a peek into Earth's future, helping them understand how climate change could alter the world we live in.
For the past 23 years, Bert Drake and other scientists at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Shady Side have been monitoring the growth of marsh grasses and plants encased in the clear plastic bubbles on the fringe of the Rhode River. Those patches have been fed a steady diet of air enriched with carbon dioxide - the gas scientists say is driving our climate toward irrevocable change as human activity spews more of it into the atmosphere.
What Drake and colleagues have found is good news, of a sort. These wetlands, which help protect the Chesapeake Bay from water pollution, might also offer some protection from the climate upheaval that experts expect to come with rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Three-square, or scirpus olneyi, a sedge blanketing this salt marsh and commonly found throughout much of North America, grows thicker and faster as it's fed more carbon dioxide, Drake says.
Scientists have known for quite a while that plants generally grow better when exposed to air with higher-than-normal concentrations of carbon dioxide. But some shorter studies suggested that the plants' growth spurt would tail off after a few years. With funding at first from the Department of Energy and more recently from the U.S. Geological Survey, Drake and colleagues tested the long-term effects by piping carbon dioxide into chambers enclosing the marsh plants. The clear plastic allowed sunlight to penetrate, so plants' photosynthesis was not affected. The researchers enriched the air inside to double the level of CO2 in the open air outside - about how concentrated the gas might be in the Earth's atmosphere by the end of the century, Drake notes, given current increases from burning fossil fuels.
They compared the number and size of plants inside the chambers with patches of vegetation outside in the open air, and they checked the carbon-dioxide effect on another marsh plant, Spartina patens, or saltmeadow cordgrass, which is known not to respond to elevated levels of the gas.
Now, after more than two decades of tracking in the longest-running field study of its kind, Drake can say, "The bottom line is these plants have taken up a lot more carbon over the course of the study." And they don't become saturated.
Scientists have found similar responses in other plant communities. Drake and others have monitored a tract of scrub oak forest near Kennedy Space Center in Florida for more than a decade, and found the bushy trees also took off with a boost in carbon dioxide. Drake has been working recently with researchers setting up a parallel experiment in Norway on the edge of the Arctic.
But the Smithsonian scientist cautions that plants likely won't save the planet from gorging on greenhouse gases. That's because his research also has found that the marsh plants' growth really is controlled by several factors - the most important being how much water they get.
"It depends very much on rainfall. If there's no water, it can't work," he says of the marsh sedge's tendency to act like a carbon sponge.
That could be a problem, because scientists predict that climate shifts could disrupt precipitation patterns in this region. Rain and snow might fall more heavily in winter and spring, climate models indicate, but less frequently, coming in big storms followed by dry spells. Moisture in soil and plants also is likely to evaporate more readily as temperatures gradually climb.
"It's good news and bad news," concludes Drake. "It's great if the plants can take up CO2, but they may not be able to do that."
Patrick Megonigal, one of Drake's Smithsonian colleagues, has found similarly mixed news about the ability of marshes like this to cope with another climate-change impact - rising sea level.
Scientists have worried that as polar ice melts and the oceans warm, sea level will rise by several feet over the next century and could essentially drown wetlands, which serve as nature's kidneys. They filter nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment out of water draining off the land before they can foul rivers and bays like the Chesapeake.
But Megonigal and colleagues have learned that the same carbon dioxide believed to be fueling rising sea levels might also help salt marshes outgrow rising waters - for a time, anyway. The extra greenhouse gas stimulates root growth, building up the surface of the marsh. Kirkpatrick Marsh apparently has managed to survive in this spot for thousands of years even though sea level has been slowly rising.
"It's one of those silver lining stories," says Megonigal, 50, a senior scientist. He notes that probes sunk into the muck beneath the marsh have found evidence it has risen in elevation by about 15 feet in the last 10,000 years, since the end of the last Ice Age.
"As sea level rose, this marsh, millimeter by millimeter, built its own soil out of dead plant material and rose 15 feet," he says. He and his research team set up their own village of clear plastic chambers on the marsh to pipe carbon dioxide in to patches of vegetation, then carefully monitored the level of the mucky soil in which the plants were growing to see if, and how fast, it rose.
Four years on, they've found, as Drake's longer study did, that giving the plants more carbon dioxide boosts the elevation of the marsh above sea level.
He cautions, however, that all types of wetlands may not respond the same way to increased carbon dioxide, and that even salt marshes such as this one might not survive if sea level rises at an increasing rate, as many project it will. A faster rise in the seas could outstrip the ability of the marsh to stay above water.
"This won't eliminate the dangers of rising sea level for marshes," he says. "It will only mitigate it." He figures there's a "window of opportunity" to curb the increase in sea level over the next several decades before it overwhelms the marsh's natural buildup.
Should marshes like this go under, that could spell more trouble for the beleaguered Chesapeake Bay, since all the nitrogen locked up in the wetland soil and vegetation would be released into waters already choking on too much of the nutrient. That's just one of the reasons why scientists have warned that climate change could complicate the effort to restore the bay.
"It's a very complex picture," concludes Drake, who at 73 is approaching retirement. He's working now to get all the data archived from his 23-year experiment - archived so it can be carried on by other scientists. And he's using the insights he's gained from decades of studying climate-change questions to speak in public more about what's known - and still uncertain - about how humans are changing the Earth.
Of one thing he's certain - change is happening now. In the time since he began his study more than two decades ago, carbon dioxide levels in the air over the marsh have increased by more than 12 percent, and sea level there has risen by about 4 inches.
"We still don't know what to say about how the effects of climate change are going to affect ecosystems," he says, "but we're starting to really worry."


Everglades to get water relief from $81 mln bridge
Reuters by Pascal Fletcher
September 29, 2009
MIAMI (Reuters) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has awarded an $81 million contract to a Florida company to build a road bridge that will help restore fresh water flows in Everglades National Park, nourishing its ecosystem.
Beginning in November 2009, Kiewit Southern Company of Sunrise, Fla. will remove one mile of the Tamiami Trail road that crosses the park -- environmentalists view the section as a harmful barrier to natural water flows to the northeastern Everglades -- and replace it with the bridge.
"Tamiami Trail currently acts as a dam that starves the Park of its lifeblood -- water," Dan Kimball, superintendent of Everglades National Park, said in a statement posted on the website of the Jacksonville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which announced the awarding of the contract.
The contract includes constructing the bridge, and raising and reinforcing an additional 9.7 miles of the Tamiami Trail, allowing higher water levels in an adjacent canal, which will drive increased flows into the park.
Completion of the bridge and road-raising was projected for 2013. Funding for the construction project was provided by the Department of the Interior, the statement said.
"The bridge and roadway modifications will not only supply much needed water to imperiled wildlife and vegetation in the Park, but they will also result in ecosystem restoration benefits to the greater Everglades," Kimball said.
The initiative to improve natural fresh water flows to the Everglades, which is also known as the "River of Grass" and is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, dates back to the Everglades National Park Protection and Expansion Act approved by the U.S. Congress in 1989.
The proposed modification of the Tamiami Trail had been plagued by bureaucratic delays and infighting and lawsuits.
Tamiami Trail was built in the 1920s so vehicles could travel between Tampa and Miami, two of the earliest centers of population growth in southern Florida. Decades later, conservationists identified the trail as one of the most serious threats to the ecological health of the Everglades.
In 2008, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had estimated the cost of the project to be approximately $200 million. But the Corps website statement said changes in the nation's economy over the last year had dramatically decreased the project's cost to less than 50 percent of the original estimate.


Faith Eidse: Students find that wetlands matter
September 29, 2009
Globally, wetlands harbor 5,000 plant and 190 amphibian species, a third of all bird life, most of our fish nurseries and half our threatened or endangered species.
Declarations of World Wetlands Day, Seagrass Awareness Month, World Water Day, Get Outdoors Florida!, World Water Monitoring Day, National Public Lands Day and Pollution Prevention Week raise citizen awareness. We learn that wetlands help purify our environment by reducing flooding and erosion and gradually releasing stormwater. They hold sediment, filter excess nutrients and provide natural recreation.
To transmit this critical knowledge, the Northwest Florida Water Management District staff has taken a tabletop model into a dozen area schools this spring and fall. More than 800 middle-school students observed the effects of stormwater pollution on our communities. They saw what happens when we carelessly discard motor oil, use too much fertilizer, permit loose sediment to erode into our waterways, permit septic systems to leach into surface and groundwater and throw trash on the ground.
Students were invited to pour "contaminants" (a cocoa-water mix) into factory plumbing and watch an accidental discharge pollute the beach. This is point-source pollution; they could point to the outfall source. However, our biggest culprit is nonpoint-source pollution. This results when stormwater scours our streets, yards and neighborhoods, contributing about 75 percent of our surface water pollution.
Students sprinkled fertilizer (green drink powder) on miniature lawns, a hotel beachfront, a tilled field and a cow pasture. We sprinkled pesticides (red drink powder) on lawns, golf courses and tilled fields. Oil and gas (more cocoa-water mix) dripped on roads, gas stations and parking lots from leaky cars. We sprinkled loose sediment (cocoa powder) on the farmer's field and at a construction site. We lifted the cover of an underground storage tank and discovered a leaking tank. Wastewater filtered into an outdoor clarifier tank at a treatment plant and flowed from a house into a septic system and drain field.
Students then sprayed "rain" on the model and watched loose dirt flow from the field into a holding pond. It then overflowed into streams, rivers and estuaries. It flowed from the construction site over streets and lawns, carrying fertilizers, pesticides, greases, oils and waste water into a wetland (represented by a sponge). The sponge absorbed the green, red and brown runoff. More water, however, flowed down streets into sewage pipes and emptied a brown plume into the bay. As the "rain" continued, the pollution covered oyster beds and reached coral reefs.
The district recently partnered with Eastpoint, Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola to install stormwater treatment vaults along shoreline highways. The underground concrete structures slow stormwater, settle out sediments, strain trash and soak up grease and oil. Along Choctawhatchee Bay, drainage ditches were converted to treatment marshes that slowed stormwater and increased filtration.
We discussed many other solutions, as well. The farmer could plow along the contour of the hill and build a berm on the low end of the field to keep seeds, soil and fertilizer from washing away. Also, the farmer could leave a plant buffer around his holding pond to soak up more runoff. The golf course and beach hotel proprietors could leave a natural border along drainage ditches and coastlines.
The construction worker could use plastic silt fencing or hay bales to decrease erosion of property. Residents could use less fertilizer and watch the weather so they don't waste it before a downpour. They could use drought-tolerant native plants to save water and fertilizer. Driveways made of permeable asphalt or blocks absorb runoff, and use motor oil should be taken to collection sites.
We placed a cover over the wastewater treatment plant clarifier tank to show how spills can be avoided during downpours. A stormwater pond was dug near open water to catch runoff and settle out pollutants so that only clean top water flows into the lake. Localities can pass laws requiring property owners to maintain natural buffers along shorelines — 50 to 100 feet or better. Rare species may need a 1,000-foot buffer.
Miniature boats trolled the waters, and we discussed requiring adequate pump-out facilities for boat sewage. Students "dredged" sand from a navigation channel and avoided depositing it in the wetlands.
Wetlands purify our environment, and protect and enrich our lives. To identify wetlands, notice the soggy feel of the soil and the plants adapted to wet periods. Watch for snakes, birds and a variety of plant life. Shorelines are ribbons of life worth protecting for our children and grandchildren.


Firm awarded Tamiami Trail bridge project
Miami Herald By Curtis Morgan
September 29, 2009
A Sunrise firm won the contract for a long-delayed project to improve water flow to Everglades National Park.
After two decades, numerous changes of plans and multiple lawsuits, the federal government is finally ready to break open the asphalt dam across the Everglades called the Tamiami Trail.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Monday announced it has awarded an $81 million contract to a Sunrise firm to replace a section of road that has blocked the flow of the River of Grass for 80 years with a one-mile-long bridge.
It's a big breakthrough -- and not just because the bid came in $120 million cheaper than expected.
``This is a very, very significant step,'' said Dan Kimball, superintendent of Everglades National Park. ''It really puts us on a path for a ground-breaking we've been looking forward to for 20 years.''
The project is critical to both restoring water flow to the park and something just as important to Everglades restoration -- public and political support for projects dogged by interagency bickering, repeated delays and spiraling cost projections.
Building the bridge would close a long and ugly chapter in what the National Research Council last year pronounced ``one of the most discouraging stories in Everglades restoration.'' It was 1989 when Congress originally approved the Trail overhaul.
Environmentalists were thrilled.
``There are few projects as important to the recovery of the Everglades and Florida Bay as the bridging of Tamiami Trail,'' said Kirk Fordham, chief executive officer of The Everglades Foundation.
The Miccosukee Tribe, which filed four separate lawsuits intended to block the work, was not happy. The tribe had won an eight-month injunction a federal judge lifted in June, citing an order from Congress granting the Corps an extraordinary exemption from federal environmental laws to expedite the project.
The tribe has argued that a $17 million plan to clean out existing culverts would provide faster relief to high water damaging tribal lands and wildlife north of the Trail.
``Interesting that we would repeal the nation's preeminent environmental laws in the nation's preeminent environmental project,'' said Tribe attorney Dexter Lehtinen.
The bridge is the key component of the Modified Water Deliveries projects, a suite intended to bring more water to the Northeast Shark River Slough, the park's strangled headwaters. Under congressional orders, completing the work is mandatory before other Everglades projects approved in 2000 can begin.
Though the bridge is scheduled for completion in 2013, the Corps acknowledged it could take another three years or more before more water is actually flowing through it. The agency first must complete more planning and other projects to reduce flood risks to western suburbs from higher water levels in the Everglades.
Still, Col. Al Pantano, commander of the Corps' Jacksonville district, called the contract a ``momentous achievement.''
The Corps calculates that the bridge, to be built about 11 miles west of Krome Avenue, would increase water flow by 90 percent -- enough to exceed an interim target Congress requested last year -- and improve conditions for native plants and wildlife.
That would still be about half what the project was ultimately supposed to deliver and even less than the flow from a seven-mile ``skyway'' some environmental groups had championed. But the Corps is under congressional pressure to control costs and the bridge will run a small fraction of the cost of the skyway -- and less than half of the $194 million the Corps projected last year.
The Corps will pay Kiewit Southern Co. of Sunrise $81 million to both build the bridge and raise and reinforce about 10 miles of the historic road to withstand higher water levels in the adjacent L-29 canal. Spokeswoman Nanciann Regalado said the Corps is seeing lower bids across the country, reflecting increased competition among contractors in a difficult economy and declining costs of fuel and materials.
Gov. Charlie Crist and U.S. Sen. George Lemieux, Crist's new appointee, also released statements calling the work important.
Fordham credited Crist and the Obama administration, which has pledged nearly a half-billion dollars toward Everglades projects in coming years, for reviving the effort and creating ``a refreshing spirit of cooperation'' that has eased years of agency dispute.


Ken Burns' Ode to the National Parks Airs on PBS Documentaries by Jennifer Merin,
September 29, 2009
Ken Burns' six-episode series The National Parks: America's Best Idea is currently airing on PBS, and it's a must see.
Burns and writer/co-producer Dayton Duncan worked on the series for six years, filming at America's most spectacular natural wonders. The series presents breathtaking images of protected national park locales from Acadia to Yosemite, Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon, Florida's Everglades to Alaska's Arctic wilderness.
But the series is more than just pretty pictures.
As the America's Best Idea part of the title suggests, the series connects the creation of national parks and the stories of conservationists -- men like John Muir, who is profiled in the first episode -- who helped to establish them to the very core values of American social and political ideology, and its historical evolution. The series clearly points out that these lands belong to the American people in perpetuity, and must be protected, and that all people must have equal access to them. This, suggests the series, exemplifies democracy, and it is an education about the meaning of the word and a lesson in the way it should work.
Whether you've toured the national parks, dreamed of doing so or never even thought of taking such a trip, the National Parks series is an entertaining and thoroughly satisfying travelogue. Replete with its rich cinematography, archival footage, personal profiles and interviews with historians, Sierra Club experts and other concerned citizens, it becomes almost as much of a national treasure as the national parks it documents. You can see it now on PBS, and it will eventually be available for watching online and on DVD. And, as usual, you'll find a remarkable wealth of background and educational material on the PBS Website.


Water and wastewater merger on tap for upcoming meeting
TCPALM by Ed Bierschenk
September 29, 2009
VERO BEACH — Indian River County Commission Chairman Chairman Wesley Davis is hoping to find out whether it is feasible for the county to provide water and wastewater treatment to the part of the barrier island that is now handled by Vero Beach.
Davis said finding the answer to that question is one of the reasons he has requested a joint meeting with representatives of the county and Vero Beach and Indian River Shores on Oct. 15.
The city’s charges for water and wastewater treatment have been lower than the county, but that will change under increases recently approved by the City Council along with others being proposed for the future.
There has been discussion over the years about moving the city’s sewage plant away from the Indian River Lagoon.
The county has excess capacity to treat the city’s wastewater if the two systems were to merge because some of the housing developments that some of the county’s treatment plants were built to serve were never built, according to county Utility Services Director Erik Olson.
Still, these developers paid a fee to have these treatment plants constructed and retain a portion of the treatment capacity for their developments when they are eventually built. Olson noted that the county built capacity beyond what was needed for the proposed developments in anticipation of future growth.
City water and sewer customers also would be charged a fee for the additional capacity that might be needed to serve them. Olson said even with those extra charges, however, customers switching to the county might pay less than they would if they stayed with the city.
City customers could incur additional charges for the cost of tearing down and moving what is still a functioning plant on the Indian River Lagoon, although Olson speculates there might be a better chance of getting grants to pay for such costs if the county and city were to merge operations.
Selling the land the plant sits on to help reduce these costs could be difficult. The city charter calls for it to stay as a park unless voters decide otherwise.
County Commissioner Bob Solari contends the land is really an asset of the city’s Water and Wastewater enterprise fund that is made up of fees paid by customers and as such should be used to help pay down the cost of any movement of the plant. He said if the city wants to keep it as parkland then the city should use money in its general fund to buy it from the enterprise fund.
The Council next Tuesday also will address the creation of a Utility Authority to oversee the city’s utilities, including water, wastewater, and electric.
Under the proposed ordinance, two members will be city residents, two would be from the unincorporated area of the county, and one would be from Indian River Shores. Two other members would come from anywhere within the city’s electric service area.
All members of the authority would have to be customers of the electric service system, which is not a requirement under the city’s Utilities Advisory Commission, which would be abolished under the ordinance.
The authority would have the ability to set rates, fees, and charges after a public hearing as well as establish policy for the utility systems. The council would retain the ability, however, to reject any matters approved by the authority.
Stephen Faherty, a critic of the current advisory commission set-up, does not see the proposed authority as much of a change — since the council will still have the power to make the ultimate decisions regarding the utilities.
“The new “Authority” has little authority and is virtually no different than the existing (advisory commission) which will still have to hire consultants as it does now for rates, etc., and have everything approved by the City Council,” wrote Faherty in an e-mail.
Faherty and fellow city utilities’ critic Glenn Heran are also seeking a hearing before the state’s Public Service Commission on the city’s electric system. Faherty said he wants a referendum that could allow customers living outside the city the ability to switch to Florida Power & Light. He would like to see a referendum for voters within the city to decide whether they want to sell off the electric system and merge water and wastewater operations with the county.


EPA seeks to limit plane deicing chemical runoff
Palm Beach Post by MELANIE S. WELTE
September 29, 2009
DES MOINES, Iowa — Every winter, airports across the country spray millions of gallons of deicing chemicals onto airliners and allow the runoff to trickle away. When the chemicals end up in nearby waterways, the deicing fluid can turn streams bright orange and create dead zones for aquatic life.
The practice is legal, but environmental officials want it to stop.
"We normally don't think of airports as one of our major polluting facilities," said Chuck Corell, water quality bureau chief with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. "I think it's safe to say that for years it was unchecked."
Not every airport lets the chemicals drain off the tarmac uncollected, but those that do range from some of the nation's largest — including John F. Kennedy in New York and Chicago's O'Hare — to small regional airports such as the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids. Both activists and federal environmental officials say the chemicals slowly create waterways that won't support life.
"Here you have millions of gallons a year of this deicing chemical running off untreated directly into that bay," said Larry Levine, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which sued New York over deicing chemicals that flow from JFK into the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. "Anything that can't swim away is going to die."
Proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations would require airports to capture at least some of the deicing fluid after it is used to rid planes of ice and snow. The agency says those rules would reduce by 22 percent the discharge of chemicals, which lower oxygen levels in waterways and prevent fish and other aquatic creatures from breathing.
The two main types of deicing fluids — propylene glycol and ethylene glycol — are not generally seen as a threat to human health. Ethylene glycol, which also is used in antifreeze, is generally only toxic in humans if ingested. Propylene glycol is a "generally recognized as safe" additive for foods and medications, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Under the EPA's proposed regulations, six of the nation's 14 major airports that are the biggest users of deicing fluid — JKF, O'Hare, Cleveland-Hopkins International, Newark Liberty International in New Jersey, Boston Logan International and LaGuardia Airport in New York — would have to install deicing "pads" or other collection systems to contain 60 percent of fluid sprayed.
The airports would then have to make sure the collected liquid was treated to remove any toxins, the EPA said.
Officials at five of those six airports either said they were meeting all current runoff rules or declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the Cleveland airport said that facility already uses a deicing pad.
Mary Smith, director of engineering and analysis division in the EPA's Office of Water, said the other eight major airports already have deicing pads and probably won't have to make changes to comply with the proposed rules.
About 200 smaller airports would be required to collect 20 percent of the fluid by using technologies such as a glycol recovery vehicle, which is basically a vacuum that sucks up the chemical. Airports with less than 1,000 annual jet departures wouldn't be affected.
Dean Schultz, a spokesman for the American Association of Airport Executives, criticized the proposed rules as unnecessary. He pointed to current regulations in which the EPA or an authorized state agency issues general permits or more detailed individual permits that cover deicing discharges. Schultz said additional rules would be redundant and costly.
"We all don't have the same issues. We all don't dump to the same discharge waters," Schultz said. "It's a bit of a shotgun approach to solving the problem when there's already a mechanism in place to deal with it in a more case-by-case basis."
Under existing rules, adopted in the 1990s, airports are required to minimize contamination of stormwater runoff and must monitor for pollutants, including deicing fluid. Some states have required additional measures when reports showed high levels of the chemicals.
Environmental officials in Iowa discovered the issue after residents complained. At the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids, neighbors living along a creek noticed the water had turned bright orange. At Des Moines International Airport, neighbors reported water that had a green, cloudy tint with a sweet, chemical odor. A rusty orange fungi was on the creek bed, according to a report by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
In both cases, the state Department of Natural Resources ordered fixes. The Cedar Rapids airport, which was told to fix the problem last January, has appealed. Des Moines in 2000 spent $10 million on a containment system and immediately saw a difference.
"Once the collection system was put in place and operational, I noticed the fish and aquatic life in the creek," said John Wheeler, the airport's environmental manager.


Avoid leaving waste for our local landfills -- create compost instead
The PalmBeach Post by George Rogers
September 28, 2009
Recently I enjoyed visiting The Breakers Hotel on Palm Beach for a behind-the-scenes peek at a marvelously magnificent composting machine. Breakers Landscape Manager Lloyd Singleton teaches Horticulture at PBCC, hence my invitation to witness this modern marvel. The machine belongs to the South Dade Soil and Water Conservation District, and it couldn't have a better place to bump and grind.
The composter is the missing link between two hotel activities: whipping up lots of food, and cultivating lots of flowers. On the one hand, feeding hundreds of happy guests generates tons of vegetable scraps supplemented with garden clippings. On the other hand, The Breakers is famous for its annuals, herbs, vegetables, palms, and woody ornamentals.
Why truck away all those organic scraps to the landfill - right through the middle of Palm Beach and West Palm Beach - when they have a far better fate as compost? We need the big machine.
The composter grinds up the scraps, smooshes the pulverized bits into its belly with a giant- screw, and composts them in a revolving insulated drum resembling a cement mixer. Waste-munching microbes heat the brew to about 140 degrees, which accelerates the process. Scraps-in to compost-out is a matter of days; then the product goes into piles for extra curing. The result is a brown, crumbly, un-stinky, natural material to return to the soil. Mother Nature says, "Yes!"
What's the big deal? The composting machine creates sustainability on wheels. Landfills nationwide are choking on kitchen scraps and garden trimmings. Yet at the same time we buy all manner of attractively labeled bagged soil amendments and chemical additives at stores.
The peat moss we gardeners love is mined unsustainably from ancient bogs, which are natural ecosystems and even archaeological sites before we dig them up. In contrast with those expensive bagged products and unnatural garden inputs let me recite the compost mantra: compost at no cost improves soil structure; breaks up clay; binds loose sand; retains water; drains freely; aerates; acidifies; buffers; supports beneficial microbes; discourages nematodes; modifies the soil temperature; and releases a wide range of natural "fertilizer" nutrients.
Compost promotes happy healthy plants, and plants in good shape don't tempt us to spray stuff with scary warning labels. Now that's recycling!


Canal built for rockets stands in path of Everglades renewal
Miami Herald By Curtis Morgan
September 28, 2009
Of the many engineering atrocities inflicted on the Everglades, the C-111 ranks high on the list. The canal was cut across deep South Miami-Dade in the 1960s for the Aerojet Corp., which was then building moon rocket engines so big they had to be barged.
The rocket plant closed decades ago. The C-111, also known as the Aerojet canal, has remained, sucking water that once flowed into Florida Bay and piping it 20 miles the wrong way, east across U.S. 1 into Barnes Sound.
Now, after years of delay, the South Florida Water Management District is poised to begin healing the unnatural wound of the C-111 with $25 million in projects.
By the multibillion-dollar measuring stick of Everglades restoration, the construction work is simple and cheap. But the first step toward fixing the C-111 still faces myriad challenges, making it a microcosm of the broader effort to revive the River of Grass.
Farmers worry raising water in the Glades will flood fields. Environmentalists worry the marsh and bay won't get better if water isn't raised high enough. A commercial fish farm, as well as the nesting grounds of a tiny federally endangered bird, are in the way. The Army Corps of Engineers, federal partners in the restoration, is running years behind on legally required planning.
"And this is one of the easy ones," district Executive Director Carol Ann Wehle said.
Next month, the district's governing board will vote on three contracts for the first phase of the C-111 overhaul. They postponed the decision this month when a farmer challenged a key state permit.
The C-111 is so wide and deep that Everglades National Park hydrologists estimate it collects three-quarters of the water that once flowed south through Taylor Slough into Florida Bay. That leaves parts of the bay too salty and a poor environment for fish, crabs and wading birds. In turn, Barnes Sound, where the C-111 floodgates spill, has been periodically trashed with storm water.
Initial work calls for 590 acres of "cells," or retention ponds, to hold storm water in an area known as the Frog Pond, and two new pumping stations. Berms and plugs would be added in the C-111 and two connecting canals. Then, water levels in the southernmost canals will be slowly raised — one-tenth of a foot a year for five years — to assess the impacts.
The goal is to create what engineers call an hydrologic divide, or an underground wedge of water to blunt the canal's pull though the porous limestone aquifer.
"It's a good start," said Robert Johnson, director of science for Everglades National Park. "It's really just diverting water to keep more of it in the park. Eventually we're going to need a lot more coming from the north."


Mining plan goes to County Commission, environmentalists raise concerns
SunSentinel by Andy Reid
September 28, 2009
Palm Beach County commissioners Tuesday decide whether to allow rock mining to expand in an area targeted for Everglades restoration.
Star Ranch, mined by Broward County businessman Ron Bergeron’s excavation operation, would expand its digging to almost 600 additional acres west of U.S. 27 in southwestern Palm Beach County.
Bergeron serves on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. His company has mined Star Ranch for two decades and he contends that the excavations do not hamper Everglades restoration.
Star Ranch, owned by Noel Shapiro, is beside land the South Florida Water Management District acquired as part of the multibillion-dollar effort to store and clean stormwater to replenish the Everglades.
The district in a letter to the county raised concerns that expanded mining “could potentially affect the district’s restoration plans and future facilities and reduce the environmental benefits of the projects.”
Environmental groups have objected to expanded rock mining in the agricultural area, arguing that it threatens to lead to water pollution and tie up land potentially needed for Everglades restoration.
County commissioners Tuesday consider whether to grant the zoning approvals needed for the rock mining proposal to proceed.


Offshore drilling is not worth the risks to the Florida gulf coast
St Petersburg Times by  Dan DeWitt
September 28, 2009
The Gulf of Mexico at Bayport is clear enough that James Frost could look down from the pier Tuesday and see crab traps a dozen feet underwater. The view offshore was of barrier islands covered with palms and sawgrass and not much else.
"I'm going to die here,'' said Frost, 48, of Virginia, who after his visit last week planned to move to Hernando County. "I came out here yesterday and said, 'Ahhh, thank you, Jesus.' "
For all the talk of Florida's diminished appeal, its coast still has this effect on people — draws them to visit, persuades them to live here. As former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham once said, shoreline is to Florida what mountains are to Colorado.
"When you start to quantify it with a dollar amount, you're talking about billions of dollars in tourism and wildlife viewing,'' said Joe Murphy, Florida program coordinator for the Gulf Restoration Network.
"Leave it alone, and you can cash those checks for 10 generations.''
I called Murphy last week after the Times' statewide environmental reporter, Craig Pittman, wrote about the plans of a mysterious company, Florida Energy Associates LLC, to drill in state-controlled water between 3 and 10 miles offshore — and about a powerful lawmaker's proposed bill to allow drilling as close as 5 miles out.
The Pinellas beaches would be off limits. So would the Florida Keys and aquatic preserves stretching from Levy County to the Panhandle. That leaves a major gap off the coast of Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties that Murphy calls the "oil drilling sacrifice zone.''
He hates the idea, of course, and from the pier pointed out what we'll likely see if the state Legislature approves the bill:
An industrialized shoreline, with stations to separate water and natural gas from the oil, as well as docks and, maybe, new channels dug to shuttle crews and supplies to the rigs.
We would be able to see those rigs, of course, but not the releases of mercury and other toxins in the "mud'' used to lubricate drill bits. There could be devastating spills such as the one coming from a wellhead (a modern, high-tech one, by the way) that is currently spewing thousands of barrels per day off the coast of Australia, or smaller ones that in the United States account for a total of 3,898 barrels, on average, every year, according to an industry group.
Drilling so close to shore means these spills would go directly into estuaries and seagrass beds off Hernando and Citrus that are vital to the gulf's fishery.
"From an environmental perspective, from a habitat perspective, there's no difference from what's in Levy County and what's right here,'' Murphy said.
Then you hear from Florida Energy representatives, who say that mud is just that — wet clay — that will in any case be shipped onshore and recycled.
The drilling rigs are not the multistory giants used in deep water, but "jack-up'' platforms barely visible from shore, and removed as soon as the wellheads can be linked to pipelines, said Ryan Banfill, who works for a Tallahassee public relations firm hired by Florida Energy.
The murky water and tar balls associated with drilling in Louisiana and Texas come from a combination of natural soil conditions, Banfill said, and old, "Eisenhower-era'' rigs and pipelines. Florida Energy, on the other hand, will use the latest, cleanest and safest equipment.
And, though he didn't say this, the drilling sacrifice zone could also be called the out-of-work zone.
Hernando's and Pasco's unemployment rates are more than 12 percent. The shoreline here is less of a draw to tourists than, for example, the beaches of Pinellas. And both counties desperately need to develop industry other than housing.
If Florida Energy can find as much oil in state water as it says — 16 billion barrels over the next 20 years — it would create 231,000 jobs.
What to make of all this?
Well, there's no doubt drilling is cleaner than it once was. Even Richard Charter, a veteran anti-drilling activist from California, said the industry has reduced the levels of toxins in the mud and that it is no longer mixed with petro-chemicals.
But it's also clear that spills, at least minor ones, are possible, and even likely. And the assurances that Banfill and other industry representatives offer, that local government would have the power to control onshore industrial use and that the Legislature can impose environmental restrictions on drilling, are not reassuring at all, considering the company is wealthy enough to have hired some of Tallahassee's most powerful lobbying firms.
Also, I wouldn't get overly excited about the potential windfall from drilling locally, or the environmental threat for that matter.
Though Doug Daniels, a Daytona Beach lawyer working for Florida Energy, said the estimates of oil reserves come from major companies — and that his employer wasn't prepared to write off any part of the gulf — Banfill said this figure was "an extrapolation'' of a 1995 U.S. Geological Survey study. The survey found potential reserves of 3 billion barrels, mostly off the coast of the Panhandle or far to the south of us, near Lee and Collier counties.
Even those reserves are "small potatoes,'' said Charter, who thinks Florida Energy's real goal is not drilling in state waters but getting Floridians used to the idea of offshore rigs. That would allow the industry to undermine a 2006 federal law that bans drilling within 125 miles of the state's coast.
That sounds plausible to me, which is one reason I don't think our economic future lies with offshore drilling. It's a potential threat not only to sources of income Murphy likes to talk about, eco-tourism and fishing, but one he doesn't mention, housing.
But, it's not just the drilling; it's the fossil fuels it produces. They're dirty. They contribute to global warming (oh, yes, it's real alright). They can't hope to provide the world's energy needs as more and more of the planet's 6.6 billion residents start driving cars and otherwise gobbling up resources the way Americans do.
Maybe you're tired of hearing this, but France generates 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, and, in Costa Rica, 95 percent of the energy comes from wind and solar.
It would be smarter to put the money and effort spent on expanding drilling rights into exploring those kinds of alternatives.
It would be smarter still to make at least a token effort at conservation. Those "Drill here! Drill now!'' bumper stickers would be a lot more persuasive if they didn't always seem to be plastered on pickups that get 17 miles to the gallon.


Tallahassee mulls drilling off Florida's Gulf Coast
SunSentinel Opinion
September 28, 2009
THE ISSUE: Tallahassee mulls drilling off Florida's Gulf Coast.
The push is still on to turn Florida into a gas- and oil-producing state and, unlike similar efforts in Congress, this push is appealing to a far more receptive audience.
Since 1990, Florida has had strict prohibitions limiting offshore drilling, but state business leaders and out-of-state oil and gas interests believe they have a persuasive argument — a $2 billion-plus annual payment to state coffers, along with assurances to protect the beauty of the state's Gulf Coast.
The argument for new jobs, new revenue and new technology is compelling, and some of Florida's top elected officials seem convinced. The next leaders of the Florida House and Senate are committed to repealing state prohibitions against expanding oil and gas leases, and Gov. Charlie Crist has said he wants the matter considered during an upcoming special session, along with the new Seminole gaming compact.
However, the more important question is: Does the proposal have merit? The answer is still unclear. Opening Florida's Gulf Coast to more energy exploration is a huge policy shift for a state that has long prided itself, and profited from, its environment and coastal communities; that change should not be made lightly, if at all.
Too many questions and too few specific answers remain. There is no legislation that lays out the process that would be used to consider new leases, or how new stringent safety and anti-pollution standards will be regulated and enforced. Other interest groups that could be impacted, from Florida's tourism industry to the state's disparate environmental community, have yet to weigh in, much less warm up to the idea. There have been no debates, discussions or forums that would shed real light on what remains a very heated topic.
Lawmakers advocating drilling promise that proceeds will ease budget pressures and fund, among other things, acquiring environmentally sensitive lands, beach re-nourishment projects and efforts to restore the Florida Everglades. Unfortunately, Floridians have seen their legislators make such pledges only to play parlor tricks with the budget to pay for dubious tax breaks or program giveaways to special interests.
Floridians would be better off having the time to consider all sides of the drilling debate between now and the start of the 2010 legislative session, where both proponents and opponents can reach beyond that limited audience stuck in the state's capitol.
BOTTOM LINE: The public needs to get in on the debate.


What’s Wrong With the National Parks ?
The New York Times by The Editors
September 28, 2009
On Sunday, the first episode of Ken Burns’s 12-hour history, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” aired on public television. Last week, the independent National Parks Second Century Commission, led by former senators Howard H. Baker, Jr. and J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., released an extensive report on the state of the parks and a vision for the next century.
The national parks have been well loved since their beginnings in the 1870s; sometimes nearly loved to death. Since their creation, there has been tension between two goals: wilderness preservation and making these sublime landscapes open to more people.
What’s the best way to protect the national parks, and what’s the best use of resources for that purpose ?

  • Lynn Scarlett, former deputy secretary of the Interior
  • Peter H. Gleick, Pacific Institute
  • William Perry Pendley, Mountain States Legal Foundation
  • Richard Knight, wildlife biologist
  • Richard Moe, National Trust for Historic Preservation
  • Sara Fain, National Parks Conservation Association
  • Susan Clark and David Cherney, Yale School of Forestry and University of Colorado
  • Holly Fretwell, author of “Who is Minding the Federal Estate?”
    Lynn Scarlett, adeputy Interior secretary in the Bush administration, is an environmental consultant.
    Our national parks conjure up images vast and varied — deep red lava flows, glistening glaciers, adobe architecture perched astride cliffs. In their first century, our parks secured islands of conservation, often destinations for curious tourists.
    As conservation islands, our parks were a triumph of foresight. But islands they no longer are. Their continued protection requires conservation partnerships — partnerships to address conservation challenges that transcend park borders.
    The greatest modern park challenges — indeed, the nation’s greatest conservation challenges — reside in what ecologist Barry Commoner described as the “interconnectedness of everything.” Communities now brush up against parks, pollution drifts across the Grand Canyon, growing populations vie with parks and their wildlife for water and the relentless press for energy looms on park horizons.
    There are conservation interconnections, too. Wildlife sustenance requires corridors that link natural places. Maintaining healthy forests requires park cooperation with neighbors. Assuring clean, sufficient water is a task that often transcends park boundaries.
    Managing the Waters
    Peter H. Gleick, co-founder and president of the Pacific Institute, is a MacArthur Fellow and member of the National Academy of Sciences. He has worked on issues around the sustainable use of water for over 30 years.
    While the national parks have been under threat from the first days of their creation, they now face new and unanticipated threats. Among the most worrisome of these threats are encroachment by unconstrained development, the human appropriation of natural resources that the parks require, and fundamental changes in climate.
    If we deprive our ecosystems of natural water flows -– both in magnitude and timing –- we cause fundamental changes in ecosystems.
    If we let our parks become fenced, static, ecologically impoverished oases in a sea of unsustainable development, they will cease being the living wonders envisioned by their founders. What would the Grand Canyon be without a living Colorado River cutting through it? What would Glacier National Park be without glaciers? What will become of the Everglades when global sea levels rise a meter or more? What is Mohave National Preserve without the pockets of water, rare surface springs, and desert oases that provide unique and sensitive habitat for hundreds of species? Yet these risks are real and unaddressed.
    We need fundamentally different approaches to protecting wild lands in the United States. We must recognize the critical role of sustainable use of water and other natural resources and we must expand both the parks themselves and our management approaches to deal with 21st century challenges.
    Maintain What We Have
    William Perry Pendley is the president and chief operating officer of Mountain States Legal Foundation, a nonprofit, public interest law firm.
    America’s national parks are the pride of the nation, possessing remarkable scenery and breathtaking vistas virtually unchanged since they were first set aside. Parks, however, are intended to be used; they are not the playground of park employees, the testing ground of scientists or the “critical habitat” of wildlife and thus off limits to the American people.
    Although parks are well protected by the laws creating them, parks have been permitted to deteriorate because the National Park Service has focused its expenditures and its energies, not on upkeep and maintenance, but on acquiring more land. The best way to ensure that today’s and future generations enjoy parks as Theodore Roosevelt intended is to maintain them properly. The National Park Service must be not only a good steward but also a good neighbor, by recognizing its boundaries and the constitutional and property rights of private citizens within and beyond park boundaries.
    Natural resources are meant to be used; in fact, every generation has left future generations with more resources than existed when that generation arrived on the planet. Today we have more coal, minerals, and oil and gas, for example, than were predicted would exist a few short years ago. Months ago, many predicted peak oil and a future of declining supplies.
    Work With the Neighhbors
    Richard Knight, a professor of wildlife conservation at ColoradoStateUniversity, is a member of the board of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, the Rancher’s Stewardship Alliance and The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado Council.
    Today, it’s in vogue and easy to pick on our federal land-management agencies. Years of downsizing work forces, contentious litigation, increasing special-interest groups that desire access to public lands, climate change, invasive species, all these and more have made managing public lands a seemingly impossible task.
    The Park Service needs to collaborate with the parks’ neighbors, rather than adopt a defensive response.
    However, not all federal natural resource agencies are the same. Whereas the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are overwhelmed with intractable problems and in disarray internally, the National Park Service has managed to maintain the public’s esteem. At the national parks and monuments, you’ll see imaginative visitors centers and still meet park employees who can provide a fine educational and recreational experience.
    But there’s one problem the Park Service has not been able to address: managing porous boundaries as the parks become increasingly ringed with exurban sprawl. The service’s inability to work cooperatively with the parks’ neighbors to find solutions threatens species that are too crowded on the parks.
    The Cultural Resource Challenge
    Richard Moe is president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a membership organization that helps people protect, enhance and enjoy the places that matter to them.
    America’s national parks may be best known for their stunning scenery, but two-thirds of the parks were established primarily to recognize and protect places of cultural and historic significance.
    The parks encompass more than 27,000 properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places, ranging from iconic landmarks like Ellis Island, Civil War battlefields and the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde to remote back-country cabins. Under the 1916 National Park Service Organic Act, these historic properties are to be maintained “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations,” but the sad truth is that many of them are at risk because of inadequate funding, conflicting priorities and a lack of will to preserve them.
    It is estimated that 46 percent of the parks’ historic structures are in fair or poor condition, and a 2008 report from the National Academy of Public Administration says that $1.9 billion is needed for their preservation and maintenance.
    To make matters worse, financing for cultural programs in the parks has decreased by 28 percent since 1995 — a devastating loss which, among other things, means that a shocking 97 percent of park land has not been adequately surveyed for archaeological sites. Obviously, we can’t protect resources if we don’t even know where they are.
    A Stronger Government Role
    Sara Fain is Everglades Restoration Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.
    When President Truman dedicated Everglades National Park in 1947, he stated, “Here is land, tranquil in its quiet beauty, serving not as the source of water, but the last receiver of it.” Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, and is the largest national park east of the Mississippi. Yet, at the tail end of the greater Everglades ecosystem, it represents just one fifth of this historic River of Grass.
    To save the Everglades, Congress and the state of Florida have had to undertake the largest ecosystem restoration project ever.
    Today, South Florida’s water is almost entirely controlled by a series of canals, levees, and pumps, drawing water away from its natural path, and dumping much of this precious resource into the ocean. Tamiami Trail, a road running along the northern border of the park, functions as a dam, trapping water to the north and stopping any flow south into the park. This has left Everglades National Park, the receiver of water upstream, dying of thirst. In such condition, invasive species often out-compete native species. Wildfires and algae blooms have increased in intensity, duration, and size.
    In 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan to “get the water right” for the Everglades. In partnership with the State of Florida, the federal government has embarked upon the largest ecosystem restoration program ever undertaken.
    An Unfortunate Legacy From 1916
    Susan Clark , the Joseph F. Cullman Adjunct Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Policy Sciences at YaleUniversity’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, is the author of “Ensuring Yellowstone’s Future.” David Cherney is a research associate with the Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative.
    In 1916, Woodrow Wilson signed a landmark piece of legislation to create the National Park Service. This document asserts that the purpose of our national parks is to:
    …conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. [emphasis added]
    This undertaking demonstrates great foresight by early conservationists and politicians. However, this mission also left an unrecognized and unfortunate legacy for protecting our national parks.
    For more than 100 years, our park system has focused on protecting wildlife and scenery inside the boundaries of our national parks. The National Park Service accomplishes this by regulating, and often excluding, undue human use from within a park’s boundaries. The highest profile controversies in our Park Service have centered on excluding human impact; ranging from snowmobile use in Yellowstone to the potential restoration of Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite. Unfortunately, public controversy is not a strong indicator of genuine threat.
    Today, the greatest threat to our national parks is the “therein” philosophy of management — the idea that effective park management ends at a park’s boundaries. Decades of ecological research has shown that even the largest national parks are too small to maintain viable populations of wildlife in the long run.
    For-Profit, Self-Supporting Parks
    Holly Fretwell is a fellow at the Property and EnvironmentResearchCenter and an adjunct instructor in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics at MontanaStateUniversity. She is the author of “Who is Minding the Federal Estate?”
    Evidence shows that our national parks were the brain child of profit endeavors rather than foresighted conservation ethics. The Northern Pacific Railroad, for example, spearheaded early explorations into the Yellowstone region. Indeed, the first national parks were intended to be financially self-supporting and many were beginning to cover their operating expenditures early in the 20th century. These ideas are important today to help us think about the myth that there is a conflict between profit and conservation.
    For much of the last century, park budgets have been politically appropriated.
    Many early conservation efforts were privately financed, as many are today. Rosalie Edge, for example helped protect hawks by creating the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in the 1930s in a time when many were being shot for bounty. She was not wealthy and her desire to save hawks was a minority opinion at the time but she was a true “enviropreneur,” a person who uses entrepreneurial spirit to help care for the environment.
    Profit motivates effort to satisfy the needs of others. It doesn’t have to be for a democratic majority or a powerful special interest.

Everglades restoration dispute heads to Florida's high court
Palm Beach Post by PAUL QUINLAN
September 25, 2009
Gov. Charlie Crist's mammoth land deal with the U.S. Sugar Corp., a $536 million bid to restore the Everglades, is headed to the state Supreme Court.
U.S. Sugar rival Florida Crystals and the Miccosukee Tribe, which lives in the Everglades, have filed appeals to Palm Beach Circuit Judge Donald Hafele's decision last month to allow the state to borrow $650 million to buy 73,000 acres of sugarcane fields and citrus groves from the sugar giant.
Crist and environmentalists argue that the U.S. Sugar deal, which would rank as the state's most expensive conservation land deal ever, will enable the state to re-establish the historic flow between Lake Okeechobee and the southern Everglades. They say the southward flow would re-hydrate the parched Everglades during dry times and eliminate the need for fish-killing and algae-bloom-inducing releases of polluted Lake Okeechobee water to sea via the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries during wet times.
Florida Crystals and the Tribe contend that the land deal is a corporate bailout in disguise - an irresponsible, half-baked plan that would saddle the state with debt and delay other projects that would bring more immediate benefit to the fast-dying Everglades.
"This deal is a disaster for Everglades restoration, period," said Crystals spokesman Gaston Cantens.
Hafele's decision granted the South Florida Water Management District, which oversees Everglades restoration for the state, only part of what they had asked for.
The agency originally sought to borrow $2.2 billion, money it hoped to use to exercise a three-year option to purchase U.S. Sugar's remaining 107,000 acres and begin construction of the reservoirs and pollution-filtering marshes needed to begin flowing water across the sugar land.
The water agency said in a press release it "remains committed to completing this historic acquisition to provide lasting benefits to South Florida's environment and her citizens."


Florida among top ten in dirtiest drinking water, reports state, but Treasure Coast utilities say local water safe
TCPALM by Hillary Copsey
September 25, 2009
Two national news organizations are drawing attention to the poor enforcement of water quality rules and list Florida among the top 10 states for dirty water.
But, despite a handful of violations of the Clean Water Act on the Treasure Coast, utility officials said local water is safe.
A report from listed Florida as having some of the dirtiest drinking water in the country. But Treasure Coast utilities reviewed by the Environmental Working Group, the organization that did the research on which the AOLHealth report was based, mostly had pollutants within acceptable levels.
Pollutants were found in Treasure Coast water, including industrial run-off and radioactive compounds. However, the levels were not unsafe, according to government standards.
“Water is a great dissolver. It’s going to dissolve just about anything given enough time,” said Richard Stenberg, director of water resources for Fort Pierce Utility Authority. “You’re going to have impurities in the water.”
Local utilities check water quality daily and report monthly to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. They also produce water quality reports letting people know exactly what is in their tap water each year, which can be found online or at their offices.
Still, a New York Times series called “Toxic Waters,” which debuted this month, found the federal government could better enforce the Clean Water Act. As many as 40 percent of regulated facilities nationwide are in violation of the rules that protect tap water, according to the report.
In Florida, the average violation rate between 2004 and 2007 was 28 out of 100 registered facilities, according to the New York Times review. Florida officials explained the high violation rate as the result of regular and strict reviews of facilities.
The Florida Power & Light facility in western Martin County, with six violations between 2004 and 2006, was listed as one of the most prolific violators in the state. Several other Treasure Coast agencies, including the Fort Pierce Utility Authority, had single violations, though none have occurred since 2006.
Officials with FPL and the other agencies characterized the violations as minor, with little to no lasting impact on either the environment or the water supply.
All of the events at the Martin County FPL facility — one in 2004, four in 2005 and one in 2006 — involved seepages of naturally occurring substances, including iron, oxygen and ammonia, from the plant’s cooling pond that were caused by power outages, FPL officials said. The company upgraded the power supply to stop further discharges.
Other agencies also have made upgrades to prevent more violations. FPUA, for example, spent almost $2 million to protect the lift stations that failed in the 2004 hurricanes and resulted in the utility’s violation.
Florida Power & Light, Martin County plant: six effluent violations (one in 2004, four in 2005 and one in 2006); last inspection November 2007
Florida Power & Light, St. Lucie County nuclear plant: one effluent violation, 2004*; last inspection February 2008
Fort Pierce Utility Authority water treatment plant: one effluent violation, 2004; last inspection October 2008
Indian River County West Regional plant: one effluent violation, 2006; last inspection September 2008
Spanish Lakes Country Club Village water treatment plant: one effluent violation, 2006
St. Lucie County South Hutchinson Island plant: one effluent violation, 2006; last inspection September 2008
*FPL is disputing this violation.


Investment in Everglades restoration not wasted
Palm Beach Post Letters to the Editor by ERIC BUERMANN
September 25, 2009
A recent Palm Beach Post article focused heavily on the costs associated with halting construction of an Everglades restoration project. However, the article did not fully convey the difficult and bold steps taken by the South Florida Water Management District to protect taxpayer interests.
At 25 square miles, the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir was designed to store enough water from Lake Okeechobee to reduce harmful discharges to Florida's coastal estuaries, improve water quality and help achieve healthy water levels for the lake ecosystem. Nearly a year after the district began construction, the National Resources Defense Council and others filed a lawsuit challenging the construction permit issued to the district by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Our governing board wisely chose to suspend and later terminate construction to protect $400 million in taxpayer funds that would have been put at risk by moving forward without clarity on the status of the "building permit."
The difficult decision to halt construction closes a chapter on the EAA Reservoir site, but its story as a valuable part of the vision for Everglades restoration is far from over. The public planning process for the River of Grass land acquisition is incorporating the site into projects to benefit the South Florida ecosystem. None of the investment is being lost, because work already performed for the reservoir will provide a head start in building those projects.
The district recognizes the significant investment of public funds that has been made in Everglades restoration. We are committed to protecting that investment and South Florida's natural resources through prudent decision-making that creates tangible, long-term environmental benefits.


New Everglades monitoring system collects water levels
The Independent Florida Alligator by ANDREW NORRIS
September 25, 2009
From The Swamp to the Everglades, new UF research could help scientists who are exploring Florida's expansive wetlands.
In a recent study, UF researchers and scientists from Florida Atlantic University, the University of Connecticut and the South Florida Natural Resources Center said that readings from the Everglades Depth Estimation Network, known as EDEN, are accurate, a UF press release announced Sunday.
Researchers can use this information to study the Everglades ecosystem, said Pam Telis, hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey and project chief for EDEN.
UF scientists and other researchers from Florida have used the information to investigate populations of wading birds, invasive plants, fish and amphibians, the press release said.
EDEN was launched in 2005 and measures water depth in real-time all across the greater Everglades, Telis said.
The project consists of about 250 gauges that regularly measure water level and feed information to a database via satellite and radio transmissions.
This, paired with gauges that measure the location of the bottom surfaces, provides researchers with data for the 11 million acres of the greater Everglades, Telis said.
The study measured water depth in 24 different locations throughout the Everglades and compared the results to EDEN's measurements. Most estimates were within 2 inches, according to the release.
Researchers involved with EDEN hope the data will encourage more scientists to use EDEN to aid in Everglades restoration or for research on vegetation and wildlife in the area, Telis said.
"We saw the need for a comprehensive hydrologic data set for the Greater Everglades," Telis said. "We decided that we needed to pull together a team with technical expertise."
Telis said the need for EDEN came about because so many scientists doing research in the Everglades would find it necessary to do their own water depth analysis, a field in which most aren't trained.
"You've got the bird guy doing his thing and the alligator guy doing his thing, so we just felt the need that we should provide a standardized database for all of them to use," Telis said.
Christa Zweig, a post-doctoral associate with the department of wildlife ecology and conservation, is excited for the possibilities a service like EDEN could hold.
"When you're doing research and you want to relate water depth to an animal's condition, you don't have all the pieces of the puzzle," Zweig said."It's extremely frustrating."
With the arrival of EDEN and the confirmation of its accuracy, researchers like Zweig can now do their job much easier.
"Before EDEN it was incredibly frustrating, but now we have one of the most useful tools you can have for research in the Everglades," Zweig said.


Worried about water quality? Check it out yourself
SunSentinel by Daniel Vasquez
September 25 2009
Sometimes there just is no substitute for a refreshing glass of tap water. But wouldn't you swallow a little easier knowing what is or isn't contained in that water?
Fortunately, finding out what's in your local water supply is easily done by phone and online. And it's smart to review annual water quality reports required by law and made available by every local water provider in Florida.
The issue: Contaminants exist in most water supplies at trace levels, but they are well below what can cause health problems, experts say. Water officials must inform residents if levels exceed standards, and all Florida public providers are required to treat their water, at the very least via chlorination.
This month's New York Times report, "Toxic Waters," has drawn attention to the issue of dangerous tap water contaminants. And the Environmental Working Group, a national environmental advocacy group, has ranked Florida among the nation's top states for the number of contaminants in tap water – more than 100, including mineral barium from drilling and mining runoffs and radium-226 found around natural uranium deposits - although the organization's ranking does not contend those pollutants exist at unsafe levels throughout most of the state's tap water sources.
But how can you find out what's really in your tap water, and if it's safe ?
Track your own water quality: Your community water provider should send a copy of its annual water quality report to your home, typically in July. It describes what contaminants your water is tested for and what from of treatment is used. If you did not receive your report, or misplaced it, call your local provider. Check your water bill for contact information.
Private well owners who want information about their water quality and testing processes should contact the Department of Health at 850-245-4250 or visit
If you live in Broward, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Polk, Sarasota or Volusia County, you can also contact your local Department of Environmental Protection office. South Floridians should visit or call 561-681-6600.
Read your annual report: This report is a bit onerous to read at first, but once you become familiar with what to look for, the information is useful. You get a snapshot view of what organic and inorganic contaminants you are dealing with your neighborhood. And you may be able to track over years any trends that may be occurring, like a rise in nitrite levels, which is known to be dangerous for infants in excessive amounts.
For instance, the Utilities Department tap water quality report ( for 2008, the latest available, shows that the Broward County city tested for copper in August 2007 and found levels of 0.12 parts per million, well within acceptable levels determined by the Environmental Protection agency.
The report also revealed that the cause for any traces of copper is likely from corrosion of household plumbing systems, erosion of natural deposits and leeching from wood preservatives. While the copper levels from these sources are not unsafe, the information could be a reminder for some homeowners to make sure their plumbing systems are in good condition.
Also, Davie found lead levels of 3.1 parts per billion (not million), again within acceptable standards. The EPA considers lead levels of 15 parts per billion or higher to be actionable amounts. Davie officials believe the culprit for the lead levels that do exist to be corrosion from household plumbing systems and erosion of natural deposits.
Now while the Davie tap water report is basic, some community updates are more detailed. The online 2008 Boca Raton report, for instance, is packed with consumer information ( But the nuts-and-bolts findings about water quality are the same.
For instance, Boca Raton water officials last tested for copper in tap water in August, 2008 and found 0.14 parts per million, with the same likely causes as in Davie. And for lead, they found levels of 3.4 parts per billion, again within safe federal standards.
Should I buy a water treatment device? There is no reason to believe this is a must-have option, but spending the money may bring you piece of mind. They cost generally from about $10 to hundreds of dollars each, and come in various forms, including filters for the tap and shower head. Some devices are known to add high levels of sodium. But the thing to keep in mind is that these devices must be properly used and maintained to offer any benefits.


Engineer: Water will be taken from rivers
OCALA by By Fred Hiers
September 24, 2009
GAINESVILLE - Florida water agency scientists on Wednesday continued to hash out how to decide whether to siphon water out of the St. Johns and Ocklawaha rivers.
The meeting in Gainesville, which was a part of a continuing series of workshops organized by the St. Johns River Water Management District, was designed to allow water district scientists the opportunity to share their research about the district's proposal to pipe as much as 262 million gallons per day from the two rivers and send it to counties no longer able to tap groundwater sources.
Evne though conclusions about how much could be safely withdrawn from the St. Johns River is a year away, at least some of the scientists at the meeting say there was nothing in the studies they've done so far that says the two rivers should be off limits as sources of potable water.
Based on the water district's studies to date, "it does appear there is [going to be] water withdrawal from the St. Johns and Ocklawaha," Tom Bartol, a water district engineer, told the group of about 200 scientists, support staff and citizens during the day-long meeting.
Marion County isn't immune from the water district's decision about whether to take water from the Ocklawaha River, which runs through its borders from south to north.
Marion officials predict the county will be short by 2 million gallons of water per day by 2030. And while Marion County won't likely need to tap the Ocklawaha for decades to come, other counties will. The fear is that other counties will turn to the Ocklawaha for water while Marion County makes do with water drawn from the Floridan aquifer.
And one day, when Marion County does want Ocklawaha River water, other counties already will have laid claim to what's available there.
The discussion of whether to withdraw water from the St. Johns and Ocklawaha rivers has more immediate applications. Florida's water districts have warned that by 2013 they will stop issuing any more permits for groundwater withdrawal. They are afraid that continued siphoning from the aquifer would adversely alter groundwater levels and the springs and rivers they feed.
On Wednesday, water agency scientist Peter Sucsy said the process that the water district will use to determine the amount of water that can safely be taken from the rivers is complex.
Sucsy said the green light whether to look to surface waters as potable water sources comes down to computer modeling.
When it comes to the St. Johns and the Ocklawaha, computer models will predict what's going to happen to the rivers, their wildlife and vegetation if water is withdrawn.
Sucsy is the water district's leader for water surface modeling for the lower St. Johns River and Lake George. Although Sucsy's work, and the studies being performed by other water agency scientists, is technical and complex, their work eventually will be the deciding factors determining the fate of the St. Johns and Ocklawaha rivers.
During the past year, Sucsy created a computer model that takes into account factors that play a role in how much water can be withdrawn.
The factors determining the effect of water withdrawal are wastewater reuse, the expected rise in sea level, the proposed dredging of Jacksonville Harbor and changes in land use around the rivers.
The plan is to create possible scenarios of what could happen to the two rivers if 262 million gallons per day is withdrawn. The scenarios will be handed over to other scientists.
They then will predict the effect of each scenario on wildlife and vegetation.
By December 2010, the scientists will submit to the water district's lead officials what they think is safe to take from the St. Johns. Recommendations about the Ocklawaha River will follow.
Preliminary proposals are to withdraw 107 million gallons per day from the Ocklawaha at State Road 40 and 155 million gallons from other points along the St. Johns.
The issue has been a point of debate between the water district and area environmentalists, who argue neither river can afford to have water taken from it.
Karen Ahler, president of the Putnam County Environmental Council, said the original intent of the two-year study was to determine the cumulative impact of water withdrawals. She contends that development has reduced the flow on the St. Johns and Ocklawaha over the past several deacdes.
Ahler said the district is only using information dating back to 1995, but should consider river volume losses before then.
Robin Lewis, vice president of the Putnam County Environmental Council, also criticized district scientists' presentations Wednesday because they often didn't consider the impact on the St. Johns River of water withdrawn from the Ocklawaha.
Meanwhile, Lewis said that his group has already hired its own scientists and lawyers, "to show the water district is wrong."
The second day of the two-day meeting will continue at 8 a.m. today at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center, 1714 S.W. 34th St.


Fighting pollution with cooperation
The Tampa Tribune
September 24, 2009
An effort to curb nitrogen pollution of Tampa Bay is good news for the region, and not simply because it will improve water quality and protect marine life.
The process that produced the pollution limits provides a blueprint for how the region can address other complex problems that affect diverse interests.
For nearly two years, a task force with representatives from local governments, private industries and regulators worked on developing nitrogen rules that were science-based and realistic.
All 32 of the "Nitrogen Management Consortium" participants now have approved sending the proposed restrictions to local governments and other authorities for final approval. The state Department of Environmental Protection would then formalize them as rules.
The restrictions merit support. Nitrogen remains Tampa Bay's major pollutant. Industrial discharges, stormwater systems, wastewater plants, power plant emissions and runoff from yards and agricultural operations all pump nitrogen into Tampa Bay. It causes destructive algae blooms, clouds the water and chokes out seagrasses that are vital to marine life.
Among those involved in devising this solution are the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg, Hillsborough County, MacDill Air Force Base, Mosaic Phosphate Co., Tampa Electric Co., the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the state Department of Agriculture and CSX Transportation.
The Tampa Bay Estuary Program, which has been working on curbing nitrogen pollution since the 1990s, led the effort. Despite the diverse interests, there was more collaboration than confrontation. Says Holly Greening, executive director of the Estuary Program, "This was a real example of the public and private sector working toward a common goal."
The meetings focused on facts. Each group provided an abundance of technical information. There was no guessing about pollution levels or the numbers that needed to be reached. Fortunately, cities and industries had already taken significant steps to curtail nitrogen pollution, thanks to Tampa Bay Estuary Program's earlier highlighting of the nitrogen threat that had prompted DEP restrictions.
Those reductions, and the resulting increase in water clarity, allowed Tampa Bay to regain about 6,000 acres of seagrasses that had been lost. Scientists believe another 9,000 acres could be regained if the nitrogen limits can be maintained. So the latest proposed nitrogen "allocations" through 2012 are designed to "hold the line" on current nitrogen emissions.
This is hardly a matter of maintaining the status quo. Additional stormwater structures, industrial recycling, wastewater treatment expansion and other steps will be needed as the region grows. But compared to many cleanup efforts, the costs should be modest. And the result will be a much healthier Tampa Bay, the ecological heart of West- Central Florida.
Because the federal Clean Water Act requires the bay's cleanup, nitrogen restrictions likely would have been devised without the consortium's work..
But under normal circumstances regulators work individually with each affected party. There is no comprehensive look at the watershed, and the piecemeal approach can result in restrictions that are either too generous or too harsh for certain industries.
The advantage of the consortium was that it allowed all the parties to work together to address each participant's needs and the welfare of the entire estuary.
This is a success story for Tampa Bay and regional cooperation. It shows how informed adult discussion can be more effective in combating pollution than protests and lawsuits.


Officials say local beaches are safe
The by Nathaniel Lukefahr
September 24, 2009
SURFSIDE BEACH — Dara Dalton has used the water off Surfside Beach as her playground for years, first to swim and now to surf.
 Not once has she trudged out of the water and become ill days later because of something lurking in the waves.
“I’ve never gotten sick or a staph infection,” she said. “I actually consider our beach to be really clean compared to Galveston or anywhere else in this area, just because the water’s so much clearer.”
Studies released this year found there is a strain of harmful bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, that can cause drug-resistant staph infections in the water off Florida and Washington State beaches.
Both the studies and Brazoria County officials say it still is safe to venture into the water, but people should take precautions. There has not been a study determining whether the bacteria is present along the Texas coast.
 “Just use common sense,” Brazoria County Marine Extension Agent Rich Tillman said. “Don’t go wade fishing in muddy water with a cut or a wound. And if you get cut or a fish stabs you, get out of the water and treat the wound.”
The studies, performed by scientists at the universities of Miami and Washington, found a germ that is difficult to treat with the anti-infection drug methicillin. The Florida study found 37 percent of ocean water samples taken had staph in them, and 3 percent of those were the antibiotic-resistant strain of the bug.
The germ causes nasty skin infections as well as pneumonia and other life-threatening problems, according to the studies. It spreads mostly through human contact. Little is known about environmental sources that also might harbor the germ.
If the bug is in Brazoria County water, Surfside Beach police have not seen it affect people, Police Chief Randy Smith said. The department has not experienced someone suffering from bacterial-related issues on the beach in the past 10 years.
“Nor have I heard of anyone showing up at the hospital here locally complaining of it,” he said. “I think it’s a rarity.”
Experts locally are more worried about bacteria called vibro vulificus, which thrives in warm seawater, Tillman said. It can infect someone through an open wound exposed to seawater and cause vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
 It also can infect the bloodstream, causing a severe and life-threatening illness characterized by fever and chills and decreased blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
 “Wash the wound and just use common sense and first aid,” Tillman said. “It responds well to antibiotics. You just clean it and watch it — it’s easily taken care of.”


Medard Reservoir sirens set for tests
The Tampa Tribune by YVETTE C. HAMMETT
September 24, 2009
TURKEY CREEK - A new siren system meant to protect residents downstream of Medard Reservoir will blare for the first time Oct. 3 during a test run of the new system.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District has installed the new emergency siren notification system in the event the 700-acre, 3 billion-gallon reservoir was to collapse.
Swiftmud officials are quick to point out that there are no immediate concerns that water in the gigantic lake might breach an emergency spillway. They are just following a request from residents in the area looking for peace of mind.
One of the sirens is located at Medard Park on Turkey Creek Road. The other two are located south of there, along the Alafia River.
The sirens will sound in three-minute intervals, repeatedly, during an actual emergency.
During testing, which will take place on the first Saturday monthly, the sirens will sound for 15 seconds.
"We sent letter to residents a couple of weeks ago letting them know we have upcoming workshops on this," Swiftmud spokeswoman Robyn Felix said.
The second of those meetings is scheduled from 6 to 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Bloomingdale Public Library, 1906 Bloomingdale Ave., Valrico.
"We'll be explaining to them when they'll hear the sirens and what to expect," Felix said.
"The county will have evacuation routes for the inundation areas, since some of the roads -. Durant, Turkey Creek - would be under water in the event of a breach," said Lesley Touchton, emergency action plan coordinator for the agency.
"If we know the reservoir is failing and there's nothing we can do to avert it, we will sound the sirens," she said. "If people hear them at any other time than testing time they need to assume there is a real emergency."
In the unlikely event of an emergency at the reservoir, both the sirens and a back-up Reverse 911 system will alert people, Felix said.
The spillway at the reservoir breached only once, in 1976, but the breach was not catastrophic, Touchton said. Since then, the spillway has been replaced and there have not been any incidents, she said.
Residents requested the siren system during a meeting with Swiftmud in 2003. Touchton said the project was delayed when the district got pushback from some people who didn't want the 60-foot towers located near their property.


Polluted Lake Okeechobee getting dirtier

Broward Herald by CURTIS MORGAN
September 24, 2009
An EPA memo documents a troubling trend of nutrient pollution in Lake Okeechobee, which is at the heart of South Florida's water supply system.
Water managers, environmental agencies and conservation groups have been talking about cleaning up Lake Okeechobee for decades.
The water quality has only gotten worse. Much worse.
Two environmental groups on Wednesday released an e-mail from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that shows a troubling buildup of the key nutrient phosphorus -- whose presence in the lake has almost quadrupled since the 1970s and almost doubled since the 1990s.
With current concentrations approaching 200 parts per billion -- considered 20 times too polluted for the Everglades -- the dirty lake looms as major and expensive problem for an Everglades restoration effort who cost is already expected to top $20 billion.
Jerry Phillips, Florida director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which released the September memo with the Civic Council Association, called the declining water quality, primarily flowing in from ranches and suburbs north of the lake, ``the elephant in the living room'' of Everglades restoration.
``If you don't start addressing the issue, you aren't going to get any true restoration on the south side,'' he said.
Phillips blamed lax regulation by the EPA and Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
A spokeswoman for the EPA's regional office in Atlanta said the agency was crafting a response. In a lawsuit settlement with environmental groups earlier this year, the agency agreed to set legal limits for farm and urban runoff that pollutes Florida's waterways.
The South Florida Water Management District, which is overseeing Everglades cleanup for the state, issued a written statement saying lawmakers had approved a North Everglades plan in 2007 to address the issues and had spent $1.8 billion to improve water quality in the Everglades. Most of that has gone into constructing almost 40,000 acres of pollution cleanup marshes designed to scrub runoff from sugar farms south of the lake.
North of the lake, the district said it is working with farmers and cattle ranches to reduce fertilizer use and runoff. It is also constructing a 2,700-acre treatment area to clean water before it flows into the lake.
The memo, written by Eric Hughes, a wetlands biologist based in the EPA's Jacksonville office, said an average of 572 tons of phosphorus flows into the lake each year -- four times the target the state is supposed to reach by 2015.
Excess phosphorus, a nutrient in manure and fertilizer, can choke native plants and fuels the growth of cat-tails and other exotic plants in the Everglades and algae blooms in rivers and lakes.

Sarasota County watching solar hot water test
Herald Tribune By Zac Anderson 
September 24, 2009
One of the more ambitious clean-energy programs in Florida is ramping up in Lakeland, where officials are trying to supply nearly a quarter of residents' energy needs with solar power.
If the Lakeland solar hot water program -- the first of its kind in the state -- succeeds, it could spread across Florida. Sarasota County has explored a similar plan, and local officials are watching Lakeland closely.
There is no extra cost to Lakeland's 93,000 residents for the solar energy, even though the solar water heaters that will offset coal-powered energy retail for $4,000 to $6,000.
Participants will pay a monthly charge of $34.95, roughly what the average customer pays now for hot water as part of their electric bill. But unlike typical electricity prices -- which had risen dramatically until recently because of spiking fossil fuel costs -- the Lakeland charges will not change for 20 years under the program approved this summer.
Solar water heating has been a major focus of governments looking for ways to increase clean-energy use.
Heating water accounts for roughly a quarter of a home's energy use, and using solar energy for the task is considered one of the cheapest, most efficient ways to cut back on fossil fuels and the damage they do to the environment.
Sarasota County explored the idea for a year but the program was sidelined in April when the County Commission rejected a proposal for a government-owned-and-financed solar hot water utility.
The utility would have been an unnecessary expansion of government and would have competed for scarce tax dollars, commissioners said.
County officials left the door open for a program like Lakeland's that relies on a private contractor -- California-based Regenesis Power LLC -- with limited support from the county.
But the private partnership model has drawn some criticism from solar contractors. Sarasota County is cautiously moving ahead with a less ambitious plan for cash rebates for solar hot water systems.
Lakeland's plan is akin to renting instead of owning a home.
"This program is tailored to people who can't afford to own their own solar system," said Jeff Curry, Lakeland Electric's alternative energy coordinator. "It opens up the solar market to a lot more people."
But Nokomis-based solar contractor Scott Egglefield worries about a big outside company such as Regenesis cornering the market.
"I think it's much better to let the market grow at a regular pace and just support the local people and keep the money in Sarasota," said Egglefield, who owns Mirasol FAFCO Solar.
Curry said he believes Regenesis will create enough community awareness about solar to benefit every solar company in a market.
Sarasota County Commissioner Shannon Staub wonders if Lakeland will find a strong market for the solar systems.
"Is there demand out there?" Staub asked. "We'll keep an eye on Lakeland. It won't take long to see how that's going over."
In the meantime, Sarasota County is using $2.5 million in federal stimulus money to create a local rebate program that, combined with state and federal incentives, would help make solar water heaters more affordable for people who want to buy them outright.
The rebate program should be ready by the end of the year, said Lee Hayes Byron of the county's sustainability office.
Rebate amounts have not been set but could be close to the state rebate of $500. Combined with a 30 percent federal tax credit, the state and local incentives will reduce the price of a solar hot water heater by roughly half.
But even with tax credits and rebates, solar water heaters still cost $2,000 and up, which is double or triple the price of a regular hot water heater.
The extra cost is recouped in lower electric bills in three to four years, but many people are discouraged by the sticker price.
"If you can buy it yourself and own it, that's preferable, and we encourage people to do that," Curry said. "But not everyone can do that."
Lakeland hopes to install up to 1,500 systems a year.
Curry believes Lakeland's model will catch on across the state.
"This is the first program in Florida like this, but we're getting calls from all over," Curry said.
Byron said Sarasota County officials plan to take another look at a monthly fee program after the local rebates are rolled out.
"We don't want to jump the gun" before Lakeland tests it, she said.


Water plant gets approval
SunSentinel by Willie Howard
September 24, 2009
LAKE WORTH - City commissioners on Wednesday committed $25.1 million to build a reverse-osmosis water treatment plant and a deep injection well to supply the city's future water needs.
The commission voted unanimously to approve a $16.9 million contract with Reynolds Inc. to build a plant that can produce 4.5 million gallons of drinking water a day.
The plant will take just over two years to build and will be designed so it can be upgraded to produce 9 million gallons a day.
"In 25 months, people will be toasting Lake Worth with clear glasses of water," Vice Mayor Jo-Ann Golden said.
Today's decision ends a years-long debate over how the city should supply water to residents in the future. Withdrawals from the city's existing wells is being curtailed by the South Florida Water Management District, which says the wells are vulnerable to influxes of salty water from the Atlantic.
The total cost for the project, including engineering services, permits and the deep injection well, is expected to be $25.1 million. The city expects to get $2.5 million in federal stimulus money toward the water plant, resulting in a net cost to the city of $22.6 million.


DEP Encourages Energy and Water Conservation; Green Cleaning During P2 Week
WMBB 13 by Department of Environmental Protection
September 23, 2009
Tallahassee, Fla: It’s Pollution Prevention Week (P2), and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) encourages Floridians to stop pollution at its source by taking simple steps to conserve energy and water, and clean green. Adopting a more sustainable routine not only helps protect Florida’s natural resources, but is also protective of human health and saves money without compromising comfort. 
“What better time to become environmentally conscientious than during P2 Week,” said DEP Director of Sustainable Initiatives Deas Bohn. “Taking simple steps to cut down on water, energy and waste creation, plus the use of homemade green cleaners are easy ways to be green and save green.”
A large component of P2 Week 2009 involves conserving energy and water by implementing a few simple steps such as:
Installing low-flow sink aerators that fit on to faucets in the bathroom and kitchen. Sink aerators allow water pressure to remain the same using only a third of the water.
Installing compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) which are nearly four times more energy efficient than a standard incandescent bulb.
Buying a reusable water bottle instead of bottled water. Up to 90 percent of plastic bottles are not recycled, using valuable space in landfills.
Installing a programmable thermostat. Homeowners can save about $180 a year by properly setting their programmable thermostats and maintaining those settings. Recommended settings are 78 degrees in the summer months and 68 degrees in the winter months.
Using reusable grocery bags. The average American uses 350 plastic bags a year. Many of them are not recycled and can end up in streams, rivers and oceans harming marine life.
Using a microfiber cloth, an environmentally friendly alternative to the paper towel. Americans send 3,000 tons of paper towels to landfills each day; this can be avoided by switching to a reusable microfiber cloth.
Consumers can also create home-mixed cleaners that are equally as effective as traditional products, and safer for people and the environment.  DEP offers the following recipes for ‘do-it-yourself’ green cleaners:
All Purpose Cleaner
1/2 teaspoon soda ash or baking soda
Dab of liquid soap
2 cups hot water
Combine in a spray bottle; shake until all powder is dissolved. Apply and wipe off residue with a rag or sponge.
Glass Cleaner
1 quart water
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 drop liquid dish detergent
Combine in a spray bottle; shake until all powder is dissolved. Apply and wipe off residue with a rag or sponge.
Furniture Polish
1 cup vegetable or olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice
Mix in spray bottle and shake well. Apply small amount to a cloth.
Drain Cleaner
Pour 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain, followed by 1/2 cup vinegar. Cover the drain and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Flush with 2 quarts boiling water.
Mold Killer
2 teaspoons tea tree oil
2 cups water
Combine in spray bottle and shake to blend. Spray on problem areas. Do not rinse.
“Almost any type of home cleaner can be created using only vinegar, water and baking soda,” said Bohn. “For instance, almost one gallon of an all-purpose cleaner consisting of white vinegar and water can be homemade for around $2, providing ten times more product than a 12-ounce, name-brand pine cleaner that can cost $3 or more.”
For those who don’t have time to make their own cleaners, there are now hundreds of environmentally friendly products widely available through stores and the Internet.  Important safety and environmental features of these products include being non-toxic, biodegradable, made from renewable resources and petroleum-free.  The Green Seal, EcoLabel or other third party certification offer environmentally friendly contents. Old cleaners should be properly disposed of at the nearest city or county recycling or drop-off facilities, rather than being thrown in the trash. For more green cleaning tips, visit
National P2 Week is an annual education event that occurs the third week of September. Florida’s theme for this year’s P2 Week is ‘Greening Florida’s Future’ and is focused on water conservation, energy efficiency and green cleaning methods.
Highlights of P2 Week include distribution of conservation kits at The Vitamin Shoppe and The Fresh Market locations statewide, which include two compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL), two low-flow sink aerators, two microfiber cloths, a conservation information sheet and green cleaning recipe card. Participating locations can be found at
In addition, green cleaning kits will be distributed through media outreach and an online ‘green tip’ contest hosted by the Department. DEP also launched a new green Web site in conjunction with P2 Week to provide citizens tips and information on the benefits of practicing conservation and preventing pollution. To learn more, visit
P2 Week is administered by DEP’s Office of Sustainable Initiatives, which is comprised of three voluntary, non-regulatory programs that assist Florida industry and citizens in protecting the environment. The Clean Marina Program, the Florida Green Lodging Program and the Clean Vessel Act Grant Program. The goal of the Sustainable Initiatives programs is to meet the needs of the present population without compromising resources for future generations.


District plans to protect Florida's investment in Everglades Restoration
SunSentinel by Eric Buermann
September 23, 2009
A recent Sun Sentinel article focused heavily on the costs associated with halting construction of an Everglades restoration project. However, the article did not fully convey the difficult and bold steps taken by the South Florida Water Management District to protect taxpayer interests.
At 25 square miles, the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir was designed to store enough water from Lake Okeechobee to reduce harmful discharges to Florida's coastal estuaries, improve water quality and help achieve healthy water levels for the lake ecosystem.
Nearly a year after the District began construction, the National Resources Defense Council and others filed a lawsuit challenging the construction permit issued to the District by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Our Governing Board wisely chose to suspend and later terminate construction to protect $400 million in taxpayer funds that would have been put at risk by moving forward without clarity on the status of the "building permit”.
The difficult decision to halt construction closes a chapter on the EAA Reservoir site, but its story as a valuable part of the vision for Everglades restoration is far from over. The public planning process for the River of Grass land acquisition is incorporating the site into projects to benefit the South Florida ecosystem. None of the investment is being lost because work already performed for the reservoir will provide a head start in building those projects.
The District recognizes the significant investment of public funds that has been made in Everglades restoration. We are committed to protecting that investment and South Florida's natural resources through prudent decision making that creates tangible, long-term environmental benefits.


Lake Okeechobee pollution high
The Associated Press 
September 23, 2009
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The amount of phosphorus pollution in Lake Okeechobee has reached more than four times the level that state agencies hope to reach six years from now.
State and federal data show that 656 tons of phosphorous flowed into Lake Okeechobee between May 1, 2008 and April 30, 2009.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection in 2001 set its target level at 140 tons a year. However, the agency noted Tuesday it has until 2015 to meet that requirement, and that they were working toward that goal.
The department said phosphorous levels increased from last year, largely because of more rainfall.
The nutrient runoff has stymied Everglades restoration for decades, because it can nourish algae blooms and poison ecosystems.


Lake Okeechobee Pollution Levels Spike Out of Control
Common By Jerry Phillips
September 23, 2009
Everglades Restoration Imperiled by Imploding South Florida Water Quality
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - September 23 - Water pollution in Florida's Lake Okeechobee has reached new record levels and threatens to get worse, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency figures jointly released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Council of Civic Associations, Inc. The key pollutant, phosphorus, has approximately doubled in Lake Okeechobee over the past decade and is now at a level four times the legal limit, making prospects for restoring the Everglades remote.
In a September 8, 2009 e-mail circulated to state and federal officials working on Everglades restoration issues, EPA official Eric Hughes summarized the latest "Total Phosphorus" data for Lake Okeechobee:

  • Current levels are "approximately 4 times" the legal maximum level of phosphorus for the 730-square mile lake. The phosphorus figures would have been worse except that "two consecutive ‘dry' hydrological yrs (2007 & 2008 water years)" slightly depressed the rate of increase;
  • In the 2009 period, an estimated 656 tons of phosphorus will be added to Lake Okeechobee, the highest pollution level ever recorded in the nation's fourth largest lake; and
  • Phosphorus levels have steadily worsened in Lake Okeechobee, with the current five year pollution average more than three times the first recorded five year average in the late 1970's.

"There is a 300 square mile ‘muck zone' on the bottom of Lake Okeechobee containing 100 tons of phosphorus for which there is no clean-up plan," stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former water enforcement attorney with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. "No wonder Lake Okeechobee is like the elephant in the living room that everyone absolutely dreads discussing."
Florida is legally committed to reaching a maximum limit of 140 tons of phosphorus per year (compared with the current 572 ton-per-year average) in Lake Okeechobee by 2015, a mandate that now seems impossible. At the same time, a series of federal court decisions have excoriated EPA's lack of oversight for failing to enforce Clean Water Act protections in the Sunshine State.
"The Everglades cannot be restored until Lake Okeechobee is cleaned up because we cannot pump dirty water through the national park," said Civic Council Association President Ann Hauck. "Billions of dollars of taxpayer funds have been wasted on a restoration plan that is not restoring anything."
When the nutrient-laden waters of Lake Okeechobee are diverted to protect the Everglades, algal blooms result in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, causing devastating losses for both local fishing and tourism industries.
"Lake O is being run like a giant algal bloom assembly line," Phillips added, noting that both PEER and the Council of Civic Associations have been calling for an investigation of the utter breakdown in EPA management and enforcement. "EPA needs to clean house in its Atlanta regional office and bring in some folks who know what they are doing."


Palm Beach County pays Army Corps $175,000 to hasten permit process
September 23, 2009
WEST PALM BEACH — Palm Beach County will spend $175,000 to have a federal employee expedite its permit applications.
Despite earlier misgivings about why such a payment should be needed, county commissioners on Tuesday voted to pay the annual salary and benefits to have an Army Corps of Engineer employee designated exclusively for Palm Beach County projects.
This will be the third year the county has paid for the expedited service, which has drawn the ire of several county commissioners who say federal tax dollars alone should cover the federal agency's work.
The vote came a week after commissioners said they no longer wanted to use county property tax revenue to pay for the service. Instead, commissioners agreed Tuesday to use other fees and grants to cover the bill.
Commissioners voted in 2007 to spend up to $377,000 to cover the employee's salary for two years.
At that time, they pointed to a series of beach erosion projects, including one off of Singer Island, for which they had spent months trying for federal approvals. County environmental managers are still waiting for the permits for the Singer Island project, which would allow the county to install breakwaters to protect the beaches from losing sand during storms.
The 2007 agreement was set to expire Sept. 30. Tuesday's decision extends it for one year.
County Administrator Bob Weisman said it would be the final extension.
"Staff has no intention to bring this back one more time," Weisman told the board.
Commissioner Burt Aaronson, a critic of the contract, said he wants the county to force the Corps to expedite permit reviews without extra payments from local governments. "Hopefully we can ask Congress," he said.
The issue has drawn the attention of U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar. His office plans to send a letter to the Corps about the issue, Hastings' chief of staff, Lale Mamaux, said.
The Water Resources Development Act of 2000 allows local governments to pay the Corps to expedite their permits. The county is one of a handful of governments across the country that has agreed to pay for the service, Corps officials said.
The South Florida Water Management District also pays for a federal employee to review its projects.
"They are paying for a dedicated person that can engage with them," Tori White, chief of the Corps of Engineers south permit branch in Palm Beach Gardens, said last week.
"Short of them funding that, we are not set up to operate that way," she said.
Without the agreement, the county's two dozen permits would be divided among the office's staff, leaving the county without a dedicated go-to person, White said.


Florida man in hospital after dangerous amoeba infection
The Orlando Sentinel by Walter Pacheco and Bianca Prieto 
September 22, 2009
ORLANDO, Fla. — A 22-year-old Orlando-area man is hospitalized after being infected with the same deadly amoeba that killed three boys in 2007, according to the Orange County, Fla., Health Department.
The department warned county residents to be careful when swimming or doing water sports in local lakes and ponds, especially when the water is warm, because of the potential for the amoeba Naegleria fowleri to be present.
The amoeba can cause amoebic meningoencephalitis, a rare and deadly infection that begins when the water-born amoeba is forced up the nose and then travels to the spinal cord and the brain.
The health department said it would release no details about the current case because of confidentially rules. But it did note the patient had a "history of freshwater exposure" prior to his hospitalization.
According to the department, that exposure took place at the Orlando Watersports Complex, a water park designed for wakeboarding, wakeskating, kneeboarding and waterskiing. The agency still was investigating whether the young man spent time in other bodies of water, said spokesman Mirna Chamorro.
The parents of one of the boys who died from the amoeba in 2007 later sued that same complex, where the youth had taken wakeboarding lessons prior to his death.
The complex released a statement saying it did not know the identity of the sick man, nor the source of his infection. The statement said Orlando Watersports is "committed, first and foremost, to the safety of its patrons." It follows all state and county health requirements, including water testing, and it encourages its patrons to use nose clips — and even provides free ones to anyone using its facility, the statement said.
Health officials were at the complex today handing out informational flyers about how residents can protect themselves against the amoeba, Chamorro said.
Symptoms of the disease — including headaches, nausea, confusion and seizures — can start within a day of infection or not until two weeks later. Once the symptoms start, the infection typically spreads rapidly, often causing death within three to seven days, the department said.
It is not always fatal, however, Chamorro said.
"Our hearts and prayers go out to this young man’s family," said Dr. Kevin M. Sherin, the department’s director, in a statement.
The amoeba can be found in any body of fresh water or in poorly maintained or minimally chlorinated pools. It is more likely to be present in warm water and or when water levels are low.
The infection "generally happens during activities such as swimming, diving, water skiing, or wake boarding," the department said.
In the summer of 2007, three boys, ages 10, 11 and 14, died from the amoeba, prompting health officials to post signs about the potential of infection at public swimming sites and Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty to say, "The safest thing you can do right now is to stay out of the water."
The disease is very rare. Nationally, there were 33 cases between 1998 and 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The health department is recommending that residents:
- Avoid "water-related activities" in warm freshwater, bodies of water where water levels are low, hot springs and "thermally polluted water" around power plants.
- Hold their noses shut or use nose clips, if they are taking part in water activities in any of the above.
- Avoid stirring up the sediment in shallow, warm freshwater.


Water debate may come to head at workshop
The Gainesville Sun by Fred Hiers
September 22, 2009
Using the Ocklawaha and St. Johns rivers as sources of drinking water is main issue.
The fate of the Ocklawaha and St. Johns rivers as sources of drinking water will get a little closer to being sealed this week.
Florida water agency scientists will meet Wednesday and Thursday in Gainesville to discuss their latest finding as to the potential effect of siphoning water from the St. Johns River and later the Ocklawaha River.
The meeting at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center is open to the public and will also be broadcast on the St. Johns River Water Management District's Web site.
The workshop is the latest in a series of meetings that began almost two years ago as part of the water district's plan to look for water sources to meet the need of Florida's growing population.
Larry Battoe, the water district's assistant director of environmental sciences, said that nothing scientists have found in their research so far - which will be presented at this week's workshops - has refuted the district's belief that it is safe to remove water from the St. Johns and Ocklawaha rivers.
The water agency's plan is to remove an estimated 262 million gallons per day from the two rivers, of which about 100 million would come from the Ocklawaha. One proposed site to remove water from the Ocklawaha is at the State Road 40 bridge in Marion County. Florida's water districts have warned that by 2013 they will put the brakes on issuing any more permits for groundwater withdrawal, because of fears that continued siphoning would adversely alter aquifer levels and the springs and rivers they feed.
The workshops have become the focal point of bitter disagreement between the water district and area environmentalists, who argue neither river can afford to have water taken from them, especially the Ocklawaha.
Battoe said the scientists involved in the water removal study aren't involved in the politics of the issue.
"We are looking after the best interests of the river," he said. "The scientists' job is to determine the effects [of removing water] and communicating that information [to the district's decision makers]."
Initially, district scientists estimated they could withdraw water from the St. Johns River and lower its depth no more than about 1 1/2 inches. During the workshops, scientists will discuss their progress in estimating what that will do to the river's wildlife and the water's chemical makeup, namely the amount of salt that will migrate from the Atlantic Ocean up the river.
Scientists are also studying taking water from the Ocklawaha River, but still have not determined minimum flows and levels for Silver Springs and the Ocklawaha and Silver rivers. The tabulated flows and levels are expected to be concluded by 2011. Minimum flows and levels show how low a river can be allowed to fall before there is damage to the river's wildlife and vegetation.
The problem in determining minimum flows for the Ocklawaha is that its flow has already declined about 40 percent during the past 40 years.
Robin Lewis, president of the Putnam County Environmental Council, said he fears that the water district won't take that into account when determining minimum flows.
"We'll take it to court," Lewis said, warning that legal action is probably the only way to stop the water district from taking Ocklawaha water.
Lewis said the water district's two jobs are a contradiction, which is at the root of the problem when determining the Ocklawaha's future.
One of its jobs is to issue water permits if the applicant uses the water in a beneficial way, such as for development. Its other job is to protect Florida's waterways.
Lewis said the district can't do both at the same time.
The St. Johns River Water Management District's population, which includes half of Marion County, is expected to grow to 5.9 million people by 2025, a 67 percent increase from 1995. The demand for water in the district will almost double to 836 million gallons per day during the next 16 years. The Ocklawaha is the St. Johns River's largest tributary, emptying more than 900 million gallons of water per day into the river.


Water pollution ?  Toxic tap ?  No excuses not to drink H2O
Orlando Sentinel by Rebecca Williams
September 22, 2009
We know we're supposed to drink lots of water -- at least eight 8-ounce glasses per day, right? It's especially important to replenish fluids and prevent dehydration when we're working out on a regular basis.
But with reports of polluted water from the New York Times and other sources, drinking water may not only seem less appealing, but also just downright dangerous. lists Florida among the states with the most toxic tap water. The site has the following statistics about the Sunshine State:
"Among the 17 million people exposed to a combination of over 107 contaminants, 9.2 million were exposed to the mineral barium, which seeps into water from drilling and mining runoff as well as erosion of natural deposits. Of these, 25,000 were exposed to amounts of barium that exceeded health limits. Over 11 million Floridians also may have consumed radium-226, a radioactive element found around uranium deposits that can potentially cause cancer, in their water. And 11,113 people were exposed to excessive amounts of it."
OK, so this may mean tap water is out for the time being.
In a time when we're all scrimping and saving, though, it's not exactly economical to buy bottled water (though that is, of course, an option).
Here are some more feasible ways to get your daily water quota, while avoiding those scary toxins and keeping your wallet in check:
(Remember, these are just a few of your many options for healthy, clean water ... so drink up!)
**Brita water pitchers: Priced from $10.99 for the Slim Pitcher to $31.99 for the Chrome Pitcher, these water-filter pitchers are certified to reduce levels of copper, mercury and cadmium in your tap water. The Brita Web site says each pitcher "can effectively replace as many as 300 standard 16.9-ounce bottles." Money in your pocket.
**PUR faucet-mounted filters: For a price of only $28.64 to $52.69, depending on the model you choose, these mounted filters provide about 100 gallons of purified water, straight from your tap. The PUR Web site says "the cost of water from a home filtration system is approximately 78 percent less per gallon than bottled." Cha-ching!
**Pure Water 2Go portable water bottles: These convenient, on-the-go bottle filters purify water as you drink. They go for $7.95 for a 20-ounce bottle that treats up to 40 gallons of water to $15.95 for a 27-ounce sport bottle that purifies up to 80 gallons of water. The bottle filters remove significant amounts of lead, copper and mercury.
**EcoUsable filtered water bottles: Not only do these stainless-steel bottles filter your water as you go with the ech2o Ionic-Adsorption Micro-Filtration System, but they also are environmentally safe (made of recyclable materials). The EcoUsable Web site says each bottle top "removes up to 99.99% of pollutants for up to 100 gallons of great-tasting filtered water." The bottles are available in many different colors and designs, and go from $12.49 for the 10-ouncer to $39.99 for the 25-ouncer.


Will tougher python species put its squeeze on Everglades ?
September 22, 2009
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The largest snake in Africa, a powerful constrictor that consumes goats, wart hogs and crocodiles, has been found east of the Everglades, raising the possibility it is breeding in the wild in a state already overrun with non-native wildlife.
Authorities are investigating the discovery of three African rock pythons in western Miami-Dade County over the past few months, including a juvenile and a female with eggs.
Although Florida wildlife officials hope these were simply released pets, they are taking seriously the danger that a second non-native constrictor has established itself in the state alongside the Burmese python, now estimated to number in the thousands in Everglades National Park.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission plans to send officers to the area where the snakes were found this summer.
"We're not sure whether it's someone releasing them or not," said Scott Hardin, exotic species coordinator for the Florida wildlife commission. "It's enough to be concerned. We are sending our people to look through the area to determine the extent of it."
Experts say the danger to people is remote, but there have been fatal attacks. A 10-year-old boy was killed and eaten by an African rock python in 2002 in South Africa. And in 1999 a pet African rock python in Centralia, Ill., slipped out of its enclosure and strangled a 3-year-old boy.
A more realistic danger is to South Florida's environment, where non-native species can consume wildlife, displace native predators and cause unpredictable changes to already stressed wild lands.
Lt. Lisa Wood, of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Venom Response Team, found two of the snakes. One night in late May, investigating a report of a giant snake on the road, she found a female about 9 feet long injured by a vehicle. The snake contained about three dozen eggs.
"Had she made it across the road, there would have been quite a lot of babies hatched," Wood said.
In August, in another worrisome indication the snakes may be breeding, Wood found a 28-inch juvenile that had been shot with a BB gun, still bulging from a recently consumed grackle.
The African rock python is found on dry land near lakes and streams in Africa south of the Sahara desert. It can grow longer than 20 feet, although specimens of 16 feet are more typical. Although this places it below the Burmese python in size, the African snake has a reputation for aggressiveness that makes it less popular than the Burmese in the pet trade.
In the past five years, 3,158 African rock pythons have been imported into the United States for commercial sales, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This makes the snake far less popular than other constrictors, such as the smaller, mild-tempered ball python, of which 619,488 were imported, or the Burmese, of which 19,817 were brought in.
Greg Graziani, a Central Florida reptile breeder who has volunteered to help hunt Burmese pythons in the Everglades, said the west Miami-Dade area where they were found seemed too densely populated to conceal a breeding population of such large reptiles, since so few have actually been discovered.
"When you're talking about a breeding population, you're talking about large snakes," he said. "When they're large enough to be breeders, they're going to be seen."
There's a chance the Burmese and African rock pythons could mate, since the two species have produced offspring in captivity, said Bill Turner, a biologist with the state wildlife commission. Such a hybrid could be a tougher animal than either of the pure breeds, he said, but it would almost certainly be sterile.
The Burmese python has become the symbol of the danger of non-native species, having established a self-sustaining population in the Everglades, where the snakes eat wading birds, raccoons, deer and other native wildlife.
The Florida wildlife commission now requires Burmese pythons, African rock pythons and several other snakes have microchips implanted to prevent owners from abandoning them. And Congress is considering legislation that would ban the import and interstate transport of the two species of snake.
Amy Devilbiss, a reptile hobbyist and employee of JP Pets of Sanford, near Orlando, which imported 335 African rock pythons, said the snakes may have been released by people who realized they couldn't take care of such a large, high-maintenance animal.
"People get them and they get overwhelmed," she said. "I tell people you have to understand what you're getting into."
Length: Adults average 16 feet but can grow to more than 20 feet
Prey: Gazelles, wart hogs, monkeys, rats, birds, small Nile crocodiles
Hunting: Uses heat-receptive cells on upper lip to detect warm-blooded prey, even in darkness
Strikes with back-curved teeth and coils around prey
Habitat: Grasslands and forests near water in sub-Saharan Africa


4 presumed dead in plane crash in Fla. Everglades
Associated Press
September 21, 2009
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Rescue crews are returning to the Florida Everglades to comb the site of a small plane crash that killed as many as four people on board.
A Broward County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman says the single-engine plane went down about 6 p.m. Sunday west of Fort Lauderdale. Rescue teams using airboats to search the marshy waters found no survivors Sunday.
Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Arlene Salac says the plane left Gainesville and was headed to an executive airport in Fort Lauderdale. She says the pilot radioed that he was having problems with the Piper PA-32.
The plane is registered to Bull Gator Air Inc., in Sea Ranch Lakes. Nobody answered a call to the company early Monday.


Amoeba infection confirmed in Florida
United Press International
September 21, 2009
ORLANDO, Fla., Sept. 21 (UPI) -- An amoeba infection that killed three boys in Orlando, Fla., in 2007 has been confirmed in a 22-year-old man, authorities said.
The man was hospitalized Sunday in Orlando, Orange County health officials told the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel in a story published Monday.
The three boys and the man suffered from amoebic meningoencephalitis, a rare infection that occurs when the warm-water amoeba Naegleria fowleri is forced up the nose to the spinal cord and the brain, the Sentinel said.
The 22-year-old man was exposed to warm freshwater at the Orlando Watersports complex, health department spokesman Mirna Chamorro said.
The family of one of the boys who died in 2007 later sued the complex, saying the boy had take wake-boarding lessons at the complex before he was stricken, the Sentinel reported.
In a statement late Sunday, owners of the water complex said they follow all health requirements, including water testing, and provide free nose clips to anyone using their facility.


Florida among the top ten states for dirty tap water
SunSentinel by Daniel Vasquez
September 21, 2009
A recent New York Times series called "Toxic Waters" has rightly drawn attention to the issue of drinking safe – or unsafe, as the case may be – tap water.
The reports reveals that the federal government could do a much better job of regulating the Clean Safe Water Act. Apparently, 40 percent of the U.S. community water systems are in violation, resulting in what appears to be unsafe drinking conditions. About 23 million Americans consume "low-quality" water from the tap.
Florida's dirtiest water: Florida ranks among the top ten dirtiest states, according to The website reports that approximately 17 million Floridians have been exposed to bad tap water containing more than 100 contaminants. More than 9 million Floridians, for example, may have been in contact with barium runoff from mines. For some perspective, approximately 25,000 of those 9 million people were exposed to amounts of barium considered to be unsafe. Additionally, about 11 million state residents may have drunk water with radium-26, found around natural uranium deposits, with more than 11,000 of those coming into contact with high levels. 
California, Wisconsin and Ohio also join the list of states with dirty water. Check out AOL's photo gallery with the 10 worst states.
Unfortunately, we can't simply turn to bottled water, as many manufacturers do not fully report where they obtain the water, nor what is in it.


Local officials OK with nuclear power plants being built nearby
The North Florida HERALD by Brad Goldbach
September 21, 2009
While the state has given approval to construct two nuclear power plants nearby in Levy County, some local officials did not have any safety concerns about having a nuclear power plant so close. In fact, the only concern raised about building the plants centered on the financial impact they would have.
 “You don’t really hear of any accidents involving nuclear reactors on Navy ships,” Alachua City Commissioner Jean Calderwood said. “Looking back on the history of nuclear power plants, I would say we are standing on pretty solid ground.”
High Springs Mayor Jim Gabriel, who said he doesn’t have much background knowledge of the proposed Levy plants, said he is generally in favor of a nuclear power plant.
So is Newberry City Commissioner Bill Conrad, who said the plant will provide safe and reliable energy along with creating job opportunities for young people.
Calderwood stressed the importance of the country exploring other sources of energy to help reduce the reliance on environmentally unfriendly sources, such as coal or oil.
When safety concerns were brought up, officials stated their confidence in government regulatory agencies that oversee such decisions.
Calderwood believes that if and when the nuclear power plant is constructed, all the checks and balances encountered during the approval process will ensure the utmost safety of citizens.
Fort White Mayor Truett George echoed that sentiment.
 “We don’t need another Chernobyl happening,” George said. “But the safeguards are in place to prevent that from happening.”
George even compared the fears of nuclear energy to those of electricity in the past, saying that people were afraid of the safety of electricity for years but now don’t even think twice about it.
While safety concerns seemed virtually nonexistent, Conrad did raise a concern over the financial situation that may arise with the construction of a nuclear plant involving smaller cities.
The nuclear power plants are expected to cost $17 billion but are not expected to be operational until at least 2019.
But that doesn’t mean that financial concerns haven’t already come into play.
Local taxpayers are already paying additional electrical charges to help pay for the construction of the plant, while a local power company is being asked to pay $300 million up front to have a fraction of a share in the plant, according to Conrad.
The price is simply too high for a local company to pay for a plant that may not be up and running until 2020, Conrad said.
 “This is the kind of thing that can go on for 10 or 20 years,” he said. “It’s too small a city and too small a company to pay that kind of money.”
That’s a sentiment that has already been shared by Gainesville Regional Utilities, which turned down a similar offer last year, according to The Gainesville Sun.
While local officials seem to be in favor of the plants’ positive possibilities, that hasn’t deterred local protestors from voicing their opinions.
Local members of the Green Party have already publicly voiced their opposition to the construction of the nuclear power plants.
About a dozen more protestors stood in front of the state capitol holding signs in protest of the plant’s approval in August.
Other protestors have turned to the Internet, starting a page on Facebook titled, “Stop the Levy County Nuclear Power Plant!” The group already has over 300 members.
Although the state has approved the plants, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission still has the final say on approval, which is expected to come sometime in 2011. If the approval is finalized at that time, the plants are expected to be operational by 2019.
The lengthy process is one that is necessary in arriving at an important decision that will affect many people.
“It’s not the sort of thing you can propose, then approve, then build right away,” Calderwood said. “There’s not a rush. Once it’s there, it’s there.”


MRSA not in Florida, but use caution at beaches
TampaBay by Letitia Stein
September 21, 2009
Recent reports of a dangerous staph bacteria surfacing on the coast of Washington state may have Floridians asking questions about the safety of their own beaches.
Experts say it's always smart to think about water safety in general, and preventing bacterial contamination in particular. But skip the beach? No way, says Marilyn Roberts, researcher of the study that raised questions about MRSA on Washington's beaches.
Still, Roberts and other experts said, it's smart to know what MRSA and other bugs are, and how you can be exposed to them. Hint: If you're one of those people who think a great way to heal a wound is to take a dip in the ocean, you're wrong.
The hard-to-treat bug known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is more commonly found in hospitals, schools, day care centers and gyms. Until recently, it had not been reported at beaches, and Florida beaches are not tested for its presence.
But more than 300 Florida beaches, including almost two dozen in Pinellas and Hillsborough, are tested weekly for two other types of bacteria that tend to show up when harmful pollutants are present. While it's rare that harmful levels are found, experts say it's never a bad idea to play carefully at the beach.
"Always remember, the ocean is nature," said David Polk, coordinator for the state's Healthy Beaches program. "When you go the beach, before you eat, remember to wash your hands. Remember to take a shower and practice good sanitary hygiene."
MRSA and staph
Staph is a type of a bacteria commonly found in the nose and on the skin. In fact, about 30 percent of people carry it in their noses, but don't have any symptoms, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
MRSA is a type of staph that is resistant to some antibiotics. It usually is responsible for skin infections, which can almost always be treated. More serious infections are rare in healthy people.
MRSA skin infections look like sores or boils — red, swollen, painful and pus-filled. They occur commonly where there are cuts in the skin and in areas of the body covered by hair.
For some time, health officials have warned that schools, day cares and jails are conducive to the spread of MRSA. So are athletic facilities, where many people are touching common surfaces like weight benches or sharing towels,and during highly physical contact sports like wrestling and football.
Now preliminary research suggests the bacteria may be more prevalent at beaches than previously thought.
In coastal Washington state, researchers said they have found MRSA in marine water and beach sand. Their study was small — the bacteria was found in half of the 10 beaches tested — and has not yet been published, a step that generally subjects scientific work to rigorous review.
Still, there's nothing unique about the beaches in Washington, noted Roberts, the researcher and professor of public health at the University of Washington, calling the findings relevant nationally.
Since more people go swimming in Florida's warmer water, she said, our beaches may harbor even more staph bacteria, including MRSA, than the colder water tested on the West Coast.
Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Miami reported that swimmers at public beaches face increased risk for exposure to staph bacteria. But their study, which also has not been published, found very little MRSA in the waters sampled.
None of this means people should stay away from Florida beaches. That's just "silly," said Roberts, stressing the importance of caution, especially if cuts or abrasions are exposed to the water and sand.
"If things start getting red and pussy and oozy, those things need to be washed," she said, noting that it's okay to use topical antibiotics. "But if it doesn't start getting better in a few days, then you need to see help. Don't let it go any further."
Testing program keeps eye on beach health
While Florida beaches are not tested for MRSA, public health officials frequently screen for pollutants that can cause people to get sick, most commonly with upset stomachs and diarrhea.
The Healthy Beaches program tests for two types of bacteria: fecal coliform and enterococci, considered indicators of poor water quality.
Stormwater runoff, pets, wildlife and human sewage can contribute to high concentrations. But such findings are rare. Only about 4 percent of samples statewide come back high enough for health officials to issue advisories, said Polk, the program coordinator.
Industrial and chemical pollutants are monitored through other government efforts that tend to be more focused on the health of the ecosystem, which applies to human safety as well as marine life.
But local health departments weekly sample water from six beaches in Hillsborough and 14 in Pinellas. Runoff after heavy rainfall is a primary source of problems, officials say. The beaches that are prime concerns are North Shore in St. Petersburg and Ben T. Davis on the Courtney Campbell Parkway.
Brandy Downing, Healthy Beaches coordinator for Pinellas, noted that the old advice about going into the water to help with healing isn't necessarily true.
But at eight months pregnant, she's not worried about being out in the water every week, or even wiggling her bare toes on its shores. "I even play in the sand with my feet."


Radium in water: Palm Beach County Health Department answers your water safety questions
Palm Beach Post by Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
September 21, 2009
What is radium ?
Radium is a naturally occurring element that is found in low levels in nature. It is found in nearly all rock, soil, water, plants and animals. Radium is one of several types of elements that changes forms. When it changes forms, it releases excess energy. When a radium atom breaks down, it releases energy in the form of two types of radiation. These are known as alpha and gamma radiation. Often a number follows the term radium (radium 226 or radium 228). The number refers to the total number of protons and neutrons within the atom. Different forms of radium breakdown at different rates. Each form releases different types of energy.
How does radium get into my drinking water ?
Radium was deposited in ancient seas that now make up the Florida aquifer, where we get our drinking water. In Florida, some sediment left behind by ancient seas has radionuclides from nature. Radionuclides are atoms with unstable nucleuses. Water passing through sediments will build up things in the water, including radium.
What is the drinking water standard for radium ?
All drinking water has some chemicals in it. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets standards for the number of chemicals safe drinking water can contain. The total amount of radium allowed in drinking water is 5 picocuries for each liter of water. That is a very small amount.
EPA sets maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) allowed in drinking water. MCLs are levels of chemicals that can be in water that EPA still finds safe to drink. The process for measuring radiation is complex. Scientists test the rate that radioactive material decays in measurement units called "curies." The level of radioactivity in water is very low. It is measured in even smaller units, called picocuries (pCi). One picocurie equals one one-trillionth of a curie. In addition to radium, the gross alpha or total alpha radiation is measured when a water sample is taken. This measures the sum of radioactivity from many potential sources including radium. This total is a check to see if there may be other sources of radiation.
For drinking water standards, these units are determined per liter of water (about a quart). EPA bases current water quality standards on someone drinking two liters of water per day for a lifetime (70 years): the MCL for total radium (combined radium 226 and radium 228) in water is 5 picocuries per liter (5 pCi/L), and the MCL for gross alpha in water is 15 picocuries per liter (15 pCi/L).
What if levels of radium in my drinking water are higher than drinking water standard? Can I use my water ?
Drinking water with levels of radium above the standard MCL over a short time does not greatly raise the likely lifetime cancer risk. However, private well owners should try to meet the standard recommended by DOH. That means they should keep an average annual level of radium below the MCL. Using water for things like showering and bathing is not considered consumption like drinking. Such uses do not greatly increase health risks.
How do I know if I have radium 226/228 in my well ?
The best way to know is to have your well tested by a certified laboratory. There are several DOH approved laboratories in Florida that test for radionuclides in drinking water. Please see the attached list of approved labs.
How can I remove radium 226/228 from my well water ?
Radium can be removed from your drinking water using a water filter called a reverse osmosis and ion exchange filter. A list of water filters that will remove radium can be found at Some homeowners have been able to use water softeners to effectively remove radium but only testing your water after a water filter is installed will tell.
The EPA recommends putting in home treatments or filters to remove high levels of radium 226/228. The systems that work the best are reverse osmosis and ion exchange. The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) International Web site ( lists models of water systems that have been tested to take radium out of water. (See the attached list of types of water systems.) Other water softeners may also work, but have not been tested. Even a tested model will not work properly if the homeowner does not keep it up properly. People on a low sodium diet should think about how much extra sodium the use of an ion exchange (water softener) unit may add to their daily diet.
What if I already have a treatment system installed on my well ?
Like other devices we rely on daily - such as air conditioners - these systems work best when properly kept up.
What are the health risks of low-level radiation exposure?
We are all exposed to small amounts of radiation every day with no ill health effects. As the amount of radiation increases or the length of time you are exposed increases, the potential for ill health effects increases, as well.
A lifetime of exposure to low-level radiation may increase the risk of getting some types of cancer, such as bone cancer. The higher the exposure level and the longer amount of time someone is exposed, the greater the risk of getting cancer. By contrast, lower levels of exposure for shorter periods add little added risk for cancer.
People come into contact with radiation every day. This is known as "background exposure." However, for the most part, this exposure has no harmful effects. For example, people are exposed to radiation that is released when some naturally-occurring elements break down. They are also exposed when cosmic rays from space reach the earth. The amount of radiation one would get from a glass of water with an acceptable concentration of radium 226/228 would still be less than 1 percent of what else they are exposed to each day. Drinking water with a level of 5 pCi/L for a year is about the same as one chest x-ray. It is also about the same as cosmic radiation received during about five flights from Maryland to California.
Background exposure to things like radium in drinking water plays a very small role in a person's risk of getting cancer. However, efforts are still made to reduce risks of exposure. For this reason, standards are set for levels of radium and other radionuclides in public drinking water systems.
What other risks of cancer can radium in drinking water cause ?
Cancer is unfortunately a very common disease. While causes of cancer are often unknown, it makes sense to limit our exposure to anything that has the potential to increase our health risk. There are simple and effective methods to remove radium from drinking water.
Florida Department of Health (DOH) acknowledges the public's need to know about radium in drinking water and what added risk of cancer it represents. First, it is vital to know that, in general, cancer is not a rare disease. In fact when looking at all cancers from all causes in the U.S. and Florida, the projected rate during someone's lifetime is that one out of three people will get cancer. That is about 3,333 out of 10,000 people. Of those 3,333, three out of four people will die from cancer. EPA cites the likely risk of getting cancer in a lifetime due to drinking two liters per day of water with radium at the MCL is much lower than the rate of all cancers in the population, 1 out of 10,000 people.


Wildlife officials keeping eye on new pythons
The Associated Press
September 21, 2009
MIAMI -- A cluster of python captures within a square mile in South Florida has wildlife officials scrambling to prevent a new breed from spreading.
Authorities are investigating the discovery of three African rock pythons in west Miami-Dade County over the past few months, including a juvenile and a female with eggs. The snake is similar in size and appearance to the Burmese python that has increased in numbers in the Everglades since the early '90s, only considered much more aggressive.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission plans to send officers to the area where the snakes were found.
The spread of pythons, while not anything new in the state, has increasingly come into the public spotlight since an 8-foot Burmese pet python suffocated a 2-year-old girl in her bedroom in central Florida in July.


Beware, the water police are out and about in Indian River County
TCPALM by Ed Bierschenk
September 18, 2009
VERO BEACH — Chris Cowan is intimidating as he approaches some residential front doors around Indian River County.
He’s The Enforcer.
St. Johns River Water Management District watering guidelines enforcer, that is.
Cowan spent a decade in law enforcement, including a stint with the West Melbourne Police Department.
Now he’s with a technical placement organization -- Techstaff of Tampa -- that the water district contracted to enforce its watering restrictions.
New irrigation restrictions went into effect March 8 and apply to everybody living within the 18 counties covered by the district, including Indian River and Brevard.
The restrictions do not apply to treated wastewater, often referred to as reuse or reclaimed water, that is often used at golf courses, at certain developments, and at some individual businesses and residences.
Right now, residential watering is restricted to between 4 p.m. and 10 a.m. two days a week. With the end of daylight-saving time the first Sunday in November, watering will be limited to one day a week until it resumes next March.
Officials with various communities, including Vero Beach and Sebastian, said that after the new restrictions were imposed, they didn’t have the manpower to enforce them.
Some others like Fellsmere, however, have adopted ordinances that mirror St. Johns and use their employees to enforce the rules.
In an attempt to make sure the new rules are followed throughout the district, St. Johns decided to spend $202,000 with Techstaff to enforce the regulations and will triple that amount next year.
Beginning in June, nine Techstaff employees started traveling through Brevard and Indian River counties issuing verbal warnings to violators. Later, written warning letters were sent.
There have been about 250 verbal or written warnings issued in Indian River County and about 400 in Brevard County.
Subsequent violations by the same property owners could result in them being sent a notice of violation and assessed a fee. The penalties for residential violations start at $50 and for non-residential, $100. Penalties increase by $50 for each additional violation, according to district officials. So far, officials said, no fees have been assessed.
The enforcement action followed an educational campaign, including spots on television and radio about the new rules.
The soft-spoken Cowan said he also tries to explain the importance of conserving water. District officials said that for most Florida soils, applying no more than three-quarters of an inch of water to the lawn is enough to revitalize the grass.
Cowan, however, said he has slipped and fallen down on lawns because of the build-up of slime and mildew caused by excess watering.
On a recent day in Vero Beach, he spotted two homes in the 800 block of Iris Lane where sprinklers were running well past the 10 a.m. cut-off time. No one answered the door at either location, but he noted the addresses and called the information in to his office. Both property owners could receive violation warning letters unless it turns out they are using reuse water.
In one case, he noted that a drip irrigation system would do a better job of irrigating a portion of the lawn in front of the home than the sprinkler system, where much of the water evaporates in the atmosphere. Irrigation using a micro-spray, micro-jet, drip or bubbler irrigation system is allowed anytime.
While a few of the people he’s met have the attitude that they’ll water anytime on their own property, Cowan said the vast majority of his encounters are positive.
In some cases, people may not know their sprinkler system is going off during certain hours.
A renter in Sebastian was grateful to see Cowan because she didn’t know how to control the system that was soaking the yard to such an extent that her children couldn’t play on it. While restricted from making adjustments to the system, Cowan was able to show her where the control box was located.
“Most don’t realize they are doing it on the wrong day,” said Cowan.
Another woman complained to Cowan that it would be unfair if she was not able to use her sprinkler at a different time if it was raining on her assigned date.
Cowan told the woman that she should consider the free watering of her lawn as “a gift from God.”


Blame the moon for flooded streets in South Florida
Miami Herald by CURTIS MORGAN
September 18, 2009
High tides and lunar cycles -- not global warming -- are behind the abnormal water levels seen across South Florida.
In Key West, skippers awoke the past few days to find docks at Garrison Bight awash. In a stretch of Fort Lauderdale's beach north of Sunrise Boulevard, the sand between the Atlantic and A1A shrank to a narrow strip.
And in Miami Beach, the streets became flooded as salty water flowed up from storm drains along Alton Road.
It's not global warming. It's not from a tropical deluge. And it only lasts a few hours, waning with the tide.
For the past few days and the next few, South Florida is experiencing the effects of a perigean spring tide, a confluence of lunar events that add up to really big tides.
``This particular incident I wouldn't attribute to climate change,'' said Robert Molleda, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami-Dade County.
The alignment of moon and earth in the fall always triggers strong tides in South Florida. A new moon Friday will produce this month's maximum flow. On top of that, the moon was at perigee on Wednesday, or its closet point to Earth this month.
``That enhances the spring tides,'' said Jon Rizzo, a Weather Service meteorologist in Key West.
The result: Several days of higher high tides -- a foot above normal in some spots.
That wouldn't raise an eyebrow farther north, but it is hard to miss in South Florida -- particularly on coastal barrier islands like Miami Beach.
With the city's lowest point near Alton Road and 10th Street sitting 2.8 feet above sea level, it's easy to calculate what happens when tides reach 3.4 feet above sea level. A storm system intended to drain rain into surrounding waters instead pushes surrounding waters into the streets.
Miami Beach has slogged through serious and expensive floods over the last few years.
Last September, similar tidal-driven flooding stalled cars and created block-sized puddles, mostly in the Flamingo Park neighborhood of South Beach. In June, a storm dumped seven to nine inches of rain on the city, closing causeways and leaving The Fontainebleau with ankle-deep water in its night club.
Assistant City Manager Hilda Fernandez and city engineer Fernando Vasquez said the city is doing all it can with its antiquated drainage system. Workers are cleaning out pipes and outfalls and targeting problem areas for improvements. The city also is spending $1 million to study how to overhaul the entire system, projects that will easily cost 100 times more.
Until bigger pipes and more pumps are in place years from now, Fernandez acknowledged, there are limited options to deal with the impact of lunar alignments.
``We are an island,'' she said. ``There are only so many places for the water to go.''
Fortunately, forecasters said, other factors aren't worsening things. Thunderstorms, high winds or hurricanes could dramatically increase flooding -- particularly along beaches.
``There is very little wind right now,'' Rizzo said. ``It's nice to not have much surf.''


EPA gets busy
Miami Herald Editorial
September 18, 2009
OUR OPINION: Agency finally tackles pollution from coal-fired power
Whether it's because the Environmental Protection Agency is operating under a more environmentally friendly administration or because of a lawsuit, the agency has announced -- after many years of delay -- that it will revise standards for water discharges from coal-fired power plants to reduce pollution.
Either way, the decision is good for our drinking-water supply. The standards now in effect were issued in 1982 and are hopelessly out of sync with today's electric power industry.
Florida has fewer coal-fired power plants than many other states, but it only takes one to contaminate nearby waterways. When the EPA adopts the new standards they will be applied by the state.
Air-pollution controls that remove particulates from utilities' smokestacks have vastly improved air quality. But the equipment used to clean these emissions -- the ``scrubbers'' that clean boiler exhaust with water -- too often send the resulting dirty water into rivers and other waters.
The technology exists to clean this water, but very few power plants use it. The EPA's new standards should correct this oversight.
Coal-fired plants also pollute water from the coal ash left over from generating power, which is often stored in ponds that can pollute underground water.
In September three environmental groups announced a lawsuit accusing EPA of dragging its feet on setting limits for coal-power plant pollutants. The groups say that the Clean Water Act requires the agency to conduct a review of the rules for power-plant discharges once a year and revise them when appropriate. They say that, instead, the EPA has merely studied the discharges for 15 years.
Whether the lawsuit or the Obama administration prodded the EPA out of its lethargy matters less than that it is finally acting to protect our waters from this particular noxious pollution.


Halted reservoir construction leaves South Florida taxpayers with $280 million tab
South Florida Sun Sentinel by Andy Reid
September 18, 2009
Thundering explosions that shook the earth and stopped traffic on U.S. 27 once signaled progress in South Florida's long-stalled struggle to provide water to revive the Everglades.
Work crews spent nearly two years scraping away muck and blasting through limestone to lay the groundwork for a city-sized reservoir on farmland in southwest Palm Beach County.
But now, after South Florida taxpayers invested almost $280 million in the unfinished project, water managers say the reservoir might be in the wrong place.
Instead of becoming one of the first finished projects in the multi-billion-dollar replumbing of the Everglades' River of Grass, work was stopped in June 2008. Last week, the South Florida Water Management District voted to spend $12 million to cancel the construction contract.
District officials insist that taxpayer money was not wasted on a $280 million boondoggle. Instead of walking away, they say they just pushed pause and are re-evaluating how to best use the land.
Everglades restoration plans are changing because of the pending half-billion-dollar deal to buy 73,000 acres from U.S. Sugar Corp to build reservoirs and stormwater treatment areas.
The unfinished reservoir project could be converted to a less-expensive treatment area or smaller reservoir that fits in better with plans for U.S. Sugar land, according to the district.
The U.S. Sugar deal, coupled with a legal challenge filed against the reservoir, made it more fiscally responsible to stop building the reservoir than to proceed with another $400 million in anticipated construction costs, district board Chairman Eric Buermann said.
"We had to make a decision," Buermann said. "People fret too much by looking at the short term and not playing the whole thing out. … This is for the long-term benefits."
Yet critics of the U.S. Sugar deal point to the unfinished reservoir as evidence that the land buy just leads to more delays and diverts money from helping the long-suffering Everglades.
They dispute that the district can easily rework the construction at the reservoir site into another restoration project.
Leaving the reservoir unfinished was a waste of money and a "disaster for the Everglades," said Dexter Lehtinen, attorney for the Miccosukee Tribe. The tribe's lands are located in the Everglades and Lehtinen is waging a legal battle against the U.S. Sugar deal.
"We have gone backward because of the U.S. Sugar deal," Lehtinen said.
The reservoir was supposed to be a key part of the plan to correct decades of draining land for farming and development that robbed the Everglades of water.
The 16,700-acre reservoir, planned on old sugar cane fields beside U.S. 27, could have held 62 billion gallons of stormwater. Embankments rising 30-feet high were envisioned to hold a massive pool of water up to 12.5 feet deep.
The work completed so far included a 13.5-mile-long canal to capture water that seeps through the earthen structure. Work crews also scraped away the mucky soil in a 100-foot-wide, 22-mile-long swath of land that was to become the base of the reservoir embankments.
During the summer of 2008, the reservoir construction was to move into its costliest phase -- building the 22 miles of embankments as well as a 60-foot-tall "curtain wall" of clay that would stretch below the ground to guard against flooding.
The wall is necessary for a deep-water reservoir, said Tommy Strowd, who oversees district restoration projects.
 "Once you start that, you either were going to build a reservoir or nothing. There was no going back," Strowd said.
The district's board opted to at least temporarily stop construction, initially citing concerns about the ramifications of a lingering legal challenge to the reservoir filed by the National Resources Defense Council.
Representatives for the environmental group were surprised by the move, saying they didn't want construction stopped but instead wanted more guarantees that the reservoir water would be dedicated to environmental needs.
Just a few weeks after construction stopped in June 2008, Gov. Charlie Crist and district officials announced plans to buy U.S. Sugar farmland.
The reservoir was originally supposed to be finished by 2010. "That should have been the priority," said district board member Michael Collins, who cast the only vote against canceling the construction contract.
Instead, the district is focused on trying to borrow the money needed to close on the U.S. Sugar deal by a June deadline.
Meanwhile, those mounds of rock piled on the reservoir land near U.S. 27 stand as a monument to stalled progress.


New water-depth evaluation system will aid Everglades research, study shows by University of Florida
September 18, 2009
It refers to the importance of water depth -- making sure the proper areas are dry or marshy or submerged. For decades, experts had to take their own water-depth measurements or get data from multiple agencies.
In March 2005, things got easier. A modeling system called the Everglades Depth Estimation Network, or EDEN, went online. Developed by the U.S. Geological Survey working with the University of Florida and Florida Atlantic University, the system provides daily estimates of water depth and other information for most of the Everglades.
Now, a UF study verifies that EDEN’s estimates are accurate.
As reported in the current issue of Ecohydrology, researchers with UF, FAU, the University of Connecticut and the South Florida Natural Resources Center took water-depth measurements at 24 locations and compared them with EDEN’s estimates. Most estimates matched the measurements within 2 inches.
Frank Mazzotti, an associate professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, says now that the system has been verified, he hopes it will gain popularity with scientists who assess the progress of Everglades restoration efforts, which aim to restore natural water flow throughout the region and support populations of indigenous animals and plants.
“We’ve never had a tool like this,” said Mazzotti, one of the study authors. “The idea is to make it freely available.”
Already, experts with UF and other Florida institutions have used EDEN to investigate populations of wading birds, invasive plants, fish and amphibians.
The system uses more than 200 monitoring stations throughout the Everglades that measure water depth. That information, along with geographic data, is then interpreted by computer software. The system generates water-depth estimates for the entire freshwater portion of the greater Everglades, broken down into quadrants measuring about 1,300 feet by 1,300 feet.
Mazzotti says he’s thrilled to have EDEN available, and is using it in a study that correlates alligators’ body condition with water levels.
The system will receive upgrades in the near future to provide better modeling of topography below the water and better water surface estimates, said Pamela Telis, project team leader for the U.S. Geological Survey.
The system is the brainchild of Aaron Higer, a longtime USGS program manager and current UF employee, who first envisioned the idea in the 1960s.


NOAA develops Great Lakes algal bloom forecasts
Chicago Tribune By JOHN FLESHER
September 18, 2009
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - An experimental system that uses satellite data and computer modeling will help forecast the direction and intensity of ugly, smelly algae blobs in the Great Lakes, scientists said Thursday.
The system was brought online this summer for Lake Erie, where the problem is particularly acute. But it eventually may be used elsewhere in the lakes and along ocean coasts, where harmful algal blooms cause more than $82 million in damage a year.
"With this new forecast, we now have an idea of when and where blooms are predicted to occur" and can warn local health departments and managers of parks, city water systems and other agencies, said Sonia Joseph of the NOAA Center of Excellence for Great Lakes and Human Health.
Warmer and shallower than the other Great Lakes, Erie is plagued by algae such as microcystis, a blue-green variety. The toxins it produces can cause skin rashes and, for swimmers who ingest them, diarrhea and nausea. They also foul the drinking water and cause fish kills. The algae can form an unsightly beach scum that chases away summer tourists.
Microcystis also has turned up in Lake Huron's Saginaw Bay. A green algae called cladophora has blanketed some Lake Michigan beaches.
Scientists are investigating the resurgence this decade of algal blooms, a big problem in parts of the Great Lakes before governments restricted use of phosphate laundry detergents in the 1970s.
Among the suspected culprits in their return are fertilizer runoff and invasive zebra and quagga mussels, which gobble up some algae types but don't like others, including microcystis.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration developed the new forecast system, based on one designed for Florida's Gulf coast in 2004.
It blends data from commercial and government satellites, including MERIS, an imaging spectrometer operated by the European Space Agency that observes water colors. The information can be used in calculations that pinpoint likely microcystis blooms.
Scientists gather water samples to confirm the findings and assess the concentration of algae cells. Computer models are used to project where the blooms are likely to go in the next few days, enabling managers of public agencies to prepare.
The system has been used this summer to track a large bloom that developed in Maumee Bay near Toledo, Ohio, said Julie Dyble, an aquatic biologist with NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor. It been most visible when calm waters let the algae rise to the surface.
Funded jointly by NOAA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this year's demonstration project cost $269,500. Plans calls for another demonstration in 2010 with roughly the same budget.
Satellite imagery has been used previously to analyze Great Lakes algae blooms, but not to forecast their movement, said Rick Stumpf, an oceanographer with NOAA's National Centers for Coastal and Ocean Science.
Despite its usefulness in tracking algal blooms, the system cannot predict when they will form, Stumpf said. But NASA recently agreed to finance a separate study of that question.


Planting Florida native plants is one way to reduce our carbon footprint
TampaBay by Yvonne Swanson
September 18, 2009
Are you a bigfoot when it comes to gardening, carelessly consuming water, dousing the land with chemicals and operating gas-powered mowers and blowers? Or do you tiptoe your way through your yard as a steward of our precious ecosystems and natural resources? • Everybody has a carbon footprint, a measure of each individual's demand on Earth. The more you consume, the larger your footprint.
Scientists at the University of British Columbia created the ecological footprint concept in 1990. Today it's used worldwide to monitor resource use by individuals, businesses, municipalities and whole populations. Based on consumption, it should be no surprise that many Americans have really, really big feet. In fact, if everyone on the planet lived the average American lifestyle, we would need five planets to support them, according to the Global Footprint Network. (Calculate your personal footprint at
But there are those among us who are treading lightly. Michael Jeffers is one of them. A co-founder of the Evos healthy fast-food chain and an avid eco-friendly gardener, Jeffers is walking his talk — professionally and personally.
"I enjoy trying to be as sustainable as possible and have as little impact on the environment as possible, both in business and my personal life," says Jeffers, 41, who lives on a quiet cul-de-sac in Seminole with his wife, Susan, and two children. Their property, which features native and Florida-friendly plantings, vegetable and herb gardens, a fruit orchard and a grape arbor, entertainment areas and a play area for the children, is the model of sustainability in a consumption-crazy world.
There aren't any water-guzzling plants, rotating irrigation spray heads that waste volumes of water or synthetic fertilizers or pesticides in the garden shed. You won't find an elaborate lighting system with energy-zapping incandescent bulbs, fountains or swimming pool. Forget the swing set and trampoline in the play area; instead, there's a simple black tire swing hung from a large oak and a small (organically treated) patch of lawn for playing ball and tossing the Frisbee.
"Part of the design was to provide shelter for wildlife, food production for wildlife and drought-tolerant plants that will thrive," Jeffers says. "My favorite thing is connecting with the plants and Earth and having an appreciation for the whole process."
The family grows vegetables in three 4- by 10-foot raised beds that are equipped with irrigation heads for efficient watering. A variety of lettuces, tomatoes, vegetables and herbs are grown organically. Muscadine grapes and fruit trees — loquat, mango, orange, grapefruit and lime — provide food throughout the year.
The landscape was designed and installed by Wilcox Nursery in Largo, which specializes in Florida natives. The Jeffers' property features a wide variety, including Walter's viburnum, firebush, beautyberry, sensitive plant, muhly grass and saw palmetto, notes nursery owner Bruce Turley. The yard blends natives with non-natives, which professionals refer to as a "hybrid landscape."
"I do a lot of blending, but quite frankly I prefer all native when possible," says Turley, who works closely with homeowners to identify whether plants have productive value or not. In Jeffers' case, a mature evergreen podocarpus hedge that provides privacy from a busy street was preserved. Several fragrant ornamentals favored by the homeowners — tea olive, gardenia and sweet acacia — were planted, although they're not natives.
Jeffers' property is certified as Florida-friendly by the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods program and is a featured property on the Florida Native Plant Society's garden tour next weekend, where more than a dozen like-minded homeowners will share their advice and tips for creating sustainable native landscapes).
Everyone can start reducing their ecological footprint, experts say. Sometimes you just need to begin with baby steps.


Casuarina arrived in Florida
Teatro NATURALE by S. C.
September 17, 2009
Hybrids of the invasive Australian plant species Casuarina exist in Florida, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and university cooperators have found.
These fast-growing, pine-like trees were historically planted widely as ornamentals and along boulevards in south Florida, and are currently being proposed as a windbreak in citrus groves. However, the trees are frequently the tallest in the canopy and can be very damaging during storms and hurricanes. Casuarina has also become an environmental problem, invading and altering natural habitats including Everglades National Park, home to many threatened and endangered species.
Based on physical characteristics, scientists have long suspected hybridization among the three Casuarina species in Florida—C. glauca, C. cunninghamiana and C. equisetifolia—but it is difficult to verify hybridization by these characteristics alone.
DNA tests conducted by botanist John Gaskin, research leader of the ARS Pest Management Research Unit in Sidney, Mont., confirm the existence of hybrids. Examining the DNA, according to Gaskin, allows for better understanding of the identity of the plants and where they came from, and helps explain how these novel hybrids have become so invasive.


County puts off storm water fee
Around Osceola by Patricia Behnke
September 17, 2009
More than one-half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of a coast. In Florida, 72 percent of the 18 million residents live or work in coastal areas, with approximately 12 million people living in Florida’s coastal counties. It is overwhelming to predict what will happen to our coastlines when the 26 million people expected in these areas by 2060 hit the beaches.
 Any increase in population in the next 50 years means our beaches and their wildlife will be stressed beyond safe limits for sustainability.
 The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) predicts great challenges ahead as the unpredictable aspects of climate change hit the coastal environment.
 “Although we cannot predict how much sea level will rise, it will bring dramatic changes to Florida’s coastal habitats, significantly affecting both the state’s natural habitats, and its fish and wildlife populations,” states the FWC’s “Wildlife 2060: What’s at stake for Florida?” released in 2008.
 Scientists reported in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society in 2006 that while natural climate changes may have played a role in the increase of storms over the past century, they expect climate change to play a role in modifying natural fluctuations in this century. Warming sea surface in the North Atlantic may lead to an increase in tropical storms, bringing with it higher wind speeds, more precipitation and larger storm surges in the coming decades, according to the National Wildlife Federation.
“Not only will people most likely be forced back from the coasts because of sea-level rise and storm surges, but wildlife will need to find its way inland as well,” Thomas Eason, leader of the FWC’s Wildlife 2060 team, said. “It is extremely important that we take steps now to help the coastal species migrate by maintaining and creating habitat corridors.”
 It is such an important consideration that the participants in the FWC’s “Florida’s Wildlife: On the front line of climate change” summit made it one of the key actions for the FWC and partners. Further, the report stresses that investments must be made in land conservation, land use and transportation decisions.
I’m fine with letting the scientists and planners work all that out, but I always wonder what I can do as an individual. Even if you’re a nonbeliever in climate change, if you live in Florida you will see tropical storms and hurricanes come blowing across the state, causing all of the stressors that are becoming increasingly more difficult to withstand, particularly as the human population explodes.
 Our carbon footprint has quite a bit to do with rising sea temperatures, and while we can’t stop the damage being done, we can do something to perhaps slow the process. It’s the pollution we put in the air that causes the temperature of the sea to rise. Last month I declared I would drive slower and use less energy in my home. I set the thermostat several degrees higher, lowered the temperature on my water heater and used only air-drying for the dishwasher. Will I make a difference in the temperature of the sea? Not alone. We all need to participate in efforts to lessen our footprint.
 We also can do something about the beaches. If you are building near the coast, take climate change into consideration in the decisions you make. Municipalities make decisions requiring shoreline setbacks and building elevations. Even if you don’t see the dire necessity of doing something now before major changes occur, we all know that restoring and increasing wetlands and barrier islands will prevent Florida from ever knowing the immediate and devastating destruction created by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005. It could happen here unless we become wise stewards of our habitat.
 “We need to move back from the coast,” Eason said. “And we need to do it in a well-thought-out manner so it is better for people and for wildlife.”
 The beach mice, bears, manatees and other wildlife may not be able to say “thank you,” but their very existence in 50 years will be all the thanks any of us need for creating safe passage and cleaner air for them now.
 Patricia Behnke is senior editor with Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.


Letter: Florida's program to stop spread of Burmese pythons showing positive results
TCPALM by Rodney Barreto, Chairman, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
September 17, 2009
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission initiated a program July 17 to help stop the spread of Burmese pythons in Florida.
We issued permits to 13 python experts to capture and euthanize any reptile of concern found in specific state-managed lands in South Florida. This initial program will run until Oct. 31, at which time we will consider expanding it. So far, the permit holders have captured 17 pythons and provided us with data on location, size and habits.
We are encouraged that the permit holders have captured that many pythons. We anticipate many more pythons will be captured as the weather cools and pythons come out to sun themselves during the day.
We’ve expanded our efforts to include hunters. Beginning with the first hunt of the 2009-10 season, hunters on specific wildlife management areas in South Florida may take any reptile of concern they encounter during the course of their hunting excursion. If it’s archery season, they may take a python with a bow and arrow and any other instrument that’s legal to posses on the area during that season. If it’s muzzleloader season, they may use that type of gun to take the species. This special order, issued by the FWC’s executive director, includes alligator hunters on these state-managed areas.
We are asking the hunters to provide information about any reptiles of concern they kill in order to compile more complete information about the species.
Discussions are continuing on how best to manage the Burmese python problem, and the FWC is dedicated to working with all of our partners — Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — through special programs, scientific efforts and legislative action


New water-depth evaluation system will aid Everglades research, UF study shows
University of Florida News by Tom Nordlie
September 17, 2009
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When scientists discuss Everglades restoration, one phrase pops up again and again — “getting the water right.”
It refers to the importance of water depth — making sure the proper areas are dry or marshy or submerged. For decades, experts had to take their own water-depth measurements or get data from multiple agencies.
In March 2005, things got easier. A modeling system called the Everglades Depth Estimation Network, or EDEN, went online. Developed by the U.S. Geological Survey working with the University of Florida and Florida Atlantic University, the system provides daily estimates of water depth and other information for most of the Everglades.
Now, a UF study verifies that EDEN’s estimates are accurate.
As reported in the current issue of Ecohydrology, researchers with UF, FAU, the University of Connecticut and the South Florida Natural Resources Center took water-depth measurements at 24 locations and compared them with EDEN’s estimates. Most estimates matched the measurements within 2 inches.
Frank Mazzotti, an associate professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, says now that the system has been verified, he hopes it will gain popularity with scientists who assess the progress of Everglades restoration efforts, which aim to restore natural water flow throughout the region and support populations of indigenous animals and plants.
“We’ve never had a tool like this,” said Mazzotti, one of the study authors. “The idea is to make it freely available.”
Already, experts with UF and other Florida institutions have used EDEN to investigate populations of wading birds, invasive plants, fish and amphibians.
The system uses more than 200 monitoring stations throughout the Everglades that measure water depth. That information, along with geographic data, is then interpreted by computer software. The system generates water-depth estimates for the entire freshwater portion of the greater Everglades, broken down into quadrants measuring about 1,300 feet by 1,300 feet.
Mazzotti says he’s thrilled to have EDEN available, and is using it in a study that correlates alligators’ body condition with water levels.
The system will receive upgrades in the near future to provide better modeling of topography below the water and better water surface estimates, said Pamela Telis, project team leader for the U.S. Geological Survey.
The system is the brainchild of Aaron Higer, a longtime USGS program manager and current UF employee, who first envisioned the idea in the 1960s.


County puts off storm water fee
Seminole by Abraham Aboraya
September 16, 2009
SANFORD - County commissioners killed a proposed stormwater fee for rural Seminole County after more than 750 sign-waving residents packed the capital building, the overflow rooms and even the parking lot.
Public Works director Gary Johnson said the county will have to charge the fee to meet the federally-required reductions to pollutants seeping into the county's rivers, streams and water ways from run off.
There are 16 water basins in Seminole County, and 15 of them are considered impaired by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Eventually, FDEP will determine the exact levels of pollution going into those water bodies, who is responsible for that pollution and by how much the pollution has to be reduced. That could mean big money for Seminole County and other municipalities.
"I don't know that the pollutant message was as strongly received under the circumstances," Johnson said. "... I think eventually it will come back as we get a bigger picture of the capital projects. I think it's going to be very difficult to fund those (capital projects) through the general fund."
The fee would have charged 91 percent of homeowners about $70, but the largest properties could have been charged as much as $405. For commercial, the maximum was $19,333.
The process of figuring out who's been polluting what is already at work in the county, and Lake Jesup is a perfect example. Sanford is already being sanctioned by the state for the damage Site 10 has done polluting the lake over the last 15 years.
Johnson said that funding the projects through the general fund isn't equitable. The general fund gets its money from property taxes, which are based on the value of the home.
The stormwater fee would instead evaluate how much of a property owner's land is impervious to water, which means it contributes to the stormwater problem, and charge the fee on that. It would also give credits for homeowners who have large, undeveloped parts of their property.
"The fee is being proposed at a very difficult time," Johnson said. "It seemed to us a more equitable way to determine the benefit and the cost than a system based on the value of the property."
In total, it cost the county more than $38,000 to hold the public hearing for the fee when you factor in the cost of printing 700 agendas, advertising the meeting in the Orlando Sentinel, and printing and mailing two sets of notices to property owners.
With people overflowing into the parking lot and waiting to hear the meeting piped out into the parking lot with loudspeakers, county commissioners were looking at midnight or 1 a.m. before they would be able to vote.
Instead, County Commissioner Dick Van Der Weide made a motion to indefinitely postpone the fee before public input.
His motion was met with raucous applause.
"Once you get the public confused about what you're trying to do, that's something we've never done in this county," Van Der Weide said. "I think quite frankly the consultants led us astray on this. Staff was put in such a time frame that they were hurrying and didn't get everything done the way it should be. ... Under the circumstances, I don't think we have a choice."
County Commissioner Bob Dallari, who represents Oviedo, came out against the fee a while back. He said that he wouldn't support the fee until the methodology made more sense.
He also said the fee could be on hold for longer than a year.
"It could be more," Dallari said. "... People are sick and tired of taxes, and so am I. This is not the right time to be looking at fees and new assessment."
Seminole County resident Don Hess said the meeting was a demonstration of the power of the people. He said he didn't think that many people had showed up for something in Seminole County in a long time.
"They were just throwing stuff at the wall to see what would stick," Hess said. "What if nobody had come up here and then were all paying $130 an acre for a tax - and that's what it is, a tax. And here, half of the people can't afford to do anything. Most of the people that live in unincorporated Seminole County live there for a reason, and that's to get away from all the bull crap."
Deborah Schafer, the chairwoman of the Seminole Soil and Water Conservation unit and a resident of rural Seminole County, said they've won the battle but lost the war. She said she's rallying more troops because taxes are going up in Seminole County, even though the fee was defeated.
The county passed an initial property tax rate on $4.99 per $1,000 of value on a home, an increase over last year's rate of about $4.51 per $1,000. Even though it's more money per $1,000 of value, most people will see about the same bill because of a fall in property values.
"Your taxes are still going up," Schafer said. "... The county is still not getting down to the nitty gritty issues in the budget."


Environmental group grades cruise ships
Miami Herald by MARY PEMBERTON
September 16, 2009
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- An environmental group released its report card Wednesday on how well cruise ship companies operating in American waters are doing to reduce pollution, and not one received an overall grade of "A."
Friends of the Earth graded 10 major cruise ship lines, including some of the biggest names in the business, such as Carnival Cruise Lines. Carnival received a "D-minus."
The report issued the highest grade - a "B"- to Holland America Line. Norwegian Cruise Lines and Princess Cruises also scored relatively well, each getting a "B-minus."
The lowest grades -"Fs" - went to Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International. Celebrity Cruises and Silversea Cruises also scored poorly.
Cunard Cruise Line and Regent Seven Seas Cruises received about average grades.
"Typically, cruise ship passengers are attracted to cruise vacations with pictures of pristine waters and promises of unspoiled scenery and abundant wildlife, but these passengers are never told that their vacations could leave a dirty mark on the places they visit," said Marcie Keever, who spearheaded the "Cruise Ship Environmental Report Card."
Cruise Lines International Association, a group representing 24 cruise lines, castigated the report, calling it arbitrary, flawed and ignoring "the fact that our cruise lines comply with and in most cases exceed all applicable environmental regulations."
"It is regrettable that Friends of the Earth authors such misinformation when in fact this industry has made tremendous progress in the past several years in advancing technology and developing programs that go a long way in protecting the environment," the association said in a statement.
Friends of the Earth graded the cruise lines on three categories: sewage treatment, air pollution reduction and water quality compliance in Alaska waters. It also issued a simple pass/fail grade for each line's accessiblity to environmental information.
The group said Florida, which has some of the least stringent laws preventing cruise ship pollution, also has the top three cruise ship departure ports: Miami, Port Canaveral and Fort Lauderdale.
Alaska and California have taken the strongest stance nationally against cruise ship pollution, the group said.
Keever said some of the cruise lines have been working to make its ships less polluting, especially in the area of sewage treatment. Holland America, Norwegian, Cunard and Celebrity received high marks for having advanced sewage treatment aboard their ships.
Carnival and Disney received "Fs" for sewage treatment.
Disney, with two ships and two under construction, could score better on sewage treatment next year because it has promised to make upgrades on all its ships, Keever said. The company announced last week that for the first time it would begin offering tours in Alaska beginning in 2010.
Keever said the technology is in place for cruise ship companies to meet Alaska's stringent environmental laws - a claim disputed by Alaska Cruise Association president John Binkley. He has said cruise lines would be happy to adopt affordable new technology to meet Alaska's tougher standards if it were available, but there is nothing that is reliable.
Binkley was not available for comment Wednesday.
In 2008, 12 of the 20 ships allowed to discharge in Alaska waters received violations, mostly for ammonia and heavy metals, Keever said. The fact that eight ships had no violations shows it can be done, she said.
The 10 cruise lines received lower grades for reducing air pollution. Seven out of the 10 cruise lines received "Fs." Only Princess received a high grade.
Princess has spent millions to reduce emissions from its cruise ships, Keever said.
The company invested $4.7 million in the Juneau port so that ships tying up there can plug into shore-based power instead of running their own engines to provide power to passengers and crew. The company also has invested $1.7 million to upgrade the Seattle port. Keever said nine of Princess' 17 ships are equipped with electrical plug-ins.
The Los Angeles port later this year is expected to have shore-based power at its cruise ship terminal, she said.
Without the power upgrade at the ports and the retrofitting of the ships, cruise ships are forced to burn bunker fuel while in port, a "dirty-burning" fuel that is 1,000 to 2,000 times dirtier than diesel truck fuel, Keever said.
Cruise ships also can be equipped to burn marine distillate, a cleaner-burning fuel than bunker fuel, Keever said. California recently required all ocean going vessels, including cruise ships, to burn the cleaner fuel within 24 miles of shore.


Environmentalists say flood insurance program ignores endangered species
September 16, 2009
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The Federal Emergency Management Agency is being sued again over accusations that it violated the Endangered Species Act by issuing flood insurance without determining whether development would impact imperiled plants and animals.
WildEarth Guardians said Wednesday it filed a lawsuit against FEMA in federal court in New Mexico that claims the agency's National Flood Insurance Program encourages development in flood plains without determining whether threatened or endangered species would be harmed.
FEMA officials said Wednesday they would not comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit follows a similar complaint filed by the group in early September in Arizona. Environmental groups also have challenged FEMA over the impacts of the program on species in Washington, Oregon and Florida.
"I think FEMA really doesn't have any understanding, particularly here in the West, that flood plain development is a huge environmental problem that's been overlooked and under scrutinized for far, far too long," said John Horning, executive director of WildEarth Guardians.
Horning said it's been more than three decades since the environmental impacts of the flood insurance program have been assessed on a national level, and the goal of the lawsuits is to force the agency to consider the impacts on species and habitat across the nation.
The lawsuits filed in New Mexico and Arizona seek injunctions that would require FEMA to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the impacts of the flood insurance program.
WildEarth Guardians also wants to prevent the agency from issuing insurance policies for new construction in flood-prone areas if the activity would harm threatened or endangered species.
More than 16,700 flood insurance policies, totaling about $2.7 billion in coverage, have been issued in New Mexico. The lawsuit said most cover structures in flood plains along the Rio Grande, San Juan and Pecos rivers, which are all home to species protected by federal law.
Wild Earth Guardians points to state and federal agencies that say New Mexico's water ways are vital to the survival of imperiled species, including the Rio Grande silvery minnow and the Southwestern willow flycatcher.
In all, more than half of vertebrates in New Mexico and Arizona are entirely dependent on riparian areas, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
"You couldn't find a more precious piece of real estate in terms of its environmental value," Horning said of flood plains in the arid West.
In administering the flood insurance program, FEMA identifies and maps flood-prone areas, adopts requirements for development in those areas and provides for flood insurance or federal disaster assistance. Lenders generally require property owners and developers to obtain flood insurance in areas FEMA determines are at risk.
Environmentalists contend that if FEMA does a better job of scrutinizing the impacts of development in flood plains, there would be less risk to homeowners as well as species and their habitat.
"I think the federal government has been a pushover and has provided a rubber stamp that has allowed development to occur in places that it really shouldn't have," Horning said.


Second round of tests shows Acreage water safe
SunSentinel by Mitra Malek
September 16, 2009
THE ACREAGE - Follow-up tests show that Seminole Water Plant doesn't have contamination problems, Palm Beach County officials said Wednesday.
The county ordered the $4,000 analysis to cross off a concern among Acreage residents about what could be contributing to potentially elevated levels of cancer in the semi-rural community.
"The real issue is, is there a smoking gun of a problem, and tests show there isn't," County Administrator Bob Weisman said.
State environmental tests completed in August in relation to a state health investigation of a potential brain cancer cluster in The Acreage showed slightly elevated levels of radium-226 in raw, or untreated, water coming from one of the wells that supplies the plant.
That prompted Weisman to order analysis of all the wells feeding the plant. State environmental officials have done the same thing and expect results back late this month.
"I was definitely concerned about their drinking water," said Becky Samarripa, whose daughter Hannah attends Seminole Ridge High School and was diagnosed with a brain tumor in December 2008. "I'm glad to know that it's tested and came out fine."
The plant, located on Callery-Judge Grove, provides drinking water to most of the schools in The Acreage.
The county tested for 66 substances -- including metals and synthetic organic contaminants -- in the plant's raw water, drinking water, the concentrate removed from raw water to make it potable and water used to irrigate citrus groves. The irrigation water is a mix of the concentrate and canal water, as permitted by state law.
 Radium-226, a naturally occurring radioactive metal, was below drinking water standards in raw, drinking and irrigation water, the tests showed. But alpha particles, which come from the decay of radioactive elements and serve as a measure of radiation, might have been higher than drinking water standards -- but only in the raw water, the tests showed.
Levels of chloride, sulfate and sodium were much higher than drinking water limits -- also only in the raw water.
 "These are not cancerous," said Bill Louda, a senior scientist in the Environmental Sciences Program at Florida Atlantic University. "Basically the water is a little salty."
Levels of all 29 synthetic organic contaminants tested, such as cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), were too low to even be detected in raw, drinking or irrigation water.
As expected, the concentrate coming from the plant showed elevated levels of some substances because it is a concentration of substances removed from larger quantities of raw water.


Year-long project aims to preserve coral in Miami-Dade waters
September 16, 2009
In their wet suits and masks, scientific divers carry oxygen tanks, underwater cameras, measuring tape, and about 50 pounds of equipment into Biscayne Bay to restore Miami-Dade's coral reefs.
The task is necessary, as boaters moving in shallow waters toss anchors overboard that cut through corals and harm fragile seagrass areas, said Stephen M. Blair, chief of environmental restoration with the county's Department of Environmental Resources Management.
Seeing the damage and decline of coral species, Blair leads a team of divers that is installing mooring buoys in five coral reef areas from just north of Biscayne National Park to the Miami-Dade-Broward County line. The work is part of a year-long project that started this month.
``When somebody damages a coral, its recovery can take several years to even decades,'' said Blair, during a recent diving expedition near Key Biscayne. ``Even after we restore a coral with cement, it will never be the same.''
The new buoys will allow boaters to find recreational diving and fishing spots and secure their boats to these locations -- protecting the endangered species and making the divers' job easier. The program is one of the department's new environmental protection initiatives.
Three to four times a week, DERM biologists collect data, measuring corals and taking photos. One dive usually lasts about a half-hour, said Melissa Sathe, biologist and field coordinator for offshore activities.
By deploying the buoys, Miami-Dade will join Broward and Monroe counties, which have been protecting coral reefs for several years.
The county received grants totaling $50,000 from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection coral reef program and NOAA to maintain the mooring buoys for one year.
Foundations for the buoys have already been built at the North Canyon, South Canyon, Pillars, Graceland and Emerald reefs. The installation will be completed by a private company, Sathe said.
Mooring sites were chosen based on their popularity and in consultation with the local fishing and diving communities, said Sara Thanner, environmental resources project supervisor with DERM.
``The idea is to protect coral reefs, which are fragile organisms that have been impacted by human activity and changes in the environment,'' said Thanner, as she drove a DERM boat to a 27-foot-deep area near Emerald Reef.
As the three biologists prepared to go underwater, they said coral bleaching has become more prevalent.
``Corals normally go from tan to brown colors to purples. When conditions are very poor, what is left is a white clear tissue,'' Blair said. ``Bleaching indicates a change in the environment that has been modified in a way that is not healthy.''
Ship groundings, hurricanes, oil and contaminant spills can adversely affect coral reefs, Blair said. Many other human activities such as fishing, diving, mining and construction have also contributed to their damage.
In particular, the elkhorn and staghorn corals have shown a drastic decrease throughout South Florida, the Caribbean, the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas. In 2006, those corals became the first species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act because of vulnerability to global warming.
In the last five years, DERM has seen some improvement in the reef system. There are a number of areas where these corals have increased, Blair said. But it is hard to tell whether this has been as a result of the department's conservation and protection efforts or as a result of global warming.
``We would like to think that this is associated with positive changes that have come with the collective efforts of everyone to try to improve the coastal conditions,'' he said.
DERM has launched an ``Adopt-a-Buoy'' project, in which local groups, corporations and individuals can also donate money to sponsor further installation and maintenance of buoys. The department plans to add more moorings at several sites as funding becomes available.
``Everybody can have an impact on the ocean,'' Blair said. ``What people put on the lawn, on the ground or what they throw in the street can eventually end up here.''


Carl Hiaasen: Yeah, Florida is shrinking. So?
Bradenton Herald by Carl Hiaasen
September 15, 2009
If you picked up the most recent Time magazine, you probably saw a story captioned: “A Shrinking Sunshine State.”
And, if you’re like many Floridians who are sick of stewing in traffic, you got your hopes up.
The University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research, which tracks population trends, recently reported that the state lost 58,294 residents between April 2008 and April 2009.
It’s the first time since 1946 that Florida’s population has dipped. The reason back then was the end of World War II, when thousands of military personnel who’d been stationed here left.
The reason for today’s downturn is a primitive, unbalanced economy that’s been hammered especially hard by the recession. Unemployment in Florida is high, the cost of living is rising, and we lead the universe in home-mortgage foreclosures.Some families are packing up and moving elsewhere in search of work and affordable housing. That’s the history of migration on this continent.
Still, the media seems fascinated by the possibility that Florida, which for the last 50 years has grown faster and more recklessly than other state, is finally losing its sunny allure. From a Sept. 4 report on National Public Radio: “The population loss comes as a shock to a state where growth is both an industry and a foundation of the economy.” From an Aug. 30 article in The New York Times: “Imagine the shock ... to discover that traffic is now headed the other way. That’s right, the Sunshine State is shrinking.”
Not fast enough, it isn’t.
According to the UF study, the net loss of 58,294 people lowers Florida’s current population from 18,807,219 to 18,748,925. That’s a drop of only about three-tenths of 1 percent, which doesn’t even qualify as a trickle, much less an exodus.
Yet “shock” over this statistic is the recurring theme of the news reports.
As William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, surmised to The Times: “It’s got to be a real psychological blow. I don’t know if you can take a whole state to a psychiatrist, but the whole Florida economy was based on migration flows.”
With all due respect to Mr. Frey, you don’t need a shrink to sort out what’s going on in Florida. All you usually need is a grand jury.
For decades, the state’s fiscal base has relied on exuberantly mismanaged growth. Since 1950, the population has more than sextupled. The stampede was gleefully abetted by short-sighted politicians and fueled by the twin attractions of mild climate and low taxes.
The underfunded infrastructure had no chance of keeping up with the influx, and the result made headlines for everyone to see: gridlocked highways, jam-packed schools, high crime, water shortages and a spate of other urban problems — including higher and higher taxes.
It’s no surprise that the three counties that lost the most residents — Broward, Lee and Palm Beach — are among the most overdeveloped, overcrowded and expensive places to live. There is no sustainable model for an economy that depends on a constant stream of new residents. Migration inevitably slows, and sometimes even slips into reverse.
Anyone shocked by what’s happening in Florida hasn’t been paying attention. A more appropriate reaction to this puny population slide is concern (if you’re a banker or a builder), gastric distress (if you’re a tax collector), and very cautious optimism if you’re somebody who moved here hoping for a certain quality of life.
The place has been totally out of control for too long. In the absence of responsible political leadership, it took a crushing recession to expose the Ponzi formula that made Florida look so prosperous.
Now, hundreds of thousands of homes and condos sit empty — unfinished, unsold or foreclosed. Local governments that run on revenues from sales taxes and property taxes are slashing services. Many small businesses are closing, big businesses are laying off workers, and new jobs are scarce. So some folks are hitting the road. Yet the suggestion that Florida is emptying out, as appealing as it might be to many who stay, is premature. According to Stan Smith at UF, about half the state’s counties actually gained population last year.
He predicts that, as the national economy recovers, people will resume migrating here. If so, they won’t be arriving at the crazed-lemming pace of 1,100-per-day, as in the boom years. Meanwhile, we’ll try to scrape by with only 18.7 million souls, and a per-acre density higher than California’s.
A modest population shrinkage of 58,000 might be historic for a place like Florida, but it’s not a shock.
It’s more like a start.


County agency to conduct water conservation study
The Gainesville Sun by Cindy Swirko
September 15, 2009
A water conservation study to develop a comprehensive list of ideas that Alachua County residents and government can implement to save the increasingly precious liquid will be conducted by the county's Environmental Protection Department.
A list of recommendations likely will be developed, but Director Chris Bird said limitations exist because of the extent to which the state controls water.
"We can do a lot, but for this to work, whatever we come up with, we are going to have to collaborate with the water management districts and the water utilities, which in our area are mostly municipal utilities," Bird said. "The political reality is that it is very hard in this state to change water law. As soon as you start trying to do that, a lot of special interests come out of the woodwork."
Bird said the water effort was spurred by the county's recent Energy Conservation Strategies Commission, a panel of local experts appointed by the commission that spent a year studying the topic and meeting publicly before delivering a thick report filled with recommendations.
The water study, however, will be done by environmental department staff with public participation through meetings, a Web site and other means.
Recommendations will likely include some that are relatively easy for residents to do: fix leaky faucets, get a low-flow toilet when an old one needs replacement.
Some may be more difficult, including reductions in lawn irrigation.
"In Alachua County, a large portion of water for residential consumption is for watering grass. There is a lot of suburban land, and we have a culture where we like grass," Bird said. "If we are really looking ahead and we are serious about conserving water, in the future we probably aren't going to have as much grass as we have now."
But the irony is that the more water Alachua County saves, the more water would be available for piping elsewhere unless state regulations are changed, Bird said.
While piping North Florida water downstate might be coming in the future, experts believe growth in the Jacksonville area is already having an impact on groundwater levels in this region.
Gainesville's David Flagg, a Suwannee River Water Management District governing board member, said data is already suggesting that lower groundwater levels could be due to growth in the Jacksonville area.
"We are already sending water to Jacksonville," Flagg said, adding that data shows "the aquifer is being shifted from west to east due to the increased consumption from the development of southeast Georgia and northeast Florida. That's reality. We are already transferring groundwater out of the district by virtue of the hydrological process of sucking it away."
County commissioners last week gave Bird approval for the study. Chairman Mike Byerly said he would like a report of recommendations that leaves aside costs, political contention and other factors.


Opponents of offshore drilling say lifting ban could have dire consequences
Tampa Bay by  Eileen Schulte
September 15, 2009
CLEARWATER BEACH — You'll never be able to eat fish from Tampa Bay or the Gulf of Mexico again if oil drilling is allowed within 10 miles of Florida's west coast.
So warned Kathleen McDole, manager of the Friendly Fisherman Seafood Restaurant on Madeira Beach.
With the white beach of Sand Key as a backdrop, she and other business leaders, representatives from environmental organizations, members of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce and others attended a press conference Monday to warn Floridians about the dangers of near-shore drilling off the coast.
It could cause serious trouble in the event of an accident, opponents say.
Phil Compton, a representative from the Sierra Club, pointed to an image of an Aug. 21 Australian spill at an offshore drilling rig that has covered 5,800 square miles in the Timor Sea as documented by NASA, superimposed on a map of Florida.
Not taking into consideration winds and currents, it shows the oil nearly enveloping Pinellas County.
"Within a week it would be on the east coast,'' he said.
According to Compton, some of the same types of new technology used to drill in Australia is what would be used here, and it should not be trusted.
He said rigs would negatively affect tourism.
"Why is there a big push for this now?" he asked. "There is no reason to push for oil rigs anywhere. There is a glut (of oil).''
Not only that, but the United States is moving in the direction of clean energy, Compton said.
The issue could come up when Gov. Charlie Crist calls the Legislature into a possible special session sometime before the regular session, which begins in March.
If legislation to drill off Florida's coast passed, millions of animals could perish in event of a spill, said Clearwater Marine Aquarium chief executive officer David Yates.
"Marine life cannot digest oil,'' he said, adding they'd be dead, not rescued.
But Thomas Rask, a Largo businessman, said drilling is safe.
"Alaska, Norway and many other places have found a way to combine tourism and safe hydrocarbon production,'' he said, adding he has no financial interest in the possible drilling.
But opponents say Tampa Bay is still feeling the effects of a 1993 oil spill when three ships collided at the mouth of Tampa Bay, sending 328,000 gallons of oil into the water and eventually to the shoreline.
People strolling along the beach sometimes feel it on their feet, the opponents say.
"There are still little tar balls, especially when there's a storm,'' said Lenne Nicklaus-Ball, vice president of the Sirata Beach Resort and Conference Center on St. Pete Beach. "You step on one and it's really squishy. It's like a terminal disease.''


Residents on Naples Bay growing oysters to improve water quality
Naples News by ERIC STAATS
September 15, 2009
NAPLES — A new kind of garden is taking root on the edge of Naples Bay.
It doesn’t need soil to grow. All it needs is a dock piling, water — and oysters.
Seventeen volunteer households, mostly in the Royal Harbor neighborhood, answered the city of Naples’ call this spring to become oyster gardeners.
The idea is to grow the oysters from babies, called spat, and then transplant the adult oysters on reefs the city is trying to bring back to Naples Bay.
Besides restoring a crucial link in the bay food chain, the oysters are efficient at filtering pollutants out of the water.
AmySue Benker, 38, signed up her family after clipping an announcement out of the Royal Harbor neighborhood newsletter this spring.
What she thought would be a good summer project for her son, Nilan, 11, and daughter, Madeline, 8, has yet to get started, but the Benkers still are excited to start growing their oysters, she said.
“These are the closest they’ll get to a fun pet right now,” Benker laughed.
A total of 10,000 baby oysters, each about the size of a thumbnail, will be put in flat, plastic mesh bags tied to volunteers’ docks and floated by foam cylinders.
“It sounds like a lot, but it’s not,” Naples environmental specialist Katie Laakkonen said.
She said she plans to get the oysters from Florida Gulf Coast University, either grown in their field laboratory on Bonita Beach Road or harvested from aquaculture plots in Lee County coastal waters.
A $5,000 grant from the Texas-based Gulf of Mexico Foundation will pay for the supplies, she said.
Although she recruited volunteers this spring, the project wasn’t ready to roll out before the onset of the rainy season.
Summer rains mean more freshwater coming down the Golden Gate canal and into Naples Bay and less chance the oysters will survive the spike.
Laakkonen said she plans to wait until later in the fall, and more consistently saline conditions in the bay, to kick off the project.
The oysters take six to eight months to grow to about 2 inches before they are transplanted, she said.
In the meantime, the volunteer gardeners will pull up the cages every month to clean them, remove dead oysters and predators, such as crabs or snails, and record the size of 50 of the baby oysters.
Oyster gardening has worked from Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Virginia to Mobile Bay in Alabama, but fledgling gardeners need look no further than Southwest Florida for inspiration.
For a year starting in October 2007, the Naples-based nonprofit citizens group Save the Bays launched an experiment with FGCU to see whether oysters and clams would grow in Moorings and Venetian bays in Naples.
Some 70 percent of the clams and oysters survived in six locations between Seagate and Banyan Boulevard, Save the Bays vice chairman Albert Katz said.
On top of that, the oysters and clams were sent to a lab in California to be tested for pathogens and heavy metal contamination and came back clean, Katz said.
Growing oysters in Naples Bay could be a little more tricky though.
Most importantly, Naples Bay gets a lot more freshwater dumped into it than the Moorings Bay gets from a more localized drainage system.
That’s not stopping a new crop of oyster gardeners from getting their green thumbs wet.
“They had a lot of success so we’re going to try it too,” Laakkonen said.


Will the Environmental Protection Agency Clamp Down on Runoff?
American Agriculturist by Gary H. Baise
September 15, 2009
Environmental legal groups, US Department of Justice and EPA attorneys have cooked up a deal to control run-off from your farm or ranch. Are you ready to be required to obtain a Clean Water Act permit for your farming operation?
You may not know about Clean Water Act permits, otherwise known as NPDES permits. All industry and publicly owned treatment works must have these permits, which are written by your friendly regional EPA office and subject to public notice and comment. Then EPA may decide after receiving this comment to issue the permit or make changes in limiting the amount of pollutants that may be discharged to a water of the United States.
In an action where law is being created through a Consent Order signed by a U.S. District Court Judge, a new approach under the Clean Water Act will likely require farmers in Florida in the future to have legal limits set on the runoff coming from their farms which goes into Florida waterways.
In fact the environmental groups filing the law suit believe the consent order model developed between themselves, EPA and Department of Justice lawyers will serve as a model for other states.
It appears, for the first time, that EPA will start developing and setting a numeric number to control runoff from farming and ranching operations. This would mean there will be limits on the runoff that might contain waste or fertilizer from your farm or ranch based on nutrient quality standards (read as limits for phosphorous and nitrogen runoff).
This Consent Order appears to ignore the language of the agricultural storm water runoff exemption that we in agriculture have enjoyed since 1973. The environmental community believes that rain causes runoff with contaminants to run into the waterways of the US. They believe that Agricultural runoff from our farms is harming and possibly poisoning ecosystems.
The law suit, with the deal cut in the Consent Order, will be the first time where EPA will be issuing standards of numeric limits to limit runoff from Florida’s farms
The environmental groups believe that with numeric limits developed in water quality standards it will be much easier for EPA or environmental groups to force the regulation of agricultural runoff from farms and ranches.
The environmental groups are crediting the new administration for quick action in attempting to regulate nutrient runoff and compare this action to the foot dragging of the Bush administration.
A number of agricultural groups in Florida sought to intervene. They have a court order seeking a hearing on the Consent Decree.
Individuals involved in tillage and animal agriculture better hope industry’s lawyers point out there is an agricultural storm water exemption that Congress has made very clear when courts have in the past tried to regulate runoff from our fields and ranches.


Big Oil mixing money and politics in Tallahassee - Editorial
Miami Herald
September 14, 2009
OUR OPINION: Pro-drilling group applying cash and pressure to open Florida's waters to exploration.
The well-financed campaign to open Florida waters in the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling should be greeted with great skepticism by state residents and their representatives in the Legislature.
The latest drive to put drilling platforms off Florida's shores is funded by Florida Energy Associates, a secretive group of out-of-state investors, many of them independent oil and gas companies in Texas.
What's in the best interests of Floridians is not what these Big Oil investors are concerned about.
This new campaign should trigger a factual and frank statewide dialogue about drilling's perils and benefits with plenty of input from the public before the Legislature considers drilling again.
Florida Energy Associates spent $234,000 on lobbying and legal work to get pro-drilling legislation passed this spring. With little discussion a bill allowing drilling did make it through the state House at the 11th hour but wasn't taken up in the Senate.
So far Florida Energy Associates has given $55,000 in state political contributions -- $35,000 to Republicans and $20,000 to Democrats. It is promising the state could earn as much as $2.3 billion a year from drilling leases and taxes.
That kind of promise needs independent verification. Even if it proves true, it would be years before the state could earn any money from drilling. Lawmakers can't claim that drilling is a way out of today's financial crisis any more than it is a solution to our dependence on fossil fuels.
Poll results touted
The pro-drilling group is making much of an April poll by Mason-Dixon it commissioned that found 59 percent of the Floridians polled supported drilling while 29 percent opposed it. The Legislature shouldn't use special-interest polling as a basis for deciding this controversial issue. Lawmakers should seek plenty of input from coastal communities that would be most affected by drilling closer to their beaches. Residents in these communities and the tourism industry that counts on Florida's splendid beaches to keep the economy going understand the risks.
When the poll respondents were asked if they would support drilling if they were sure it would not harm the environment, 88 percent said Yes. Everyone would be more inclined to favor drilling if there were no environmental risks. But even the most advanced equipment can't guarantee that.
Environmentalists are pointing to a recent oil spill off Australia's Kimberly coastline that stretched for eight nautical miles before it was contained. The oil leak came from the same drilling equipment that would be used off our coast.
Unfortunately, the Republican lawmakers leading the Legislature in 2010 have jumped on the drilling platform. Sen. Mike Haridopolis of Melbourne, the incoming Senate president, and Rep. Dean Cannon from Orlando, the next House Speaker, promise they will use the drilling revenue for Everglades cleanup, conservation land-buying, renewable energy development and children's healthcare.
These mom-and-apple-pie promises are supposed to make drilling more palatable, apparently, but they, too, deserve a skeptical response. Over the years the Legislature has shown itself to be a nimble bait-and-switcher with state revenue.
The issue of drilling in waters closer to Florida's beaches than is now allowed isn't going to go away. Big Oil is mixing money and politics in Tallahassee to make sure it never does. Floridians should get familiar with drilling's good and bad sides and make sure the Legislature acts in their best interests first and foremost.


County will decide water trucks' fate byBill Thompson
September 14, 2009
Fourteen months ago, a pair of state appellate court judges pulled down the ramparts Marion County had erected to help defend the local water supply from bottling companies.
The 5th District Court of Appeal ruled that Florida's laws regarding water pumping, particularly for bottling, trumped any regulatory hoops local governments could fashion to govern that activity.
The decision essentially rendered moot Marion County's long-standing requirement for bottlers to obtain a special-use permit to operate a plant.
However, the judges said nothing about the trucks that would be used to haul the water away, or how a plant would operate as a business.
On Tuesday, the County Commission is expected to decide whether to permit nearly 100 tanker trucks on a narrow road leading to the 10-inch-wide well where landowners Ray Greene and Angus Hastings have the state's permission to draw 499,000 gallons of water a day.
The commission could grant the permit or force the applicants to scale back a bit. Or the board could reject the plan, forcing the landowners to wait a year to reapply or prolong the fight that has waged since the St. Johns River Water Management District first approved the permit in March 2007.
The County Commission will have to hash out differing opinions from the court and some of its main growth advisers.
Last year the appellate court agreed with a lower court's determination that the county's zoning and land-use regulations were irrelevant to whether Greene and Hastings were cleared to pump water.
Florida law, the judges noted, "expressly states that when a county ordinance is in conflict with the water management district's exclusive authority, the ordinance is deemed superseded for purposes of regulating the consumptive use of water. Neither the statutes nor the rules regarding [pumping permits] impose any requirements on the District related to compliance with a local government's comprehensive plan or land development regulations."
At issue now is whether the land is properly zoned for the venture.
Currently the 159-acre Black Sink Prairie site in Citra, which contains a former limerock mine, is zoned for agricultural use.
To pump, load and transport the water on 6,200-gallon tanker trucks - up to 94 of which could enter the site each day - requires classifying the land for business or manufacturing use.
County staff recommended that the commission approve the request under certain conditions.
For example, officials proposed limits on hours of operation, the amount of water drawn (no more than 1 million gallons a day at any point; the 499,000-gallon figure is an average) and requirements for renewing the permit.
The county also tried to limit the number of trucks to 20 a day - a mandate that the landowners argued was unreasonable and unnecessary.
On Aug. 31 the Zoning Commission, the citizens panel that reviews proposed land-use changes, didn't accept any part of the attempted compromise.
The committee voted 6-0 to recommend that the County Commission deny the request, disagreeing with the staff's position that the permit was consistent with neighboring land uses and in the public interest.
Wayne Flowers, a Jacksonville lawyer representing Greene and Hastings, could not be reached for comment.
It's unclear when the landowners would start pumping if they prevail Tuesday.


Funding Available to South Florida-Caribbean CESU Members to Study Everglades
Federal Grants by GEMA VIANA
September 14, 2009
WASHINGTON, Sept. 12 -- The U.S. Geological Survey has a discretionary cooperative agreement opportunity to gather data on the Everglades ecosystem.
The estimated total program funding available was cited as $75,000, although no specific amount for this award was indicated by the agency.
This funding opportunity is open to participating partners of the South Florida-Caribbean Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit (CESU) Program.
A funding opportunity notice from the U.S. Geological Survey states: "Continued research and data analysis are necessary in 2010 through 2015 to test, improve, and document EDEN for use in biological and hydrologic models. Ongoing data collection at gages, benchmarks, and by Everglades principal investigators will provide datasets for continued verification and validation of the EDEN models and tools."
The funding opportunity number is 10HQPA0009 (CFDA 15.808). It was posted Sept. 8 with an application closing date of Sept. 21.
Full Announcement


Python "Nightmare": New Giant Species Invading Florida
National Geographic News by Christine Dell'Amore
September 14, 2009
Already squeezed by the invasion of the giant Burmese python, Florida now faces what one scientist calls one of the U.S. state's "worst nightmares."
Africa's largest snake—the ill-tempered, 20-foot-long (6.1-meter long) African rock python—is colonizing the U.S. state, new discoveries suggest.
Six African rock pythons have been found in Florida since 2002. More troubling, a pregnant female and two hatchlings have been found, which means the aggressive reptiles have set up house.
More dangerous than even Burmese pythons—which are known to eat alligators (alligator-python picture—the African pythons are "so mean, they come out of the egg striking," said Kenneth Krysko, senior herpetologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.
"This is just one vicious animal."
So far the giant snakes have been found only in a single square mile (2.6 square kilometers) of suburban area west of Miami. Pet breeders unprepared for the pythons' ferocity may have released them, Krysko said.
What's "really scary" is that the new invaders only have to cross the road to enter Everglades National Park, where Burmese pythons have already eaten thousands of native animals, he said.
With the addition of the rock python, Florida is now an established home-away-from-home for three large alien constrictors—including the Burmese species and the boa constrictor—according to wildlife biologist Robert Reed, who studies invasive reptiles for the U.S. Geological Survey in Fort Collins, Colorado.
(The Florida python crisis will be covered in a future episode of Explorer on the U.S. National Geographic Channel. The National Geographic Channel is part-owned by the National Geographic Society, which owns National Geographic News.)
Pythons Threaten Mice and Men
In its native habitat, sub-Saharan Africa, the African rock python eats small mammals, antelope, warthog, herons, and other animals.
In Florida the African snake might "eat almost any warm-blooded animal that is big enough to ingest," as the Burmese python does, USGS's Reed said.
"Dozens of species of native wildlife, from white-tailed deer to 6-foot [183-centimeter] alligators to birds, have been found in the digestive tracts of Burmese pythons in Florida," said Reed, who is also working with the Florida museum's Krysko on the Florida python problem.
Also like the Burmese python, the African snake is a constrictor. Lacking poison, it kills animals by encircling and literally squeezing the life out of them.
Florida wildlife may not be the only creatures at risk. In Africa, rock pythons are known to have attacked humans, Krysko said.
Hidden in a Florida swamp, he added, the African python "could strike you and you wouldn't even know it was there."
Python + Python = Hybrid Supersnake ?
African pythons have likely already made it into the Everglades, Krysko said. If so, it shouldn't be long before they encounter their Burmese cousins.
If the two python species mate, they may spawn a hybrid species, as has happened in captivity. And because of a biological phenomenon called hybrid vigor, there's an off chance the resulting snakes could be hardier, more powerful predators—assuming they're not sterile, as many hybrids are—USGS's Reed said.
"We can't rule out the possibility," Reed said, "that the introduction of genes from a different species might do something that would allow [the rock pythons] to be even more effective at persisting in Florida and perhaps expanding."
Worse Than the Burmese Python?
The rock python's expansion mirrors the Burmese snake's explosion for some Florida conservationists—and a chance to learn from past mistakes.
"The thing that scares me the most is that this could be another Burmese python," said Kristina Serbesoff-King, invasive species program manager for the nonprofit Nature Conservancy in Florida. (Read biologist Stuart Pimm's take on tackling the Florida python crisis.)
In a 1994 report the Florida Department of Environmental Protection sounded the alarm about the explosion of invasive species in the state, whose warmth and major international ports put it at particular risk.
The report specifically named the African rock python as a threat to pets, native wildlife, and small children. The advisory, however, predicted that in Florida the African snake would be unable to breed in the wild.
"Here we are, 15 years later, and that whole ounce-of-prevention story is so glaring," Serbesoff-King said.
"There's a real opportunity to [mount] an aggressive response" to get rid of the African rock python while the giant snake is still limited to a relatively small area, Serbesoff-King added.
One model, she said, may be the "python patrol" that the Nature Conservancy set up in the Florida Keys. After the Burmese python swam from the Everglades to the island chain and began munching rare Keys wildlife, the team started searching for and capturing the snakes to slow the species' spread.
The Florida museum's Krysko and USGS's Reed both agree that the African snake must be knocked out—and now.
The arrival of the Burmese python "was the biggest, [most] devastating problem that Florida ever could have imagined," Krysko said.
"Now we have a worse one."


Preventing Hurricane Havoc: Environmental Teams Tackle the Invasive Plants and Weeds that Impede Flood Control during Massive Storms
PRWEB by Lawrence Kansas
September 14, 2009
Invasive plants and weeds can wreak havoc during a hurricane by jamming storm-water pumps, blocking water flow and promoting devastating floods. The Weed Science Society of America recommends a proactive, integrated approach for managing the problem and keeping any overgrowth under control.
When a hurricane roars inland, most low-lying coastal states rely on a network of pumps and canals to dissipate the storm surge and protect both lives and property. But add invasive plants and weeds to the mix, and you have a recipe for a disaster. Overgrown vegetation can wreak havoc and promote flooding by jamming pumps and blocking water flow.
According to the Weed Science Society of America, common culprits include floating water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes), submersed hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata) and other fast-growing water plants.
The problem is especially pervasive in Florida, where public lakes are connected by creeks, rivers or constructed canals that ultimately lead to the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean. Some of the largest pumps in the world are used to manage storm runoff and keep the surrounding areas from flooding.
"Invasive plants tend to coalesce at flood control structures in lakes and canals and at bends in river channels," says Jeffrey Schardt, environmental administrator for invasive plant management with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "If left unmanaged, they can clog pumps, impede water flow and make flooding much, much worse. It's imperative to have the overgrowth under control before a hurricane barrels inland."
Schardt says problems associated with invasive plants like water hyacinth and water lettuce reached crisis proportions along Florida's waterways during the 1960s. But officials learned from that experience and have adopted routine maintenance controls to help prevent a recurrence.
"We've found a single patch of water hyacinth can double in size in as little as two weeks during the growing season - forming large rafts that can be carried by wind and water currents, clog pumps and cause flooding," Schardt says. "Time is not our friend, so we concentrate on frequent, small-scale control operations to prevent large-scale problems from developing."
In addition to water hyacinth and water lettuce, invasive plants and even some native, emergent plants can form dense floating mats - called "tussocks" by aquatic plant managers. These floating weed rafts are a worldwide phenomenon found in places such as Argentina, Australia, Finland, India, Japan and Kenya. Emergent plants like primrose willow (ludwigia) "tie" the rafts together with their roots, stems and branches to form larger masses.
Florida environmental teams use boats to patrol shorelines and conduct regular monthly or bimonthly inspections for invasive species that can form tussocks, and herbicides are applied to control small patches as they emerge. The herbicides selected take into account how the body of water is used and any native plants that may be comingled with the invasive species.
As the weeds decompose after treatment, the wave action, oxygen and light that were blocked by the mass of vegetation are restored to normal levels - breaking down sediments and restoring the natural ecosystem.
Schardt says that regardless of how well prepared the state is, though, there will be invasive plant issues to be managed in the aftermath of a hurricane.
"We can't control all the plants that end up in lakes, rivers, flood control structures and navigation channels," he said. "So we have a network of contractors ready to remove displaced plants with harvesters, shredders and other mechanical devices. The sooner we can get the vegetation out of the way, the more quickly we can alleviate upstream flooding."
"Invasive plant control issues faced by Florida are common in most any state with frequent storm flooding, including Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama," says Lee Van Wychen, science policy director for the Weed Science Society of America. "Officials have discovered the vital importance of a proactive, integrated pest management plan that uses the most effective combination of tools available."


Water managers question expanded mining near Everglades restoration
South Florida Sun Sentinel by Andy Reid
September 14, 2009
WEST PALM BEACH - Environmental concerns are growing for plans to expand rock mining in an agricultural area targeted for Everglades restoration.
Star Ranch, mined by Ron Bergeron's excavation operation, would expand its digging to almost 600 additional acres west of U.S. 27 in southwestern Palm Beach County.
Bergeron, who serves on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, has mined Star Ranch for two decades and contends his excavations do not hamper Everglades restoration.
Star Ranch, owned by Noel Shapiro, is beside thousands of acres the South Florida Water Management District acquired in a decades-long, multibillion-dollar effort to store and clean stormwater needed to replenish the Everglades.
The rock mine expansion "could potentially affect the district's restoration plans and future facilities and reduce the environmental benefits of the projects," according to a Sept. 9 letter from district Executive Director Carol Ann Wehle to Palm Beach County officials.
The mining proposal goes before the Palm Beach County Commission Sept. 29, and the county asked the district to weigh in on the potential environmental effects.
Digging a rock mine in potentially porous geological areas near Everglades restoration work could allow underground saltwater to seep into freshwater supplies, with damaging effects on the environment and public supplies, according to the district.
A "conclusive determination" about whether the expanded mine would interfere with district plans won't be known until the district completes analyses for the yet-to-be-finalized restoration plans, Wehle said.
"We have some concerns about water quality, about flood control," Wehle said Thursday.
Lonnie Bergeron, who helps lead his father's family-run business, pointed out that the water management district was excavating rock on its property nearby for a reservoir once intended to be part of Everglades restoration. The reservoir project was stopped because the district is trying to acquire land elsewhere.
If excavating was OK on district land, why would there be a problem with Bergeron -- an avid outdoorsman and Everglades advocate -- doing it a mile away, Lonnie Bergeron asked.

"He himself is not going to be in the mining business if he is going to be interfering with Everglades restoration," Lonnie Bergeron said.
Any environmental issues will be addressed during the state's rigorous permit process and should not be a concern for county officials considering the zoning approvals that come up for a vote Sept. 29, said development consultant Kieran Kilday, who represents the property.
"This applicant has met all those standards," Kilday said.
Mining operations in recent years have been pushing for more land in the Everglades Agricultural Area, 700,000 acres drained for farming south of Lake Okeechobee. The mines produce rock for road building and other construction.
A coalition of environmental groups has filed suit to try to stop rock mining planned in the agricultural area, saying that it threatens to get in the way of restoration.
County commissioners have been criticized for approving previous rock mines on land that ended up getting targeted for restoration.
The water management district plans to pay U.S. Sugar Corp. $536 million to for 73,000 acres in the agricultural area that would be used to build reservoirs and treatment areas intended to restore water flows to the Everglades.
The district on Thursday agreed to pay $12 million to terminate a construction contract for a massive Everglades restoration reservoir planned near the Star Ranch rock mine. Taxpayers have invested almost $280 million to start building a reservoir that now does not fit in with plans for the U.S. Sugar land. The district still intends to use the reservoir property for water storage or treatment.
Star Ranch last year was cited for mining with an expired permit that Bergeron blamed on a paperwork mix-up.
Commissioners in 2008 approved another mining proposal that would allow Bergeron to expand to 500 acres.


Contractor on killed Everglades project to get $12 million for walking away
Palm Beach Post by PAUL QUINLAN
September 11, 2009
WEST PALM BEACH — South Florida water managers say they struck a good deal when they agreed to pay a contractor $12 million to walk away from a massive, half-finished reservoir intended to feed water to the parched Everglades.
The agreement comes in addition to $13 million the district paid to put the project on hold, bringing the total cost of the cancelled reservoir project to more than $280 million.
The South Florida Water Management District last year halted work on the reservoir, an $800 million above-ground lake the size of Boca Raton, just before Gov. Charlie Crist announced plans for a massive land purchase from U.S. Sugar for Everglades restoration.
The district said it put the project on hold because of an environmentalist lawsuit, but critics call the aborted project a monumental waste caused by shifting priorities to the governor's plan.
Dexter Lehtinen, attorney for the Miccosukee Tribe, which is suing to stop the proposed $536 million, 73,000-acre U.S. Sugar deal, called the positive assessment of the mid-stream cancellation of the reservoir "silliness."
The termination fee includes $3.6 million to dismantle a rock crushing plant that the agency paid $113 million to build on the 16,700-acre reservoir site.
"I'm wishing they had finished the project and not just walked away," said Lehtinen. "These people are irresponsible at the least and morally corrupt at the worst."
The contractor, Barnard Parsons Joint Venture, sought a $26 million fee for canceling the contract, which the agency negotiated down to $12 million. Water managers say the project is not a total waste, as the reservoir property will likely be converted to a pollution-cleaning marsh under a revamped Everglades restoration plan that incorporates the U.S. Sugar land.
"The staff has done a marvelous job of bringing this in," board member Jerry Montgomery said at a water district meeting Thursday.
Only board member Mike Collins, who said the sugar deal derailed worthy restoration plans such as the reservoir, voted against the settlement.
"We could have had this project done in 2011 or 2012," Collins said. "I believe very strongly that this should have been the priority."
Board member Charles Dauray worried aloud that such settlements might make the agency appear an "easy mark" for contractor lawsuits and claims.
"In just one after the other, after the other, after the other, we pay," said Dauray, "and we're using the taxpayer dollars to ameliorate the amount of risk that the private sector is taking."
Two years into construction, the water agency in May 2008 voted to suspend the reservoir project. For six months afterward, it paid Bernard Parsons a monthly, $1.9 million holding fee before canceling the construction contract altogether.
Agency officials say the suspension was ordered in response to a lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council that sought assurances that the project would only supply water to the Everglades, rather than new urban development.
But the NRDC has said they did not seek to stop construction and that the water agency sought to blame their lawsuit for the sudden change-of-plans necessitated by Crist's land deal with U.S. Sugar.


Fla. water district takes $25 million hit for halted Everglades reservoir
Miami Herald by Curtis Morgan
September 11, 2009
Water managers are ready to pay a contractor $12 million not to build something. And they consider it a really good deal.
"It's the best we can do under the circumstances,'' said Mike Collins, a member of the South Florida Water Management District's governing board. "We were potentially on the hook for $26 million.''
The proposed settlement is part of a $25 million hit the district will take for halting construction of a reservoir the size of Boca Raton once touted as the keystone of Everglades restoration. That was before Gov. Charlie Crist announced his controversial land deal with the U.S. Sugar Corp. last year. Critics call the unfinished reservoir — scuttled after $260 million in construction costs and now slated for redesign at uncertain expense — the most glaring example of the expensive hidden costs of the governor's sugar deal, which will pay the sugar giant $536 million for 77,000 acres of fields and groves.


Good business? South Florida water district to pay contractor $12 million not to work
Palm Beach Post by CURTIS MORGAN
September 11, 2009
Water managers are ready to pay a contractor $12 million not to build something.
And they consider it a really good deal.
"It's the best we can do under the circumstances,'' said Mike Collins, a member of the South Florida Water Management District's governing board. "We were potentially on the hook for $26 million.''
The proposed settlement is part of a $25 million hit the district will take for halting construction of a reservoir the size of Boca Raton once touted as the keystone of Everglades restoration. That was before Gov. Charlie Crist announced his controversial land deal with the U.S. Sugar Corp. last year.
Critics call the unfinished reservoir - scuttled after $260 million in construction costs and now slated for redesign at uncertain expense - the most glaring example of the expensive hidden costs of the governor's sugar deal, which will pay the sugar giant $536 million for 77,000 acres of fields and groves.
"This is a political decision from beginning to end,'' said Dexter Lehtinen, an attorney for the Miccosukee Tribe. The tribe, along with rival grower Florida Crystals, has sued to block the land buy, calling it a bailout for U.S. Sugar that will siphon money from other Everglades projects and delay restoration.
The district's governing board will vote Thursday on the proposed settlement with contractor Barnard Parsons Joint Venture. Eric Buermann, the district's chairman, defended it on Wednesday as a good deal for taxpayers.
He also dismissed "conspiracy theories'' and attempts "to connect the dots'' he insisted don't exist between the board's decision to suspend work on the reservoir in May 2008 and the sugar deal announced a month later. Board members, Buermann said, weren't even told the governor was negotiating with the sugar giant until a few days before Crist made national headlines with the blockbuster bid.
Water managers blame environmentalists for derailing the reservoir. Buermann said a lawsuit filed by the National Resources Defense Council and two other environmental groups put the massive project in western Palm Beach County "under a black cloud of litigation.''
The agency, he said, couldn't afford the risk of committing another $400 million to the second phase of construction for a reservoir it might not be able to use.
"If somebody is challenging your building permit, are you just going to blindly continue building your house?'' Buermann asked.
Instead the board, in a unanimous vote last year, opted to suspend work and award Barnard Parsons $1.9 million a month in exchange for not suing until legal issues were resolved. A month later, Crist's land deal made the shutdown permanent, prompting a broad and ongoing overhaul of Everglades restoration plans.
Water managers insist the $250 million already spent on the reservoir won't go to waste. They are considering converting the 16,700-acre project into a marsh to treat polluted water flowing from farms, pastures and suburbs.
To rebut allegations that the then-secret sugar deal influenced the decision, the district released transcripts of a confidential board discussion on the reservoir lawsuit.
Brad Sewell, an NRDC attorney, remains skeptical.
Before the district halted the work, he sent a letter stressing that environmentalists did not want the work halted. The suit, actually filed against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was a procedural dispute seeking legal assurances that the reservoir's 62 billion gallons would go to the Everglades, not farms and suburbs.
Sewell, who supports the sugar land buy, believes the suit provided an excuse. "It was killing two birds with one stone to blame us,'' he said.
Not long after the sugar deal was announced, Barnard Parsons filed a termination claim for $26 million. The district, in mediation, knocked that down to a $12 million settlement. In all, however, the tab for breaking the contract will still top $25 million.
In addition to paying the company $1.9 million for six months, the district also paid a $1.5 million cancellation penalty.
Lehtinen scoffed at arguments that decision to halt work was a good deal.
There are no plans, timelines or cost estimates for converting the reservoir. And after scraping out much of the muck, he said, it could cost tens of millions to haul in soil to make it a treatment marsh.
"Under the logic that they're using, we might as well stop all restoration projects,'' he said. "That would save a lot of money.''


Greenland's melt mystery unfolds, at glacial pace
World Associated Press by KARL RITTER
September 11, 2009
HELHEIM GLACIER, Greenland -- Suddenly and without warning, the gigantic river of ice sped up, causing it to spit icebergs ever faster into the ocean off southeastern Greenland.
The Helheim Glacier nearly doubled its speed in just a few years, flowing through a rift in the barren coastal mountains at a stunning 100 feet (30 meters) per day.
Alarm bells rang as the pattern was repeated by glaciers across Greenland: Was the island's vast ice sheet, a frozen water reservoir that could raise the sea level 20 feet (6 meters) if disgorged, in danger of collapse ?
Half a decade later, there's a little bit of good news - and a lot of uncertainty.
"It does seem that the very rapid speeds were only sustained for a short period of time, although none of these glaciers have returned to the 'normal' flow speeds yet," says Gordon Hamilton, a glaciologist from the University of Maine who's clocked Helheim's rapid advance using GPS receivers on site since 2005.
Understanding why Greenland's glaciers accelerated so abruptly in the first half of the decade - and whether they are now slowing down - is crucial to the larger question of how fast sea levels will rise as the planet warms.
The issue has gained urgency as scientists rush to supply their latest findings in time for negotiations on a new global climate pact, set for December in Copenhagen.
Scientists say the Greenland ice sheet, which is up to 2 miles (3 kilometers) thick and covers an area almost the size of Mexico, is losing about 7 billion cubic feet (200 million cubic meters) of ice a year - the equivalent of 80,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
That means snowfall on top of the ice sheet is not enough to replace what is lost through surface melting and ice chucked out in the fjords by faster-flowing glaciers. In the process, sea levels rise as towering icebergs plunge into the Atlantic Ocean and displace water - much like an ice cube dropped into a drink.
The dynamics of the ice sheet on Greenland - and the much larger ones on Antarctica - were not included in sea level rise projections by the U.N. expert panel on climate change in 2007 because the phenomenon was poorly mapped at the time.
The picture of what happened in Greenland is just starting to come together, and scientists are still in the dark about how the underlying causes were set in motion, how much was owed to natural variances and how much to man's tinkering with the global climate system.
"This is like medical science in the 15th century," says David Holland, director of the Center for Atmosphere Ocean Science at New York University. "It's going to take a while to find out what's going on with the patient here."
The most popular explanation is that the patient - Greenland's ice sheet - contracted its ailment not from warmer air, but a warmer ocean.
Scientists earlier believed that the biggest factor for the faster flow speeds was meltwater seeping down to the base of the glaciers, lubricating the bedrock. They're now shifting attention to ocean currents believed to have sent pulses of warmer water from southern latitudes to Greenland's glacial fjords.
Holland found that such water was reaching the edge of western Greenland's biggest glacier, the Sermeq Kujalleq. A team led by Fiamma Stranneo, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, made a similar discovery last month with probes plunged into the chilly depths of Sermilik fjord, where the Helheim Glacier ends.
"We've had a confirmation that the waters are really coming up to the glacier," Stranneo says, her voice nearly drowned by engine noise aboard the Arctic Sunrise, a Greenpeace ship that offered her a chance to test her hypothesis. "This is the first time that we've seen it in these southeast glacial fjords."
In July, the world's oceans were the warmest in almost 130 years of record-keeping. Meteorologists say a combination of factors are at work, including a natural El Nino system, man-made global warming and a dash of random weather.
Coinciding with the shrinking of sea ice on the North Pole and the thawing of the Arctic permafrost, the discovery of Greenland's runaway glaciers earlier this decade raised a sense of urgency among scientists studying the impact of climate change on the frozen north.
It has also been used by advocacy groups like Greenpeace to stress the importance of reaching a deal in Copenhagen to limit global greenhouse emissions.
The U.N.'s top climate official, Yvo de Boer, said Friday that negotiations on fighting climate change are moving so slowly that it will be impossible to reach a comprehensive deal by December. He said the Copenhagen meeting should aim instead to agree on "key cornerstones" of emissions cuts and how to finance them.
Even a partial melt of the ice sheet could have a big impact on sea levels, with dire consequences for low-lying areas from Florida to Bangladesh.
The 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects a sea level rise of 7 to 24 inches (20 to 60 centimeters) this century. Adding the potential impact of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, many scientists have estimated the rise will be double.
"It doesn't sound like a lot, but it's an important difference by the way you sort of deal with that issue," says Hamilton, taking a break from his GPS measurements on a plateau overlooking Helheim's styrofoam-like bed of jagged ice. "How you engineer for a sea level rise of 30 centimeters is quite different as to how you would ... deal with a sea level rise of 1 meter."
His latest measurements indicate that Helheim is flowing at 6.5 miles (10.5 kilometers) per year, slightly down from its peak in 2005 but still 50 percent faster than its normal pace.
Other researchers say some - but not all - of Greenland's glaciers have shown similar slowdowns in recent years, suggesting that a sudden, dramatic increase in flow speeds may not be such a cataclysmic and irregular phenomenon after all.
Still, the flows remain fast enough to yield a net loss of mass from the ice sheet. And if the world continues to warm, sudden spurts of glacial acceleration may become more frequent, draining the inland ice until it, eventually, collapses.
No one can say with certainty whether that will take 100 years, or 1,000.
"It's a little embarrassing to know so little," says Ian Howat, a glaciologist based at Ohio State University. "We won't know it's going until it's gone. It feels like that a little bit."


Mine expansion plan worries Everglades restorers
Palm Beach Post by PAUL QUINLAN
September 11, 2009
WEST PALM BEACH - South Florida water managers are raising concerns about a proposal to expand a rock mine that borders future Everglades restoration land.
The South Florida Water Management District executive director, Carol Wehle, raised concerns in a letter to Palm Beach County Commissioners about the Star Ranch's plans to expand its rock mine. The site in western Palm Beach County is in the agricultural area just south of Lake Okeechobee that was once part of the Everglades.
The mine expansion proposal goes before county commissioners on Sept. 29, according to the letter.
Environmentalists generally oppose rock mining in the area out of concern that it would interfere with the multibillion-dollar Everglades restoration. Wehle noted that the Star Ranch mine abuts land which the water agency plans to use for restoration.
"We are now on the record with Palm Beach County with our concerns for this particular mine," Wehle told board members Thursday.
Commissioners had asked the agency to weigh in on the mine expansion plans. Wehle stops short of raising anything more than general concerns in the letter, noting that "conclusive determinations cannot be made without detailed site-specific plans and engineering analysis."


Open house in Fort White tonight to discuss all sorts of water issues
The North Florida Herald by Rachael Anne Ryals
September 11, 2009
FORT WHITE – Residents in Fort White know water.
When one lives within minutes of three of Florida’s most precious rivers, water is an important topic that affects daily life. For many, water is their livelihood or the reason they live in the area.
But there is always more to learn, and tonight residents from Fort White and the surrounding communities are invited to attend an open house presented by The Ichetucknee Partnership (TIP).
The open house will be held, along with TIP’s quarterly meeting, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. tonight, Thursday, Sept. 10 at the Fort White Community Center on State Road 47 in Fort White.
The partnership was formed in 2008 to promote the environmental and economic wellbeing of the Ichetucknee Springshed through locally-led, voluntary and incentive-based programs.
The Partnership works with farmers and homeowners to reduce nutrient contamination entering groundwater and with all water users to encourage water conservation.
The open house will feature many presentations and exhibits, including:
* Rain barrels and Florida Friendly Landscaping presented by the Columbia and Suwannee County Master Gardeners.
 * Book signing and project displays by Alexa Hatcher and Fort White PARKnership Students.
 * Florida's Eden/Artists Reaching Through Teaching (ARTT) presented by Annie Pais.



* LIFE program presented by Richardson Middle School.
 * Farm BMPs programs presented by the Suwannee River Partnership.
 * Water supply planning by the Suwannee River Water Management District.
 * Columbia County Aquifer Vulnerability Assessment by the Suwannee River Water Management District.
 * Water conservation videos presented by city of Lake City.
 * Poetry reading: "Come Along to the Spring" by Rachel Grubb.
 * Presentation of a kindergarten activity book: "Learning about Springs and Farms" by Don and Dorothy Spradley.
 * Ichetucknee Springs State Park presented by Ginger Morgan, park biologist.
 * Representatives of the Columbia County Commission, Save Our Suwannee, Our Santa Fe, Four Rivers Audubon, Columbia and Suwannee County Extension Offices, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.


South Florida water managers OK budget containing Everglades restoration land deal
South Florida Sun Sentinel by ANDY REID
September 10, 2009
WEST PALM BEACH — South Florida water managers Wednesday approved a $1.5 billion budget plan that avoids a property tax increase next year while including a half-billion-dollar Everglades restoration land deal with U.S. Sugar Corp.
Residents in Broward and Palm Beach counties and most of South Florida would pay a tax rate of about 62 cents per $1,000 of taxable value to the district, which manages water supplies from Orlando to the Keys.
At that rate, the owner of a home valued at $230,000, and eligible for a $50,000 homestead exemption, would pay the district about $111 in property taxes. That is in addition to the property taxes paid for cities, schools and other government agencies. The district’s final vote on the budget and tax rate is Sept. 22.
A major expense in the proposed budget is the $536 million plan to purchase 73,000 acres of farmland from U.S. Sugar Corp. The deal includes an option to purchase another 107,000 acres from U.S. Sugar if the district can come up with the money over the next 10 years.
Economic concerns prompted Gov. Charlie Crist to scale down his initial plan to buy all of U.S. Sugar’s land and facilities to clear the way for restoration.
The district leads Everglades restoration for the state. The agency plans to borrow the money for the 73,000 acres, with South Florida taxpayers paying off the long-term debt. The 73,000 acres would be used to build reservoirs and treatment areas to restore water flows from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades.
Critics of U.S. Sugar deal question whether the district long-term will be able to afford to buy and build on the land without raising taxes. The Miccosukee Tribe and U.S. Sugar competitor Florida Crystals have filed legal challenges arguing it costs taxpayers too much and would stall other Everglades restoration projects.
“There are a lot of folks out there who don’t want this to succeed,” district Board Member Charles Dauray said about restoration plans for U.S. Sugar land. “This will succeed.”
In addition to the U.S. Sugar deal, other major expenses in the budget include $60 million to maintain flood control systems and $400,000 to acquire land for work to strengthen Lake Okeechobee’s dike.
The district estimates that the struggling economy and a drop in property values will mean $65 million less in tax revenues for the agency. The district held the line on tax rates while almost two-thirds of the local governments in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties opted to increase tax rates to compensate for declining revenues


Water district taking $25M hit for halted Everglades reservoir work
Miami Herald by CURTIS MORGAN 
September 10, 2009
Water managers have a tentative deal with a contractor after scuttling work on a reservoir.
Water managers are ready to pay a contractor $12 million not to build something.
And they consider it a really good deal.
``It's the best we can do under the circumstances,'' said Mike Collins, a member of the South Florida Water Management District's governing board. ``We were potentially on the hook for $26 million.''
The proposed settlement is part of a $25 million hit the district will take for halting construction of a reservoir the size of Boca Raton once touted as the keystone of Everglades restoration. That was before Gov. Charlie Crist announced his controversial land deal with the U.S. Sugar Corp. last year.
Critics call the unfinished reservoir -- scuttled after $260 million in construction costs and now slated for redesign at uncertain expense -- the most glaring example of the expensive hidden costs of the governor's sugar deal, which will pay the sugar giant $536 million for 77,000 acres of fields and groves.
``This is a political decision from beginning to end,'' said Dexter Lehtinen, an attorney for the Miccosukee Tribe. The tribe, along with rival grower Florida Crystals, has sued to block the land buy, calling it a bailout for U.S. Sugar that will siphon money from other Everglades projects and delay restoration.
The district's governing board will vote Thursday on the proposed settlement with contractor Barnard Parsons Joint Venture. Eric Buermann, the district's chairman, defended it on Wednesday as a good deal for taxpayers.
He also dismissed ``conspiracy theories'' and attempts ``to connect the dots'' he insisted don't exist between the board's decision to suspend work on the reservoir in May 2008 and the sugar deal announced a month later. Board members, Buermann said, weren't even told the governor was negotiating with the sugar giant until a few days before Crist made national headlines with the blockbuster bid.
Water managers blame environmentalists for derailing the reservoir. Buermann said a lawsuit filed by the National Resources Defense Council and two other environmental groups put the massive project in western Palm Beach County ``under a black cloud of litigation.''
The agency, he said, couldn't afford the risk of committing another $400 million to the second phase of construction for a reservoir it might not be able to use.
``If somebody is challenging your building permit, are you just going to blindly continue building your house?'' Buermann asked.
Instead the board, in a unanimous vote last year, opted to suspend work and award Barnard Parsons $1.9 million a month in exchange for not suing until legal issues were resolved. A month later, Crist's land deal made the shutdown permanent, prompting a broad and ongoing overhaul of Everglades restoration plans.
Water managers insist the $250 million already spent on the reservoir won't go to waste. They are considering converting the 16,700-acre project into a marsh to treat polluted water flowing from farms, pastures and suburbs.
To rebut allegations that the then-secret sugar deal influenced the decision, the district released transcripts of a confidential board discussion on the reservoir lawsuit.
Brad Sewell, an NRDC attorney, remains skeptical.
Before the district halted the work, he sent a letter stressing that environmentalists did not want the work halted. The suit, actually filed against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was a procedural dispute seeking legal assurances that the reservoir's 62 billion gallons would go to the Everglades, not farms and suburbs.
Sewell, who supports the sugar land buy, believes the suit provided an excuse. ``It was killing two birds with one stone to blame us,'' he said.
Not long after the sugar deal was announced, Barnard Parsons filed a termination claim for $26 million. The district, in mediation, knocked that down to a $12 million settlement. In all, however, the tab for breaking the contract will still top $25 million.
In addition to paying the company $1.9 million for six months, the district also paid a $1.5 million cancellation penalty.
Lehtinen scoffed at arguments that decision to halt work was a good deal.
There are no plans, timelines or cost estimates for converting the reservoir. And after scraping out much of the muck, he said, it could cost tens of millions to haul in soil to make it a treatment marsh.
``Under the logic that they're using, we might as well stop all restoration projects,'' he said. ``That would save a lot of money.''


Costs grow for Everglades reservoir left unfinished by sugar deal
South Florida Sun-Sentinel by Andy Reid
September 9, 2009
WEST PALM BEACH - Tack on another $12 million to the taxpayers' tab for the cost of a massive, unfinished reservoir rendered obsolete by a proposed half-billion-dollar Everglades-restoration land deal with U.S. Sugar Corp.
A suggested $12 million settlement to terminate the construction contract of the city-sized project in western Palm Beach County pushes the total reservoir cost to almost $280 million.
The South Florida Water Management District in June 2008 stopped construction on the 16,700-acre reservoir the same month Gov. Charlie Crist announced plans to buy U.S. Sugar land to store water needed to replenish the Everglades.
The district now contends that the location of the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir, west of U.S. 27, doesn't fit in with Everglades restoration plans being reshaped by the still-pending U.S. Sugar deal.
Critics of the U.S. Sugar land deal point to the unfinished reservoir as evidence that the blockbuster land buy diverts money from other stalled projects, delaying help for the Everglades.
"It's a waste of money for the public and a disaster for the Everglades," said Dexter Lehtinen, Everglades advocate and attorney for the Miccosukee Tribe, which has gone to court to stop the U.S. Sugar deal. "We are going backward with restoration."
 When the U.S. Sugar deal was announced last year, South Florida taxpayers already had invested about $250 million to start building the reservoir. The district then paid the contractor, Barnard Parsons Joint Venture, about $13 million from June to December 2008 to stand by while the agency decided whether the reservoir construction should proceed along with the U.S. Sugar deal.
The district initially blamed a legal challenge filed by an environmental group for stopping construction on the reservoir. After the U.S. Sugar deal became public, the district decided that the reservoir construction in its current design should not continue and the district negotiated a $12 million termination settlement with Barnard Parsons. Barnard Parsons had sought about $26 million, according to the district. The district's governing board is to vote on the proposed settlement Thursday.
District officials contend that taxpayer money wasn't wasted on the reservoir project. The land still could be used as a stormwater treatment area or a shallower reservoir that would better fit in with the plan to store, clean and redirect water flows to the Everglades, they say.
Completing the reservoir would have cost at least another $400 million, according to district estimates.
Crist's deal with U.S. Sugar calls for the district to pay $536 million to U.S. Sugar for 73,000 acres that would be used to build reservoirs and treatment areas, intended to restore water flows from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades. The deal gives the district a 10-year option to buy another 107,000 acres from U.S. Sugar.
A judge's ruling last month, in a legal challenge to the financing plan, allowed the deal to move forward. The Miccosukee Tribe plans to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. The district has until June 2010 to borrow the money it needs to close on the deal with U.S. Sugar.


Don't eat the pythons, health officials warn
September 9, 2009
Even as state officials are expanding their python-hunting program in Florida, scientists have discovered that the exotic Burmese pythons slithering around in the Everglades have a surprising problem.
Tissue samples taken from two dozen of the enormous constrictors captured in Everglades National Park turned out to have what National Park Service officials call “extraordinarily high levels of mercury.”
Now scientists are trying to figure out how the toxic chemical got there and what effect it has on the snakes. Meanwhile, though, they’re worried about the hunters the state wildlife commission has licensed to kill the snakes. “I hope they don’t eat them,” said Kristin Hart of the U.S. Geological Survey.
One of the 13 people that state officials licensed in July to hunt pythons, Greg Graziani, said he’s well aware of the mercury risks. “I wouldn’t eat it, not with the problem they have with mercury.”
But he’s a professional, running Graziani Reptiles in Venus, Fla.. What Graziani is concerned about are the people who signed up to hunt something else, but now will get to add pythons to their to-do list.
On Aug. 29, state wildlife officials expanded their python-hunting program to include anyone who has a license to hunt on one of South Florida’s state-run wildlife management areas: Everglades and Francis S. Taylor, Holey Land, Rotenberger and Big Cypress. The folks using compound bows to kill deer or muzzle-loading rifles to hunt wild boar in those areas now have permission to target “reptiles of concern” as well.
State officials said recently that they have no idea how many people are licensed to hunt on those wildlife management areas. Still, they defended the decision to expand the cadre of python killers.
“It is only natural that we enlist the aid of hunters,” said wildlife commission Chairman Rodney Barreto. “Historically, hunters have played a great role with wildlife conservation in this country, and they know the land and have a vested interest in conserving native habitat and game species.”
But Graziani contended it just shows that state wildlife officials “have gotten wrapped up in the hysteria” over pythons.
And he worries that inexperienced hunters may not know about the pythons’ mercury problem and try to sell the meat or eat it themselves. After all, he said, “they’re shooting everything else out there and eating it.”
There could be big money in the meat. Considered lighter and tastier than other reptile meat, it currently sells for $50 a pound from California suppliers such as the Exotic Meat Market.
“People are calling me all day long” looking for it, said owner Anshu Pathak.
Now he gets his python from Vietnam. He would much rather buy from Florida wholesalers.
“I’d rather buy American,” he explained.
So far the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hasn’t told its python-hunters, who so far have killed 17 snakes, not to sell or eat the meat, spokeswoman Pat Behnke said.
In humans as well as animals, mercury can cause abnormal development, poor coordination, paralysis, even death. Biologists discovered 20 years ago that the River of Grass was polluted with mercury, probably from coal-fired power plants, smelters and incinerators.
When smokestacks belch mercury-laden smoke into the air, it returns to the earth via rain, converting to a more toxic form called methylmercury in lakes, rivers and oceans. Small fish absorb it and it builds up as they are eaten by bigger ones, a process called bioaccumulation.
In the Everglades, scientists have found mercury in fish, raccoons, alligators, wading birds, even Florida panthers.
In the late 1990s, state officials cracked down on mercury emissions from South Florida’s municipal and medical waste incinerators. Mercury emissions measured in South Florida dropped by 93 percent between 1991 and 2000, and the mercury level in the birds dropped nearly 70 percent. Nevertheless, the levels in fish and other animals remain high enough within Everglades National Park that state officials have posted warnings against eating them.
With the python problem looming larger and larger this summer, biologists sent out for laboratory tests on 25 tissue samples from snakes killed in the various parts of the park between July 2006 and August 2008.
“When we got the test results back, we were surprised at the high levels,” said Linda Friar, a spokeswoman for Everglades National Park.
The pythons had roughly three times as much mercury in them as the alligators, Hart said. The high levels could be the result of bioaccumulation, she said, since the pythons will eat just about anything that crosses their path.
Scientists with state and federal agencies are preparing a broader investigation of the problem. Among the questions they hope to answer: What effect is the mercury having on the snakes?
“We’re not seeing any type of problem with reproduction among pythons,” Hart said. “We’re seeing very healthy babies. They’re so fat and ready to go, it’s scary.”


Everglades to appear on quarters in 2014
South Florida Business Journal
September 9, 2009
By 2014, Everglades National Park will be stamped on the back of quarters, the U.S. Mint said Wednesday.
It is one of 56 national sites, and the only one in Florida, that will be part of the Mint’s America the Beautiful Quarters program.
Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Yosemite National Park in California, Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona and Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon will be the first sites to be minted, starting next year.
"These new quarters will honor some of our most revered, treasured and beautiful national sites – majestic and historic places located throughout the United States and its territories that truly make us 'America the Beautiful,'" U.S. Mint Director Ed Moy said in a news release.
Secretary of the Treasury Timothy F. Geithner approved the list of sites recommended by the Mint on Aug. 25.
Beginning in 2010, the designs on the tails side of the quarters will rotate five times each year, with the final coin in the series, the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Alabama, released in 2021. The heads side will feature a restored version of the portrait of George Washington


Short-lived stint on South Florida water board turns into judicial post
Sun-Sentinel– By Andy Reid
September 9, 2009
A week after filling a post on the board that oversees South Florida's water supply, Miami attorney Gladys Perez stepped down to become Judge Perez.
Gov. Charlie Crist in July appointed Perez to fill a seat left empty when former South Florida Water Management District board member Paul Huck Jr. stepped down, citing conflict of interest concerns with the agency’s pending land deal with U.S. Sugar Corp.
But a few weeks after appointing Perez to the district’s nine-member, volunteer board, she resigned in August so that Crist could appoint her to fill a judicial position, district spokesman Randy Smith said.
Perez on Aug. 18 was sworn in as a Miami-County Court judge. That came just a week after she attended her first water district board meeting.
Now the hunt begins again to fill the vacancy on the water board that oversees an agency with a $1.5 billion budget and is charged with managing water supplies from Orlando to the Keys. In addition to guiding against flooding, the district leads Everglades restoration efforts.
Crist chooses the appointments to the board and those choices must then receive confirmation from the Florida Senate.


South Florida water managers hold the line on taxes, despite U.S. Sugar land deal
South Florida Sun-Sentinel by Andy Reid
September 9 2009
WEST PALM BEACH - South Florida water managers Wednesday approved a $1.5 billion budget plan that avoids a property tax increase next year while including a half-billion-dollar Everglades restoration land deal with U.S. Sugar Corp.
Residents in Broward and Palm Beach counties and most of South Florida would pay a tax rate of about 62 cents per $1,000 of taxable value to the district, which manages water supplies from Orlando to the Keys.
At that rate, the owner of a home valued at $230,000, and eligible for a $50,000 homestead exemption, would pay the district about $111 in property taxes. That is in addition to the property taxes paid for cities, schools and other government agencies. The district's final vote on the budget and tax rate is Sept. 22.
A major expense in the proposed budget is the $536 million plan to purchase 73,000 acres of farmland from U.S. Sugar Corp. The deal includes an option to purchase another 107,000 acres from U.S. Sugar if the district can come up with the money over the next 10 years.
Economic concerns prompted Gov. Charlie Crist to scale down his initial plan to buy all of U.S. Sugar's land and facilities to clear the way for restoration.
The district leads Everglades restoration for the state. The agency plans to borrow the money for the 73,000 acres, with South Florida taxpayers paying off the long-term debt. The 73,000 acres would be used to build reservoirs and treatment areas to restore water flows from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades.
Critics of U.S. Sugar deal question whether the district long-term will be able to afford to buy and build on the land without raising taxes. The Miccosukee Tribe and U.S. Sugar competitor Florida Crystals have filed legal challenges arguing it costs taxpayers too much and would stall other Everglades restoration projects.
"There are a lot of folks out there who don't want this to succeed," district Board Member Charles Dauray said about restoration plans for U.S. Sugar land. "This will succeed."
In addition to the U.S. Sugar deal, other major expenses in the budget include $60 million to maintain flood control systems and $400,000 to acquire land for work to strengthen Lake Okeechobee's dike.
The district estimates that the struggling economy and a drop in property values will mean $65 million less in tax revenues for the agency. The district held the line on tax rates while almost two-thirds of the local governments in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties opted to increase tax rates to compensate for declining revenues.


A different take on global warming
Seacoastonline by Patrick Cronin
September 8, 2009
HAMPTON— When you think global warming, you think warm weather, polar ices caps melting, rising sea levels and the possibility that Florida may one day be under water.
But nationally-known global warming lecturer and Ogunquit, Maine resident Tom Wysmuller gave a different perspective Thursday night when he presented a forum titled, "The Colder Side of Global Warming" as part of this month's "energy conversation."
Every month, the town's Energy Committee hosts a conversation with people who are experts in some aspect of the energy issue.
Wysmuller — a meteorologist — said global warming is part of the natural climate cycle.
"Global warming occurred on this planet and ended the Ice Age," Wysmuller said.
The theory, he said, is based on research by scientists Maurice Ewing and William Donn that was done 50 years ago. Recent data, he said, validates much of it.
Wysmuller said the cause of the natural cycle is the melting and freezing of the northern polar ice cap due to warm ocean currents flowing into the Arctic Ocean. As the waters continues to warm, more and more carbon dioxide is being released into the atmosphere.
"Carbon dioxide is dissolved in the ocean," Wysmuller said. "The warmer the ocean is, the less dissolved CO2 stays in."
Man-made carbon dioxide is accelerating the process, he said, but it is not the ultimate cause.
No amounts of "carbon management" and associated "green" efforts will stop the Arctic ice from melting.
The consequences of that, he said, is that the northern half of the United States will see colder winters. He said the process will generate "ocean-effect" rain and snow, similar to the lake-effect rain and snow that hits the upstate New York area.
Wysmuller said for the first time residents will see ocean-effect snow covering large areas of North America and Asia.
As that continues to occur, the snow will take longer to melt each year.
"What happens, is what you had last winter," Wysmuller said. "You had a very cold winter and spring that lasted late into June."
He says it will get worse each year until finally there is so much snow on the ground that it will not be able to melt.
"The accumulated snowfall increases reflecting light so temperatures will cool," said Wysmuller, eventually starting a new ice age.
Wysmuller said sea levels, however, will not rise.
"Greenland and Antarctica are losing ice on their edges," Wysmuller said. "They are doing that at accelerating pace, but its only the edges.
"The interior of Antarctica and Greenland are actually increasing ice," he said. "The more open water that appears around Greenland, the more ice that is dumped on center of the continent basically causing a balance."
So what can be done to stop another ice age from occurring? Wysmuller suggests building a dam to control warm ocean currents working their way into the Arctic.
"If we can build a dam, we can actually control the melt and refreezing of the ocean," he said. "This will basically enable us to manage our own climate."
If those in power don't do anything, Wysmuller said, the entire Arctic will eventually be open water.
"We will inundate North America and Asia with ice," Wysmuller said. "In the next century, a billion people who haven't even been born yet would die horrible deaths."
Wysmuller's presentation was an abbreviated version of one that he has been making all over the county.
In addition to being a meteorologist, Wysmuller served as the administrative director of Government Operations at Pratt & Whitney, where he wrote the code that solved the Polynomial Regression Algorithm now part of millions of Texas Instruments' calculators.


Butcher's Big Cypress documentary debuts Sept. 26
News Press  by MARY WOZNIAK
September 8, 2009
The work of internationally known photographer Clyde Butcher will be featured prominently in a new documentary series on America’s national parks by director Ken Burns.
“The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” is a six-part documentary film that tells the story of those who dedicated themselves to preserving natural areas of the United States as national parks.
The series, which debuts on PBS Sept. 27, features images of Everglades National Park shot by Butcher, often called the Ansel Adams of the Everglades.
The photographer lives and operates a gallery in the Big Cypress National Preserve, part of the western Everglades ecosystem.
Butcher has just completed a documentary on the Big Cypress that will be seen across the country but debut locally on PBS, just a day prior to the start of Burns’ series.
The documentary, a collaboration with filmmaker Elam Stoltzfus, is hosted by Butcher and also features his work.
Butcher and his wife Niki have never met Burns and the chance arrangement to use
Butcher’s photograph occurred about four years ago, Niki said.
“All I know is that one day in the gallery one of his (Burns) partners was in the gallery and told us how Ken Burns was working on a national parks program,” she said.
Concerned that the segment on Everglades National Park would not depict the true essence of the Everglades, she offered use of Clyde’s photographs to help explain the complex ecosystem.
“Ken Burns absolutely fell in love with Clyde’s images,” Niki said.
Burns called Butcher’s work “a national treasure” in a prepared statement:
“Like the works of Ansel Adams, Clyde Butcher’s remarkable photographs give us access to nature we rarely see or experience. They not only reveal the intimate and majestic beauty of the Everglades and the need to save this fragile environment, they also remind us of the abiding kinship we mortals share when we work together to preserve these magnificent places.”
Butcher is a staunch environmental advocate who fought for the restoration of the
Everglades and then broadened his focus to other areas of country he believes are in need of preservation. His numerous exhibits have included images from other national parks as well as Cuba, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere.
“I thought it was pretty neat,” Butcher said of Burns using his photographs. “One reason I started taking my pictures is to create a visual history of the Everglades, and it is nice they are being used in a history manner.
“Of course the reason we did the Big Cypress (documentary) is because we’d like to save it,” Butcher said. “We’d like it not to get in the shape Everglades National Park is in, where you have to restore it. You have to protect it. It’s cheaper.”


Florida State University's "green" house is energy efficient, environmentally friendly
Tampa Bay by Shannon Colavecchio
September 8, 2009
TALLAHASSEE — The tiny garnet and gold Cracker-style house tucked amid the red brick Gothic-style buildings at Florida State University doesn't look all that extraordinary. But the research happening inside aims to revolutionize the way families cook their food, heat their water and build their homes.
Nearly every aspect of the home — from the porch made of old plastic bottles to the hydrogen-powered stove — is "green," making this the most environmentally friendly structure in all of Florida, according to the U.S. Green Building Council.
"We think you could build an energy-efficient house for only about 10 percent over the cost of a common house and see a lot of benefits and long-term savings," said project manager Justin Kramer, a graduate of the FAMU-FSU engineering college. "We're using this house to prove it."
Conservation rules
Solar rooftop panels provide all the electricity and hot water for the 1,064-square-foot house. The stove is fueled by hydrogen stored in a tank that holds 30 days worth of extra power.
Even the toilet would please Mother Earth: It flushes light or heavy, depending on the need.
"We like to call it the 'application-specific' flush system," quipped Kramer, 26, now a research engineer with FSU's Energy & Sustainability Center.
Kramer conceded that with a price tag of $575,000, the home (financed with donations and grants) is more than most families would ever afford.
But by tricking out one little house with efficient technologies and environmentally friendly devices, Kramer and other FSU researchers are tracking the impact on air quality, humidity, temperature and energy consumption.
Their findings could help families cut back on their energy bills and reduce their footprint on the environment. "The idea is to test these products for consumers so they know the best thing to do for energy savings in their own house," Kramer said.
The house, for example, has 30 solar panels. That's enough to completely power the house, and then some. Kramer said families could buy just a few solar panels, at a few hundred bucks apiece, to reduce their electricity costs by 10 percent.
The dual-flush toilet might not be what every family wants or needs, but they can use low-flow faucets like the ones in the FSU house to conserve water.
The home's most distinct feature is its use of hydrogen for electricity and cooking power. Kramer focused on the system used in the house for his master's thesis.
By taking excess power collected each day through the solar panels and using that electricity to split water molecules, researchers get hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen gets vented out into the atmosphere, and the hydrogen is stored in a tank under the house. On days with little sunlight, the house operates on hydrogen power instead of solar.
That hydrogen also fires up the stove, a gas Viking model that was retrofitted specifically for the FSU project.
Kramer and other researchers from the energy center worked with FSU mechanical engineers, local architects and engineers, and sustainable product companies from throughout the Southeast to make the house happen.
It's the kind of research collaboration state officials have been encouraging universities to do.
"Universities can really push the envelope in researching these technologies," said Jeremy Susac, director of Florida's Energy Office. "And it will give future Floridians a much more sustainable society."
The house is an earth-friendly Big Brother, notes Kramer.
Sensors carefully monitor the temperature, humidity and air quality in each room and are hooked up to a detailed and up-to-the-minute database. Fever graphs illustrate as people come and go. During the few minutes that an air-conditioning contractor arrived, the database logs a rise in humidity. He had left the front door open.
"We wanted to track all the important data in the house," Kramer said. "So we went as Big Brother as we could without actually putting cameras in here."
No detail spared
Even the architecture of the home, and the materials used to build it, is aimed at conserving energy and preventing waste.
The 22-foot ceilings allow heat to rise, and windows near the ceiling let out the hot air.
Interior and exterior "light shelves" intersecting the windows let in plenty of indirect light while keeping out the intense heat of the sun out.
The cedar wood trim and doorways are refashioned from a demolished campus building, and the wooden truss that holds the living room ceiling fan came from an old barn in Bainbridge, Ga.
The walls are made of a sort of ice cream sandwich of Styrofoam surrounded by wood, which helps moderate temperatures inside the house.
"It's basically like a giant igloo cooler," Kramer said.
Someday, Kramer hopes, Floridians will be living in their own hydrogen-fueled, solar-powered coolers.
Green at FSU
$575,000 Cost of the house, paid for through grants and cash and in-kind donations.
1,064 Square feet of living space.
30 Days' worth of electricity stored in hydrogen tanks under the house.
30 Rooftop solar panels used to generate electricity.
3 Rooftop solar thermal panels used to heat the house's water.
300 Gallons of water, stored under the house, that the panels heat.
2 Flush options on the "dual-flush" toilet, which conserves water when possible with a "half-flush" vs. "full-flush."
22 Height, in feet, of the ceilings. Built high for better air movement and cooling.
26 Age of the recent FSU graduate who designed the home, for his master's thesis.
Source: Florida State University


Florida's waterways must be a priority
Tampa Bay by Joe Murphy and Ridge Manor
September 8 2009
Few things unite Floridians like water. We swim in it, fish in it, paddle over it, and rely on it for our very survival. Florida's environment, economy and public health all intersect in our waterways. Our coastlines and rivers are what bring us here, or keep us here. We must make keeping the waters of Florida clean and healthy, for people and for wildlife, a priority.
Recently the Gulf Restoration Network released a report titled "Clean Up Your Act! A Review of How the Clean Water Act Is Incorporated into Gulf States Water Regulations." The report can be viewed at
This report is a scorecard grading how states in the Gulf of Mexico region are implementing the spirit and letter of the Clean Water Act and meeting the guidelines set out by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Florida's grade, a D+, was disappointing and unacceptable. Our report urges the state to take specific and concrete steps to better protect Florida's waters, making them fishable and swimmable, and to better implement the Clean Water Act in Florida.
In our region we see rivers like the Weeki Wachee suffering from nutrient pollution. Reducing nutrient pollution, whether through better regulations and enforcement, or through local fertilizer ordinances, is essential to the survival of our springs, rivers, and coastlines. United, we can stand up for Florida's waters and our future. Take a minute this week and e-mail Florida Gov. Charlie Crist with a quick simple message: You must do a better job protecting Florida's waters. You can e-mail the governor at
Our environment, our economy and our legacy to future generations all are connected through how we act as stewards of the natural resources entrusted to us. Florida must step up and do a better job protecting our waters, for people and for wildlife. Anything less is unacceptable.


Habitat Plan Will Doom Sparrow, Groups Say
Courthouse News Service by SONYA ANGELICA DIEHN 
September 8, 2009
The government's revised habitat plan for the Cape Sable seaside sparrow could kill off the bird, environmentalists claim in District of Columbia Federal Court. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service admitted that a 1977 habitat plan wouldn't save the sparrow, which lives in Southern Florida, but its 2007 plan provides even less protection, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Florida Biodiversity Project say.
The Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged that six populations of the "critically imperiled" bird, which declined by 50 percent between 1992 and 2006, face a "significant risk of imminent extinction," according to the complaint.
The species needs a specific habitat, known as marl prairie, which includes dense grasses and open spaces. Flood control programs have dried out or flooded much of this habitat, largely in Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve, leaving only a few chunks.
The plaintiffs, which include Florida Biodiversity Project board members Brian and Rosalyn Scherf, say one of these chunks lies west of the Shark River Slough. This largest remaining contiguous marl prairie area was cut out of the 2007 habitat designation, which slashed a 2006 habitat revision from about 150,000 acres to 84,000 acres. This is even less than the 1977 habitat of 190,000 acres.
The final critical habitat designation is "inept" and "ignores peer-reviewed science," the environmentalists say. The Department of Interior cut out important areas because they might impede the Everglades Restoration Plan, then paradoxically claimed the plan would help the sparrow, according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs, represented by Howard Crystal with Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, want the old habitat ruling reinstated and the new one set aside until the government follows the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.


Orange Lake pollutants are flowing down from Alachua County sources
Gainesville Sun– By Fred Hiers
September 8, 2009
The two largest known pollution sources creating problems for Orange Lake have been identified by Florida scientists working to clean up a series of lakes and creeks in Alachua and Marion counties.
A blueberry farm in Windsor and the Gainesville Regional Airport are two "hot spot" generators of the pollutant phosphorous, which is making its way into Newnan's Lake, much of which flows into Orange Lake in Marion County.
A 590-acre farm east of Newnan's Lake and the 65-year-old, 1,650-acre airport in Gainesville are responsible for an estimated 12.7 percent of Newnan's Lake's phosphorous levels, according to Carol Lippincott, of the St. Johns River Water Management District.
How much of the pollutant makes its way into Orange Lake is still unknown, but about half of Newnan's Lake, which is about 6,400 acres, empties into Orange Lake, which fluctuates between about 2,700 acres and 15,600 acres, depending on area rainfall.
Phosphorous has been a problem in both Newnan's Lake and Orange Lake for more than 20 years and is the subject of a study by the Orange Creek Basin Working Group, which is evaluating the area's lakes and creeks, including Lake Wauberg and Hogtown Creek.
Phosphate, often found in fertilizers, contributes to vegetation growth - especially hydrilla, water lettuce and water hyacinth - in lakes and rivers.
The vegetation depletes the water of oxygen, hurting fish and other wildlife, and crowds out other native plants.
The issue is being studied in response to a Florida Legislature mandate a few years ago to local environmental agencies to take stock of the state's rivers, creeks and lakes and determine their aquatic health.
The health of both Orange Lake and Newnan's Lake was diagnosed as poor by state scientists.
The lakes, along with other areas of study by the Orange Creek Basin Working Group, will be the subject of discussion by members of the Working Group at 9 a.m. Friday at the Thomas Center Spanish Court, 302 N.E. Sixth Ave.
The phosphorous problem from the airport appears to date back nearly 70 years when the facility was requisitioned by the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1942.
Lippincott said military engineers dredged a half-mile-long section of Little Hatchett Creek on the airport grounds to help drain part of the airfield.
Unknown at the time was that just below the surface was a geology rich in phosphorous, which now flows downstream into Newnan's Lake.
Also troubling is that the excavated area has been eroding since World War II, which is responsible for an ever increasing amount of pollution.
"It's a natural source of phosphate, but the erosion is not a natural source," Lippincott said. "This is phosphorous that's coming out of that ditch that normally wouldn't be going into the lake. And we know the ditch is getting larger and larger."
The phosphorous from the airport accounts for about 7 percent of the phosphorous in Newnan's Lake.
Scientists are considering various plans to halt the airport's phosphorous discharge.
Airport representatives did not return telephone calls for this story.
The second largest known phosphorous source is from Straughn Farm, east of Newnan's Lake.
The area of interest is about 140 acres of the farm, which once was a dairy farm.
Lippincott said airport staff and Alto Straughn, owner of the farm, have been cooperative in trying to solve the problems.
Straughn, whose blueberry farm is the largest in Florida, said he's not certain where the phosphorous on his land is coming from.
Straughn, 75, is a leader in Florida's blueberry industry and said he was eager to stop the phosphorous leaching from his land.
"The blueberry business has been very financially supportive of us," he told the Sun during a telephone interview. "I want to do what is necessary to preserve that."
Straughn said the phosphorus from his farm could be coming from fertilizer, the former dairy farm area or from the geology of the land, or a combination of all three factors.
Earlier findings by scientists had greatly underestimated the amount of the pollutant flowing into Orange Lake.
In June, the St. Johns River Water Management District said about twice the amount of phosphorous than originally thought was flowing into Newnan's Lake.
Earlier, agency scientists thought that about half of the phosphate in Newnan's Lake was being generated by decaying algae. Now, those scientists say it's coming from outside sources.
Much of that pollutant flows into Orange Lake via Prairie Creek, said agency scientist Erich Marzolf earlier this summer.
Marzolf recommends that state and area governments work to cut in half the amount of phosphate making its way into Newnan's Lake.
"And because Newnan's Lake makes up a significant fraction of the water into Orange Lake, any reduction we do would provide improvement to Orange Lake," Marzolf said.


Everglades cleanup, Glades cities in tug of war over site for new Palm Beach County landfill
Palm Beach Post – by PAUL QUINLAN
September 6, 2009
Environmentalists warn that Palm Beach County's preferred location for its next landfill could slowly poison a nearby artificial marsh, hobbling Florida's 15-year, $1 billion-plus effort to clean water that flows into the Everglades.
The site - a 1,493-acre, $54 million property owned by Hundley Farms - sits less than a tenth of a mile from the marsh, which the state created to suck farm pollution from runoff flowing via canal into the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.
"Frankly, a landfill on the Hundley site is the same as releasing Burmese pythons in the Everglades," said Thom Rumberger, the Tallahassee attorney for Audubon of Florida. "It's a death sentence."
The warnings are part of a high-stakes tug of war over which of two sites west of Wellington should become home to the county's next 200-foot mountain of trash: the Hundley property along the north side of County Road 880, or a site at State Road 80 and U.S. 98 - 1,733 acres that three landowners want to sell for $68 million.
Last fall, county staff ranked the State Road 80 site their No. 1 choice above the No. 2 Hundley site. Because of environmental concerns, county leaders previously backed away from using a separate tract that the county owns just west of the refuge, the northernmost remnant of the Everglades.
The ranking infuriated leaders of the county's western cities, who argue that State Road 80 serves as the "gateway" to the Glades.
A garbage pile would nuke any hope of attracting businesses or tourists to the struggling farm region, said Pahokee Mayor Wayne Whitaker.
"Everybody who comes to the Glades from the east coast has to go by it," Whitaker said. "It's a terrible location."
Their pleas were heard. County leaders re-ranked the Hundley site as their top choice.
But county officials elected to postpone their final decision until environmental authorities could weigh in with any concerns.
The South Florida Water Management District, the agency charged with overseeing Everglades restoration for the state, has since raised numerous concerns about the Hundley site. Those have been echoed by Audubon and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which must ultimately sign off on a permit for the landfill.
Both Audubon and water managers point to the site's potential for torpedoing the state's investment in reducing fertilizer pollution to the Everglades.
Under the 1994 Everglades Forever Act, Florida has invested more than $1 billion to build a 52,000-acre chain of pollution-cleaning marshes to scrub fertilizer from runoff.
Putting the landfill next to one of the six filter marshes would likely taint the marsh with bird droppings, wind-blown trash and chemicals that leach through the soil, Rumberger wrote to the court overseeing the state's cleanup efforts.
"Constructing a landfill on the Hundley site would be poisonous to the surrounding environment," said Rumberger. "The negative effects are too abundant to believe that this location would be a good option."
The district has also raised concerns - among them, that birds that swarm the landfill could interfere with helicopter flights to the adjacent marsh for water sampling.
The county commission will meet next month to consider its options, which include putting off the decision. A new landfill has been on the drawing board since 1995. The current one is expected to hit capacity by 2024.
Expense projections differ significantly for the two sites. The Hundley property not only costs about $14 million less than the other tract but is also expected to cost about $137 million less to operate over its projected 50-year life.
County officials say they can operate a landfill at the Hundley site without harming the nearby filter marsh.
"We don't believe that the landfill, if it were to be located on the Hundley property, would cause any problems," said the county Solid Waste Authority's Dan Pellowitz. "We will meet or exceed all the permit requirements and all the regulatory requirements."


Inside Central Florida's Green Swamp
The Ledger by Tom Palmer
September 6 2009
LAKELAND | If you look at a map of Central Florida, you see a large area north of Interstate 4 and south of State Road 50 between U.S. 27 and Interstate 75 where there are few roads or other signs of urban development. But if you have the impression there's nothing there, you would be mistaken.
Instead of roads and subdivisions, you will find a collection of rivers and creeks and marshes.
If you could see beneath the ground, you would see a subterranean plateau of porous limestone, a geologic sponge into which rainwater that falls on surrounding lands seeps on its way to faucets and citrus groves and industrial plants and golf courses all over Central Florida.
This is the Green Swamp, Central Florida's 560,000-acre cistern and water tank, an area described as 'Florida's liquid heart.'
Marian Ryan, conservation chair for the ≠Sierra Club's Ancient Islands Group, says the Green Swamp is essential to keeping rivers and springs flowing and wetlands working.
'It also supplies fresh water to the majority of Florida's population and curbs saltwater intrusion into the aquifers along the coasts,' she said.
Since 1974, 295,040 acres of the Green Swamp in Polk and Lake counties have been classified as an Area of Critical State Concern. That designation brought more restrictive development regulations and state oversight because of the Green Swamp's importance to the region's water resources.
The designation also resulted in decades of political battles that today have largely been settled.
Now, water managers, who have bought 110,000 acres for resource protection, still consider the Green Swamp important for the region's water resources. But it also has been increasingly recognized as a hub for a network of state wildlife corridors.
'Its rivers provide habitat connections that cross the state from Fort Lauderdale to Yankeetown and from Jacksonville to Port Charlotte,' Ryan said.
In addition, it has become a place for public recreation ranging from bicycling to hunting.
The Green Swamp is a naturalist's bounty.
An estimated 330 species of wildlife (not counting insects and other invertebrates) inhabit various parts of the Green Swamp.
The vast undeveloped land provides a haven for sandhill cranes, wild turkeys, swallow-tailed kites, wood storks and a multitude of songbirds ranging from Eastern bluebirds to Bachman's sparrows.
The Green Swamp marks the southern boundary for the primary breeding range of species such as Carolina chickadee, blue grosbeak and prothonotary warbler.
A yearlong bird count at Colt Creek State Park, the newest area in the Green Swamp to open for public recreation, turned up 149 species.
Colt Creek State Park has also turned into a popular spot for butterfly enthusiasts.
An annual count in 2008 turned up 61 species, the highest count in the state that year.
A yearlong butterfly count done in connection with the bird count at Colt Creek State Park found 79 species.
Other wildlife also inhabit the Green Swamp.
White-tailed deer are not an unusual sight, along with bobcats, fox squirrels and opossums.
Florida black bear and Florida panther have been reported.
Because of the Green Swamp's importance as a wildlife corridor, environmentalists have been working on ways to help animals survive their trips to and from the Green Swamp.
The top priority for years has been the construction of wildlife underpasses beneath Interstate 4, similar to those constructed in other parts of Florida.
Those underpasses, if they're ever built, would reduce road kill in some of the less developed sections of the highway that bisect conservation lands where wildlife is more likely to congregate.
The first thing the name Green Swamp evokes is an expanse of soggy wilderness like South Florida's Everglades or South Georgia's Okeefenokee.
It's not like that at all.
Parts of the Green Swamp at the headwaters of the Withlacoochee and Hillsborough rivers and the vast sawgrass marshes at the beginnings of the Ocklawaha River might give that impression, but the rest of the terrain is more varied.
Much of the land has been cleared for pastures, but even when the natural features are pretty much intact, the Green Swamp is a mosaic of cypress domes, pine forests and even hilly areas that would never lie underwater.
Land elevations in the Green Swamp range from 75 feet to 200 feet above sea level.
The hydrologic importance of the Green Swamp to Central Florida has long been recognized.
However, when state officials announced plans to act on that fact to protect the area from development and drainage plans that would diminish the resource, they were met with stiff local opposition.
The Green Swamp's importance rests with the fact that the high point of the Floridan aquifer, the source of most of Central Florida's drinking water, lies here.
That feature, known as the 'Green Swamp High' aids in creating the hydraulic pressure that pushes water through the aquifer to keep fresh water flowing from wells and springs.
The area's importance to Central Florida's water supplies was recognized at least as early as the 1950s.
A May 1959 article in Florida Trend magazine, a statewide business periodical, concluded that protecting the Green Swamp's water resources 'could be as important as anything that is happening in Florida today.'
In that article, John Wakefield, director of the State Department of Water Resources, warned of the potential loss.
'This area is too important as a reservoir for both surface and underground waters to permit its loss by default,' he said.
That notion was reinforced by a 1961 report by the Florida Geologic Survey that warned about overdrainage and repeating the mistakes that occurred decades earlier in the Everglades.
'The Green Swamp area in Central Florida is another area where man is developing agricultural land from marginal land,' the report said.
'Though the area is by no means as extensive as that of the Everglades, the present efforts for its development are similar to the early efforts for developing the Everglades ó in that many miles of canals and ditches have been constructed to improve the drainage.'
The late Garald Parker, a geologist credited with coining the term 'Swiftmud' to refer to the Southwest Florida Water Management District, was more blunt in a 1972 letter to Cypress Gardens founder Dick Pope during a time when Polk County business leaders were debating what positions they should take on the issue.
Parker said the Green Swamp 'must not be permitted to be despoiled by thoughtless or conscienceless acts of the land developers, many of whom are out to make a killing out of the rape of the land and who know little and care less of the consequences of their land improvements.
Nevertheless, protection of the Green Swamp lagged for years.
After Hurricane Donna flooded parts of Tampa in 1960, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers envisioned turning part of the Green Swamp into a massive system of reservoirs called the Four Rivers Basin Project to protect Tampa from future floods.
The idea, which would have involved clearing thousands of acres of native habitat and disrupting part of the Green Swamp's ecosystem, was abandoned for environmental and practical reasons.
Instead, during the past 30 years the Southwest Florida Water Management District has purchased 110,000 acres to manage and protect the resources without resorting to elaborate engineering projects.
The purchase and protection of tens of thousands of acres in the Green Swamp has not only benefitted wildlife.
The land is open to public recreation, and that includes hiking, camping, horseback riding, hunting and nature study.
Swiftmud, the biggest public landowner in the Green Swamp, includes information about recreational opportunities on several tracts in its recreation guide, which is scheduled to be updated later this year.
In addition, there's Colt Creek State Park, the Polk County Environmental Land Program's Gator Creek Preserve and the Gen. James A. Van Fleet Green Swamp Trail.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission operates Hilochee Wildlife Management Area, a 15,526-acre area comprised of two sites, one in Polk County and the other in southern Lake County.


Is Oil Drilling Florida’s Answer To Recession?
Central Florida News 13 by Troy Kinsey
September 6, 2009
TALLAHASSEE -- There may be signs America’s recession is coming to an end, but as tough times continue in Florida, some lawmakers said the key to turning things around lies in allowing oil drilling just a few miles off the coast.
Barney Bishop, who heads a coalition aimed at convincing lawmakers to sign off on coastal oil drilling.
Bishop, the president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida, said there is black gold in the water, and now may be the time to find it.
 “It’s Labor Day weekend, and 10.7 percent of our entire workforce -- almost 11 percent of our workforce -- is out of work,” Bishop said. “To get this started now could help put people to work, and put money in our state budget at a time when we desperately need it.”
Bishop predicted drilling could bring as much as $2.5 billion a year.
The catch: It would allow companies to put rigs within 3 to 10 miles of the coast.
Under the proposal, companies that want to drill offshore would have to get permission from the state cabinet. They would also have to pay the state $1 million before drilling could actually begin.
The coalition said a possible October special legislative session would be the perfect time to bring up the subject of drilling.
In a state that has built its pocketbook on offering the ideal vacation, the move may be a cause for concern.
Opponents to drilling argued that if Florida drills deeper, it will find a trade-off the state cannot afford.
Environmentalist Eric Draper, with Audubon of Florida, said he worries Florida could go the way of Australia, where an oil rig exploded a few weeks ago, spewing an oil slick 100 miles wide. That’s about the distance from downtown Orlando to Pinellas County.
 “We would hate to see that happen to our beaches in Florida, so I think that what happens in Australia proves these rigs actually do leak, and drilling is not safe,” Draper said.
The same argument helped kill the idea in the state Senate early in 2009, but the industry has devoted plenty of time and money to assuring skeptics that drilling in America has never been safer.
Whether it is a missed opportunity or a Pandora’s box, there’s no question that drilling for oil off Florida is a greasy issue.


Rains help boost aquifer level
The Tamp Tribune by MICHAEL D. BATES
September 6, 2009
BROOKSVILLE- Rainy Days and Mondays, indeed.
This week's big weather-maker was Wednesday, when Hernando County received 1.28 inches of rain - possibly more depending on what part of the county you live.
This week's rains also recharged the aquifer, the underground layers of rock and sand that hold water. In southwest Florida, more than 80 percent of the water supply comes from aquifers.
As of Friday, the level was at 0.98 feet, up from 0.87 feet last week, according to the Southwest Florida Water Management District, also known as Swiftmud.
The normal aquifer range for this area is anywhere between 0 and 4 feet.
This Labor Day weekend should bring the normal summer pattern of thunderstorms, according to Richard Rude, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin.
There is a 50 percent chance of afternoon rains Saturday and Sunday and 40 percent Monday.
Rude's advice for those planning Labor Day barbecues and picnics: "Probably earlier in the afternoon would be better."
Rude said there is not much chance of this area being affected by Tropical Storm Erika, which has since weakened into a depression and should lose most of its punch this weekend.
The rainy season has not stopped code enforcement officials from issuing notices to people who violate the county's once-a-week watering restrictions.
Liana Teague, manager of code enforcement and animal services, said her department issued 34 citations to violators in August; 33 in July; and 43 in June.


The rush job
The Gainesville Sun - Editorial
September 6, 2009
In 1904, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward ran for governor on the promise to drain the Florida Everglades. The money raised by selling one-time swamp land would help fund Florida's schools, Broward promised.
"Broward was a man on a mission and a man in a hurry," Michael Grunwald wrote in his book "The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida and the Politics of Paradise."
"Broward refused to commission feasibility studies or engineering surveys; he said he already knew it was feasible to reclaim the Everglades, because water ran downhill. He grumbled that by the time the studies were done, he would be dead..."
Draining the 'Glades, supporters said, would help America kick its "addiction to foreign sugar," and make Florida fabulously wealthy.
Today, of course, we taxpayers are spending billions to try to restore the Everglades to some semblance of its former condition. It will be the work of generations, not just years or decades.
Have we Floridians learned anything from Gov. Broward's rush job? Apparently not.
Today a conglomerate of oil interests, which refuses to identify its members by name, is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to convince Florida politicians to open up the state's coasts to oil and gas drilling. Florida Energy Associates is giving lavishly to both political parties and hiring lobbyists by the gross.
We're not allowed to know who they are. But we are expected to take their word for it that drilling will create tens of thousands of jobs with virtually no harm to Florida's white sandy beaches, blue coastal waters or multi-billion dollar tourism and fishing industries.
We know we can believe them. They're only hiding their identities, explains Associated Industries President Barney Bishop, because "with the nature of public discourse today, they don't want to have a target on their backs."
Not that there's going to be much public discourse.
Associated Industries and other drill-here-drill-now advocates want Gov. Charlie Crist to add the offshore drilling issue to the agenda of a special session expected to be called in October or November.
Why wait for the regular three month special session to roll around early next year? Just as Broward was in a hurry to drain the Everglades, so too are our anonymous benefactors anxious to get started drilling in our coastal waters so as to help us kick our addiction to foreign oil and make Florida fabulously rich.
Supporters are promising that the royalties Florida gets for drilling can be earmarked for all manner of worthy programs: to purchase conservation lands, to pay for childrens' health care, whatever.
Just as Broward promised.
Just do it now. What could possibly go wrong?
"A special session lasting as long as a wink of an eye benefits only lobbyists who want quick approval in order to avoid full disclosure and public debate," says Eric Draper, of Florida Audubon. "But why? And why are they (politicians) willing to make an extraordinary push for passage of a law with such enormous potential social and environmental consequences at the behest of an unknown business entity?"
Excellent questions. The only answer we can come up with is that this "unknown business entity" is spending a lot of money very quickly, and there's nothing like money to get the attention of Florida politicians.
Gov. Charlie Crist has to raise a lot of money for his U.S. Senate campaign. But does he really intend to offer up Florida's coastal waters and beaches to garner the favor of generous but invisible men who don't care to subject themselves to "public discourse"?


Environmental groups suing to get more habitat for endangered seaside sparrow
Naplesnews by ERIC STAATS
September 4, 2009
NAPLES — An endangered bird living in South Florida needs more land designated as critical habitat to survive, environmental groups said in a lawsuit filed Thursday.
The lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Florida Biodiversity Project seeks an additional 70,000 acres of critical habitat for the Cape Sable seaside sparrow in Everglades National Park and the Big Cypress National Preserve.
Federal officials have said additional critical habitat for the little bird would hinder Everglades restoration.
An estimated 3,000 of the birds — about half of the birds’ population in the early 1990s — live in marshes and prairies that are threatened by urban development and by changes in water flows that have altered their habitat.
The lawsuit is part of a larger campaign to undo Bush administration decisions that the groups say ignored science and undermined the Endangered Species Act.
The groups, along with Hollywood, Fla., advocates Brian and Roslyn Scherf, are asking a federal judge to set aside a 2007 designation of critical habitat and order the Interior Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make a new designation that complies with federal law.
The additional 70,000 acres west of the Shark River Slough are important for the seaside sparrow because the slough acts as a barrier to wildfires, said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
“It provides additional assurances the species won’t be driven extinct by one or several catastrophic events,” he said Thursday.
Everglades National Park and Fish and Wildlife Service officials could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
Big Cypress preserve spokesman Bob DeGross said preserve officials had not seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on it.
In 2006, the agency proposed designating 150,000 acres of critical habitat for the seaside sparrow, including the 70,000 acres in two units west of the Shark River Slough, a landscape feature that moves water generally from northeast to the southwest along the border between Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park.
The final designation, though, dropped the designation west of the slough.
The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians had for years argued that protecting the sparrow’s habitat meant keeping it artificially dry and flooding their tribal lands in the Everglades upstream, north of U.S. 41 East.
In a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service after the decision, seaside sparrow expert Stuart Pimm called it “inept” and said it “tacitly accepts massive damage to nearly a thousand square kilometers of our most important national wetland park and risks the extinction of a federally listed endangered species.”


Exotic invasive species aggressively disrupting delicate US ecosystems
Water Technology
September 4, 2009
JACKSONVILLE, FL — There appear to be many tens of thousands of private septic tanks still in use in the city of Jacksonville, but nobody has yet pinned down an exact figure, The Florida Times-Union’s service reported September 3.
That number — and a cost estimate for replacing the tanks with municipal sewer lines — is an important factor in the cleanup of the St. Johns River, Florida’s longest river and a significant commercial and recreational waterway, the article said. The river empties into the Atlantic Ocean at Jacksonville after meandering north through or past 12 Florida counties.
Recent estimates of the number of septic tanks in Jacksonville range from about 70,000, by the Jacksonville Water and Sewer Expansion Authority, to 91,000, by the Florida Department of Health, the report said.
The article said the city is being pressured by state enforcement of clean-water rules to eliminate the tanks, which send untreated wastewater into the St. Johns River and into local groundwater feeding the river. Local governments and utilities struck an agreement this year to reduce levels of nitrogen and phosphorus dumped into the river, the article said. Untreated wastewater laden with those substances will spur algae blooms and increases in coliform bacteria counts.
The agreement envisions a 15-year program, costing an estimated $600 million, to clean up the river, the article said. The Water and Sewer Expansion Authority is trying to help property owners, especially in older urban neighborhoods, switch from septic tanks to public wastewater systems.


Water managers say watering restrictions not likely to end soon
The Tamp Tribune by Neil Johnson
September 4, 2009
TAMPA - The last time residents in the Tampa Bay area could water their lawns twice a week two years were left in George Bush's final term, the region's unemployment was 3.9 percent and the median price of a house in Tampa was $259,000.
Unless nature gets a lot more generous with rainfall, a return to twice weekly watering isn't likely to happen soon.
The Southwest Florida Water Management cut lawn watering with potable water in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties to once a week in January 2007 in response to a drought that crept up unnoticed in 2005 and dug in its claws a year later.
The water management district will consider changing its watering restrictions at its meeting Sept. 29. District scientists will begin crafting a recommendation later this month.
But a lot argues against returning to twice weekly watering.
Rainfall in the Tampa Bay region is 7 to 9 inches below normal for the past year. The flow in rivers is fluctuating when it should rise. Lakes are a foot lower than the lowest point they should be in September and the aquifer is about a 53 on a scale of 1-100.
Those are all factors the district considers when deciding whether to loosen water restrictions, said Granville Kinsman, head of hydrologic data for the water management district.
None point to a quick return to more frequent sprinkling.
Then there's the calendar. The dry season is about a month away and lasts until early June.
"You know as soon as you hit October water levels are going to drop," said Robyn Felix, spokeswoman for the district.
Kinsman estimates it would take 14 inches of rain on top of what we normally get to bring lakes back to even the low end of their range.
That means more than 26 inches between now and the end of 2009, or 34 inches by the end of March.
The district rules require looking at rainfall over the past 12 months and six months, river flow for the past eight weeks and the aquifer level when deciding about water restrictions, Felix said.
In addition, long range outlooks from the Climate Prediction Center and the U.S. Drought Monitor are examined, she said.
The level of lakes is also a major factor because lakes are the last to recover from drought conditions.
Kinsman said flow in the Hillsborough and Alafia are a special concern now. The region's water supplier relies heavily on the rivers during the summer to provide water and fill its reservoir that's tapped in the dry months.
Flows in the two rivers have fluctuated widely this summer when they should remain steady or rise. After a few weeks of low rainfall in August, river flows plummeted to about a third of where they are now.
"The fact they can vary that much based on a moderate variation in rain shows if things dry out, they're going to drop like a rock," Kinsman said.
There is also the general uncertainty of nature. The summer's rainfall hasn't followed the typical pattern. Forecasts from the prediction center don't always pan out.
The outlook for the next three months is for Florida to get above average rainfall, mainly because of an El Niño that occurs when water across a vast stretch of the tropical Pacific Ocean warms a few degrees above normal.
During an El Niño, Florida gets above normal rain in the winter and spring that may drag the region out of drought, but it's too early to tell how much impact the current El Niño will have on our weather.
Predictions call for the current El Niño to last through the winter.
"The El Niño is sort of our hope," Kinsman said.


Wet ?  Yes, but not as wet as Southwest Florida should be
News-Press – BY Kevin Lollar
September 4, 2009
South Florida's rainy season runs May through October. Average rainfall at Page Field from May through August is 31.7 inches. This year's total for those months was 25.7 inches.
For water managers, the concern is the rainy season ends about a month before tourist season begins.
In other words, during dry season, little rain falls to replenish aquifers, and during tourist season, water demand rises with the increase in population.
"Yes, we've had some rain; yes we've had wet times this summer," said Susan Sanders, a spokeswoman for the South Florida Water Management District. "But we're really not where we should be at this time of year, and nobody knows what the weather is going to be like in the dry season. We'd rather start the winter wetter than drier."
Lake Okeechobee water levels were at 14.20 feet Thursday, compared to 14.40 feet a year ago. The goal is to keep the lake between 12.5 and 15.5 feet.
To prevent flooding south of the lake during and after heavy rains, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases water down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and into the Everglades.
"We're not making releases now, but we're monitoring it daily, constantly," said Corps basin manager Luis Alejandro. "This weekend, a lot of people will be playing, having fun. We'll be working."
During and after the extremely wet rainy seasons of 2004 and 2005, lake levels reached as high as 18 feet. (The record is 18.77, set Nov. 2, 1947.)
A series of large releases of nutrient-rich fresh water, along with runoff from land between the lake and Gulf, caused massive algal blooms in the Caloosahatchee, Pine Island Sound and Gulf of Mexico.
The blooms can smother seagrass and cause oxygen depletion, which can kill fish.
Excess fresh water in the river can disrupt the freshwater-saltwater balance of the estuary.
This rainy season, large releases haven't been required, but salinity in the lower Caloosahatchee is low enough to stress oysters and kill shoal grass, an important seagrass species. The fresh water is from the Caloosahatchee watershed.


Wildlife experts question python numbers in Everglades
The Tampa Tribune by KEITH MORELLI
September 4, 2009
In the dense woods, isolated swamps and steamy hammocks of the Florida Everglades, the battle for supremacy rages on, at least according to dispatches from the front by federal and state authorities.
Now those dispatches that claim tens of thousands — perhaps even more than 100,000 — of the marauding Burmese python horde roam the area, have come into question by wildlife experts who say there can't possibly be that many out there.
As the invasion enters its fourth decade (the first python spotted there in 1979), some are beginning to say the strength of the slithering snake infantry is way overblown.
Wildlife experts and proponents of the exotic pet industry scoff at some estimates that there are more than 100,000 pythons there, even though that was the number used by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in support of his bill to ban importation of pythons. Some government biologists have said there could be as many as 140,000 pythons in the Everglades and surrounding areas.
Whatever the numbers, the gripping photos stick in people's memory; evidence that there is a primal struggle for survival waged between the invaders and the natives, most notable of which is the American alligator, whose bloodline has prowled the 4,300 square miles of the Everglades since prehistoric times. Both are vying for the top prize: the first link of the food chain; the reptilian king of the jungle.
Photos of an alligator eating a thick squirming snake and a giant snake eating a 6-foot alligator (both died as a result) are dramatic. So is the photo of the Okeechobee animal hospital staff hoisting the body of a 17-foot, 200 pound python they found and killed next to their clinic in July.
And as the reptiles battle on, the estimates of the invaders' strength vary widely, depending on who's doing the estimating.
Linda Friar, spokeswoman for the Everglades National Park, admitted there may be as few as 5,000 pythons loose in the area. Or there may be as many as 140,000. She said that some of the disparity stems from the area covered by estimates and who is giving the estimates. The Everglades National Park is 2,400 square miles, while the entire Everglades ecosystem encompasses 18,000 square miles.
"Most folks tend to go to the high range," she said. "But, it all depends on who you are talking to. It's just a best guess. There's no empirical data. It's an elusive species, so we don't really know how many there are. We do know that they've adapted to the habitat.
"We know they are reproducing," she said. "We found nests and hatchlings."
The first python nest was found in 2006, she said. Python nests have between 40 and 100 hatchlings, she said, and "that makes us extremely concerned. It's significant. Most exotic species don't tend to survive there. It's a relatively harsh environment.
"We don't know what the survival rate is," she said. "There are a number of things that eat hatchlings, like wading birds, alligators and other snakes."
As the fight for survival continues, the high estimates of python numbers vex some wildlife experts.
There can't be hundreds — or even tens — of thousands of pythons, they say, or the snakes would be crawling onto the decks of airboats and across hoods of cars cruising Alligator Alley.
"I've heard numbers of up to 200,000," said Vernon Yates, founder of Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation in Seminole, "I'd like to know how they come up with that stupid exaggeration.
"I believe it's probably around 1,000," he said. "That would be more realistic."
But the squeamish public loves to picture the swamp awash in Burmese pythons. He said a German television station recently came here and interviewed him about the notion abroad that the Everglades is overrun with giant snapping, hissing serpents from Southeast Asia.
"Let's assume that there are 150,000 pythons there," he said. "I'd bet there are not 150,000 alligators in the Everglades; not 150,000 deer in the Everglades; I know there's not even near that in bears.
"But, you can go to the Everglades, see alligators, see deer, see bear; hell, you can even find panthers," he said. "I drive over Alligator Alley a lot. Every time, I see five dead alligators at least."
But, he said, not the first python, dead or alive.
Even a single python loose in Florida is one too many, he said, but trapping them and then killing them, which is what the trappers are required to do, goes too far, he said.
"I think it's a good idea to put a bounty on them, to go out and trap them," he said. "I have a hard time saying every one collected has to die."
Yates, who himself has trapped pythons in the Tampa Bay region, has doubts about the snakes' chances of survival in the 'Glades' harsh environment.
"I don't believe they are going to make it in the wild," he said. "They don't reproduce that fast and young snakes are preyed upon by the myriad of birds and other animals there that keep other snakes in check."
Joe Fauci, owner of Southeast Reptile Exchange, said he's heard from various sources that there could be as many 180,000 pythons in the Everglades. He seriously doubts that.
"There are not 180,000 water snakes in the Everglades," he said. "I don't believe it."
He has no idea why people would inflate figures, unless there is money or fame to be made through it somehow.
"I want to know how these guys can even make that estimate," he said. Pythons could not survive in that environment, he said. His money is on the alligators and birds of prey.
While ospreys and eagles would munch on smaller pythons, the larger ones aren't safe either, Fauci said.
"They would get eaten too," he said. "If a 12-foot Burmese swims in front of an 8-foot alligator he's going to get eaten up. Those alligators are going to chew them up 99 percent of the time. It's a nice little meal."
National Park Service biologists say that in October 2005, 22 pythons were killed by tractors tilling up the soil in one section of the preserve.
In 2006, 122 pythons were documented in the Everglades and biologists estimated then that there were more than 1,000. The increase was up considerably from the 11 pythons documented between 1995 and 2000.
Biologists say that before 1995, they had found only one in the big swamp and that was in 1979.
In July, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission authorized a handful of herpetologists to go on hunting sprees. They were given a free hand to conduct special operations missions into the wilds of the swamp to eliminate with extreme prejudice the invading hordes.
The first day, hunters found a 10-foot python and the second weekend, three python hatchlings. Since then, hunting has been off. Only about a dozen have been captured altogether, but the hunters say safaris will be more fruitful when the weather cools and the snakes come out into the open to sun themselves.
Biologists don't hold much hope for eliminating the species from the Everglades altogether, according to a National Parks Service newsletter published in July.
But, they do want to control the species, to keep the python problem from worsening. State and federal biologists are trying to cut the python population of South Florida to the "ecologically extinct level – that is, to numbers so low that the species cannot play a significant role in ecosystem functioning," the newsletter said.
"We'd then be dealing with nuisance pythons here and there," the publication said, "not pythons by the hundreds of thousands causing serious problems in geographically widespread areas."
The damage an invasive species like Burmese pythons can do to the Everglades is obvious, said Friar of the National Park Service. Although the environment is harsh, the ecosystem is delicate.
"We have a large predator coming in that can disrupt the natural system of who eats whom," she said. "There is competition for food sources. The more you add to the competition, the more you throw out of balance a pretty fragile system."
Looking to the future, biologists are wondering what other exotic animals are coming into the state as pets that someday may find their way into the wild and take root.
"Some people just may not understand that it's not good to release these species into wild," she said. "They think they're sending them home.
"But, they don't' belong there."
Curbing The Python Population
Biologists with the National Park Service have these suggestions on how to curb the growing population of the invasive Burmese pythons in the Everglades:
Establish partnerships to carry out control efforts. Currently agencies involved in the effort include the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the South Florida Water Management District, the University of Florida and the Savannah River Ecology Lab.
Concentrate on research that can predict where pythons congregate, making capture more efficient. Biologists are conducting necropsies on pythons found in the Everglades to learn what the snakes are eating. Some pythons released a few years ago, have implanted radio transmitters to signal where they roam.
Make it easy for people to report the location of any pythons they encounter in the wild. The park service already has a python hotline that the public can use to report python sightings in parks. The number is (305) 242-7827 or (305) 815-2080.
Establish rapid response teams to deal with python problems. Such action can eliminate new infestations before they can grow out of control.
Develop reliable ways to locate pythons, which move in densely vegetated or remote areas and are well camouflaged. Some scientists suggest using dogs specially trained to pick up trails of pythons from along roads or canal banks.
Use traps baited with attractants such as pheromones.
Encourage licensed hunters to shoot pythons on sight.
Pay bounties to people who capture or kill free-roaming pythons.
Promote responsible exotic pet ownership.


Exotic invasive species aggressively disrupting delicate US ecosystems
ABC7 by Melissa Segrest
September 3, 2009
They started out as pets, perhaps living in little boys’ bedrooms, being shown off to friends and wrapping around arms. But then the Burmese pythons grew, and grew, and grew (about 7 feet in a year), and they weren’t so cute or easy to deal with any more.
So, trying to do the right thing, their owners gently released them into the wild, near the large, shallow “river of grass” that flows through much of south Florida, known as the Everglades.
Problem solved.
Not quite. Those pet pythons grew — up to 20 feet long and 250 pounds –and they eat anything from deer to bobcats to wood storks to endangered species. Less than a decade ago, there were only a few in the Everglades. Today, more than 100,000 of them are slithering around south Florida, crushing what was an already delicate ecosystem.
Even though the state is aggressively trying to find them and restrict the sale of them as pets, the python hunters will never catch up. And the giant reptiles are spreading, south into the Florida Keys and north into Central Florida. One estimate predicts they will eventually inhabit about one-third of the United States.
And that’s not taking global warming into account.
If there’s any wisp of a silver lining to this mess, it’s that the python problem has turned the nation’s attention toward the depth and scope of invasive exotic animals, fish, reptiles and plants.
The U.S. spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year to try and staunch the flow of invasive species. But the damage the invaders cause brings that total to about $35 billion annually, according to National Invasive Species Council. Worldwide, the economic toll from invasives tops $1.4 trillion, according to the Nature Conservancy, which publishes a list of ways people can help reduce that number.
The invaders tend to spread rapidly, eating or killing the food and habitats of native species. They can clog streams and rivers, alter entire ecosystems and potentially wipe out endangered species. They can cause major forest fires, destroy rangeland and even decrease tourism.
It’s hard to put a number on them in the US: The Fish and Wildlife Department estimates as many as 50,000 non-natives are here now, but of those, about 4,300 are trouble-making invasives.
“I can tell you that for the Nature Conservancy, wherever we work, globally and nationally, invasive species have been identified as one of the greatest threats to biodiversity,” said Doria Gordon, the Director of Conservation Science for Florida’s chapter of the Nature Conservancy.
Though relatively few importsbecome invasive, when they do, they can become a monumental problem, she said. Florida is a state where climate, population and ports create an ideal environment for voracious invasives. Reptiles such as monitor lizards, Cuban tree frogs and iguanas are growing quickly and gobbling up native species. “The Cuban frogs are capable of eating most of our native tree frogs,” she said.
The animals and reptiles may be more interesting, but it is the plants that really wreak havoc on the environment. They take over because, as exotics, they lack natural pests in their new territory. (Just as invading wildlife is able to run amok because their natural predators live on another continent.)
“Hydrilla and water hyacinth have been problems for years,” she said. “They constrain navigation and water flow, create hazards to navigation and power generation,” she said.
But Gordon reserves special scorn for a plant that poses perhaps the biggest threat to Florida’s native areas: Old World climbing fern.
Calling it a fern is misleading - it’s more like ivy on steroids. Native to Africa and Asia, Old World found its way into a nursery decades ago. Now, it covers large swaths of Florida’s uninhabited land, rapidly moving north thanks to wind-blown spores. Old World blankets the ground, bushes and even the top of forests, smothering everything it covers - like a leafy version of The Blob.
How can such a pervasive plant be controlled? “We try to contain them. At the edges, where densities are low, we can keep knocking them backwards,” Gordon said. Right now the northern boundary of Old World climbing fern’s range is near Orlando. “We’re now starting to look for spores in the air there,” she added.
“The real effort is to find a biological agent that can control the vine,” Gordon said, rather than using huge quantities of pesticides. Finding a living thing to battle back another living thing has only worked for a few species. “It’s difficult to find one that will only attack that specific species and not anything else.”
Hawaii is a perfect example of such well-intentioned plans gone wrong.
First Polynesians, then Europeans, arrived to the islands with their dogs, pigs, lizards, plants, cattle and sheep. The Westerners, unfortunately, brought along rats, too. The rats ate sugar cane and the unique flightless birds of the islands. To kill the rats, the mongoose was brought in. Unfortunately, the mongoose ate the birds, not the rats. Rats are nocturnal and the mongoose is not. Thus, dozens of the dwindling species of rare birds in Hawaii were wiped out.
Today, Hawaii’s struggle with non-native plants, animals and reptiles is worse than any other state, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Unleashing one exotic to battle another has happened on the mainland as well, according to Richard Mack, professor in the school of biological sciences at Washington State University. “Ironically, most of our problems we brought upon ourselves. Two-thirds of the plant invaders were deliberately introduced (via horticulture), and it backfired,” he said.
“The problem is that we don’t have a good handle on this. The funds, resources, they haven’t been allocated.”
There’s a cycle to it all, Mack said. “One of these invaders arises and causes havoc. There’s a call to deal with it and it takes a sustained effort and incredible persistence to get rid of one of these species.
“There may be initial success - the population numbers go down. That’s mistakenly taken as a sign that public funds can be pulled back. But these are living organisms, so they go back and build up their populations and it gets as bad as it was before,” he said.
Thus, money to combat the invasives dries up, and often the task of trying to control the pests falls on area communities.
One of the bad actors in the U.S. now, Mack said, is cheatgrass. It came from Eurasia about 200 years ago. “It’s had a devastating effect in the far west,” he said. Despite its size, it is a strong competitor with native plant species and is a factor in major forest fires in California or Nevada. “It also causes downstream siltation and erosion in the river systems in the west,” Mack said.
And who can forget what has come to be known as the “Vietnam of entomology,” the fire ant fiasco in the Southwest?
Wherever the stinging swarms have taken up residence can quickly become unsuitable for grazing animals and people.
“A lot of money was spent in the ‘70s. It was called the Fire Ant Wars. Tens of millions of dollars were spent to combat it.
“The efforts to eradicate it weren’t effective and they killed a lot of native insects. The strategy wasn’t well thought out. It was a whole witch’s brew of mistakes,” he said.
With a threat of even more marauding species heading for our borders, what is being done to stop them?
“Researchers are doing a pretty good job of getting a handle on it. They can link invasions to people, tourism and shipping. That’s the problem with invasive species. There are so many ways they get into the environment,” said marine biologist David Kimbro, a Californian who recently moved to Florida State University.
But when there are large human populations, traffic in and out of ports, lots of tourists from different parts of the world, “that’s where you’re going to see the largest number.”
Which means that Washington state, Oregon and Alaska are among parts of the country where fewer invasive exotics have shown up, Kimbro said, but that will likely change over time.
Kimbro echoes Mack’s concern about too little money to fight the problem. “You have local and state action, but no set national policy. The charge is to bring together policy-makers and scientists to try and figure out a way forward,” he said.
The science of weeding out invasives before they cross our borders has gotten better. Australia and New Zealand are lauded for their very tight screening methods to catch species that might harm their environment.
“The best predictor of where a species could invade is where it has invaded elsewhere,” Gordon, of the Nature Conservancy, said. “If species that have moved around have been a problem somewhere else,” then they’re likely to be a problem here.
Screening has to happen at the borders, Gordon added. The USDA is pushing legislation to create a type of “pest risk” list. If something from that list pops up at a border or port, an analysis seeks to learn if the species could be a problem.
As far as invasive plants are concerned, we may be our own worst enemies.
The Brazilian pepper makes a pretty hedge, but unchecked it can smother native habitats. It has run rampant across more than 695,000 acres of Florida.
English ivy may make a stately landscape statement, but in the Pacific Northwest it covers forest floors and smothers native plants, according to the U.S. National Arboretum.
Even a pretty rose - the multiflora - is bad news in the mid-Atlantic states. Brought in from Japan and China in the 1860s, it was used in landscapes, then for erosion control, then as a natural fence for cattle and even planted on highway median strips. Now it’s been ruled a noxious weed in several states because of its voracious appetite for native habitats.
Just to be fair, the U.S. has exported its share of invasive species: The American bullfrog is in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, South America, Europe and Asia, currently eating everything in sight, according to the National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species.
Eastern gray squirrels started as pets in England, Italy and South Africa - but they’re not so cute now, and the American largemouth bass is, basically, everywhere, gobbling up natives around the globe.
Circling back to South Florida, the list of exotic invaders seems unending. A 101-page report from the South Florida Water Management District offers details on most of them.
The thousands of Burmese pythons - which have even eaten alligators in the Everglades - are just the latest invasive species to make headlines.
They join the ranks of thousands of exotic and aggressive animals, fish, reptiles, invertebrates and plants that are spreading, smothering and marauding through the nation’s natives and their habitats.
It’s an expensive war that we probably can’t win. But we can settle for a draw by slowing the exotics’ expansion. That English ivy may be pretty, but is it worth the trade-off? 


FEATURE-Coastal home owners face huge losses from rising sea
REUTERS by Megan Goldin
September 3, 2009
There's a sign in the heart of Florida's Everglades wetlands that sums up the threat of rising sea levels. Located many miles from any coast, it reads "Rock Reef Pass -- Elevation 3 feet."
Coastal authorities in Florida routinely replenish beaches by dredging sand from offshore or importing it from the Carribbean.
The Florida Keys, Miami Beach, Sanibel and Captiva, and Palm Beach, the exclusive east coast hideaway of the super-wealthy, are all built on barrier islands and some experts believe these sand islands would be swamped by rising seas.
"With a 3 foot (90 cm) sea level rise, most of the lower half of the Everglades disappears. Much of the Keys are under water," said Brian Soden, professor of oceanography at Miami University.
But its not just high priced beachhouses that are at risk from storm surges and rising seas. Parts of Cape Canaveral, home of the Kennedy Space Center and the space shuttle launch pads, and Tampa Bay are considered vulnerable to rising seas.
In New York City, with more than 8 million people, a sea level rise of 1.5 feet by 2050 and a category 3 hurricane could wash away seaside restaurants and centuries-old homes perched along Rockaway Beach and near the famed Coney Island boardwalk. Southern Brooklyn and Queens, Wall Street in lower Manhattan, and eastern Staten Island could also end up underwater.
In California, nearly $100 billion worth of coastal property and infrastructure are at risk of severe flooding from rising sea levels, warns the Pacific Institute, an environmental think-tank.
Likely flood casualties include the San Francisco and Oakland international airports, 3,500 miles (5,630 km) of roads and 280 miles (450 km) of railways, 140 schools, 30 power plants and 29 wastewater treatment plants, said the Institute.
In Sydney, a city of four million people, its coastal sewage and stormwater systems work on gravity and rising sea levels and storm surges threat to overload the ageing infrastructure.
"The biggest risk is to infrastructure on the coast and that will be the most expensive risk. A huge amount of government infrastructure is within that coastal zone in Sydney, there are hospitals, storage, electricity, water," says McMurdo.
American fisherman Shane Wilson loves living on South Padre Island in the Gulf of Mexico, Texas. But it comes at a price.
Last year a hurricane storm smashed his home, a short stroll from the seashore, causing $28,000 worth damage.
Insurance covered $19,000 worth of the damages as Wilson pays about $5,000 a year for a range of insurance, from flood, wind, rain and hail insurance to catastrophe insurance.
Rising seas will only make Wilson's home even more vulnerable to hurricane storm surges and lead to higher insurance costs.
"The only thing we can do is prepare for it. We have aluminium shutters for the windows -- when you crank them down they seal everything up," says Wilson.
In Australia, 19 of the 20 biggest property losses in the past 40 years have been weather related. Cyclones, storms and floods account for 80 percent of the total cost of natural disasters in Australia from 1967-1999.
But in Australia you can not be insured for rising sea levels and the Insurance Council of Australia does not see that policy changing, despite identifying 896,000 residential properties it says have "significant exposure".
"I do not believe that a commercial (insurance) product, on present analysis, is viable," says Karl Sullivan, general manager, policy risk and disaster planning directorate, Insurance Council of Australia.
Risk averse insurance firms, with their passion for actuarial tables and probabilities, are as much in the dark as everyone else when it comes to the unknown consequences of climate change.
"If we had this conversation in 100 years time, it would really be anyone's guess. It comes down to how well the community can mitigate the risks that are present there," says Sullivan. (Additional reporting Ed Stoddard in Dallas, Jim Loney in Miami, Steve Gorman in Los Angeles)


Florida Drops out of Climate Change Fight
PEER by Carol Goldberg
September 3, 2009Gov.
Crist Nixes Joining RGGI or Pursuing State Emission Curbs; Will Defer to Feds
TALLAHASSEE, Florida - September 2 - Florida Governor Charlie Crist has decided that his state will not join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) or pursue further major efforts to combat climate change, according to a notice released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Florida, once a leader among states in addressing climate issues, instead will sit on the sidelines and await the outcome of federal cap-and-trade legislation.
Rather than issue a public announcement, Florida’s decision was communicated to other Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic state members of RGGI that the Sunshine State would not participate in the upcoming September 9, 2009 auction of greenhouse gas emission allowances. In addition, Gov. Crist “will not be presenting a proposed cap-and-trade rule to the 2010 Legislature,” stated the notice quoting Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokeswoman Amy Graham.
The move will limit the potential impact of the 10-state RGGI market. Florida’s participation would have increased the program by more than 75% with Florida accounting for more than twice the emissions of the biggest RGGI state, New York. RGGI allowances have been dropping in price due to over-allocation of emission credits, a problem that has plagued other cap-and-trade systems.
Gov. Crist’s decision culminates a steady rightward shift since he began pursuing a now vacant U.S. Senate seat. In August, he canceled a third annual session of his highly regarded Climate Change Summit, citing meeting costs. His support of action on climate change has become a rallying point for opponents within the state Republican Party. His Senate primary opponent, House Speaker Mike Rubio, recently crowed, “I guarantee you he will not be touting the work he did with Sheryl Crow as part of his primary platform,” referring to the popular singer identified with green causes.
 “Gov. Crist’s retreat signifies that it is becoming increasing difficult for environmentally concerned citizens to advance in today’s Republican Party – and that is a real shame,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney. “Of all the states, Florida arguably has the most to lose from rising sea levels, bigger, nastier storms and the other side effects associated with climate change.”
Florida’s rate of greenhouse emissions has soared in recent years, rising by more than a third above 1990 levels. The state’s rate of growth may be finally slowing only because its population boom is now becoming a bust, with Florida now losing population for the first time in decades.
 “Gov. Crist used to proclaim that Florida’s future will turn on the quality of our environment so it is unfortunate that these values must take a back seat to political advancement,” Phillips added, noting that a huge purchase of sugar lands for the purpose of benefiting the Everglades had been a signature issue for Gov. Crist in which he had invested substantial political as well as fiscal capital. “What good does it do to ‘save’ the Everglades only to have it to sink back into Florida Bay?”


Florida scores a D+ on Gulf of Mexico report card
Naples news By ERIC STAATS
September 3, 2009
NAPLES — Florida needs to go back to school when it comes to living up to the federal Clean Water Act, a coalition of environmental groups said Wednesday.
The Gulf Restoration Network gave the state Department of Environmental Protection a D+ on the network’s “Clean Up Your Act!” report card grading the five Gulf of Mexico states.
The fault rests with the political leadership of the DEP, Gov. Charlie Crist and the state Legislature for letting polluters off the hook, said the network’s Florida Program Director Joe Murphy.
“It’s the public that pays,” Murphy said. “Florida needs to put waterways first rather than as an afterthought.”
The report card comes on the heels of a lawsuit settlement in which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed to step in and set numeric standards for nutrient pollution in Florida. The state failed to meet a 2004 deadline.
The EPA’s Inspector General issued a report late last month calling on the EPA to set nutrient standards nationwide — with a priority on stemming fertilizer and sewage pollution blamed for fueling a dead zone in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
In a statement released later Wednesday, the DEP called Florida a leader in the nation when it comes to protecting water quality.
 “The report released today is disappointing because it does not measure the critical factors related to what is needed to achieve water quality improvement,” the DEP’s environmental assessment and restoration division director Jerry Brooks said in the statement.
The statement cites the state’s requirements for advanced wastewater treatment for discharges into the Florida Keys and Tampa Bay, a timetable for eliminating ocean discharges and restoration standards for many coastal water bodies, including the Caloosahatchee River in Lee County.
Florida has proposed numeric standards for nutrient pollution, the only state in the nation to do so, Brooks said in the statement.
The amount of water quality data collected for that proposal is nearly twice that of the next highest state and represents nearly 30 percent of the national dataset, according to the statement.
Clean water advocates, though, have accused Florida of dragging its feet and writing loopholes into the state’s water quality laws.
Florida is not alone at the back of the class, according to the Gulf Restoration Network report card.
Louisiana got the worst grade, an F, while Texas got the best grade, a C-. Alabama and Mississippi each got a D+.
Each grade is actually a composite grade that measures each state in four categories.
The report card measures states on how they judge water quality, how they measure for pathogens that can make people sick, whether they have set numeric limits on nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that can cause algae blooms and whether they use water quality data collected by citizens to determine whether a water body is polluted.
Florida got a C for water quality standards, public health standards and public participation but got an F for its failure to set numeric nutrient standards.
Florida limits nutrient pollution from some sewage plants but those limits need to be more strict in some areas, the report card says.
Too much nitrogen and phosphorus, ingredients in fertilizers and components of animal waste, can coat Florida waterways with blankets of algae.
The algae can poison water supplies, kill marine life and cause human health problems.
Most scientists point to a connection between nutrients and the red tide that afflicts the Southwest Florida coast, causing fish kills and chasing beachgoers away with coughing fits.
In 2005, an especially severe red tide was blamed for killing manatees and sea turtles.
That same year, an area of low oxygen developed off the Southwest Florida coast, smothering sea life across a wide expanse of the Gulf floor.
A so-called dead zone forms every summer at the mouth of the Mississippi River in the northern Gulf.


Florida Swimming In Troubled Waters With a D+ For Clean Water Protections
Public News Service
September 3, 2009
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - "Clean up your act." That's the message to Florida and other Gulf states from the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN), which released its "report card" on Wednesday. The conservation group gives Florida a D+ for failing to fully incorporate the federal Clean Water Act into state policies.
None of the Gulf states got good grades, because GRN says they lacked water quality standards, testing for pathogens, and limits on runoff pollution. Joe Murphy, GRN's Florida program director, says the level of neglect threatens the environment, the economy and public health.
"We can't wait any longer to act. We have a significant degradation of a number of water bodies in Florida, and that's not going to get better or solve itself on its own. We're on the cusp of a crisis in Florida and, if we choose not to act, we're going to go even deeper into those troubled waters."
Murphy says pollution has often closed beaches along the Gulf, which threatens the $20 billion annual tourism industry in the region. Following a recent consent decree, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is working on limits for agricultural and other runoff pollution, including penalties for polluters.
In the meantime, says Cris Costello, Sierra Club regional representative, the lack of Clean Water Act enforcement has triggered what she calls "algae disasters" that threaten Florida's way of life.
"Water is our lifeblood. We not only need to drink it, but we need it to attract the kind of economic activity that the state depends on. Water quality needs to be our first priority."
The group says some local governments, including the City of St. Petersburg and other Tampa Bay area municipalities, have taken steps to make water quality a priority by passing limits on fertilizer use. That's important, says Matt Rota, GRN's water program director, because the state's extended coastline and large population automatically mean Floridians will have the greatest impact on a healthy Gulf.
"Florida, acting as a leader in having very protective rules and regulations and enforcing those regulations to make sure that citizens and wildlife are protected, is absolutely vital for the health of the Gulf of Mexico as a whole."
Critics say if implemented, these measures could drive business out of the state. Murphy says Florida's economy and its future depend upon protecting waterways.


Jacksonville wants new water regulations
 NEWS Jacksonville by Steve Patterson
September 3, 2009
Jacksonville City Hall may rewrite its building rules to reduce the amount of water wasted in new homes.
City managers will host a public workshop next week with design experts who are promoting ways to use rainwater better and to lower the amount of drinkable, clean water from utilities being used outdoors.
Those ideas haven't been common - or even legal - in many communities up to now.
"There are a lot of our codes and plans that have actually prohibited this type of development," said Gene Boles, a University of Florida urban planner scheduled to talk at the workshop.
The changes also would make runoff flowing into the St. Johns River cleaner, say supporters who label their approach "low-impact development."
The ideas, ranging from plant-covered "green roofs" to shallow depressions that could replace retention ponds in subdivisions, have the common goal of holding rainwater longer on the land where it actually fell.
Development rules in most Florida cities normally require drainage systems that can move rainwater off a house lot quickly, then hold it a while in a pond so grease, fertilizers and other debris in the rainwater can settle into a bottom layer of muck.
In theory, that cleans the water before it runs into creeks and the river.
But holding the water where it falls longer can keep pollution out of the creeks and cut the amount of watering people need to do in the days after the rain, said Deirdre Irwin, a program manager at the St. Johns River Water Management District.
"The whole approach of low impact is slowing that train down," Irwin said. Her agency is sponsoring the workshop in Jacksonville and others around the region.
Developers would have to build new subdivisions differently, but the changes could save them money and allow more homes on the same amount of land, Irwin said. The changes also would require new local rules in a lot of cases, she said.
For example, where cities commonly require developers to build curbs and gutters for drainage, low-impact subdivisions probably would discourage that. Instead, swales might be built next to a road, which might be narrower than the typical subdivision road to reduce the amount of runoff from pavement, Irwin said.
Instead of steering runoff to one or two big holding ponds for the subdivision, lots would be designed to let rainwater soak into the ground longer.
Jacksonville's managers are interested in the ideas but aren't committed to anything yet, said Ebenezer Gujjarlapudi, director of the city's Environmental and Compliance Department. He said the city would have to change its subdivision regulations and wants more information about which ideas have succeeded or failed elsewhere.
"We want to learn from everyone's mistakes," he said.
Another part of low-impact building - using native plants that don't require heavy watering - is getting an endorsement from Mayor John Peyton. He told people at an environmental conference at the University of Florida last week that legislation about so-called "Florida-friendly" landscaping is under development but could be filed soon with the City Council.
One of the challenges for towns looking at the low-impact ideas is how to guarantee they're crafting rules that will really make homes more water-efficient, Irwin said. Just waiving curb requirements, for example, would make subdivisions cheaper, she said, but that by itself won't produce big changes.
She said water managers are studying experiences at different developments to decide whether some ideas that work well in drier areas are practical in Florida, given the amount of rainfall and the difference in plants and wildlife in the state.


New pollution rules major step toward cleaner waters - Editorial:
TCPALM - Editorial
September 3, 2009
The Clean Water Act of 1972 isn’t worth the paper it’s written on if its goals of protecting waterways are viewed as only suggestions rather than requirements.
In Florida, some provisions of the act have been largely ignored as waters have been polluted with runoff from urban and agricultural land, contributing to the spread of algae, choking our ecosystems nearly to the point of collapse, killing fish and probably contributing to disturbing illnesses documented among dolphins and other wildlife.
More than a decade ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the state needed to develop runoff standards to meet water protection goals. Until about two weeks ago, that warning was largely talk with little substantial action.
On Aug. 19, however, the EPA reached a settlement in a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club, Florida Wildlife Federation and others, agreeing to set numeric standards for limitations on runoff of nitrogen and phosphorous, the primary causes of pollution from rain runoff.
Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation, told the Associated Press, “Floridians around the state will be breathing a sigh of relief with EPA’s commitment to finally take action. The delays on the part of the state and federal governments have been unbelievable.”
Under the settlement, the EPA has until Jan. 14 to set specific pollution limits for the state’s rivers and other waterways. The rules are to be finalized by October 2010.
The standards, according to the AP, will give the government more ammunition to go after major polluters and to work with farmers to reduce pollution from agricultural runoff.
New technologies, including some developed on the Treasure Coast, will help pinpoint the sources of pollution and pollution levels.
A statement released by the EPA said the standards established will be “scientifically defensible.”
Indian River Riverkeeper George Jones is pleased the Obama administration “is taking clean water seriously.”
Earlier last month, Jones complained about delays by state and federal authorities in setting specific pollution standards. He said he anticipates the new standards will be somewhat lenient initially and then strengthen as the science improves.
Standards the EPA sets for Florida waters are expected to be a model for other states. To be successful, however, the Florida model will have to not only provide science-based limits on pollution, but enforcement provisions.
If enforcement is weak or unfunded, or if polluters are given to much leeway, the threatened waters of the state won’t improve. This is the time for state and federal government to make a statement that clean water is vital to the health of waters and the people of the state and to local and state economies.
If not now, then when?


Campaign to drill off Florida's coast has cash, confidence
Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau by MARY ELLEN KLAS
September 2, 2009
A coalition of legislators, business groups and Texas oil companies is working to open the door to leasing the waters off Florida's western shores for possible exploratory oil drilling.
TALLAHASSEE -- A secretive group of powerful legislators, business groups and Texas oil companies has been laying the groundwork since December to win legislative approval to open Florida waters to oil exploration and end the 20-year drilling moratorium.
Florida Energy Associates -- which identifies itself only by saying that it is financed by a group of independent oil producers -- has hired lobbyists, public-relations experts, a financial consultant and a pollster to help advocate for the sale of drilling leases in state waters between the shore and 10 miles off Florida's Gulf Coast.
And the group has influential friends to help: Associated Industries of Florida, the Association of Builders and Contractors, and several petroleum companies.
Between April and July, the group spent as much as $234,000 on legal work and lobbying to push a bill through the Legislature last session. The measure passed the House, 70-43, but died in the Senate.
Supporters say defeat won't happen again.
``I predict we'll pass the bill and the governor will sign it,'' boasted Barney Bishop, president of Associated Industries of Florida.
He has reason to feel confident. The group has heft: Florida Energy Associates has contributed $55,000 to political parties -- $35,000 to Republicans and $20,000 to Democrats -- since May. The group has sponsored legislative leadership dinners and recruited two of the most powerful state lawmakers to sponsor the oil-drilling bill in 2010: Sen. Mike Haridopolos, a Melbourne Republican slated to become Senate president in 2010, and Rep. Dean Cannon, an Orlando Republican set to become House speaker in 2010.
Cannon and Haridopolos say they'll earmark the revenue raised by oil and gas to programs such as Everglades cleanup, conservation land-buying, renewable energy development and children's healthcare.
``I think it's smart economic policy, and it's the way to fund environmental protection and preservation,'' Cannon said.
And the group's aim has public support. An April poll by Mason-Dixon research, commissioned by the group, found that 59 percent of Floridians would support drilling off Florida's coasts and 88 percent would support it if they can be sure it will not harm the environment. A July poll by the Tarrance Group, also for Florida Energy Associates, found that 65 percent of Floridians favor oil drilling off state beaches while 29 percent oppose it.
But the biggest enticement is the promise of cash. Orlando economist Hank Fishkind, hired by the group, estimated the state could earn as much as $2.3 billion in oil and gas revenues a year, from oil leases and taxes.
That promise plus the polling numbers have softened Gov. Charlie Crist's opposition -- he now says oil drilling should be an option for Florida.
``Now we have another shot at it. We have the time to do it, and we have the facts on our side,'' said Doug Daniels, a Daytona Beach lawyer representing Florida Energy Associates.
Lining up on the other side: environmentalists, including Audubon of Florida, and government officials from coastal counties who say they have fewer resources but strong public support.
Susan Glickman of the Natural Resources Defense Council calls it ``a David and Goliath situation.''
``Funders with deep pockets are coming to our state trying to ram down a drastic policy that the public will reject,'' she said, dismissing the polling data as inaccurate.
``When people have the ability to look at the real facts in this situation, Florida will reject offshore drilling as they have for decades.''
Florida Audubon and Natural Resources Defense Council are working with county officials and talking to community leaders, tourism and business leaders to drum up grass-roots opposition to counter the effort.
Cannon, who sponsored the previous House proposal, said he has revamped it to ``raise the bar'' for oil companies.
His first plan allowed drilling as close as three miles from shore. This one, he said, will keep it at least five miles away and will include stronger provisions to make sure beachgoers can't see drilling rigs from shore.
He also wants to raise the entry fee for obtaining a lease for exploratory drilling from $1 million in the previous proposal to as much as $5 million, he said.
Haridopolos, the future Senate president, held a town hall meeting in Viera last week on the topic and plans to hold others along the west coast. He said he and Cannon also are planning trips to Texas and Louisiana -- ``on our own dime,'' he said -- to look at the drilling technology.
Daniels, the Florida Energy Associates attorney, said the technology has changed to make it less visible and less intrusive.
Drilling platforms would be easily set up in 60 feet of water, ``no closer than six nautical miles and out of sight,'' and remain for as long as six months so they could drill multiple wells from one location.
Pipelines would then be tethered from subsea production rigs or onshore platforms that extract the oil and gas from the wells, and the oil would be piped onshore to production facilities in Florida or Alabama. No transport tankers would be used, he said. The oil and gas would be stored onshore and then be piped to refineries in Lousiana.
``It can be done safely, and it can be done virtually out of sight,'' Daniels said.
Eric Draper of Audubon of Florida said his group welcomes the debate as a chance to examine the numbers that proponents are using. For example, he challenges whether lawmakers could bank on the $2 billion revenue estimates anytime soon, since it could take years to get permits and start drilling.
``They are throwing out a lot of assumptions that are not testable assumptions, which is shifting the debate,'' he said. ``So we're wrestling with a shadowy group with shadowy numbers that we can't refute.''
Haridopolos said the supporters will have to be forthcoming about who is behind them and how the technology works.
``We want to have a full vetting of the issue, and they're not going to get something passed until they fully disclose who the players are, and their technologies, as well,'' he said.
Daniels said that the group has kept a low profile because ``the independent oil and gas business is pretty competitive, and they just don't want people to know what it is they're doing.''
Cannon is less concerned. ``I don't know who was funding the proposal or the opposition's testimony, and, frankly, that's irrelevant,'' he said. ``I'm concerned and focused on getting the policy right.''


Cancer fears: Acreage residents to discuss getting public water
Palm Beach Post by JOHN LANTIGUA
September 2, 2009
ACREAGE - Has the time finally arrived for Acreage residents to hook up to public water?
Amid fears of a suspected cancer cluster and possible environmental causes, the Indian Trail Improvement District will convene a public meeting tonight to discuss options.
The meeting at Seminole Ridge High School, at 6:30 p.m., is expected to be crowded and intense.
"Our office receives daily phone calls from people who are concerned," said Michelle Damone, president of the Board of Supervisors. "We're going to receive public input to see if residents want to pursue the possibility of public water."
The district's website contains a form on which residents can express opinions.
Damone said that if enough Acreage residents are interested, the second step will be to explore the cost. A final stage would determine just how voting among residents would be conducted.
Damone expects that three-step process could take until early next year.
One crucial issue will be possible access to government funding.
Mike Erickson, former president of the district board, says low-interest loans from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) Program could be decisive.
Erickson, who lives just off 140th Avenue where a principal water line lies, is one of some 200 residents close enough to those lines to have hooked up to county water.
He says the connection, meter fees and construction cost him about $4,800. Paying in monthly installments over 20 years at 6.5 percent interest comes to $34 per month. His water usage is extra.
Residents farther away from the county principal water lines would have to pay more for construction, but Erickson says loans with interest rates as low 1.7 percent might be available over 20 or 30 years through the state water program.
Completing the hookups throughout the Acreage "would take a few years probably," said county water department spokesman Robert Nelton.
County health officials definitely want the area to be on public water.
"The health department has always wanted to see those homes on county water, because public drinking water is the only water we can test and regulate," says county health director Dr. Alina Alonso. "It has nothing to do with the cancer cluster. It is just good public health policy."
But unless health officials find that the well water is hazardous, then it is up to the district, not the county, to decide water policy in the Acreage.
Erickson points out that the state report, released Friday, found no contamination of private wells. And he said findings of possibly elevated levels of cancer were based on badly out-of-date population figures.
"It wouldn't be good for people to jump to conclusions," he said about deciding on public water. "We need better data."


Potential landfill site raising concerns
Sun Sentinel by ANDY REID
September 2, 2009
Plans to build a landfill next to a treatment area that cleans water headed for the Everglades has already raised environmental alarm bells.
The prospect of buzzards - lured by landfill dining - create a potential hazard for helicopters and a new obstacle for Palm Beach County's long-stalled trash disposal plans.
Officials at the South Florida Water Management District last week announced they had serious concerns about one of the two competing sites under consideration for a new landfill. The site raising questions is 1,500 acres of farmland north of Southern Boulevard, near a stormwater treatment area that borders the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.
The district manages the treatment area and uses helicopters to collect water samples for environmental testing. Helicopters and an influx of buzzards don't mix, according to the district.
"We do have a major concern," the district's Executive Director Carol Wehle said. "This is an extremely important issue for us."
The district's concerns "surprised" county Solid Waste Authority Executive Director Mark Hammond. The potential landfill sites have been under consideration since last fall and the stormwater treatment area is an almost 7,000-acre, man-made wetland teeming with birds.
"We believe we can operate a landfill safely and effectively next to the storm water treatment area," Hammond said.
Environmental concerns in 2007 stalled long-held plans to build a new landfill in sugar cane country on the west side of the national refuge.
Two alternative sites now under consideration west of Royal Palm Beach include the Hundley Farms land near the treatment area, as well as about 1,700 acres farther north at the northwest intersection of State Road 80 and U.S. 98.
Glades business leaders oppose putting a landfill at the S.R. 80-U.S. 98 intersection, the stretch of road they consider the gateway to their towns.
But environmental advocates are fighting the site next to the stormwater treatment area.
Putting a landfill so close to the treatment area threatens to "undermine" the effectiveness of
pollution-filtering marsh, said Jacquie Weisblum, of Audubon of Florida.
The authority estimates that long-term it would be about $137 million less expensive to acquire, develop and operate a landfill on the Hundley Farms site.
County commissioners since last fall have delayed deciding where to build the new landfill. They plan to take up the topic again in October.
The buzzard problem does not necessarily disqualify the location beside the treatment area as a site for a landfill, but it could trigger expensive efforts to limit the influx of big birds, Wehle said.
County officials are scheduled to meet with district representatives later this month to talk about potential land swaps for other alternative landfill sites.
The county's existing landfill west of West Palm Beach is projected to reach capacity by 2021. The plan was to get a new landfill opened by 2015.


Smalltooth sawfish get more protection - by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
September 2, 2009
NOAA Fisheries Service is designating 840,472 acres of ‘critical habitat’ for smalltooth sawfish along the Southwest Florida coastline.
Smalltooth sawfish were listed as endangered in 2003 after various commercial fisheries captured too many as bycatch, and coastal development destroyed much of the species’ habitat.
This new rule becomes effective Oct. 2 and will require federal agencies to consult with NOAA Fisheries Service before they approve activities – such as dredging – that may adversely modify or destroy sawfish critical habitat. The rule does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve, or other conservation area.
 “Stronger protection for smalltooth sawfish habitat is crucial to their survival,” said Roy Crabtree, southeast regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries Service. “The areas designated as critical habitat are nursery grounds that provide a safe haven for young sawfish to grow and avoid predators. “
These areas are not protected under pre-existing laws. Because they are nursery grounds, they are essential to the conservation of the species and therefore warrant protection.
These nurseries contain two features important to sawfish: red mangroves and waters with fluctuating salinity levels ranging in depths up to three feet. Protecting these features in the designated critical habitat will maximize the potential for population growth and recovery of the species.
The critical habitat area off Southwest Florida is divided into two separate units between Charlotte Harbor and Florida Bay. The first unit covers 221,459 acres of coastal habitat within Charlotte Harbor, and the second covers 619,013 acres of coastal habitat in the Ten Thousand Islands and the Florida Everglades.
Smalltooth sawfish are tropical marine fish that are closely related to sharks, skates, and stingrays.
The historic range of the smalltooth sawfish in the United States extends from Texas to New York – with the largest numbers found in south and Southwest Florida from Charlotte Harbor to the Dry Tortugas.
The species current range is peninsular Florida with most encounters reported from south and southwest Florida. Today, smalltooth sawfish are rarely encountered by fishermen, boaters, or scientists.


Vero Beach officials say expensive well needed despite wastewater consolidation talks
TCPALM by Ed Bierschenk
September 2, 2009
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — As construction begins on a multimillion-dollar well to dump excess wastewater far underground, questions have surfaced about the need for such a large expenditure during a time when discussion is under way about merging the city and county wastewater systems.
Vero Beach will be spending about $11 million for a deep injection well, a pipeline, storage tank and other equipment being constructed on land at the southeast end of the Vero Beach Municipal Airport.
The city will be using the well to deposit excess treated wastewater and concentrated brine, leftover from when raw water is turned into drinking water, into a large opening about 2,800 feet underground. Both city and county officials are under consent decrees to stop discharging this water into the Indian River Lagoon, although they have taken different methods on how to handle it.
City Water and Sewer Director Rob Bolton said the deep injection well was selected after various alternatives were explored.
Although the city and county are in discussion about the possible merger of the two agencies’ wastewater systems, Bolton said the city was under time constraints from regulators to stop the discharge into the lagoon and the injection well would be needed even if there was a consolidation.
The county is constructing the Spoonbill Marsh on 67 acres of land donated by Grand Harbor to handle some of its brine discharge.
The county, though, had also looked at using the city’s deep injection well to handle brine from its south water treatment plant that’s currently going into the South Relief Canal.
For various reasons - including the expense of running lines to the injection well - they decided to try something else to reduce discharges into the canal, according to Indian River County Utilities Director Erik Olson. He said the county, instead, is looking at remixing the brine with reuse water that can be used by golf courses, developments and elsewhere.
While Olson said the state Department of Environmental Protection is very interested in the Spoonbill Marsh project as a model that potentially could be replicated throughout the state, Bolton noted it is still a pilot project.
“That’s a new concept,” said Bolton. “They don’t know if it is going to work.”
The option wasn’t available to the city, said Bolton, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued a permit for the construction of the injection well. According to the agency’s consent order, the brine concentrate has to be diverted to the well no later than Oct. 31, 2011.
Construction of the well could be completed by sometime next summer.
The deep well will be a significant distance from the wells the city uses to draw water from the state’s aquifers. The city draws about 25 percent of its water from the upper level of the Floridian Aquifer, at about 400 to 450 feet, and 75 percent from the surficial aquifer, at about 100 feet.
The city has about 35 such wells, with the nearest one to the deep injection well about 800 feet away.
Injection wells have raised concerns from some environmental groups about leakage. A 2003 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report talks about documented impacts to the drinking water from deep well injection in South Florida.
“Beginning in the late 1980s, ground water monitoring wells at 18 of the 45 municipal facilities that utilize Class I deep well injection in South Florida began to detect the movement of fluid outside the permitted injection zones,” according to the report.
The engineer for the city’s deep well injection project, however, said improvements have been made since the problems in South Florida. Bolton also said the water being injected into the ground in Vero Beach is treated to a much greater extent than what was injected in the wells in the Miami-Dade area.
The city will have a monitoring well in place to determine if there is any movement of the treated wastewater and brine from the area where it is injected. In addition, Bolton said any water the city draws out of the aquifers is treated again and tested hourly before it is sent out to residents.


What Will Craven Crist's Senate Seatwarmer Do on Climate?
The American Spectator by Paul Chesser
September 2, 2009
That’s the question that Carbon Control News considers today in an article the publication has placed outside its subscriber wall, just for you special blogreaders! Unfortunately CCN’s reporter can draw no definitive conclusions:
(Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s appointee) George LeMieux, who will be sworn in as Florida’s junior senator when Congress reconvenes next week, ran Crist’s successful 2006 campaign for governor and served as Crist’s chief of staff until the beginning of last year, when he returned to private practice at a Tallahassee law firm. As Crist’s top aide, LeMieux helped organize the governor’s first climate summit in 2007, during which activists, scientists and public officials from around the world gathered in Miami to consider the challenge presented by global warming and develop potential solutions.
As the Miami Herald reported (and I blogged about) last month, Crist has begun his run to replace quitting Sen. Mel Martinez by running with hair on fire from the no-longer-helpful global warming issue, after basking in media love the last two years when he hosted climate panic conferences featuring California Gov. Arnold Warmalarmer. This year Charlie says he may not hold another speech meet because of concern over the costs to sponsors (really!). But even though LeMeiux (”I am a Charlie Crist Republican”) will placehold, CCN says there’s no telling how he’ll vote on the Senate version of a cap-and-tax bill this year:
While environmentalists are encouraged by the appointment, LeMieux’s membership on the board of an industry organization that opposes cap-and-trade, combined with the potential pressure created by Crist’s conservative Republican primary opponent (that’s former Fla. House Speaker Marco Rubio), suggest his support for climate legislation is far from assured.
Because the two are so closely aligned, Crist likely will have to answer on the campaign trail for LeMieux’s votes on Senate legislation, which likely will include a cap-and-trade bill expected to be introduced by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and John Kerry (D-MA) as soon as next month.
If the belief still exists that Crist is anything more than the Sunshiny State’s Specter of Arlen, then Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Thomas squashes it like a malarial mosquito:
…Predicting Crist is simple. Simply do the political calculation.
He would easily beat any Democrat in the Senate race. All he has to worry about is Rubio in the primary. So the environmentalists are of little use to him now. They may grumble as he abandons them, but he knows they won’t publicly attack him because he is going to win. And they will need him in the future, if not for climate change then for Everglades funding.
Crist is on your side when there is something in it for him.
And when it comes to climate change, there is nothing in it for Crist anymore.


With primary a year away, ailing economy is No. 1 issue for Florida voters
SunSentinel by Anthony Man
September 2, 2009
Abortion. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Immigration. Name the issue -- and throw it away. The 2010 primary is one year away, and one issue trumps them all.
"The economy. Jobs, jobs, jobs," said Sean Foreman, a political scientist at Barry University. "Not much will have changed from 2008 to 2010. It's all going to be about the economy, still."
A range of political pros from the left to the right agree that the economy will be so dominant it will be hard for any other issue to break through.
A year from now, the issue that's raging across the country today -- health care -- will be important, said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, but it's the economy "that will be the driving issue of the primary in August 2010."
There's bipartisan agreement with that assessment.
"Not until we put people back to work will they be able to think about anything else," said Broward Republican Chairman Chip LaMarca. "It's the No. 1 issue."
It's not a view confined to political insiders. In an unscientific online survey on, 47 percent of those who answered picked the economy as No. 1. High property taxes was a distant second with 20 percent and health care costs was third with 7 percent.
Activists devoted to particular interests hope their issues can push their way onto the agenda -- but they're not hopeful.
Barbara Collier, chairwoman of the Broward Christian Coalition, cares deeply about social issues such as abortion. But like many others, Collier thinks the economy will consume most of the political oxygen next year.
At the other end of the political spectrum, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been a top issue for Echo Steiner, co-chairwoman of the Palm Beach County Green Party. "For the general public I think that issue has gone to bed, unfortunately."
She blames much of that on a lack of media coverage. "People are concerned about what they hear about. If you talk about Britney Spears all night on television, that's what people will care about," she said. "Right now they're being fed the health care debate. They're not being fed [news about] some of the bloodiest months in the war in Afghanistan."
Steiner thinks health care and energy issues could interest voters, but "the big thing is the economy and the bailouts."
One of Florida's top priorities, preserving and restoring the Everglades, isn't likely to generate many headlines next year, said Kirk Fordham, chief executive officer of the non-partisan Everglades Foundation. Part of the reason, he said, is that the Everglades are embraced by almost everyone.
"We are in a fortunate situation in that there is bipartisan support for the Everglades, whereas the issues that tend to get more attention in the campaign are where there are differences," he said. "Reporters don't like to ask about the Everglades because it's not going to generate a whole lot of fireworks."
Two other environmental issues -- global climate change and offshore oil drilling -- could be different, Fordham said. Candidates differ on those issues, and that could generate some public interest and concern.
Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party, doesn't see the economy as the overriding concern. "This notion that if we're in some sort of recovery and unemployment rates have leveled off that will be good for [President Barack] Obama, that misses the larger point."
Rather than a particular issue, he thinks 2010 voters will react -- negatively -- to Obama's performance, and punish Democrats.
Fordham, a former political and government aide in Florida and in Washington, D.C., said many voters may make their decisions based on reactions to the president. The first election of a presidency "oftentimes becomes a temperature check on whether or not voters are happy with the direction that the new administration is going in," he said.


Crist the climate-change crusader is gone with the wind (power)
Sun Sentinel - Mike Thomas
September 1, 2009
I am persuaded that global climate change is one of the most important issues that we will face this century.
Charlie Crist in 2007
Everything is a political calculation with Charlie Crist. And so it's easy to understand his attraction to the climate-change issue.
In a down year for Republicans, two of them did quite well in 2006 — Crist and California's Arnold Schwarzenegger, who won re-election by a landslide.
Schwarzenegger was a national leader on climate change. He demonstrated the issue cut across party lines, making it perfect for Republicans seeking to broaden their base.
Charlie wanted in on Arnold's action. And so he brought Schwarzenegger here to headline his Florida Summit on Global Climate Change. This was Crist's first major initiative as governor and his first time on the national stage. He was a sensation. Editorial boards gushed as he signed executive orders that would put Florida on a California path, including reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions and increases in the use of renewable energy resources.
He embraced cap and trade. He established the Action Team on Energy and Climate Change, which put out reports that could have been written by Greenpeace. "The governor has set the bar as high as it can be set for action for climate change," said Eric Draper, a lobbyist for Audubon of Florida. "He has fundamentally changed the debate about energy in Florida.
" All this was typical of Crist's style. He jumps on big issues, proposes populist solutions and moves on to the next headline.
It's nonstop wow politics, based on the premise that people remember that first big image and then zone out on the details.
On a policy level, this does not work with something as complex as climate change. It is mired in details and requires a consistent and hard push from the executive branch to squeeze it through the Legislature and bureaucracy. This entails constant dealing and arm-twisting, things that do not interest Crist.
He lets legislators brawl over details, and then triumphantly signs whatever comes out of that process.
The Legislature did produce a bill in 2008.
It was a mixed bag for greenies. To their dismay, it encouraged power-plant construction and gave utilities easier access to public lands for transmission lines.
But it also required more energy-efficient buildings and houses, a mandate that all gas contain 10 percent ethanol by the end of 2010, along with some minor incentives and rules to encourage renewable energy. The big prizes were absent. There were no mandates for renewable energy, or for cap and trade.
These things would be further studied and brought back for action the next year.
In his typical style, however, Crist proclaimed it a great victory. And he held another summit with Schwarzenegger, whom he called "a hero to me."
Then came the 2009 legislative session, a disaster for greenies. The House killed climate-change legislation. Environmentalists accepted the 2008 bill based on what it would bring in 2009. And it brought nothing.
Two years after Florida's green revolution, there is no mandate for renewable energy. Utilities have little incentive to use renewable energy because they can't recover their costs. There is no cap and trade.
There is some debate about how much effort Crist put into the pushing for the legislation. Some say not much. Others say it wouldn't have mattered.
Obviously, the U.S. Senate was on Crist's mind, as was a challenge from Marco Rubio, the conservative former House speaker who loathes climate-change proposals.
Not surprisingly, Crist says there may be no climate-change summit this year. It's a given he won't be making any more appearances with Schwarzenegger, who has become a pariah among conservatives.
"On his way to padding his record-breaking Senate campaign account, Crist — the one-time environmental governor — has gutted the state's growth management laws, trashed its water-permitting process and walked away from a laudable climate-change agenda," wrote the St. Petersburg Times this week.
The Times actually seems surprised.
But predicting Crist is simple. Simply do the political calculation.
He would easily beat any Democrat in the Senate race. All he has to worry about is Rubio in the primary. So the environmentalists are of little use to him now. They may grumble as he abandons them, but he knows they won't publicly attack him because he is going to win. And they will need him in the future, if not for climate change then for Everglades funding.
Crist is on your side when there is something in it for him.
And when it comes to climate change, there is nothing in it for Crist anymore.


High sea levels along the East Coast in early summer blamed on wind, current change
Chicago Tribune – Associated Press
September 1, 2009
WASHINGTON (AP) — Folks living along the East Coast were in higher water early this summer thanks to a change in the wind and current flow.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday the higher than normal sea levels were caused by persistent winds from the northeast — pushing water toward shore — and a weakening of the Florida current that feeds water into the Gulf Stream.
Water levels ranged from six inches to two feet above normal in areas from Maine to Florida during June and July, the agency said.
While the ocean varies and unusual conditions do occur, Mike Szabados, director of NOAA's Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services, said in a statement, "What made this event unique was its breadth, intensity and duration."
The high water was intensified in June by a strong spring tide, officials added.
While it wasn't a record for northeasterly winds or for the decline in the Florida current, the combination of the two helped raise sea levels all along the coast.


Florida Plans $ 650 Million Everglades-Land Bond Sale by March
Bloomberg - Jerry Hart
September 1, 2009
Florida will sell $650 million of bonds by March to buy Everglades land for restoration after a judge denied water officials the full $2.2 billion of borrowing authority they had sought.
“Bond buyers should see a $650 million sale between now and March,” Eric Buermann, chairman of the South Florida Water Management District’s governing board, said in an interview. “We’ll take what we got and work with that, and work on the rest of it as we go along.”
Florida planners intended to buy 187,000 acres from U.S. Sugar Corp. for $1.75 billion when they first announced the project in June 2008 to reduce pollution and improve water flow in the Everglades. Governor Charlie Crist called it the largest- ever land acquisition for environmental purposes at the time.
Palm Beach County Circuit Court judge Donald Hafele ruled Aug. 26 that the district hadn’t shown a valid public purpose for the authority to borrow $2.2 billion. He said the district had justified borrowing only as much as $650 million to buy 73,000 acres of central Florida farmland from U.S. Sugar.
The project was scaled back twice because of opposition from the Miccosukee Tribe and Florida Crystals Corp., a West Palm Beach-based competitor of U.S. Sugar, and state budget cuts. It was reduced to a $1.34 billion purchase of 180,000 acres in November and to 73,000 acres for $536 million in April.
Revenue Bonds
Water officials had wanted authority to borrow as much as $2.2 billion even with the smaller initial purchase so they could buy and restore land in the future, Paul Dumars, chief financial officer for the water management district in West Palm Beach, said in an interview in April.
The water district plans to sell bonds called certificates of participation that will be backed by revenue from property taxes in 16 counties ranging from Orlando in the state’s center, south to the Florida Keys.
A sale of $600 million of certificates by the district in 2006 was rated AA- by Fitch Ratings, AA+ by Standard & Poor’s Corp. and Aa3 by Moody’s Investors Service.
Buermann said an appeal of the judge’s ruling to the Florida Supreme Court by opponents of the land purchase was factored into the March timing of the $650 million bond sale.
“Judges may take whatever time is necessary. but we think March is a reasonable timeframe,” he said.
U.S. Sugar will continue to farm the land under lease after the purchase by the water district, which will have a seven-year option to buy the remaining acres, close the sugar operation and begin restoration.
Gaston Cantens, vice president of Florida Crystals, said his company would appeal the judge’s authorization for the $536 million initial purchase because of the unfair advantage it gives U.S. Sugar.
“We expect to be in front of the Supreme Court by the end of the calendar year,” Cantens said in an interview. “This deal creates a huge advantage for another farmer, who gets a cash infusion of over $500 million and keeps on farming.”


FPL’s “dark” business
PODER360 by Siobhan Morrissey
September 1, 2009

As storage of nuclear waste continues to pose concern across the country, an FPL land use change at Turkey Point raises questions about potential safety and environmental risks

If all goes according to plan, Florida Power & Light later this year will begin building a storage facility for nuclear waste more than two stories above ground at the Turkey Point nuclear power plant. Under the plan, the company would house in dry storage 16 cubic feet of radioactive waste—the equivalent of some 2 million pounds accumulated since the first reactor fired up in 1972.
Plans for the dry cask storage facility have sparked controversy because the project has not been aired at public hearings. Instead, the project was moved along quickly and quietly, with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) granting certification on May 18, roughly six weeks after receiving FPL’s application and without an opportunity for public input. Without fanfare, the approval slipped the notice of interested parties such as the Sierra Club, the Tropical Audubon Society and Clean Water Action. Miami-Dade County officials and environmentalists maintain the utility company and the regulatory agency did an end run to avoid public scrutiny.
 “Yes, absolutely,” the county wanted a public hearing and a chance to review the “unusual use” project, Assistant Miami-Dade County Attorney John McInnis told PODER. “We take the position they had to have the zoning in place before the dry cask storage was approved by DEP.”
Marc LaFerrier, director of the county’s Planning and Zoning Department, spelled out his position in a May 14 letter to Michael Halpin, who oversees DEP’s Siting Coordination Office: “The proposed activity does require permitting and zoning authorization by Miami-Dade County.” Four days later, Halpin disregarded LaFerrier’s concerns and approved certification for the dry storage facility.
 “It looks to me as if the local government is definitely being phased out of this,” said Jon Mills, a former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives who now teaches law at the University of Florida.
Not so, says FPL spokesman Tom Veenstra. The utility is simply following the dictates of the U.S. DEP, he says, explaining, “Whatever the process they have, that is the process we have to follow.” DEP officials maintain they followed Florida law, which in some instances allows projects to go forward without a public hearing.
 [Time is of the essence]
The timing of the dry storage certification came just a month before FPL submitted another proposal to double its nuclear capacity, which if approved would make Turkey Point the largest nuclear power plant in the country. In addition to adding two new nuclear reactors to the two already existing at the plant, the plan calls for the possibility of swapping land with Everglades National Park for the purpose of installing transmission lines that would run through the eastern edge of the park and carry 500 kilovolts of power atop 140-foot-tall towers that would be visible to visitors in popular tourist areas such as Shark Valley and Chekika.
Those plans are spelled out in great detail in six binders that when stacked one atop each other measure two feet thick. By comparison, the plan for the dry storage facility arrived at DEP as a two-page letter with two one-page attachments—one a photograph showing an aerial view of the power plant, the other an artist’s rendering of a cylindrical cask containing nuclear waste being deposited into a storage module. Former Turkey Point Vice President William Jefferson mentions in his April 3 letter to DEP that the facility would be built on six acres and 18.3 feet above ground. Other than that, no site plans or details of the paving and draining system were provided for state and county officials to review before signing off on the project.
Jefferson left FPL suddenly in early August “to pursue other opportunities.” But his tenure at FPL was marked by a series of events that brought bad publicity to Turkey Point, including an incident in 2006 in which a disgruntled worker drilled a hole in a pipe at the plant, costing $6 million that the utility sought to collect from consumers. Another employee, David Hoffman, Turkey Point’s former top nuclear operator, allegedly resigned due to unsafe operating conditions at the plant—something FPL vigorously denies. According to The Miami Herald, Hoffman’s complaints about the plant came to light after FPL sued him, demanding the return of a bonus.
 [The nuclear storage race]
Currently, FPL places the spent nuclear fuel onsite in wet storage structures that resemble cavernous, stainless-steel-lined swimming pools. But it’s getting crowded in the pools, so the utility is resorting to dry cask storage.
 “They’re simply running out of room in the spent fuel pools for the current two [reactor] units,” says Roger Hannah, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “You never want to get below a certain point [of capacity]. You have to start several years in advance.”
It’s a problem nuclear power plants across the country face, notes FPL spokesman Dick Winn. The Department of Energy had planned to create a central repository for the nation’s nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada more than a decade ago, but environmentalists and local residents successfully fought that. Last summer, an application for the Yucca Mountain site was filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), but there is no funding earmarked for the project. Despite this, Hannah remains optimistic: “The NRC still has the expectation that at some point there will be a permanent repository.”
But don’t count on Yucca Mountain being the panacea to end on-site nuclear storage issues, warns Kevin Kamps, a nuclear waste specialist at the Nuclear Information & Resource Service in Washington, D.C. According to an affidavit Kamps provided in 2004 regarding the proposed dry storage facility at the Millstone nuclear plant in Connecticut, Yucca Mountain has a legal capacity of 63,000 metric tons of commercial high-level nuclear waste. At that time, he said, 45,000 metric tons had already been produced in this country and waste was increasing at a rate of 2,000 metric tons a year.
 “Thus, even if Yucca were opened in 2010, it would already be full, only the wastes would still have to be transported there,” Kamps stated.
The majority of nuclear power plants nationwide use some sort of dry storage. To date, 55 sites around the country, including FPL’s St. Lucie plant, use dry storage.
 [environmental and Safety concerns]
“Due to planned space constraints in the pools, we expect construction on the dry storage facility to take place in 2009 and 2010 with fuel storage beginning in 2011,” Winn told PODER in an email. Dry storage, he says, consists of stainless steel canisters measuring 16 by 6 feet that are then placed horizontally into concrete modules that provide a steel and concrete barrier roughly two to four feet thick.
 “The facility is specially designed and tested to meet all NRC design requirements including protection from extreme natural events such as high winds and flooding associated with hurricanes, storm surges, flooding, tornadoes, fires and earthquakes,” Winn wrote. “The facility itself will be heavily secured and include multiple layers of protection, including perimeter fencing, radiation monitoring, a vehicle barrier system, a high-tech perimeter intrusion detection system, continuous surveillance, and regular security patrols.”
In the 20 years that dry storage has been in use in the United States, there has never been a radiation leak, Hannah says. However, environmentalists raise the concern that the potential exists for sabotage or just plain human error.
One such incident occurred at the Prairie Island power plant in Red Wing, Minnesota on May 13, 1995 where a crane that removes the cast from the wet storage facility malfunctioned and was suspended in mid-air for 16 hours in the wet pool.
 [Kamps detailed the incident in his affidavit]
“Over 120 tons of metal storage cask and irradiated fuel assemblies dangled precariously above the reactor’s pool... This dangling [crane] risked dropping back into the pool, damaging irradiated fuel stored there, or punching a hole in the pool leading to a loss of coolant accident and potentially catastrophic consequences, such as a major fire amidst the densely packed irradiated fuel in the pool, an accident scenario that could release massive amounts of radioactivity into the environment.”
Some environmentalists, such as Dawn Shirreffs with Clean Water Action, would simply like to get a better explanation from FPL as to how the utility plans to build the dry storage facility. They want assurances that the underground anchoring of the storage module’s 18-foot tall concrete pad will not affect the delicate environment in that area. “There are concerns that if they are putting these [anchors] underground, how they will interfere with the hydrology and the Biscayne aquifer?” Shirreffs asks. “We haven’t had the opportunity to decide how it may or may not affect Biscayne Bay and Biscayne aquifer and the surrounding area.” Among the things Shirreffs is concerned about is whether the anchors might promote saltwater intrusion in the aquifer. The aquifer supplies drinking water for 3 million people, and once the ocean’s saltwater mixes with the aquifer it could take more than a century, if it’s even possible, to fix the problem and make the water drinkable again, she adds.
 [Finding a loophole]
But how did FPL manage to avoid a public discussion of the environmental concerns? FPL presented the proposed dry storage facility as an amendment to an existing certificate that DEP issued last October when the utility sought permission to ramp up its power output. In the industry, this is commonly known as “uprating.” FPL plans to begin increasing its power output at Turkey Point by 14 percent as early as 2011.
The certification for the uprating covers an area at the plant that includes the two existing nuclear reactors—Units 3 and 4—not a separate parcel where FPL wants to build the dry storage facility, said FPL’s vice president at the time, William Jefferson. In his April 3 dry storage application to DEP, Jefferson wrote, “The site for the proposed facility is east of and outside of the existing Turkey Point Units 3 and 4 certified boundaries....”
Oddly enough, to support its actions in bypassing a public hearing, DEP points to a Florida law that in part specifically allows for “a land use and zoning determination” if the applicant “proposes to expand the boundaries of the existing site or to add additional offsite associated facilities.”
The big question that remains is why FPL failed to include the proposal for the dry storage when it sought permission to increase its power output.
 “There are a lot of questions here that begin with ‘Why did they do this?’” Assistant County Attorney McInnis says with a laugh.
 “Essentially, it should have been included in the initial application,” Shirreffs says, noting that it would have been open for public discussion if it had. “Florida Power knew, or should have known, that they were running out of space for their radioactive waste material.”
Indeed the company did, says FPL’s Veenstra. The utility mentioned the need on its website as early as 2006 and even brought it up at various community outreach presentations. But that’s not the same as making it open to public review during the application process.
 “If you’re not up front in deciding a nuclear storage facility, that seems to be a problem,” says Mills, who was credited with passing a number of environmental initiatives while serving in Florida’s House of Representatives from 1978-88. “This is an amendment to an expansion, the expansion was of some form or authority already being performed, which is production of energy. But they just amended this to include a totally different function, which is storage. It would seem to me, that is substantially different enough so that local governments would be concerned about it.”
Monica Reimer, an attorney with Earthjustice in Tallahassee, agrees. By filing the paperwork as an amendment six months after the initial certification, FPL was able to take advantage of a 1973 state law. That law, the Power Plant Siting Act (PPSA), streamlines the certification process for large power plants. Rather than require the utility to collect the necessary local and state permits, the law smooths the process by requiring only one license—a certification from DEP. The NRC handles permitting on the federal side. The DEP oversees environmental issues, while the NRC focuses on safety matters. As of early August, FPL had yet to file its dry storage application for Turkey Point with the NRC, Hannah says, although she adds there is no guarantee the agency will hold a public hearing on the matter, either.
Amendments to an existing certification are considered minor matters, not up for public discussion unless challenged by a party that has standing to do so. Radical changes to a certification, however, are considered modifications and would be subject to public review.
The PPSA speeds along the certification process, but it also provides transparency. “It makes it easier for the power company to do this, but at the same time gives the public access,” Reimer says.
Reimer takes issue with FPL’s handling of the matter. “Does this feel like an end run?” she asks. “Yes it does. It doesn’t mean they won’t be able to get away with it. It flies in the face of the Power Plant Siting Act.” She adds, “You don’t come in after you’ve done the whole certification process and say, ‘Oh, and now we have a whole new facility we want to add on.’ As a lawyer, this feels like a fairly major modification to me.”
As a lawyer, Reimer has taken on FPL and won. In 2006 the utility attempted to rezone 90 percent of Glades County to permit the building of coal-fired power plants on agricultural land. “They buried it in a table with 2,000 entries, and put a little ‘y’ for ‘yes,’” she says. “Nobody knew, and when they did, they just said they were redoing the zoning code.” So what happened in Miami doesn’t shock her. “I know how FPL operates,” she says. “FPL speaks and everybody listens. That’s how it works.”
But that’s not how it’s supposed to work, Mills maintains. “There’s a healthy concept of just discussing it and getting it out,” Mills says. “People might feel better about it, rather than finding out about it later and feeling as if it was government trying to sneak something past them. Being open about it would be just the right thing and the right policy.”


Most Martin commissioners favor new rules to allow suburban development in agricultural areas
TCPALM - George Andreassi
September 1, 2009
STUART — A majority of the Martin County commissioners said they favor a controversial change to the county’s strict growth rules that would allow suburban development on agricultural land in Western Martin County.
The initiative is up for a vote on Tuesday when the commissioners are set to review 18 proposed amendments to the county’s Comprehensive Growth Management Plan.
If approved, the growth plan amendments would be sent to the state Department of Community Affairs for a ruling on whether they comply with county and state rules. If so, the commissioners would hold a final vote on Dec. 8 and the new rules would go into effect a short time later.
Supporters of the proposal to allow planned unit developments in the Agricultural area west of Florida’s Turnpike and Interstate 95
said it would give a much-needed option to the owners of land where 20-acre ranchettes are currently the only type of residential development permitted.
 “We have seen our citrus all but go by the wayside,” said Commissioner Doug Smith. “We need to be thinking about the fact that we have landowners that are going to need to do something with that property.”
Working in conjunction with the Land Protection Incentives Amendment, the proposal would also enable the county to obtain some of the land needed for the Indian River Lagoon and Everglades restoration programs, supporters said.
 “How do we get the most restoration of the properties out there that are really key to get into some sort of restoration program? And how do we also ensure that the landowners see a fair value for that process?” Smith asked rhetorically. The proposal, he said, “might be one of those tools that help us get there.”
Commissioners Ed Ciampi and Patrick Hayes said they also support the initiative as a way to obtain the land needed for the environment.
But Commissioner Sarah Heard and the Martin County Conservation Alliance have come out against the proposal because they fear it will set the stage for costly urban sprawl, wreck the urban service boundary and result in over-development.
 “How on Earth does suburban development fit in with bona fide agriculture?” Heard asked. “We are going to hurt agriculture and we are going to make it impossible to implement the Indian River Lagoon plan.”
Martin County’s strict laws prevented the kind of housing boom and bust seen in Port St. Lucie, where developers annexed thousands of acres of agricultural land into the city, Heard and others said.
“Why is having permission to over-develop and over-approve houses good for our economy?” Heard said. “It’s not.”
Commission Chairwoman Susan Valliere said she’s not a fan of 20-acre ranchettes, but wants to study the proposal more before deciding whether to support it.


Post wrong on U.S. Sugar deal: COMMENTARY
Palm Beach Post - SAM POOLE
September 1, 2009
In your Aug. 10 editorial ("U.S. Sugar deal: Good to go") you advocate that:
1) The U.S. Sugar lands are "extraordinarily well-suited" for restoration;
2) The 1999 Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan is outdated because it was prepared with no conception that the U.S. Sugar lands would be available, and:
3) It is reasonable to expect federal money to buy and use U.S. Sugar lands.
Unfortunately for the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee and the estuaries, all three positions are incorrect. The public should hope for a successful appeal to the Florida Supreme Court of last week's validation by Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Don Hafele of bonds for the U.S. Sugar purchase.
1) U.S. Sugar owns only a small part of the land most suitable for restoration. Almost half of the initial 73,000 acres approved for purchase are higher elevation citrus lands with no value for key restoration objectives.
This consensus emerged from the South Florida Water Management District "River of Grass" public workshops initiated in January. Meeting twice each month, stakeholders, with assistance from district staff, produced and evaluated nine alternative solutions to enhance restoration. Many of the original CERP scientists and stakeholders participated.
As with CERP, the participants selected land for their project designs based primarily on environmental needs and adjusted for factors such as location of towns, costly public and private capital facilities such as roads, bridges, canals and pumps, power lines and railroads, and impacts to public lands. Property ownership was not a significant factor.
The result? Given the choice of any Everglades Agricultural Area lands they wanted, only two of the nine alternatives used significant parts of the 32,500 citrus acres, and with 180,000 acres of U.S. Sugar lands to choose from, the average each project used was 51,000 acres. In other words, only 28 percent of U.S. Sugar lands were considered well-suited for restoration.
2) This "River of Grass" process disproves your argument that CERP partners did not anticipate the availability of essential land in the EAA.
CERP must be updated because we have 10 more years of Everglades science. The same key people participated. Both planning efforts used science and cost-effectiveness, not ownership, as the primary basis of planning.
We would have been foolish to accept a U.S. Sugar "now or never" deal before we prepared CERP. Now that we have a science-based restoration plan, it makes even less sense to close a "now or never" deal knowing that almost half the initial purchase is useless and only 28 percent of the 180,000 acres is considered the right land for restoration.
3) Closing this high- stakes deal without the up-front buy-in of CERP partners is as rational as skydiving without a parachute, hoping to find a partner with a parachute for two. Everglades restoration will be a decades-long effort by an essential partnership of public, tribal, landowner and non-government interests.
Trust among these partners that decisions are rational, science-based and transparent is fundamental to success. The U.S. Sugar deal is a solo jump by the water district that is neither science-based nor rational, but based on the hope of finding a use for the U.S. Sugar land and a partner with money.
It is audacious to predict that our federal partners will cost-share not only the $12 billion CERP project, but the added $14 billion to $17 billion in U.S. Sugar-based projects, plus the $200 million to $400 million per year to operate them. Even if cost-shared, these sums greatly exceed the district's financial capacity. The Obama administration is serious about restoration, but these projects go well beyond two presidential terms.
Note that our federal partners have made no commitment during the frenzy of the deal. We will be asking them to participate after the closing, when the euphoria has passed and science and cost-effectiveness are the standards for project design. This deal will not stand that scrutiny.
Perhaps the water management district's taxpayers can wear the barrel U.S. Sugar has us over.


Plant City native named national wildlife refuge manager
Tampa Bay Online - BETTY BRIGGS
September 1, 2009
PLANT CITY - A Plant City native who is a 14-year veteran of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the new refuge manager at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge Complex based in Crystal River.
Michael Lusk was born in Plant City and his ties to the area include attending Florida College in Temple Terrace, where he earned an associate's degree. He received his master's degree in fish and wildlife biology from North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
"Working at the Chassahowitzka National Refuge Complex is a dream come true for me," Lusk said. "I was born in Florida and spent time here while in college. Ever since then, I've been looking for an opportunity to return to the state."
He will oversee three wildlife refuges, Chassahowitzka, Crystal River and Tampa Bay.
His career with the National Wildlife Refuge System has included service in Washington, D.C., Arizona and Hawaii, among other assignments. He co-authored a handbook and wrote a scientific journal article on using wading birds as an indicator of Everglades restoration efforts.
Established in 1943, the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, a haven for wildlife including the endangered West Indian manatee, encompasses about 31,000 acres of saltwater bays, estuaries and brackish marshes.
"My goal is to help the public access and enjoy wildlife while finding ways to protect federally-listed and native species," he said. "I want to make these refuges national and international examples of wildlife management done properly."
In his spare time, Lusk enjoys wildlife photography, kayaking and diving.


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