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Local News Stories

‘Clean Waterways Act’ is just a start

In signing the bill, the governor should be clear about what the bill does and doesn’t do, writes an environmental activist.

Howard L. Simon
Column - Tampa Bay Times, April 13, 2020

Gov. Ron DeSantis will soon sign what the Legislature, in an example of clever marketing, has labeled the “Clean Waterways Act,” Senate Bill 712. Will he give us straight talk about the limited advances in this legislation or will he take a victory lap?

Legislative leaders deserve credit for a comprehensive approach to our water problems. The 111-page bill addresses agriculture, using biosolids as fertilizer, oversight of septic tanks, wastewater treatment systems, enhanced penalties and other issues. But comprehensive is not the same as effective. Addressing pollution at its source means that the rules should be as tough for agriculture as on leaking septic tanks and outdated municipal sewage treatment plants.

Although “Outstanding Florida Springs” watersheds are substantially polluted by excess nitrogen and phosphorus from agriculture, SB 712 is light on enforcement and too reliant on voluntary best management practices.

Click here to read the full story.

Indian River County to build nutrient removal facility to protect lagoon

Mike Winikoff
Hometown News, February 6, 2020

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY - Indian River County has received a $650,000 grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for construction of the $8,705,000 Moorhen Marsh Low Energy Aquatic Plant System to remove nutrients from farm waters before discharge into lagoon.

The project seeks to mitigate the impacts on the Indian River Lagoon from large discharges of nitrogen and phosphorus into the watershed. According to grant documents, “the increased nutrient loading can contribute to algal blooms and reductions to the Indian River Lagoon’s water quality, impacting aquatic flora and fauna.”

The facility will use aquatic plants, specifically water lettuce, to absorb and remove dissolved nutrients from the North Relief Canal.

“Approximately 6,300 acres contribute stormwater runoff and groundwater seepage into the North Relief Canal,” the grant work plan says. The project will reduce nitrogen and phosphorous pollution in the Indian River Lagoon.

Click here to read the full story.

Miami Is the “Most Vulnerable” Coastal City Worldwide

In the next two decades, sea level rise, storm surge and winds will chew away at Florida’s $1 trillion economy, a new report warns

Daniel Cusick
E&E News, Scientific American, February 4, 2020

Florida’s next two decades could be more disruptive than any period in its history as climate change threatens the state’s 8,500-mile coastline and chews away at its $1 trillion economy.

New modeling by Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan economic think tank, reveals that “100-year floods” could occur every few years rather than once a century in many locations, endangering an additional 300,000 homes, 2,500 miles of roadways, 30 schools and four hospitals.

Miami will also become “the most vulnerable major coastal city in the world,” RFF said, with hundreds of billions of dollars in assets under assault from winds, storm surges, coastal flooding and sea-level rise.

“The sheer numbers of people who will feel direct climate impacts in their lifetimes is very, very significant, and it points to why public policies are necessary right now to start reducing the risks,” said Daniel Raimi, a senior research associate at RFF and lecturer at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

Click here to read the full story.

Disappearing oysters could spell trouble for environment, economy

Briona Arradondo
WTVT Tampa Bay, February 6, 2020

CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. - Oysters are a common menu option at restaurants, but researchers at the University of South Florida found they are disappearing from the Gulf Coast, negatively impacting the environment and economy.

USF researchers said wild oysters in Crystal River are shrinking – now a third smaller than before compared to oyster shells from hundreds of years ago.

“Whenever these oyster populations are decreasing in size, that tells us that they're close to collapse and they won't take much more,” said Greg Herbert, an associate professor at USF’s School of Geosciences.

Herbert worked on a study published Wednesday in Biology Letters that shows how oysters in the Big Bend area, once thought to be pristine, and are disappearing.

“What our study does is that it tells us the Big Bend is in much more dire condition than previously realized,” said Herbert.

While doing the study in 2014, researchers said the Apalachicola oyster industry collapsed.

Herbert said some factors contributing to the loss of the oyster industry include sea level rise and the amount of water being drained from estuaries for development.

Click here to read the full story.

Florida’s chief science officer doesn’t mince words on climate change, says humans need to reduce carbon emissions

Zac Anderson
The Florida Times-Union, February 5, 2020

“Ultimately we’re going to have to reduce carbon emissions to reduce warming and its effects,” Florida Chief Science Officer Thomas Frazer said Tuesday before a speech in Sarasota.

Florida’s new chief science officer spoke about the need to reduce nutrient pollution that is contributing to water quality problems and reduce carbon emissions that are warming the planet during a swing through Sarasota Tuesday.

Gov. Ron DeSantis created the position of chief science officer shortly after being sworn in, and University of Florida professor Thomas Frazer is the first person to hold the job.

Frazer, who has a PhD in biological sciences, primarily has been tasked with addressing water quality issues, which he described during a speech to The Argus Foundation Tuesday as “probably the most pressing problem in our state.”

But Frazer also made it clear that climate change is a big problem that needs to be addressed, and reducing carbon emissions is critical. That’s a message that has not been heard out of the executive branch in Florida in nearly a decade.

Click here to read the full story.

Legislators dilute proposal to inspect Florida’s farms, septic tanks

Environmentalists say Florida faces a water quality crisis. But lawmakers are watering down rules to tackle fertilizer runoff.

Mary Ellen Klas
Tampa Bay Times, January 23, 2020

TALLAHASSEE ?— A day after the state’s top forecaster announced that demand for fresh water in Florida will exceed supply in five years and Everglades restoration is years behind schedule, a Senate committee watered down a bill aimed at giving the state more tools to regulate agricultural runoff and septic tanks.

The bill, SB 712 by Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Indialantic, puts into law some of the recommendations of the Blue-Green Algae Task force, a panel of five scientists appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to propose policies for combating the algal outbreaks that closed beaches and sapped tourism.

The governor’s task force recommended the state conduct more rigorous monitoring and testing of the fertilizer runoff into Lake Okeechobee, more storage of the polluted water before it is released into the lake from the north and tighter control of the septic systems that leak harmful nutrients into the ground.

Mayfield said her primary focus is to get communities to convert from septic systems to sewer. Her bill would allow DEP to set up a 50% matching grant program to encourage local governments to convert sewage connections from septic tanks to sewer systems and enact other wastewater improvements.

Click here to read the full story.

County’s new weapon against invasive plants: A goat herd

By Sue Cocking
Veroo Beach 32963, December 19, 2019

Indian River County's latest weapon in its longstanding war to reclaim conservation lands from invasive plants like Brazilian pepper is friendly, cute, cuddly – and effective.

It has managed to devour most of a dense forest of pepper trees covering five acres of former citrus grove west of Vero Beach just since August. At the same time, it has done a number on other exotic vegetation at the county-owned site, gobbling up guinea grass, Caesar weed, Peruvian primrose willow, and a bush called Turk's Turban.

The secret weapon is a herd of goats tended by goatherder Steven Slatem, who recently started a company in Melbourne that deploys the animals wherever needed to chow down on pesky plants. Indian River County is one of Slatem's first customers.

Brazilian pepper – the chief invader on county lands and throughout Florida – was introduced to the Sunshine State in the late 1800s as an ornamental plant. It now covers more than 700,000 acres across the state, competing for food and water with native plants.

< ahref="http://www.vb32963online.com/STORIES%202019/DECEMBER%202019/VB32963_Countys_New_Weapon_Against_Invasive_Plants_A_Goat_Herd_Issue51_121919.html" target="_blank">Click here to read the full story.

We need biosolids-dumping rule that actually protects our waters

Opinion, Bob Solari, IR County Commissioner
TCPalm.com, August 7, 2019

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has responded to the environmental problems caused by the dumping of Class B biosolids on Florida pastures with the establishment of a Biosolids Technical Advisory Committee, followed with a draft of proposed new rules covering the land application of biosolids.

The immediate first impression of the proposed rules is that it is more heavily weighted to preserve the waste-producers’ ability to dump biosolids on Florida lands than it is to protect our environment, particularly the waters of the state of Florida.

The present rule appears to be focused on ensuring that biosolids management costs for municipalities are reduced, and not that the waters of the state of Florida are protected. This is something that our citizens cannot accept. They may not understand the ins-and-outs of biosolids and the rule-making process, but they know when something stinks — and the proposed rule stinks.

Click here to read the full opinion.

St. Sebastian River still in trouble, despite cleanup efforts

Sue Cocking
VeroNews.com, May 23, 2019

Of the eight tributaries that flow into the troubled Indian River Lagoon, the St. Lucie River gets the most attention as a waterway in desperate need of cleanup. But the St. Sebastian River, which draws far less scrutiny, has serious water quality problems of its own.

Six years ago, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection declared parts of the river “impaired” due to depleted oxygen and high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus that feed destructive algae blooms.

Tim Glover, president of Friends of the St. Sebastian River [sic] who lives in Micco on the river’s north prong, says he hasn’t seen any improvement since then, despite major cleanup efforts.

“I’d say there’s been a degradation,” Glover said. “Fishermen don’t get the kind of catches that they used to. There have been oyster die-offs over the years.”

Dr. Grant Gilmore, founder and chief scientist at Estuarine Coastal and Ocean Science, Inc., said he did not spot a single fish during a recent visit to the north prong where he’s been sampling fish for decades. What’s more, “the whole bottom was covered with cyanobacteria; all the vegetation they depend on was gone,” he said.

“Water quality isn’t where we want it,” said Dr. Duane DeFreese, executive director of the Indian River Lagoon Council. “The river . . . has many stressors – stormwater run-off, septic systems, fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides. A lot of work needs to be done to restore water quality to have the St. Sebastian River a healthy river like we used to remember it.”

Click here to read the full story.

Sebastian residents pepper council with questions about herbicides used to kill weeds in Elkham Canal

Janet Begley
Press Journal, April 25, 2019

SEBASTIAN — Residents are still upset about city contractors spraying RoundUp and other glyphosate-based herbicides to kill weeds in and around the Elkham Canal.

For the second council meeting in a row, residents concerned about the continued use of glyphosate-based herbicides spoke during Wednesday’s public input session, urging the town to move more quickly on an alternative plan.

RoundUp in particular has been the subject of some 11,200 lawsuits that tie its use to the development of cancer. In March, a California jury ruled Roundup weed killer caused cancer. The case was only the second to go to trial in the United States, according to Reuters news. Its maker, Bayer, denies allegations that glyphosate or Roundup cause cancer.

On April 10, council members directed City Manager Paul Carlisle to outline the current process by which the city keeps the canal waterways and banks clear of weeds and to research and bring forth any alternatives to the plan.

Click here to read the full story.

Lagoon scientist gets grant to seek federal protection for endangered fish species

Sue Cocking
VeroNews.com, April 3, 2019

Vero Beach marine scientist Dr. Grant Gilmore says he is finally making significant progress in his long-term effort to have a dozen species of fish that reproduce only in three tributaries of the Indian River Lagoon protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Gilmore, founder and chief scientist at Estuarine Coastal and Ocean Science, Inc., has received a $30,000 grant from Martin County commissioners to petition the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to add three freshwater fish species to the endangered list – the Bigmouth Sleeper, Opossum Pipefish and Swordspine Snook.

The only North American breeding waters of these three species are the Loxahatchee, St. Lucie and St. Sebastian rivers.

He said all 12 of the fish are imperiled by toxic cyanobacteria blooms, herbicides and pesticides that wash into waterways, and competition for food and habitat from non-native fish species.

“The reason they’re endangered is we’re killing our fresh waters in this state,” Gilmore said. “These fish are really dependent on very specific locations and habitats and are very vulnerable to our efforts to eradicate what’s around them.”

Click here to read the full story.

Florida: Republican 'green governor' seeks to reverse predecessor's legacy

Richard Luscombe
The Guardian, January 23, 2019

Barely a week after positioning himself as the new champion of Florida’s polluted waterways and beaches, the new Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, is facing an early test of the environmental credentials that have put him at odds with his predecessor, Rick Scott.

Scott, elected as a US senator in November after two terms in Tallahassee, has a long record of campaign contributions from the sugar industry and was accused by environmental groups of favouring industry over ecology in numerous policy decisions.

DeSantis has called for the mass resignation of Scott’s hand-picked team of water policy managers, after they defied his request to delay awarding an eight-year land lease extension to the sugar industry giant Florida Crystals in the fragile Everglades wetlands. The land, south of Lake Okeechobee, is earmarked for a $1.6bn clean-water storage reservoir that DeSantis wants completed within four years, to hasten restoration of the state’s famous River of Grass.

“Our water and natural resources are the foundation of our economy and our way of life in Florida,” DeSantis said in announcing a $2.5bn package of environmental improvements. “The protection of water resources is one of the most pressing issues facing the state.”

Click here to read the full story.

When it comes to saving Florida’s environment, DeSantis gets it — so far

Carl Hiaasen
Miami Herald, January 11, 2019

Gov. Ron DeSantis got lots of attention when he focused on the environment for a handful of paragraphs during his inauguration speech last week.

The unusually optimistic reaction shows that Floridians who hope to preserve a few precious pieces of this remarkable place are starved for hope and desperate for leadership.

DeSantis began his green passage with an understatement: “Our economic potential will be jeopardized if we do not solve the problems afflicting our environment and water resources.”

In truth, Florida’s economy won’t merely be “jeopardized” if we don’t clean up our act; it will be strangled. Witness the crushing impact of the marathon red-tide outbreak and blue-green algae blooms upon businesses in coastal communities. That was a harrowing, nauseating, tourist-repelling glimpse of the future.

But, unlike his predecessor, DeSantis seems to grasp that it’s a serious long-term challenge, not a fleeting scientific anomaly-turned-political inconvenience. “The quality of our water and environmental surroundings are foundational to our prosperity as a state,” DeSantis said. “It doesn’t just drive tourism; it affects property values, anchors many local economies and is central to our quality of life.

Click here to read the full editorial.

Restoring Florida’s dammed waterways

Florida’s natural waterways have suffered from centuries of industrialised intervention

Drew Maglio
Ecologist, October 22, 2018

Another sweltering summer descended upon Southern Florida in 2018, bringing with it a toxic green plague - yet again.

Expansive algae blooms have become a bi-annual occurrence in recent times marring both of Florida’s once pristine coasts, but there has never been a lost summer like 2018. It is now October and “red tide” still lingers on Florida’s West Coast, while simultaneously closing beaches on the East Coast.

Florida's ecosystems have been largely destroyed over the last hundred years due to haphazard development of the state, which disregarded (and continues to disregard) potential repercussions.

River of grass

In the twenty-first century, Floridians are left to attempt to reconnect and reanimate what was once congruous and alive through managerial means similar to those employed by our forebearers. If we fail in this restorative endeavour, a slow but certain death awaits.

Florida's natural topography was seen by industrial-age settlers as something that needed "improvement" by “reclaiming land from the mucky jaws of Florida's natural landscape.

Click here to read the full commentary.

Microcystin bacteria blamed for dog’s death

Donald Rodrigue
Hometown News, September 27, 2018

STUART — Not only has Martin County served as ground zero for the blue-green algae plague flowing in from Lake Okeechobee, but now the City of Stuart and its environs are also seeing a rash of canine illnesses and at least one death resulting from the polluted water entering the St. Lucie River Estuary.

The issue came to light Sept. 10 after newly-sworn-in Stuart Commissioner Merritt Matheson made two motions addressing the algae problems the city has faced since the discharges began early this summer. The commissioner asked city staff to create an online letter template so residents could send uniform messages “not only to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District, but to all elected officials deemed necessary” with their concerns about the algae-laden water. His second motion that evening was for city staff to schedule a time period soon for a showing of a film on the dangers of such algae he found on the www.toxicpuzzle.com website so all city staff and members of the public could be better informed on the issue.

Click here to read the full story.

County commissioners back ban on new conventional septic systems beachside, near lagoon

Dave Berman
Florida Today, September 25, 2018

Brevard County commissioners unanimously backed a major overhaul of the county's septic tank rules in an effort to reduce harmful nitrogen and phosphorus from going into the Indian River Lagoon.

The vote is seen by many environmentalists as a significant step in efforts to improve conditions of the lagoon, and another sign that county commissioners are serious in addressing the problem.

In the first of two required votes, commissioners on Tuesday night approved an ordinance to ban installation of new conventional septic tanks throughout Brevard County's beachside barrier island areas and on Merritt Island, as well as within mainland areas that are near the lagoon.

Under the plan, installation of new "nitrogen-reducing septic systems" that cut nitrogen emissions by at least 65 percent would be allowed in these areas. These tanks cost thousands of dollars more than conventional systems, but better protect the environment.

Click here to read the full story.

Toxic Algae Seeps Into Florida Congressional Races

Greg Allen, All Things Considered
National Public Radio, September 7, 2018

On Florida's St. Lucie River, east of Lake Okeechobee, locks and a dam hold water before it races downstream to the estuary on what is known as Florida's Treasure Coast.

But looking out over the river, Stephen Davis with the Everglades Foundation sees signs of trouble. "There's a pretty substantial mat of the blue-green algae we see floating on the surface," the wetland ecologist says. "As soon as these gates are open, the water will pass out into the estuary."

Peter Girard with the environmental group Bullsugar.org says, "You can smell it before you see it. And of course, heading into the holiday weekend, you had beach closings around the inlet up and down the Treasure Coast."

For months now, mats of algae from Lake Okeechobee have been flowing down the river, bringing toxins that can affect people and animals. In beach communities east of the lake, the algae have had a big impact on tourism and businesses.

With more toxic algae blooms on Florida's west coast and a red tide algae bloom causing massive fish kills in the Gulf of Mexico, water quality is increasingly having a big impact on key midterm races in Florida. While Democrats tend to be more outspoken on environmental issues, Republican candidates are also speaking up because they're feeling the heat.

Click here to read the full story.

The Lagoon was once an aquatic wonderland

Bringing the Lagoon back to health

William To, guest columnist for the Marine Resources Council
Florida Today, August 31, 2018

Once upon a time, the Indian River Lagoon was the image of vacation snapshots and postcards. Lush mangroves lined the shore, while boats and docks floated above swaths of unbelievably clear water, as if suspended over the sandy, grassy bottom of the lagoon.

Growing up on the water in Titusville, Laurilee Thompson a local fisherman and co-owner of Dixie Crossroads restaurant, remembers a vibrant, close-knit community blessed by an extraordinary degree of natural beauty.

“In the 1960s,” Thompson recalls, “a stroll down any dock was like wandering over a giant aquarium. Even though it was more than 10 feet deep out there, the water was so clear that you could see the fish swimming right up to your boat.”

As the fifth generation of a local fishing family, Thompson knew the bounty of the lagoon firsthand. She spent summer days roaming through its waters, catching everything from snook, red fish and trout to arrow crab and shrimp in the lush seagrass. The lagoon was a life source for the locals and a major attraction for visitors and fisherman from all over the world.

Click here to read the full story.

Florida’s Beaches and Waterways Devastated by Unprecedented Algae Outbreaks

Anne Weir Schechinger, Senior Analyst, Economics
AgMag, Environmental Working Group, August 31, 2018

An unprecedented environmental catastrophe is striking Florida’s storied beaches, lakes and rivers this summer. Outbreaks of three separate strains of harmful algae are killing fish and other marine animals, threatening public health and devastating recreation and tourism.

Along southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast, an outbreak of a type of toxic algae called red tide prompted Gov. Rick Scott’s declaration of a state of emergency in seven counties this month. Lake Okeechobee and two rivers that are important sources of drinking water were hit with outbreaks of toxic blue-green algae that, in June, covered almost the entire lake, leading to another emergency declaration. And this week, the Gulf Coast was struck by another outbreak of bright-green algae feeding on the rotting fish killed by the red tide.

Algal outbreaks can occur naturally, but they are also triggered when chemical pollution runs off into waterways from farms and other sources. The outbreaks – technically not algae but photosynthetic bacteria, or cyanobacteria – can harm people’s health and even kill pets. As EWG has reported, they’re a growing problem across the U.S., probably because too much fertilizer and manure is washing off farm fields, combined with hotter weather caused by climate change.

Florida waterways have long been plagued by algae, but this year’s outbreaks are some of the worst in history.

Click here to read the full story.

Dead in the Water

David Conway
Florida Sportsman, August 22, 2018

In the last seven years under Gov. Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the state hobbled water quality management mechanisms that had been helping Lake Okeechobee. The work of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and water management districts included water testing, creating regulations and enforcing water quality standards, and overseeing major agreements for the improvement of Florida’s water quality to limit the nutrients flowing into Lake O—nutrients linked to blue green algae and likely to coastal red tide. However, the Scott administration’s willful resistance to regulations and its blind eye to the scientific study of the sources and causes of the algae blooms and red tide have evidently contributed to the plague of pollution in Florida’s waters.

First, some good news. Ever since nutrient loads in the nine Florida watersheds around Lake Okeechobee became a matter of scientific study in 1972, testing, regulations and best management practices were put in place to limit and control the flow of these nutrients from farms, ranches and residential districts. Lawsuits helped to enforce the regulations along the way, like the suit in the late 1970s that forced changes to limit the amount of backpumping from the Everglades Agricultural Area into Lake O. With better standards, regulations and practices in place, came encouraging results. By 2005, total phosphorus loads to Lake O and total nitrogen loads to Lake O all began a decline.

Then came Gov. Rick Scott, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam and Matt Caldwell (elected to the Florida House in 2010 and now running for Comm. of Agriculture). Scott began to dismantle the programs, standards and agencies whose purpose was to monitor and improve Florida’s water quality in its watersheds, rivers and Lake O, all of which flow into our oceans. Since 2011, when Scott got into office, the critical measures of phosphorus load and nitrogen load into Lake O started to increase, and they are all still on upward trends.

In a letter dated April 22, 2011, the Scott administration’s first Sect. of FDEP filed a petition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to “withdraw its [EPA’s] January 2009, determination that numeric nutrient criteria are necessary in Florida. It [the petition] also requests that EPA restore to the state its responsibility for the control of excess nutrients, including the pursuit of nutrient criteria.

The Scott administration’s legislative moves, with Putnam as Sect. of Ag, amounted to a campaign to end any federal oversight of water standards and to disband prior agreements meant to improve water quality coming out of Lake O.

Click here to read the full story.

The heaviest lionfish ever caught in the Atlantic was speared off the Florida Keys

Brett Clarkson
Sun Sentinel, August 15, 2018

It was only 3 pounds and change, but for a lionfish that’s huge. Record-setting, in fact.

Florida wildlife officials say the spiny, stripy specimen caught by diver Timothy Blasko in the Florida Keys has set the record as the heaviest lionfish ever caught in the Atlantic Ocean.

Blasko speared the “large invader” on August 6, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Lionfish, despite having a scary name, aren’t very big. The one caught by Blasko, which he snagged while diving at Tennessee Reef in the middle Keys, weighed in at 3.10 pounds, according to a Facebook post on the commission’s Reef Rangers page.

But they’ve been exacting a huge toll on coastal waters in Florida, mainly because they’re not supposed to be here in the first place. Native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, they have no known predators on this side of the world. So they go on multiplying and eating native species and generally altering the ecosystem.

“Females release two gelatinous egg masses of about 12,000 to 15,000 eggs each,” according to the commission. “These masses float and can drift for about 25 days. Lionfish can spawn every four days in warmer climates.”

Lionfish were reportedly first spotted in South Florida waters in 1985, off Dania Beach. How they got here isn’t fully known, but one of the theories is that they were released from home aquariums.

Click here to read the full story.

Florida beaches littered with dead sea turtles; scientists blame red tide

Madeline Farber
Fox News, July 26, 2018

Nearly 100 sea turtles — many of which are endangered — have washed up on southwestern Florida beaches since October. More than half of that number were dead. Marine scientists are now blaming the mass mortality on the current red tide bloom, which has been the longest, continuous bloom in more than a decade, officials said this week.

In total, 91 sea turtles have washed up on Sanibel and Captiva beaches since October 2017, 58 of which were dead, according to the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

And 50 of the 91 have been found on beaches in June and July alone. That’s compared to the yearly average of 30 to 35, Kelly Sloan, a sea turtle researcher at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation on Sanibel, told the News-Press.

“It’s really disheartening,” she added.

Click here to read the full story.

Florida Racks Up Second Worst Eco-Enforcement In 30+ Years

Scott Pollution Forgiveness Paints False Picture of Compliance with No Follow-Up

Press Release, July 23, 2018
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

Tallahassee — During the seven years under Governor Rick Scott, environmental enforcement has hit a modern nadir, with 2017 registering some of the most anemic results on record, according to a new analysis released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The upshot is that not only is Florida’s environment bearing a greater pollution load, but also its Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is losing revenue as well as its capacity to monitor--let alone deter--eco-offenses.

Apart from the 2017 results in isolation, the Scott record shows a deep, across-the-board nosedive in virtually every enforcement category. ...new cases opened, penalties collected, and other enforcement measures are all down more than three-quarters since Scott took office.

Click here to read the full press release.

Editorial: Judge backs voters on land conservation

Sarasota Herald Tribune, June 29, 2018

In a recent ruling, a circuit court judge effectively advised the Florida Legislature that it cannot implement a constitutional amendment any way that its members see fit.

Good for the judge.

Good for Floridians — in this case, the overwhelming majority of voters who in 2014 supported Amendment 1, which was simply titled “Water and Land Conservation — Dedicates funds to acquire and restore Florida conservation and recreation lands.”

Environmental groups challenged the Legislature’s implementation of the amendment, which was endorsed by 75 percent (4.2 million) of those who voted on the measure. Amendment 1 was approved by 78 percent of voters in Sarasota County and 76 percent in Manatee County.

In other words, the water and land conservation amendment won in a landslide.

The amendment had several key requirements, and was proposed and adopted because the Legislature and governor failed to perform....

Click here to read the full editorial.

Questions loom over state environmental spending after surprise court ruling

By Bruce Ritchie
Politico, June 19, 2018

TALLAHASSEE — Some environmentalists are claiming that Friday's decision by a judge on state environmental spending was a huge victory against legislators who "thumbed their noses" at the will of the voters.

But some other observers say the ruling involving 2014's Amendment 1 raises many more questions about current state spending that can't be answered until a written order comes out — or even possibly after appeals are heard.

State Circuit Judge Charles Dodson said Friday he agreed with the arguments by one environmental group that spending under the measure is supposed to go towards land purchased after 2015.

A written order expected in the coming weeks could shed light on whether hundreds of millions of dollars being spent each year on Everglades restoration, beach restoration and springs projects is at risk.

"This could be a historic moment for Florida," said Pepper Uchino, a former staff director of the state Senate environmental committee. He said the courts could decide how narrowly to restrict both spending under the 2014 amendment along with the Legislature's ability to interpret such ballot measures in the future.

Click here to read the full story.

Florida lawmakers wrongly diverted money meant for conservation, judge rules

By Jim Turner
Orlando Sentinel, June 15, 2018

TALLAHASSEE — State lawmakers failed to comply with a voter-approved constitutional amendment to buy and preserve environmentally sensitive lands, a judge ruled Friday.

Leon Circuit Judge Charles Dodson sided with environmental groups in the lawsuit centered on whether lawmakers defied the 2014 Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative by improperly diverting portions of the money to such expenses as staffing. Legislative leaders have repeatedly disputed such allegations as they continued to make such budget allocations.

Attorney David Guest — representing the Florida Wildlife Federation, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, the Sierra Club and Florida Wildlife Federation President Manley Fuller — called Dodson’s Friday bench ruling a “100 percent victory.”

“The people of Florida voted with a firm, clear voice. And the court said today that counts,” Guest said after the hearing. “The Legislature has to comply with the law like everybody else.”

Fred Piccolo, a spokesman for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, called the ruling a “clear abuse of judicial authority.”

Click here to read the full story.

Nathaniel Reed, icon of Everglades protection, dies at 84. He co-wrote the Endangered Species Act

By Alex Harris
Miami Herald, July 11, 2018

Nathaniel Pryor Reed always had a passion for the underdog, and in his six decades of fiery activism, he found no better cause than Florida's environment.

The lanky outdoorsman was behind some of the most significant environmental movements in the state, as well as the nation: He co-wrote the Endangered Species Act, secured bipartisan support for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, played a role in halting construction of the world's biggest airport in Big Cypress Swamp and helped establish a national park in Biscayne Bay.

He founded 1,000 Friends of Florida in 1987 as a watchdog organization for the state's runaway growth, and throughout his life loudly campaigned for the preservation of his beloved Sunshine State.

Reed was old money, raised both on an exclusive island resort in Martin County his father used his oil fortune to buy in the 1930s and in suburban Connecticut. On Jupiter Island, he brushed shoulders with Roosevelts and Bushes, but even as a child he could always be found with a fishing pole in hand or raising butterflies. He used his wealth to take small planes across Florida, wherever there was an environmental battle to be fought.

Click here to read the full story.

World Health Organization deems Blue Cypress Lake toxic algae bloom very highly hazardous

Tyler Treadway
TCPalm.com/Treasure Coast Newspapers, June 14, 2018

A blue-green algae bloom in Blue Cypress Lake in western Indian River County is highly toxic, according to the Ocean Research & Conservation Association in Fort Pierce.

A sample from the bloom tested Wednesday contained the toxin microcystin at a level of 4,700 parts per billion, ORCA founder and lead scientist Edie Widder said Thursday.

The World Health Organization considers microcystin levels higher than 2,000 parts per billion to be "very highly hazardous" in recreational contact.

Microcystin can cause nausea and vomiting if ingested and rash or hay fever symptoms if touched or inhaled. Drinking water with the toxins can cause long-term liver disease.

Blue Cypress Lake visitors and nearby residents should make sure their pets don't drink lake water, Widder said.

Click here to read the full story.

Friends of St. Sebastian River to get lowdown on Indian River Lagoon May 22

May 2, 2018
TCPalm.com - Luminaries

The long anticipated Indian River Lagoon Report Card is on the verge of being released after two years of compiling, summarizing and grading data, followed by an extensive peer review.

The 156-mile-long lagoon is suffering from years of nutrient pollution. From north to south, efforts are underway to pinpoint causes for the declining health and fix them. The Report Card presents a condensed view of the current health of the lagoon and is expected to be updated annually.

The first public presentation of the Report Card in Indian River County is May 22 at a meeting of the Friends of St. Sebastian River. Guest speaker is Dr. Leesa Souto, who is overseeing the development of the Lagoon Report Card as executive director of the nonprofit Marine Resources Council.

Click here to read the full story.

Rare Florida jewel, Blue Cypress Lake, sickens with pollution

Kevin Spear
Orlando Sentinel, April 11, 2018

While Florida has spoiled multitudes of lakes, Blue Cypress has been widely revered as an icon of natural enchantment, ringed by swamp trees, patrolled by ospreys and secluded seemingly from pollution.

But since last summer, authorities have documented a surprising spike in contamination at the large lake 70 miles south of Orlando that spawns Central Florida’s biggest river and future water source, the St. Johns.

The suspected culprit at Blue Cypress Lake is byproducts from municipal treatment of sewage.

Pollution levels have risen sharply, said John Hendrickson, supervising scientist at the St. Johns River Water Management District. “One of the things that jumps out at you is the utilization of biosolids.”

Biosolids are left over at a treatment plant after bacteria decompose human waste into sludge fertile with nitrogen and phosphorus compounds.

Rarely drawing public awareness, biosolid sludge is a costly bane of cities and counties that operate sewage plants and one of Florida’s most vexing and environmental challenges.

Click here to read the full story.

Not again: Dreaded fish kill begins in Brevard

Jim Waymer
Florida Today, April 10, 2018

Puffers, mullet, catfish and other scaly carcasses dotted the surface of northern Sykes Creek on Tuesday, reminiscent of the Indian River Lagoon's worst known fish kill two years ago.

A state fish kill hotline this week fielded about a dozen reports, citing from 25 to 50 puffer fish, red drum, sheepshead, mullet, catfish and flounder in the Sykes Creek area near Ulumay Sanctuary. And fish have also been seen gasping for air this week in the Cocoa Beach area, said Capt. Alex Gorichky of Local Lines Charters on Merritt Island.

Fish kills often defy predictions, biologists say. But, with more cloudy weather on the way this week, prospects have grown of another mass fish die-off, like the "fish-pocalypse" the Space Coast saw in 2016.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see it get worse," said Duane DeFreese, executive director of the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary ?Program. "It's very hard to predict."

Click here to read the full story.

IRNA Magazine - The Lagoon Issue

March 2018

Click here to view the Indian River Neighborhood Association's March 2018 magazine - "The Lagoon Issue," and be sure and check out "The Wild St. Sebastian River" article on page 5.

Vero Beach neighborhood now Florida-friendly to save Indian River Lagoon

Tyler Treadway
Press Journal/TCPalm.com, March 23, 2018

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — There's a different kind of "keep off the grass" rule at The Pointes section of The Moorings community on the barrier island.

The neighborhood of 39 condominiums and six cottages along the Indian River Lagoon has ripped up more than 5,000 square feet of grass and replaced tropical plants — some of them invasives — with 3,600 and counting Florida native and Florida-friendly plants.

The move will help save the lagoon from fertilizer runoff and grass clippings, both of which feed algae blooms. It also will save the residents money because the native plants require less water, less fertilizer and less maintenance.

"I'm over the moon about this," Edie Widder, founder and lead scientist at the Ocean Research & Conservation Association in Fort Pierce, said of The Pointes' project. "Wouldn't it be great if The Pointes was the starting point for people doing this all up and down the lagoon?"

Click here to read the full story.

Florida Conservation Voters Applauds the passage of Senator Bradley’s SB 370 as it moves to floor of Florida Senate

Jonathan Webber, Deputy Director
Florida Conservation Voters, January 11, 2018

Today, Senator Rob Bradley’s Senate Bill 370 – Land Acquisition Trust Fund passed through the Senate Appropriations Committee. This was the bill’s final committee stop and it now heads to the floor of the Senate.

Florida Conservation Voters strongly supports SB 370 and applauds Senator Bradley’s unequivocal efforts to shepherd this bill through the legislative process. FCV also supports the addition of Amendment 697130, which further refines the type of expenses that may be funded using monies set aside in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, bringing the state’s budget one step closer to honoring the will of the voters.

Click here to read the full press release, or to learn more about the Florida Conservation Voters.

Perspective: A picturesque calendar of ranches shows why the state needs to preserve wild Florida

By Carlton Ward Jr., special to the Tampa Bay Times
December 19, 2017

These photographs may be the most important I’ve made in nearly 15 years focusing on Florida ranches. The reason is that all the properties featured are priorities for conservation that could be lost to development if the state of Florida doesn’t take action to protect them. It was a great honor to visit these spectacular places and spend time with landowners and workers who are doing their part to save wild Florida. Now it’s time for state lawmakers to do their part.

Click here to view the full story and photos by Carlton Ward Jr.

Hurricane Irma: Gov. Rick Scott's Superstorm

Florida's governor is the perfect example of how U.S. leaders fail to meet the challenge of our lifetime

By Jeff Goodell
Rolling Stone, September 20, 2017

Hurricane Irma cut a wide swath of devastation, but it also created a new media star: Rick Scott. During the deadly storm, the 64-year-old Florida governor was a ubiquitous presence on cable TV, the kind of high-profile make-or-break moment that defines a political career (see George W. Bush, Hurricane Katrina). And so far, Scott has come out looking like Gen. Patton standing tall against Mother Nature.

Whoever designed the universe must have a twisted sense of humor. It would be hard to cast a more unlikely hero than Scott for this catastrophic event. In fact, Scott's triumph is its own kind of catastrophe, one that says a lot about why the politics of climate change and disaster relief are so screwed up in America.

Politically, Scott is Trump without the bluster and the golf clubs. On climate change, Scott refuses to acknowledge its existence. During his 2014 campaign, whenever the subject came up, he would shrug and say, "I am not a scientist" – as if that absolved him of any responsibility for thinking about the risk posed to millions of people in the state he proposed to run.

As governor, Scott has done everything he can to do nothing. He made sure the state of Florida contributed zero dollars to Miami Beach's $400 million plan to improve storm drainage. He took more than $1 million from Big Utilities, who tried to stop rooftop solar power in Florida, which could help reduce carbon pollution. He effectively dismantled the Florida Energy and Climate Commission, which had been assembled by Scott's predecessor, Charlie Crist, to help Florida officials think strategically about climate adaptation. As Kathy Baughman McLeod, a conservation expert who served on the commission, told the Washington Post, "There is no state leadership on climate change in Florida, period."

Click here to read the full story.

A First-ever Effort to Restore Indian River Lagoon's Vanishing Seagrass

Amy Green
WMFE, November 7, 2017

A first-ever effort is underway to replenish the ailing Indian River Lagoon’s seagrass with new grass raised in an onshore nursery.

The seagrass was planted a year ago near the Merritt Island Airport, where a restoration was underway. It had been raised nowhere near the Indian River Lagoon, in a Tampa-area nursery.

Environmental advocate Laurilee Thompson, who also owns Titusville’s Dixie Crossroads restaurant, says recent monitoring shows the one-acre bed is thriving.

Click here to read the full story.

Our water supply is in peril

Buddy McKay and Bruce Kaster
The Gainesville Sun, June 9, 2017

Our water supply is being severely depleted as a result of action by the state agency that is charged to protect our water resources. The St. Johns River Water Management District has modified the minimum flows and levels (MFLs) that are intended to protect Florida’s water bodies from significant harm caused by excessive withdrawals of water. They are rules with the power of law.

The water management district recently adopted an outrageous emergency MFL rule for Silver Springs and the Silver River. The MFL rule does not protect the springs or the river. It was intentionally designed to allow increased groundwater withdrawals, just when another major inappropriate water permit is under consideration for Frank Stonach’s Adena Springs/Sleepy Creek property.

This MFL is contrary to well-established science and inconsistent with the district’s past well-reasoned studies. The current plan is fake science that has been manipulated by the district to obtain a desired effect to benefit a few at the expense of the public.

You may wonder how this could have happened. Quite simply, Gov. Rick Scott packed the district board with big business cronies who apparently have no regard for protection of our water resources and then fired district scientists whose reports were not favorable to unrestricted permitting.

Click here to read the full special report.

An Apex Predator Returns

After 35 years the only thing missing from this Florida paradise was the snake.

The Nature Conservancy

The reintroduction of the eastern indigo snake in Northern Florida could be as significant as the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone.

Put it down to natural antipathy or an ancient prejudice that has lodged in our amygdala. Or maybe it’s simply because snakes have been vilified throughout time and art from the Book of Genesis to Harry Potter (millennia of negative publicity can have that effect). For whatever reason, most people just don’t like them.

So why are so many government agencies and conservation groups, starting with The Nature Conservancy in Florida, so ecstatic about the recent release of 12 little snakes in a north Florida preserve?

For starters, the eastern indigo is not so little. The longest snake native to the U.S., it grows up to nine feet long, as sleek as a stair bannister, with conspicuous scales as black/blue and lustrous as the sky at the end of sunset. From a public relations standpoint, it doesn’t hurt that it’s non-venomous, docile (not aggressive even when cornered) and, at least as far as its diet goes, fond of its fellow snakes, particularly the venomous kind. A daytime hunter, it was once a common sight throughout Florida, right up into Georgia, southern Alabama and southeastern Mississippi. By 1978, however, its numbers had so declined it was one of the earliest entries on the list of protected wildlife under the Federal Endangered Species Act, victim to that natural antipathy, cars and the steady degradation of its habitat.

Click here to read the full story.

Fix the Everglades? Don't listen to Sugar's lobbyists

Maggy Hurchalla, guest columnist
The Orlando Sentinel, February 10, 2017

The Florida Legislature is likely to be divided this session between North and South Florida.

It shouldn’t be.

South Florida needs water desperately. What used to flow south from Lake Okeechobee down through the Everglades can’t get there anymore.

Florida Bay is dying. The Keys fishing industry is hurting.

If Everglades National Park is to survive, it needs lots more clean, fresh water.

Miami is facing salt intrusion on the Everglades side of the Biscayne Aquifer that serves 3 million people.

Because the water can’t go south, it is being dumped east and west and is destroying the coastal estuaries.

South Florida is finally united in backing the concept that we have to send clean water south, and we need to buy land for storage and treatment south of the Lake to make that possible.

The lobbying attack against Sen. Joe Negron’s effort to solve the problem has turned into a game of musical chairs. As soon as one argument against sending water south is shot down, another appears.

It’s confusing. It’s meant to be.

Click here to read the full story.

ORCA: No 'silver bullet' for source of Indian River Lagoon pollution

Tyler Treadway
Press Journal, January 24, 2017

FORT PIERCE — Researchers at the Ocean Research & Conservation Association announced Wednesday evening they have discovered the primary source of pollution in the Indian River Lagoon.

"The problem is us," Edith "Edie" Widder, ORCA's founder and lead scientist, told a gathering at Pelican Yacht Club. "There's just too many of us living along the lagoon, and we're putting a lot of stress on the environment."

"We had hoped we would be able to pinpoint the source of pollution," Widder said before the presentation, "that we would be able to say, 'Agriculture is the problem,' or, 'Lawns are the problem.' But there isn't a silver bullet that you can point to and say, 'If you get rid of this, you'll clean up the lagoon.' It's all of us."

Click here to read the full story.

Florida's Latest Invasive Species: A Fern Capable Of Toppling Trees With Its Chokehold

by Amy Green
January 23, 2017, WMFE

LeRoy Rodgers pulls a pair of clippers from a bag and hops off an airboat.

He’ll need the clippers to cut a path through the Old World Climbing Fern choking this island of trees within the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, part of the Everglades.

The florescent green fern renders the tree island virtually impenetrable. It cascades from wax myrtle and dahoon holly trees, its dead vermicelli-like vines weaving a thick brown mat near the ground obstructing every step. Without help the trees will collapse beneath the stranglehold.

The Old World Climbing Fern is Florida’s latest and greatest invasive plant species.

Click here to listen to the story or read the transcript.

St. Johns River restoration touted as greatest in Florida

By Kevin Spear
Orlando Sentinel, August 26, 2016

PALM BAY -- The biggest environmental repair ever fully completed in Florida was celebrated recently with little fanfare at a boat ramp as sunbathing vultures watched.

It took decades for state and federal agencies to rehabilitate a span of St. Johns River birthplace more than double the size of Orlando, which is 50 to 80 miles away.

Agricultural damage to Florida's longest river had been epic but, according to many involved, that was met with an equally epic quest from what is now a bygone era of environmental stewardship.

"If we were starting from scratch, I doubt the project would have a prayer of gaining traction in today's political climate," said Maurice Sterling, who during some of his 37 years at the St. Johns River Water Management District had been in charge of the project.

"Forty years ago, it was an act of sheer audacity for a then-fledgling agency like St. Johns water district to propose such a bold and expensive initiative," said Sterling, now retired. "The water district had no real credibility, did not yet own any permanent office space and survived on a shoestring budget."

Gov. Rick Scott and legislators have cut budgets and staffs at water districts, and districts now boast of rapidly issuing permits for wetlands destruction and water pumping.

"The water districts are a shadow of what they used to be," said Eric Draper, Audubon Florida president. "There is no comparison between these agencies today and the ones that started restoration of Everglades and St. Johns River."

Click here to read the full story.

Cancer-causing chemicals will go nicely with toxic algae, flesh-eating bacteria

Fred Grimm
Miami Herald, August 18, 2016

Such auspicious timing. Rick’s gang at the state Environmental Regulations Commission could hardly have picked a more gruesome year to loosen restrictions on toxic chemicals dumped into Florida’s waterways.

A deluge of benzene, beryllium, trichloroethane, dichloroethylene and other known carcinogens ought to blend nicely with the stinking layers of Day-Glo green algae that has been sliming the St. Lucie River and threatening the Caloosahatchee River. Or with the massive fish kills along the Banana River, Sykes Creek, the Indian River and the Mosquito Lagoon.

The ERC, which voted last month to allow polluters to flush higher levels of 23 toxic chemicals (including 18 known carcinogens) into rivers, streams and canals, must assume that Florida waterways have become so adulterated that no one much cares about a couple of dozen more hazardous pollutants. Not in a state that frequently warns swimmers away from waters with high levels of enteric bacteria, attributable to fecal contamination.

Click here to read the full story.

Slimy Green Beaches May Be Florida's New Normal

The guacamole-thick algae that fouled both coasts earlier in July will likely be a regular occurrence for the Sunshine State. Here’s why.

By Laura Parker
National Geographic, July 27, 2016

The green slime that washed onto Florida beaches earlier this month marks the eighth time since 2004 that toxic algae have fouled the Sunshine State’s storied coastline.

The algae blooms of 2013 were so severe the event became known as Toxic Summer. And this year’s outbreak has so thoroughly spread through delicate estuaries on both coasts that Florida officials declared a state of emergency in four counties. Toxic sludge has killed fish, shellfish, and at least one manatee and has sickened people who have touched it.

“This is absolutely the worst,” says Evan Miller, an environmental activist and founder of Citizens for Clean Water. “We’ve never seen algae so thick. You can see it from space. There are places in Stuart that are on their third and fourth cycle of blooms now.”

As the latest outbreak continues to play out with sporadic bursts of new algae blooms, dismayed Floridians are wondering if the recurring appearance of this tourist-repelling, fish-killing scum is their new normal.

It may be.

Blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, occur naturally and thrive in warm, calm water. Two conditions work against eradicating it: climate change and political inertia.

Click here to read the full story.

Angry About Florida's Ruined Waters, Fishermen Unite Against Big Sugar

Bill Kearney
Miami New Times, May 24, 2016

Indian River Lagoon near Stuart, about a two-hour drive north of Miami. He used to bring clients from all over the United States here to stalk delicious pompano, yard-long snook, and the Holy Grail of inshore fishing: sea trout longer than 30 inches. Today the lush seagrass flats that once formed an underwater Serengeti are gone. Instead, Conner peers down through the shallows at a barren underwater desert — only sand, as far as he can see.

Conner, now 60, simmers with a controlled rage as he turns the skiff around, back toward the boat ramp in the Saint Lucie River. On the way, it smells like rotten lettuce as the water suddenly changes color from a delicate green to a dank wall of burnt coffee. This brown mass is the source of Conner's anger.

"I would say it's the worst environmental crisis ever in the state," he says of Florida's nasty water problem, "and I think its the 11th hour right now."

The cause of all this disgusting water was, in a nutshell, plumbing. Lake Okeechobee has been severely polluted with phosphorus and nitrates from a century of farming and development around it. Under normal circumstances, in the rainy season, water is supposed to overflow the lake and move south, through the "River of Grass," and give life to the Everglades. But vast acres of sugar farms just south of the lake, and the communities of people who operate them, stand in the way.

It's having an unusual political effect: Normally conservative Southwest Florida voters are lining up with tree-hugging environmentalists. Fishermen are organizing against politicians whom they see as concerned about corporations instead of the common good. Both the blue-collar and the rich are pissed off.

When Governor Scott ran for office in 2010, it was on a platform of pro-business deregulation. Once in office, he put the fox in charge of the chicken coop.

Click here to read the full article.

Public blasts DEP over new water toxin standards

Jeff Burlew
Tallahassee Democrat, May 14, 2016

Florida wants to weaken its standards for roughly two dozen cancer-causing chemicals it will allow to be discharged into its rivers, lakes, streams and coastal waters.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is in the process of revising limits on toxic chemicals that can be released into surface waters, something it’s supposed to do from time to time under the Clean Water Act but hasn’t since the early 1990s.

Of the 82 various toxic substances, the vast majority would have lower standards than recommendations from the Environmental Protection Agency. And of the 43 chemicals now regulated, about a couple dozen would see limits increased beyond those currently allowed.

DEP officials say the new standards — based on risk and factors like seafood consumption — would let Floridians safely eat Florida fish and drink local tap water their entire lives. They say the concentration of pollutants in the water wouldn’t pose a significant risk to the average Floridian’s health.

But environmental groups and concerned doctors say the new standards would increase chances people will get sick or develop cancer from the contamination in seafood and water. The agency’s proposal drew fire last week during a DEP workshop in Tallahassee, one of only three held around the state.

Linda Young, executive director of the Florida Clean Water Network, said Florida’s tourism economy could be destroyed if the state allows more and more pollution into its waters. “I can promise you that nobody takes a vacation to Love Canal,” she said, referring to the contaminated Superfund site in New York. “If you keep weakening Florida’s water quality standards, which you’ve been on a roll for a while now doing ... the word’s going to get out that Florida’s waters are toxic.”

Click here to read the full story.

Rising Seas: Florida's Vulnerable Beaches and Islands

Audubon Florida

Millions of people value Florida’s coastal beaches and saltmarshes as special places in which to live and play. Our coastlines also provide irreplaceable habitat for nesting sea turtles and millions of birds to nest, rest, and feed throughout each year. National Audubon Society's climate scientists recently modeled current North American bird distributions with climate change projections and found that 314 bird species are at risk of significant declines due to drastic shifts in their breeding or winter distributions.

Sea level rise is already evident along our eroding coastlines but we cannot hold back the ocean indefinitely with hard structures like seawalls. One alternative is to preserve and protect undeveloped lands adjacent to coastal beaches and saltmarsh habitat so that as sea level rises, habitat can reestablish naturally farther inland and the coastal birds that depend on these habitats for survival will have a place to live in our future.

For more information and resources, and to watch the Florida Audubon series of "Rising Seas" videos, visit http://fl.audubon.org/get-involved/florida-climate-change-messenger.

Creating a future for the Indian River Lagoon

Dr. Duane De Freese
Press Journal, March 27, 2016

The Indian River Lagoon needs our help.

This remarkable estuary is home to more than 4,300 species of plants and animals and a resource serving almost 50 human communities.

The lagoon has weathered countless changes over the past century. It's bottom has been dredged, filled and altered to accommodate our needs and its shoreline has been reconfigured and armored.

Its watershed was expanded by networks of canals that drain stormwater from land now occupied by urban development. These changes have increased loads of water, nutrients and sediments reaching the lagoon. We are all part of these problems. We are all part of the solutions.

Unfortunately, 2016 is shaping up to be a year that focuses our collective concerns — and awareness — on this vulnerable jewel in our backyard.

In mid-2015, the scientific community noticed an algal bloom in the Mosquito Lagoon. It moved into the northern Indian River Lagoon and affected the Banana River Lagoon and the Indian River Lagoon to the Sebastian Inlet by January 2016. The algae in these blooms include those in the 2011 to 2012 bloom, plus brown tide, which bloomed in 2012 to 2013.

Last weekend, waterfront residents and anglers discovered thousands of dead fish drifting in waterways and canals. Scientists are investigating the causes of the fish kill to see if algal toxicity may have been involved; however, oxygen depletion is a common occurrence during intense algal blooms, and fish and other animals die when they do not have enough oxygen.

People want action, and rightly so. More than just part of the fabric of our lives, the lagoon is an economic engine for our region. A 2007 study found the lagoon is responsible for one-seventh of the region's economy. The overall, annual economic value of the lagoon was estimated at $3.7 billion at that time.

In simplest terms, algal blooms do occur naturally, but we contribute nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus that fuel more intense blooms. It's a problem in coastal estuaries worldwide.

Click here to read the full commentary.

Scott clueless in Lake O crisis

Carl Hiaasen
Miami Herald, March 4, 2016

As a devastating deluge of polluted water darkens two coasts of Florida and threatens their tourist economies, Gov. Rick Scott is once again a flaky phantom.

Billions of gallons spiked with agricultural waste is being pumped daily from Lake Okeechobee toward the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, browning the blue coastal waters, choking sea grass beds and crippling small businesses that depend on a healthy marine ecology.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the discharges are necessary because the water in Lake Okeechobee is too high and the old Hoover dike is too weak. Gov. Scott says it’s all President Obama’s fault for not rebuilding the dike, which is absurd.

Scott, who aspires to be a U.S. senator, either has no clue how the appropriations process works, or he’ll simply say any brainless thing to duck responsibility.

A brief civics lesson for our dim and furtive governor: The president cannot write a check for major capital projects. Congress is in charge of funding, and Congress happens to be controlled by the Republicans.

Being a Republican himself, Scott should fly straight to Washington and persuade his colleagues to rebuild the lake dike and fund a flow-way to the Everglades for the excess water.

Why hasn’t that happened? One reason is that Scott has even less clout with Congress than he does in Tallahassee.

Click here to read the full editorial.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott Signs New 'Water Policy Bill' and Points State in Same Direction as Flint, Michigan

Alan Farago
Huffington Post, January 21, 2016

Public clamor for a veto and against Florida Governor Rick Scott's signing, today, of a new "water policy" bill lands in the governor's bubble like a muted, padded sound. Scott doesn't see and he doesn't hear, except through the filter of political ambition.

...And so one of the toxic strands of Florida's new water policy bill is abandoning enforceable regulations against polluters. For decades, environmentalists have struggled to hold the Florida Department of Environmental Protection accountable to tough, numeric standards on pollutants. With a swipe of the pen, Gov. Scott will erase that history.

... what replaces environmental regulations once they are eviscerated is the ethic of smash-and-grab robbery. Americans learned this lesson decades ago: when water quality is not nailed down, it disappears.

That is what happened in Flint, Michigan. A governor who didn't believe in the rule of environmental law, from a political party that has relentlessly attacked federal authority for enforcement against water polluters, ends up with an entire city of parents and families -- mostly poor people of color -- bathing in bottled water.

Click here to read the full story.

St. Johns Riverkeeper Blasts Rick Scott, Legislature Over Water Policy Bill

Melissa Ross
Florida Politics, January 21, 2016

Despite statewide pleas to veto it, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Thursday a water policy bill decried by the state’s environmentalists but loved by agriculture interests.

St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman joined the chorus of critics blasting the move as one of short-term expediency at the expense of the long-term goal of protecting Florida’s waterways.

“Our river and our springs still suffer from failing septic tanks, manure and fertilizer runoff, and frequent toxic algae outbreaks infamously known as the ‘green monster,'” Rinaman said. “This measure makes the situation even worse.”

In addition to complaints from environmental groups, former Gov. Bob Graham also called on Scott to veto the sweeping water reform measure, saying it “blatantly” favors special interests and ties the hands of local water management districts.

Click here to read the full story.

Bob Graham calls for Gov. Rick Scott to veto sweeping water reforms

Jenny Staletovich
Miami Herlad, January 20, 2016

The chorus demanding that Gov. Rick Scott veto a sweeping water policy hastily passed by the Florida Legislature last week just got a little louder.

On Wednesday, Bob Graham, former U.S. senator and Florida governor, called the 134-page bill a “purposeful effort to weaken protection” of state waters increasingly threatened by pollution, waste and rising consumption. In a letter to Scott, Graham said the bill “blatantly” favors special interests, ties the hands of local water management districts and mostly ignores two key measures in protecting water: conservation and rules to stop pollution at its source.

“The guiding light ought to be conservation. We can’t grow ourselves out of the challenge of 40 million people wanting access to the same water quantity that Florida has historically had,” Graham told the Herald, referring to Scott’s aggressive growth policies.

Last week, the Florida House and Senate quickly passed expansive bills to address water issues, from imperiled springs in the central and northern part of the state to cleanup efforts in Lake Okeechobee needed to restore the Everglades. The bills evolved from legislation drafted in 2014. That effort, supported by Graham and his Florida Conservation Commission, narrowly focused changes on restoring the state’s rapidly deteriorating springs. At least 24 springs have been deemed impaired, and while efforts have been under way to stop pollution from septic systems, urban pollution and agriculture, they continue to decline.

Chaos in the Legislature last year prevented any measure from moving forward. But this month, on the eve of the session, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli unveiled a plan he said was crafted with the help of both powerful agricultural and development interests and environmental groups including Audubon Florida, the Everglades Foundation and the Nature Conservancy. Crisafulli said the plan would “modernize” Florida’s water policy with new rules for the springs, uniform permitting, Lake Okeechobee clean-up and better planning.

Some conservationists, however, say the changes largely do the opposite and force taxpayers to foot the bill for cleaning up pollution. Last week, a letter signed by more than 100 environmental groups (including the Friends, -ed.) and businesses was sent to Scott also demanding a veto.

The letter writers say the changes weaken rules by more than doubling the duration of permits for massive water withdrawals to between 30 and 40 years. If a local water management district attempts to deny a permit, the changes allow the Department of Environmental Protection to demand districts find a way to approve the request. And in regions where water is scarce, the law allows for the use of other sources including surface water that could further damage supplies.

The law would also hinder long-standing efforts to repair the Everglades by setting up new time lines for cleaning up Lake Okeechobee, where levels of phosphorus from decades of farming and nearby urban runoff continue to rise.

Click here to read the full story.

Environmentalists: Water protection bill has loopholes

AP, Florida, January 7, 2016

TALLAHSSEE, Fla. (AP) — A massive bill to protect Florida's springs, waterways and groundwater appears headed for passage at the start of the coming legislative session, despite objections from environmentalists who say it's been weakened by the influence of industry and agriculture interests.

They say they still hope floor amendments will close loopholes in Senate and House companion bills SB 552 and HB 7005, and are trying to pressure legislators.

Some water quality advocates say they consider the bill in its present form a step forward.

"It definitely moves protection of Florida springs and the northern Everglades forward," said Eric Draper of the Audubon Society. "I've been working on this for more than a year, and I know where we got beat. I can't really find that many things that are objectionable in the legislation."

Environmentalist backers, including Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando and House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, say they'll bring up floor amendments reflecting some of the criticisms.

But Soto, recently named Audubon's Champion of the Everglades, also said he wants the bill to pass despite his concerns. If it's not passed this year, when both House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner back it, he said, "We might not have the juice to get it done later."

Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, said it's designed to fix a history of "rampant, unfettered development and poor decisions made from the 1920s to the 1960s."

The bill modifies dozens of areas of Florida law including controlling pollution and restoring natural water flows in springs and rivers; developing alternative water supplies; water use permitting; and restoring flows and preventing pollution around Lake Okeechobee and the northern Everglades.

Click here to read the full story.

Brazen theft of our Amendment 1 bucks

Carl Hiaasen
Miami Herald, September 26, 2015

Most embezzlers try to conceal their thefts, but not in Tallahassee. The looting of Florida’s Amendment One conservation funds took place in broad daylight, orchestrated by two poker-faced swindlers named Andy Gardiner and Steve Crisafulli.

Gardiner is president of the Senate. Crisafulli is speaker of the House. Remember their names, because they ripped you off big-time — and it will happen again next year, if they think they can get away with it.

More than 4 million Floridians voted last November to set aside 33 percent of the revenues from existing real-estate stamp taxes for buying conservation and recreation lands, and for the restoration of such areas already owned by the state.

The plan offered hope for the Everglades, the Indian River Lagoon and other places endangered by over-development and pollution.

Amendment One was approved by a landslide, an unprecedented mandate to protect what remains of Florida’s wetlands and wild places. And the Legislature, led by Gardiner and Crisafulli, responded with a bold statement of its own: Screw you, folks.

Click here to read the full editorial.

Florida Fights EPA on Clean Water Rules

Public News Service, July 8, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida's State Attorney General Pam Bondi is getting the state involved in clean water lawsuits lately and conservation groups contend she's on the wrong side of the issues.

On Tuesday, a federal judge rejected a case by the American Farm Bureau Federation, that Bondi joined as a friend of the court, that would have stopped restoration of Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.

David Guest, managing attorney with the environmental law firm Earthjustice, calls Bondi's involvement "hypocritical."

"It's a tragedy that Florida, with problems that are really worse than the Chesapeake Bay, and our Attorney General is joining with the factory farm corporations to try to get off the hook and prevent this problem from being solved," says Guest.

Click here to read the full story.

Get Amendment 1 right this time

The Tampa Tribune, May 31, 2015

Florida lawmakers keep reaching deeper in their bag of excuses for their refusal to faithfully implement Amendment 1, which voters overwhelmingly passed last fall to ensure adequate conservation funding.

Some lawmakers claim the state doesn’t need to buy more land, which is nonsense, given that state officials have identified 2 million unprotected acres that should be saved.

The claim also ignores the fact that many of the acres to be protected would remain private property, with the state preserving aquifer recharge areas, river corridors and key wildlife habitat by acquiring the development rights. This allows cattle and other operations to continue, but prevents the land from being paved over.

Other lawmakers say the state should concentrate on managing the land it already owns, ignoring the amendment, which clearly provided for preservation and management.

Click here to read the full editorial.

Central Florida's water agency roils with resignations

Kevin Spear
Orlando Sentinel, May 6, 2015

Simultaneous and unexplained departures by four executives from the agency that protects Central Florida's wetlands, rivers and aquifer triggered complaints Wednesday that the moves were orchestrated to weaken the region's environmental safeguards.

Two of the four executives said in resignation letters they were leaving rather than be fired by the St. Johns River Water Management District, which already was roiling from the earlier resignation of its executive director. The four had a combined 89 years of service at the agency, and all had excellent or high marks in performance reviews.

Audubon of Florida's advocacy director, Charles Lee, speculated that the ousting of so much institutional knowledge was forced by Gov. Rick Scott's office through the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Click here to read the full story.

Has Florida Already Conserved Too Much Land? Do We Properly Manage What We Own?

Anne Cox, President, Florida Native Plant Society
April 27, 2015

Much of the debate surrounding the distribution of Amendment 1 funds has revolved largely around whether Florida should conserve additional land through public acquisition. Many legislators have taken the position that Florida is not properly managing the land it already owns – so it would be irresponsible to purchase more. Some legislators go a step further and suggest our inability to properly manage what we already own is a clear sign we have already acquired too much land.

Click here to download and read this full, excellent letter by the Florida Native Plant Society.

Florida Legislature Has Its Own Ideas for Voter-Approved Conservation Fund

By Lizette Alvarez
The New York Times, April 25, 2015

MIAMI — Facing a thicket of candidates and ballot measures in the November election, Florida voters sent one resounding message to elected officials: More must be done to protect the state’s natural habitats — including the long-suffering Everglades.

But as the Legislature heads into the final days of this year’s session, Republican leaders are being criticized for the way they are divvying up a $750 million pool of money created to buy, conserve and restore land and water resources. It was established when three-quarters of Florida voters approved constitutional Amendment 1, which sets aside part of a real estate tax.

The amendment was intended to bolster a popular conservation program, Florida Forever, that had been hard hit by state budget cuts. But instead of using the bulk of the money to safeguard land from development, supporters of the amendment say, state lawmakers have shifted it to other projects and programs.

So far, the Republican-controlled Legislature has funneled only a modest amount of money into buying land — not the $300 million share that was expected. Other environmental initiatives, including protection of springs, are also languishing. And a pivotal component of a long-term plan to restore the Everglades — acquiring land from the U.S. Sugar Corporation to help increase the flow of water into the Everglades — appears to be off the table entirely.

Click here to read the full story.

New pond to help Indian River Lagoon

Jim Waymer
Florida Today, April 8, 2015

A new stormwater park in southern Brevard County promises a cleaner Indian River Lagoon.

Construction of the $3.57 million stormwater park on 300 acres south of Micco Road soon will capture pollution from 21,000-acres in southern Brevard before it can reach the lagoon.

The series of stormwater ponds and restored wetlands, known as the Wheeler Stormwater Park, is being built through a partnership between St. Johns River Water Management District, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Department of Transportation and Brevard County.

The project includes a 23-acre pond and a 7-acre pond. It also includes the Herndon Swamp restoration area and additional wetland restoration areas next to the Sottile Canal. Hundreds of wetland trees will be planted at the site.

Click here to read the full story.

From the Water - Healing our Lagoon

Florida Today

The Indian River Lagoon is deathly ill.

Seagrass — the base of the food web — has yet to recover from severe algae blooms in 2011. And scientists are still puzzled by what killed more than 70 dolphins and hundreds of lagoon manatees and pelicans.

But the patient can be cured.

Ecologists say healing our lagoon will take multiple long-term remedies and all hands on deck. Dredges must first stop the bleeding, scientists say, removing noxious muck built up over half a century. A key battle this spring in Tallahassee will determine how much of the new state conservation money that voters approved in November will help buffer the lagoon.

Meanwhile, we need new ways to temper runoff, septic tank seepage and what we put on our lawns — all recipes for more muck.

Click here to view the full series on the Florida Today website.

Don't further weaken growth management

Tampa Bay Times, March 13, 2015

Two bills in the Florida Senate would further weaken what little growth policy still exists in the state. Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who is sponsoring both bills, should craft a narrower measure if his intent is to update the law rather than gut it entirely.

One bill changes a process called sector planning, which applies to landowners looking to convert large tracts into new housing and industrial projects. As the Tampa Bay Times' Dan DeWitt reported, SB 832 reduces the detail required in these plans, calling only for "a long-term vision" that sketches just the basic impacts of any development.

A second measure (SB 562) would change the process for reviewing developments of regional impact, or DRIs. The bill allows those projects to be reviewed by local governments as part of their comprehensive plans instead of being subjected to review by the state's regional planning councils.

Florida should have used the recession as an opportunity to craft smarter growth policies — ones that grow the economy while also protecting against overheated property values and environmental risks. But these bills go in the opposite direction. As Audubon Florida's Charles Lee said, the bills "stomp on the head of any surviving vestige of growth management on the state level."

To read the full editorial, click here.

Big Sugar weasels out of land deal

Carl Hiassen
Miami Herald, March 7, 2015

In Tallahassee you can be a gutsy champion for the Everglades, or just another lame shill for Big Sugar.

You can’t be both, though some politicians try to pretend.

In an email to the Palm Beach Post, Crisafulli (Steve Crisafulli, Republican speaker of the Florida House) stated his opposition to using Amendment 1 funds to buy the U.S. Sugar land “at this time,” saying Everglades restoration efforts should focus on pending projects.

This puppet dance, while pleasing to sugar growers, is a kick in the teeth to all the Floridians who supported Amendment One, especially those who’ve been watching the slow death of the Indian River Lagoon.

Every day 614 millions gallons of polluted water are pouring out of Lake Okeechobee toward the lagoon, but Steve Crisafulli has other priorities.

To read the full commentary, click here.

Environmentalists Urge Support For Water Rules Rep. Southerland Seeks To Block

WFSU Radio, August 22, 2014

As the federal government seeks to clarify which water bodies it protects, a Florida congressman came to Tallahassee this week to decry what he calls a gross overreach of power and tout his legislation blocking the effort. But Florida environmental groups and former state regulators say the federal clarification is necessary to protect Florida’s fresh water from pollution.

Rep. Steve Southerland summed up his concerns like this:

“When the EPA proposed an outrageous new rule that would expand its regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act to include almost any body of water, from puddles to ditches, to pipes, to farmland ponds, I wanted to return to Tallahassee – the heart of our district – to begin our fight anew.”

Vicki Tschinkel, former secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation, says, “I’m not even sure it’s possible that he personally read the regulations.”

Click here to read the full story, or listen to the report online.

Lawyers Put State on Notice Over Indian River Lagoon Pollution

Craig Pittman
Tampa Bay Times, March 15, 2014

Manatees are threatening to sue the Florida Department of Health over leaky septic tanks tainting their habitat.

On behalf of manatees — which actually are named as plaintiffs in the case — two other animal species and the chairman of an environ­- men­tal group, attorneys filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue state health officials Thursday over septic tank waste that has polluted the Indian River Lagoon on Florida's east coast.

Hundreds of manatees, dolphins and pelicans have died in the lagoon, once considered one of the most productive estuaries in North America.

The deaths were preceded by toxic algae blooms that wiped out more than 47,000 acres of its sea grass beds, which one scientist compared to losing an entire rainforest in one fell swoop.

Click here to read the full story.

Counties fighting Florida to keep fertilizer from ruining waterways

Frank Cerabino
Bradenton Herald/Cox Newspapers, February 27, 2014

If clean water's your goal, it's not a good sign that your state's environmental efforts are being applauded by The Fertilizer Institute.

Fertilizer is to clean waterways as cigarette smoke is to clean lungs.

The fluorescent green slime that was the product of a massive toxic algae bloom that fouled the St. Lucie and Indian Rivers last summer was a result of the pumping of excess rainwater tainted with fertilizer and other pollutants to the ocean.

It's why the St. Lucie County commission voted unanimously last month to ban the use of fertilizers containing nitrogen or phosphorous from June through September.

But on that same month, the Fertilizer Institute was praising Florida's state government for successfully waging a legal fight to weaken the previously negotiated water standards set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The Fertilizer Institute praised Florida for "its tireless work to craft strong, realistic and achievable nutrient criteria using a science-based approach that will have a positive impact on Florida's waters."

Hint: If the people who are in business of selling clean-water poison are patting you on the back for your clean-water efforts, it's not good news for clean water.

Click here to read the full editorial.

Growth management didn't cause state's economic woes

Bob Graham, Guest columnist
Sun Sentinel, January 12, 2014

In a recent widely circulated opinion piece, Wendell Cox, a St. Louis-based demographer, blamed Florida's growth-management laws enacted in the 1970s and '80s for the devastating effects of the 2007 great recession. Cox contends these laws restricted the supply of housing in Florida, contributing to the housing bubble and subsequent financial crisis and great recession.

He further asserts that the repeal of those growth-management laws in 2011 was a key factor in the state's recovery.

Florida's new anti-government political order "seized the moment" in 2011, securing draconian cuts to Florida's conservation lands acquisition program and growth-management laws and sharp reductions in the budgets and staff of the agencies responsible for enforcing them. Like Mr. Cox, the blame for Florida's economic woes was pinned on these laws, saying they created an unfavorable climate for business.

Florida's growth rate, which slowed dramatically during the great recession, is now well on track to return to the rate of 1,000 new residents a day. Florida's population grew by about 232,000 between 2011 and 2012. During the 21st century, Florida's population is projected to conservatively double and could triple to more than 50 million.

But due to the 2011 changes, Florida is less prepared to deal with the impacts of growth.

Throughout much of its history, Florida has been treated as nothing more than a commodity, to be bought and sold regardless of the consequences. Florida's laws calling for smarter, more compact development patterns brought more stability and predictability through the wise use of land and water resources.

Instead of being distracted by false diagnoses of the causes of the great recession and thus repeating those mistakes, it is time for Florida to learn from the past and prepare for the future.

Click here to read the full editorial.

Federal judge signs off on water pollution limits

Gary Fineout
Associated Press, January 7, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A federal judge is signing off on Florida's water pollution rules, but environmentalists are blasting the decision and say they may appeal it.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled Tuesday that state and federal authorities can move ahead with an agreement that lets the state set rules designed to head off contamination that leads to toxic algae blooms.

It's the latest chapter in a long-running battle over the regulation of the state's lakes, rivers and estuaries and whether the rules should be developed by state environmental officials or by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

...environmentalists contend the ruling means that stricter federal Clean Water Act protections will not apply to two-thirds of Florida waters.

David Guest, an attorney with the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice, said the state's rules aren't preventing pollution.

"Florida's clean water regulations just aren't working, and we need EPA to step in and do the job," said Guest. "We have so much sewage, fertilizer, and manure contamination that we have toxic slime outbreaks happening all over the state. Hundreds of dead manatees, dolphins, fish and birds have been washing up on shores in South Florida. The Clean Water Act is supposed to prevent things like this."

Click here to read the full story.

Need to manage growth evident as Florida passes New York

The Tampa Tribune, January 5, 2014

Gov. Rick Scott greeted with glee U.S. Census Bureau numbers that show Florida is close to passing New York as the third-largest state.

“Florida is on a roll,” Scott said in a statement last week. “Cutting taxes and reducing red tape on businesses is a great catalyst for economic opportunity and job creation”

Florida does indeed seem to be on a roll, and the governor can justly take pride in the state’s improving job numbers. Unemployment is down to 6.4 percent, below the national rate of 7 percent.

Scott deserves credit for trying to attract new enterprises and making it easier to do business here.

But Scott and other state leaders also should recognize there is more to economic success than simply adding new residents. Florida could easily roll off a financial and environmental cliff if it doesn’t recommit to confronting the challenges of growth.

This is a lesson Florida leaders once understood. Lawmakers adopted policies in the 1980s to ensure responsible growth after seeing haphazard construction lead to polluted waterways, congested roads, overcrowded schools and crime.

Responsible growth was a bipartisan concern, and fiscal conservatives such as former Republican Govs. Bob Martinez and Jeb Bush understood the wisdom of making sure growth didn’t overwhelm resources or create costly bills for taxpayers.

These laws did not slow growth or eliminate the backlog of infrastructure needs, but they did bring more foresight and accountability to the development process.

But Scott, a relative newcomer to Florida, state lawmakers and special interests used the recession as an excuse to junk the state’s growth management efforts.

Click here to read the full story.

Troubled Water: The Indian River Lagoon in Peril

Dinah Voyles Pulver
Daytona Beach News-Journal, December 18, 2013

Unprecedented algae blooms. Thousands of acres of precious sea grass lost. Record numbers of manatee and dolphin deaths due to mysterious illnesses. The Indian River Lagoon is facing a crisis decades in the making.

The estuary is considered one of the most diverse in the world. But a host of threats — storm water, wastewater, septic tanks, fertilizer, and Mother Nature herself — have degraded the lagoon system.

A team of scientists is at work studying just what’s happened to the lagoon system, and what can be done to repair it. It could cost billions of dollars to fully restore the lagoon system. Doing nothing carries a cost of its own, experts and residents say.

This is a multi-part series of articles, assembled with photos and graphics. Click here to view the full series.

Local Volunteer Jane Schnee Receives U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Regional Director's Honor Award

Indian River County Conservation Lands Program
November 19, 2013

Local volunteer Jane Schnee just returned from a trip to Atlanta, Georgia where she was recognized by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for her local volunteer efforts. Ms. Schnee received the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director’s Honor Award with other leading professionals and volunteers in the Southeast USFWS Region on October 30, 2013. “Recognizing the excellence of partners, volunteers and employees is one way we can say thank you to those who practice what we like to call ‘Southern-style conservation’,” USFWS Regional Director Cindy Dohner said. “Every day, they demonstrate their long-term commitment to working together to sustain fish and wildlife for future generations. We are indebted to them.”

In 2011, upon learning of a 10.67 acre parcel of land for sale that was occupied by a pair of scrub-jays and located near the Pelican Island Elementary School scrub-jay habitat, Ms. Schnee was quick to start finding a potential buyer that would preserve the land which was once slated for 80 multi-family residential units. During a time when Indian River County environmental land bonds were dwindling and the tax revenues were down, the County and City of Sebastian were not in a position to acquire the environmentally sensitive land. Other non-profits were either focusing on conservation acquisitions along the Indian River Lagoon or simply not in a position for such an acquisition. Ms. Schnee then decided to make the more than $100,000 purchase herself with her personal life savings. Since then, Ms. Schnee has tirelessly worked to improve the habitat with her own finances as well as receiving some grants through the USFWS Partners for Wildlife program and St. Johns River Water Management District.

Click here to read the full story on the IRCCLP facebook page.

Indian River Lagoon: Geography of a Collapse

Jim Waymer
Florida Today, October 11, 2013

The Indian River Lagoon stretches from Ponce Inlet to Jupiter Inlet. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent in taxpayer money to guard against population-fueled pollution since the lagoon became part of the National Estuary Program in 1990. But the lagoon remains in crisis. Here's why:

Click here to view the interactive slide show.

Fouling Florida's environment? Simply insane

Bill Maxwell, Opinion Columnist
Tampa Bay Times, October 11, 2013

Albert Einstein said that insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

In Florida, environmentalists have their unique definition of insanity: knowingly destroying our environment — one of our major economic resources — while blocking efforts to slow or stop the destruction.

This brand of insanity plays out daily and has for decades, from the moment business owners, their political supporters and lobbyists learned that the abuse of our precious wild places can bring huge profits.

Here on the southeast coast, the Indian River Lagoon, the St. Lucie River and its estuary are being polluted like never before — perhaps irreversibly — by an algae slime that proliferates from excess manure, sewage and fertilizer released by municipalities and, of course, from Lake Okeechobee.

Research clearly shows that most of the nutrients flowing into Lake Okeechobee come from tributaries in the northern Everglades. This is Big Sugar country, the Everglades Agricultural Area, where most of the nation's sugarcane is grown. Adjacent regions also are affected by discharges from the lake.

Elected officials and others have known for more than 30 years about our nutrient-rich water problems, but they consistently have put business interests ahead of eliminating the sources of the pollution. The discharge of dirty water from Lake Okeechobee is not new. It has been going on since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed the dike around the lake decades ago and created a reservoir system that enabled the sugar industry to operate without major interruptions or effective regulation.

Click here to read the full story.

Fisherman likely contracted near-fatal infection in lagoon

By Steven M. Thomas
Vero Beach 32963, October 3, 2013

A month after Harbor Branch research scientist Peter McCarthy reported a sizable increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the Indian River Lagoon, a Sebastian fisherman nearly died from a drug-resistant, “flesh-eating” bug he says infected him while he was wading near Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge.

“My wife and I took the kids fishing in a spot off Jungle Trial,” says Robert Gogan. “I was wading in the lagoon, casting a net for bait. When I came out of the water I felt a sore spot inside my thigh, like it was rubbed raw.”

McCarthy, who calls Gogan’s experience “scary,” began studying levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the lagoon in 2011.

He says, “The amount of drug-resistant bacteria was stable from 2011 to 2012, but there was a substantial increase this year at both locations we tested.”

Click here to read the full story.

Photos capture the disgusting reality of Florida’s water pollution

If these images don't convince Congress that Florida's estuaries are in serious trouble, nothing will

Lindsay Abrams
Salon.com, October 2, 2013

It can be difficult to conceive of just how polluted Florida’s estuaries are, even with reports filing in of the record-setting deaths occurring there — including over 60 dolphins and 120 manatees. In order to make the case to Congress that Florida is in a state of disaster, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, is holding a photo contest.

The devastation began earlier this summer, when huge amounts of rainfall overwhelmed Lake Okeechobee’s 80-year-old dike in South Florida. Faced with a problem to which there were no clear answers, the Army Corps of Engineers chose to release billions of gallons of polluted water into the St. Lucie River estuary in the east and the Calossahatchee River estuary in the west. Large algae blooms spread, and the delicate balance of salt and fresh water was overwhelmed.

Click here to read the full story and view a slide show of the photos from the contest.

Time running out for vital waterway

NBC Nightly News, September 29, 2013

NBC Nightly News Reports: The crisis in the Indian River Lagoon received national attention this weekend, including two feature stories on NBC Nightly News highlighting the value of South Florida's estuaries, the problems they face, and the efforts to save them.

Click here to watch the two reports.

Thousands link across Indian River Lagoon

Concerned citizens joined hands by the thousands Saturday to show they care about their dying lagoon.

Jim Waymer
Florida Today, Sep. 29, 2013

MELBOURNE — Thousands linked hands across a cloudy Indian River Lagoon on Saturday to raise awareness about their beloved, dying estuary.

But as hands dropped, they exited the causeways determined to get their hands dirty doing more in their own backyards to help clean up their languishing lagoon.

“We’re all excited that so many people care about our lagoon,” Celia Phillips, of Melbourne, said from the U.S. 192 causeway. “This was definitely a heighten-your-awareness day.”

As part of National Estuaries Day, citizens held hands across at least seven bridges that span the lagoon, from New Smyrna Beach to Stuart. And about 100 kayakers and people on paddleboards launched from Kiwanis Island Park on Merritt Island.

Click here to read the full story.

With Murky Water And Manatee Deaths, Lagoon Languishes

Greg Allen
NPR's Morning Edition, September 26, 2013

Something is wrong in Florida's Indian River Lagoon.

Over the past year, record numbers of dolphins, manatees and pelicans have turned up dead in the 150-mile-long estuary that runs along Florida's Atlantic Coast. Bouts of algal blooms have flourished in the waters. All the signs point to an ecosystem that is seriously out of balance. The crisis has mobilized scientists, residents and elected officials in Florida.

Because of the release of water from Lake Okeechobee, the lower end of Indian River Lagoon this summer has been beset by large algae blooms, some toxic. They've killed off delicate sea grass beds and dealt a blow to a regional economy that depends on the lagoon for recreation and commercial fishing.

It's the third year in a row of bad news in the lagoon. In 2011, the northern end of Indian River was devastated by an algae superbloom, an event that was followed last year by a different outbreak.

"We have reached a tipping point in the Indian River lagoon now," says Brian Lapointe, a research professor at Harbor Branch who has investigated the algal blooms and the death of marine mammals in the lagoon.

Click here to listen to the NPR "Morning Edition" report, on read the full transcript.

Governor's chameleon act disregards facts on environment

Ron Littlepage
JaxAirNews, September 24, 2013

Gov. Rick Scott keeps trying on new personae as his re-election bid nears.

One of his new looks is particularly difficult to swallow, the appearance that he’s committed to protecting Florida’s fragile environment.

Scott made a big splash earlier this month when he announced $37 million would be spent to begin reversing the damage in some of the state’s springs that are now polluted and losing flow.

“We care about the quality of water; we care about the flow of water,” Scott said to much applause.

Really? Let’s review:

One of Scott’s first acts as governor was to cancel a springs restoration effort that Jeb Bush began when he was governor.

Next up was Scott’s dismantling of the Department of Community Affairs, which at least tried to add some reason to the explosive growth that leads to more pollution and more strain on the Floridan aquifer.

Scott then neutered the state’s five water management districts by gutting their budgets and driving out valued employees experienced in protecting the environment.

Click here to read the full opinion editorial.

Environmental groups argue state pollution rules don't meet federal court requirement

Bruce Ritchie
The Florida Current, September 24, 2013

An attorney representing environmental groups on Tuesday told a federal judge that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was seeking to shirk a court requirement that it set pollution limits in the state.

U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle gave no indication of how he would rule on the federal agency's request to modify a 2009 court agreement requiring it to set pollution limits called numeric nutrient criteria. But Hinkle zeroed in on arguments by Earthjustice attorney David Guest that state pollution limits that would replace federal rules failed to meet the agreement's requirements.

Guest argued that the state rules, approved by EPA, do not actually set pollution limits because they allow waterways to be put on a "study list" without affecting the issuance of pollution permits. Those rules have not actually taken effect across much of Florida because they require that the federal EPA first withdraw the pollution limits that it set.

Click here to read the full story.

New UF/IFAS survey: Floridians strongly support endangered species protections

September 16, 2013

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Floridians are ardent fans of endangered species and want to see them protected, even if it means fines for violators or restrictions on personal freedoms, a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences survey finds.

In conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, an online survey of 499 Floridians last month found that survey respondents ranked the importance of endangered species as 11th out of 15 public issues, well behind topics such as the economy, health care and food safety.

But they were solid in their support of legal protections for endangered species of all kinds, including fines, restrictions on residential and commercial development and buying habitat for endangered species to ensure their survival.

Florida is home to 47 endangered animal species, such as the Florida panther and the West Indian manatee, and another 44 plant species, including the Key tree-cactus and pondberry.

Click here to read the full story.

Florida Fights to Save a Troubled Lagoon and Its Once-Flourishing Marine Life

Wired Magazine, August 29, 2013

Florida’s governor and legislature are finally taking an active interest in the demise of the Indian River Lagoon, which runs for 156 miles along the state’s Atlantic coast. The lagoon, once prided for hosting more species of marine life than any other estuary in the U.S., is now better known for its toxic algal blooms and mass animal die-offs.

In just the past year, 68 dolphins, 112 manatees, and hundreds of pelicans have turned up dead along the lagoon’s shores.

“The Indian River Lagoon has become a toilet,” said Brian Lapointe, a marine environmental scientist from the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University.

The lagoon’s continuing collapse has prompted impassioned pleas from citizens desperate to halt the catastrophe and save the embattled ecosystem; scientists are racing to find out what’s killing the lagoon’s treasured birds and marine mammals. Earlier this year, the federal government declared the manatee and dolphin die-offs an “Unusual Mortality Events” and sent federal funds and investigators to the region.

Click here to read the full article.

New lawn legislation fuels a growing debate

Here are some tips to do it effectively fertilize your lawn

Jim Waymer
Florida Today, August 10, 2013

To fertilize or not to fertilize, that is the question Space Coast residents face this rainy season.

If they live in unincorporated Brevard County, for the first time they must heed an ordinance this summer that discourages fertilizing when rain is in the forecast.

Rockledge goes further. Its new ordinance more specifically bans fertilizing from June 1 to Sept. 30. Other local cities are considering their own ordinances, which could make for a hodgepodge of approaches to prevent excess fertilizer from running off into the Indian River Lagoon, where it can fuel algae blooms toxic to wildlife and even humans.

Debate rages on about how to make the best policies match the best science. State legislators have talked recently of revamping Florida’s fertilizer rules to make them more uniform. Environmentalists fear changes that could thwart local governments from adopting stricter ordinances that include rainy season fertilizer application bans, yearly application rate limits and that require a high percentage of controlled-release nitrogen.

So as the debate simmers, what’s an environmentally conscious homeowner to do this summer?

University of Florida and industry experts say we can have healthy lawns and a healthy Indian River lagoon, too.

Click here to read the full story.

Deaths of Manatees, Dolphins and Pelicans Point to Estuary at Risk

Michael Wines
The New York Times, August 7, 2013

MELBOURNE, Fla. — The first hint that something was amiss here, in the shallow lagoons and brackish streams that buffer inland Florida from the Atlantic’s salt water, came last summer in the Banana River, just south of Kennedy Space Center. Three manatees — the languid, plant-munching, over-upholstered mammals known as sea cows — died suddenly and inexplicably, one after another, in a spot where deaths were rare.

The cause continues to evade easy explanation. But a central question is whether the deaths are symptoms of something more ominous: the collapse of the natural balance that sustains the 156-mile estuary’s northern reaches.

“We may have reached a tipping point,” said Troy Rice, who directs the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, a federal, state and local government partnership at the St. Johns River Water Management District.

Mr. Rice’s fear, widely shared, is that an ecosystem that supports more than 4,300 species of wildlife — and commercial fisheries, tourism and other businesses generating nearly $4 billion annually — is buckling under the strain of decades of pollution generated by coastal Florida’s explosive development.

Click here to read the full story.

Florida's Indian River Lagoon Is A "Killing Zone" Of Mass Animal Deaths: Video Report

The Huffington Post, June 20, 2013

Day after day, dolphins floated up dead, emaciated down to their skeletons. Florida's Indian River Lagoon, considered one of the most diverse ecosystems in North America, was in dire crisis.

And it wasn't just the 46 dead bottlenose dolphins. The casualty list is long and depressing: gone are 47,000 acres of sea grass beds, 111 manatees, and 300 pelicans, reports Fox News.

It's been described as a "killing zone" and a "mass murder mystery" that is perplexing biologists.

Click here to read the full story and watch the video report.

A lagoon in collapse? Something is happening in the Indian River Lagoon

Theories differ, but one thing is sure. Something is happening in the Indian River Lagoon

By Jim Waymer
Florida Today, May 5, 2013

MELBOURNE — Something’s wrong with the Indian River Lagoon.

Manatees, dolphins and pelicans are dying at record rates. Blue crabs seem weak. Bloom after bloom of algae clouds the lagoon’s seagrass.

Scientists can’t say with any certainty what’s wrong, though all agree something has gone awry and may be irreversible.

Some point to global warming. Others blame pollution. Even manatees are among the speculation about what’s triggered the collapse.

Whatever the reasons, those who make their living on the lagoon — North America’s most biologically diverse estuary — witness daily signs of decline that make them worry: Is our lagoon in a death spiral?

Click here to read the full story.

Assault on Environment Unabated

Editorial, April 29, 2013
Tampa Bay Times

Growth management has been gutted, and the water management districts have been neutered. Developers have free rein, and water quality rules have been weakened. The state spends a fraction of what it once did to preserve sensitive lands, and the Department of Environmental Protection makes up new rules when private interests can't make enough money under existing rules. Yet the Florida Legislature still finds more ways to do more damage to the environment.

A bill passed by the House and awaiting Senate action in the last week of the session would make it easier to pollute waterways, destroy flood protection areas, squander the drinking water supply and extend even more leverage to developers over when and where they build. It would hurt Florida's economy as much as its natural resources, and if the Senate votes for this mess Gov. Rick Scott should veto it.

The sponsor of HB 999, Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, describes the legislation as "tweaks and fixes" that would make Florida more business-friendly. But the provisions are toxic. They would prevent local governments from regulating the destruction of wetlands by small, independent drainage districts that oversee more than 1 million acres across the state. They would give legal cover to a no-bid, 30-year sweetheart deal that Scott and the Cabinet gave to two farming operations to continue polluting the Everglades. The bill also would fast-track permitting for natural gas pipelines, and big water users would have every incentive to continue pumping groundwater even after new technologies offer a more sustainable water source. So much for the House's truth in packaging.

Click here to read the full editorial.

Special interests vs. public interests

Editorial, April 26, 2013
Ocala StarBanner

Pandering to special interests is routine in the 21st century Florida Legislature, something we Floridians have come to expect and, too often, accept. But even by the Legislature's own standards the House's approval of House Bill 999 on Thursday by a 98-20 vote signals a major sellout of the public interests to special interests.

HB 999, which 1000 Friends of Florida has dubbed “the most problematic environmental bill of the session,” now heads to the Senate where a companion measure, SB 1064, is awaiting for that chamber's vote, possibly as early as today. We urge ... senators ... to vote against this affront to the environment, home rule and anyone who cares about preserving Florida as we know it.

That the House voted for HB 999 so overwhelmingly shows its members' disconnect with everyday Floridians. The lengthy bill and its Senate companion are dubbed by their sponsors “environmental regulation” measures when, in fact, they are aimed at massive environmental deregulation. Everything from wetlands and marinas to water permits and pollution testing to fertilizer ordinances and local development permitting are covered, and in every case the bills seek to weaken regulations to the detriment of our communities and state.

“Line by line, and dollar for dollar, these bills were written for those who wish to exploit our environment for personal gain,” wrote the respected Florida Conservation Coalition, founded and chaired by former governor and senator Bob Graham.

Click here to read the full editorial.

Septic tanks a major threat to lagoon

By Steven M. Thomas
Sebastian River News, April 11, 2013

New research by Harbor Branch scientist Brian Lapointe shows that septic tanks are flooding the Indian River Lagoon with nitrogen that is feeding algae blooms and killing marine life.

Countywide there are approximately 37,000 septic systems that dump more than 10 million gallons of effluent into the environment each day.

Because of the branching canal system that drains the county, nitrogen, bacteria and other pollutants that enter the groundwater miles from the lagoon end up in the estuary.

“Sewage is probably the biggest source of pollution in the estuary,” says Lapointe, who presented his findings for the first time at the recent county lagoon symposium put on by District 3 Commissioner Tim Zorc.

Click here to read the full story.

Lagoon in mid-2000s aided by natural phenomena

Sebastian River News, February 28, 2013

For more than 10 years prior to 2011, conditions in the Indian River Lagoon improved steadily and dramatically with water clarity increasing and seagrass, the lush green foundation of the lagoon’s ecology, spreading into areas where it had not grown since before the Second World War.

“The water was like what you see in the Keys,” says St. Johns River Water Management District scientist Joel Steward, recalling the glory days in the mid-2000s. “It was better than anyone had ever seen. We were ecstatic.”

Now, ironically, it turns out most of the efforts of agency and elected government officials – who were quick to take credit for the aquatic renaissance – had little to do with the restoration, which was actually caused in large part by a series of natural phenomena, including a prolonged drought and two hurricanes.

Steward, who revealed the disconcerting news about the limited relevance of human efforts in estuary restoration in his keynote address at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute lagoon symposium last month, says the improvements lulled some government officials and entities into an ill-founded complacency.

Click here to read the full story.

Florida's twisted waterways policy

Editorial, Tampa Bay Times, February 3, 2013

It is senseless to give the major polluters a green light to foul the very waterways that taxpayers are spending dearly to fix. But that is what Gov. Rick Scott and the state's Republican leadership continue to do in a twisted cycle of taking with one hand and giving with the other. A governor who has just recommitted to spending money on Everglades restoration projects should recognize the inconsistency.

About two weeks ago, the governor and Cabinet unanimously approved the request of two agriculture companies to continue farming state land under terms that would pump even more pollution into the Everglades cleanup area. The state is also beginning to tally the costs of ignoring the degradation of Florida's springs, with cleanup costs estimated at $122 million (just to start). That hefty price is a natural result in a state that has weakened clean-water efforts for years. And it reflects the damage-now, pay-later environmental policy that harms the state's economy.

Click here to read the full editorial.

Bad policies pose historic threats to Fla. environment

By Bob Graham and Nathaniel Reed, Guest columnists
Orlando Sentinel, January 30, 2013

Recent investigative reporting by Kevin Spear in the Orlando Sentinel reveals the dramatic and widespread pollution and flow problems facing so many of Florida's rivers and springs. These reports were echoed by editorials across the state calling on Florida's governor, Department of Environmental Protection and Legislature to take action to protect and restore our impaired waterways.

Yet instead of resolving the serious problems that threaten our state's most precious natural resources, efforts in Tallahassee have focused on rolling back environmental safeguards and growth-management guidelines, cutting funding for conservation and regulation, reducing enforcement against polluters and liquidating public lands.

Severe budget cuts are seriously compromising the ability of Florida's DEP and water management districts to adequately protect our state's natural resources. Funding for many important conservation, restoration, monitoring, research, enforcement and education programs has been drastically reduced or eliminated.

Our state has also lost decades of valuable knowledge and expertise from significant layoffs, resulting in less capable agencies with insufficient resources and demoralized personnel. Although the DEP recently claimed "these reductions have done nothing to erode the agency's role in regulating industry and protecting the environment," it is not hard to find evidence to the contrary.

Click here to read the full story.

Natural Florida needs stewards, not profiteers

Bill Maxwell, Times correspondent
Tampa Bay Times, Sunday, January 6, 2013

In his 1998 book Some Kind of Paradise: A Chronicle of Man and the Land in Florida, environmentalist Mark Derr wrote that "in these past one hundred years, man has reshaped and relandscaped the peninsula, leveling forests, draining the marshes. The process continues at such a rapid rate that many residents of more than a decade barely recognize the areas around their homes."

Since Derr wrote those observations, the process of destruction has gone on at breakneck speed.

Two out of three Florida residents come from other states or foreign countries, and they have no memory of our old natural beauty and too often little respect for that beauty. Most have no qualms about electing lawmakers who dismiss the intrinsic value of our environment. As a result, Derr wrote, the "tale of Florida's development often is sordid, marked by the greed of people intent on taking whatever the land offered and leaving nothing in return."

Gov. Rick Scott is an outsider, and he is proving to be no friend of the environment in almost every move he makes.

Most recently, as suggested by an article in the Tampa Bay Times, the future of Florida's natural environment was put in jeopardy when Hershel Vinyard, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, laid off 58 DEP employees who have what is described as a "history and knowledge" of the state's critical environmental problems.

It is no secret that Vinyard, like the governor, is a probusiness crusader who has little use for environmental regulations.

Click here to read the full story.

Protecting Florida's polluters

Editorial, Tampa Bay Times
Saturday, January 5, 2013

Few operations have been as compromised under Gov. Rick Scott as Florida's Department of Environmental Protection. An agency that time after time has put the interests of developers and the polluting industry ahead of the state's natural resources struck again last month, laying off nearly 60 employees — many if not most of them responsible for enforcing compliance with environmental regulations. This agency is supposed to protect the environment, not enable its destruction.

The layoffs included veterans with two or three decades worth of service. Charles Kovach came up with a solution that saved Tampa Bay after a leaky gypsum stack in 2003 threatened to kill a vast cross-section of marine life. Gone. Mark Bardolph blew the whistle on DEP more than a decade ago for failing to protect the aquifer from animal waste. He's gone, too — and so is his boss. Kovach said he's seen politics at work in the past, "but never like this." Bardolph calls the agency "all a political farce." A former DEP attorney, Jerry Phillips, now with an outside advocacy group, said Scott's administration wants "to essentially turn the agency over to the regulated industries."

Click here to read the full editorial.

Florida environmental agency lays off longtime employees and hires from regulated industries

By Craig Pittman
Tampa Bay Times, December 25, 2012

In 2003, when a leaky gypsum stack at an abandoned phosphate plant threatened to kill a vast cross section of Tampa Bay's marine life, Charles Kovach came up with a solution that saved the bay.

But this month, 17 years after he was hired by the state Department of Environmental Protection, Kovach was one of 58 DEP employees laid off by the agency. Kovach believes those layoffs were designed to loosen regulation of polluting industries.

"I've seen the way politics has influenced that agency in the past, but never like this," Kovach said. "It's not about compliance (with the rules). It's about making things look like they're compliant."

On top of the layoffs is the fact that DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard has installed a number of new people in the agency's upper ranks whose prior experience was working as engineers or consultants for companies the DEP regulates.

The DEP's deputy secretary in charge of regulatory programs previously spent a decade as an engineer who specialized in getting clients their environmental permits. Another engineer who worked for developers heads up the division of water resources. A lawyer who helped power plants get their permits is now in charge of air pollution permitting. An engineering company lobbyist became a deputy director overseeing water and sewer facilities.

The DEP "was never great," said Mark Bardolph, a 27-year DEP veteran — and onetime whistle-blower — who was laid off from the Tallahassee office. "But now it's all a political farce."

The hiring of people from the private sector to run the agency's most important divisions has been going on since Vinyard, a shipyard executive, was appointed to the office in January 2011 by Gov. Rick Scott. According to former employees, the hiring and layoffs reflect the Scott administration's pro-business attitudes.

"It's a hatred of regulation in general and in particular environmental regulations," Bardolph said. "It's profit that counts."

Click here to read the full story.

Florida Rivers Getting Sicker

Kevin Spear
Orlando Sentinel, December 15, 2012

Florida's rivers are in trouble.

That's what the Orlando Sentinel found after a yearlong evaluation of some of the state's biggest and smallest, most urban and remote, cleanest and dirtiest, protected and abused rivers.

Of the 22 rivers studied, from Miami to Pensacola, nearly half are in decline because of pollution from lawns, street runoff, wastewater and agriculture, and because of shrinking flows caused by drought and rising demand for water by cities and industries.

Other rivers in the group, while either stable or improving, are profoundly impaired.

Click here to read the full story.

EPA Must Protect Florida Waterways

Randy Schultz
Editorial, Palm Beach Post, December 12, 2012

For three years, Florida tried to stall on setting tougher anti-pollution standards for the state’s lakes, rivers, streams and estuaries. Finally, and correctly, it appears that Florida has lost — for now.

On Nov. 30, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle refused to give Florida any more time in trying to set state rules that are weaker than those established by the Environmental Protection Agency. Earthjustice attorney David Guest said of the environmental groups that brought the federal lawsuit seeking enforcement of the Clean Water Act, “We won this case.” He believes that the more stringent standards will apply to roughly 85 percent of Florida waters, including canals in South Florida. “That’s the big story.”

Click here to read the full editorial.

Report Finds Water Pollution in Florida Costs up to $10.5 Billion, Annually

Press Release, Earthjustice
November 27, 2012

Tallahassee, FL — In the first comprehensive review of its kind, the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), based at Tufts University, has released a white paper entitled Valuing Florida's Clean Waters. The paper finds that algae and red tide outbreaks caused by water pollution cost Floridians between $1.3 billion and $10.5 billion each year.

The EPA will soon decide whether to accept a state-written water pollution plan (which clean water advocates say won’t do the job) or to step in with stronger federal rules and enforcement.

SEI researchers compiled data from dozens of studies and assessments to come up with the valuation of environmental services provided by clean water for Florida.

“The scientific community is now clear that pollution is a primary cause of harmful algae outbreaks. What remains is for federal and state agencies to set, and fund, an agenda for gathering the underlying data needed to comprehensively assess the value of Florida's clean waters.”

Click here to read the full press release and for a link to the SEI report.

Scott guts water protection funding, endangering lagoon

By Steven M. Thomas
Vero Beach 32963, January 5, 2012

Governor Rick Scott’s draconian cuts to water protection budgets might seem halfway reasonable if not for a majority of first-born dolphins dying from toxic overload, if not for last summer’s deadly Indian River Lagoon algae bloom – the worst ever in extent, severity and longevity – and if not for the near doubling of polluted waterways in Florida between 2008 and 2010.

In action the Miami Herald called “foolhardy” and dangerous to the state in a December editorial, Scott in 2011 slashed Florida water management district budgets by 40 percent, cutting more than $700 million from the amount available to monitor and clean-up pollution in groundwater, rivers, lakes, stream and estuaries, including the lagoon that is Vero Beach’s aesthetic and economic centerpiece.

“We cannot afford to continue ignoring water quality,” says Vero Beach Mayor Pilar Turner. “The lagoon is responsible for $800 million a year in revenue for our community.”

“I think the cuts are insane, and you can quote me on that,” says Richard Baker, president of the Pelican Island Audubon Society.

“Scott’s cuts to water quality protection dwarf all of the cuts made over the past 20 years by all local and state agencies,” says Jim Egan, executive director of the Marine Resources Council.

“No one can understand it,” says Warren Falls, managing director of the Ocean Research and Conservation Association (ORCA) in Fort Pierce. “The waterways are why people move to Florida. Governor Scott is tearing down the very thing the tourism industry and the towns along the waterway are built on. I think the long-term ramifications of the state cutbacks will have a devastating effect on the waters and economy of Florida.”

Click here to read the full story.

Illuminating the Perils of Pollution, Nature’s Way

New York Times. December 19, 2011

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Edith Widder presented a handful of greenish muck that had been pulled from the shallows of the Indian River Lagoon and cupped it in her palm.

Collecting mud is a new calling for Dr. Widder, a marine biologist who is known around the world for her work in much larger bodies of water.

...Now, Dr. Widder has found a way to put bioluminescence to work to fight pollution in the Indian River Lagoon, a 156-mile estuary that scientists say is one of Florida’s most precious and threatened ecosystems.

...Scientists have long been aware of problems in the lagoon, where residential and commercial development has led to declining water quality and loss of habitat. But Dr. Widder’s work adds a visual element to what is already known, allowing people to see the hot spots most in need of immediate attention.

“It’s my belief if we can make pollution visible, and let people know what small things they are doing are actually making an improvement in this incredible environment,” she said, “I think it could make a huge difference. It can be a game-changer.”

Click here to read the full story.

New Conservation Coalition issues proposals that deserve the attention of Florida's elected leaders

Press Journal, December 14, 2011

Treasure Coast resident Nat Reed said he's ready to "raise Cain" with Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature over the last legislative session — in which lawmakers slashed programs and projects that support the state's water and other natural resources — and to encourage them to do better in the upcoming session.

"The developers paid for and got what they wanted," said Reed, the Jupiter Island resident who served as assistant secretary of the interior under Republican presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and is chairman emeritus of 1000 Friends of Florida. "And it's a disgrace to the state of Florida."

Reed is not alone in his outrage over budget cuts and policy decisions that threaten bipartisan efforts to protect the state's environment. Reed spoke in Tallahassee at a rally organized by the new Florida Conservation Coalition, founded by former Florida governor and U.S. senator Bob Graham, a Democrat, and whose members include representatives of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Nature Conservancy, Everglades Foundation, Audubon of Florida, Sierra Club, the Trust for Public Land and the League of Women Voters.

Click here to read the full editorial.

For Florida, Water Quality an Increasing Challenge

By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, September 7, 2011

Florida has 1,700 streams and rivers, 7,800 freshwater lakes, 700 springs, 11 million acres of wetlands, not to speak of 1,350 miles of coastline and more than 8,000 miles of tidal shoreline. And some of the largest population increases in United States history.

It’s a prospering recipe that lacks just one ingredient: water. Fresh, clean water. And lots of it. In 2005, Floridians used almost 7 billion gallons of freshwater a day. And there were almost a million fewer people in the state in 2005.

Water is the single most important resource in the Sunshine State. Which is why the state legislature passed the Florida Water Resources Act in 1972, creating six regional water management districts in 1972 (in 1975, two southern districts merged to become the South Florida Water Management District).

Now, 39 years later, the state is bursting at the population seams and facing unprecedented water-related challenges, such as the restoration of the entire Everglades ecosystem and the rehabilitation of other polluted freshwater supplies, mostly from agricultural runoff (agriculture also uses more freshwater than humans). In 2010, Florida had 1,918 miles of “impaired” or polluted rivers (that number almost doubled from 2008 to 2010), and 378,000 acres of impaired lakes.

Click here to read the full article.

Florida Loses Its Mind. Again.

By Michael Grunwald
Time.com, Monday, May 9, 2011

If you think that Snooki has relationship problems because of overly strict drinking laws, or that the Bernie Madoff story is a cautionary tale about overly intrusive financial regulation, you're probably a Florida politician. Because the geniuses who run the state have decided that its economic distress is the result of overly strict growth management. So they're wiping out three decades of growth management laws and making it even easier for developers to build, the legislative equivalent of making it even easier for Kirstie Alley to eat.

This is so insane I don't even know what to say about it, except that I assume Carl Hiaasen has found the subject of his next novel. It's hard to imagine how any sentient being who's visited Homestead or Cape Coral or any of Florida's other boarded-up foreclosurevilles and seen all the vacant homes with unmowed lawns and mosquito-infested pools could conclude that the housing boom was insufficiently robust.

Click here to read the full story.

`The Real Florida' a moneymaker

Buying land for parks, refuges solid investment

OUR OPINION, Miami Herald, December 6, 2010

What do Humphrey Bogart and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park have in common?

The famous actor starred in the 1948 movie Key Largo, which, despite its depiction of a fierce hurricane, drew new visitors to the Florida Keys' northern-most island, according to the Florida Parks System.

Trouble was, many visitors wanted to collect saltwater mementos -- colorful corals, sea fans, sponges -- and that took a terrible toll on the only living coral formation in the continental United States. In 1957, Dr. Gilbert Voss of the Marine Institute of Miami joined other scientists and South Florida preservationists, including The Miami Herald's then-associate editor, John Pennekamp, to urge the state to designate the beautiful reef area a preserve that would be off-limits to coral collecting and the like.

In 1959, activists got their wish when a 75-square-mile reef tract was declared a state preserve, the first underwater park in the United States. The next year, the federal government kicked in more sea bottom, and on Dec. 10, 1960, the park was named for Mr. Pennekamp.

Now Pennekamp park is having a 50th-anniversary celebration with a series of events to please new and frequent visitors alike. The park's anniversary is actually the culmination of a year-long 75th-anniversary celebration of the Florida Parks System, which includes magnificent beaches, forests, bayous, caverns, historic sites and more. The state Parks Service likes to brag that it manages ``The Real Florida.'' It serves as steward to more than 700,000 acres of parklands.

Many state parks were established by the same kind of local activism that saved Pennekamp. We owe a debt of gratitude to the John Pennekamps and Dr. Vosses. They saw wilderness threatened by the state's relentless growth throughout much of the 20th century and spoke up to protect tracts for future generations.

But it isn't just beachgoers, campers, hikers and other nature lovers who can truly appreciate Florida's parks system. So can economists. Our parks and refuges are moneymakers.

A 2009-10 fiscal-impact assessment by the Parks Service found that the state's 160 parks had a direct impact of nearly $950 million on local economies throughout the state and accounted for 18,900 new local-area jobs. Last year the state park system contributed more than $66 million to the general revenue fund via state sales taxes.

Beyond the parks system, a 2009 Nature Conservancy study found that hunting and fishing on Florida's conserved lands and waters had an $8 billion economic impact in 2006 alone.

The Nature Conservancy's study had a purpose, of course -- to persuade the Legislature to continue funding the state's land-acquisition program Florida Forever -- using hard dollars as an argument. A smart move. Saving ``The Real Florida'' really does pay off. Just ask the owners of Key Largo motels, restaurants and dive shops celebrating this month.

Last-Minute Lobbying Over EPA's Water-Quality Rules for Fla. Focuses on Costs

By PAUL QUINLAN of Greenwire
The New York Times, November 15, 2010

...Florida's current environmental regulations currently include narrative water quality standards that have failed to stop algae blooms and red tides that have turned rivers green, triggered massive fish kills and caused respiratory problems.

Environmentalists sued EPA in 2008 for not enforcing the Clean Water Act in the state. Under the settlement, EPA must replace the state's narrative rules with specific, numeric criteria as to how much phosphorus and nitrogen pollution -- byproducts of fertilizer and sewage treatment that trigger the noxious algae blooms -- can be allowed to enter each of the state's lakes, rivers, streams and springs.

But exactly how much it will cost to upgrade sewage treatment plants and improve farming and industry practices to comply with the new rules has dominated the debate over whether to move forward as planned.

Click here to read the full story.

Florida sprawl's free-for-all even worse without the DCA

By Dan DeWitt
St. Pete Times, Friday, May 7, 2010

The Florida Department of Community Affairs is good at telling developers how their plans to build subdivisions out in the country — think of Hickory Hill and the Quarry Preserve — can cause sprawl, clog roads and destroy the environment. But it hardly ever says no.

This frustrates a lot of citizen activists, who think that the agency does nothing but push papers.

And they are dead wrong.

Look closely and you'll find that once DCA gets involved, plans change for the better. Developers agree to pay more for roads and schools, add protection for wildlife habitat and groundwater, rewrite plans to make sure projects that are supposed to function like real cities are designed like real cities.

That was true to some degree even under its weakest leadership. It's even more true under current DCA secretary Tom Pelham.

Yes, it would be nice if the DCA flat turned down a few more requests for changes to local comprehensive plans, though this does happen once in a while.

But anyone who knows much about development in this state knows that without the DCA, it would be even more of a chaotic free-for-all.

And maybe because the state Legislature tried to do so much crazy, irresponsible stuff this year — forcing most women seeking abortions to pay and review ultrasounds of their fetuses, stripping tenure from teachers, allowing leading lawmakers to take in even more special interest money (all of which, by the way, received the votes of our own state Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill) — we've overlooked an equally wild attack on the DCA.

In the final days of the session, the House of Representatives failed to hear a routine bill to reauthorize the agency.

Legally, this might not mean much. Politically, it's a killer — a vote of no-confidence that is extra significant because it is widely believed to be the work of incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park. (He previously has said he had nothing to do with the lack of reauthorization, and a representative from his office said Thursday this would have no impact.)

Next year, members will have been freshly re-elected and the Hometown Democracy amendment, the threat of which has supposedly forced lawmakers to at least pretend they care about controlling growth, will have been resolved one way or another.

Click here to read the full story.

Water war

EPA's 'legal-containment strategy' called murky deal for Floridians?

Kenric Ward
Sunshine State News, March 8, 2010

Operating under the theory that "no good deed goes unpunished," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is targeting Floridians with punitive new water-quality standards.

In an unprecedented move, the EPA is singling out Florida for strict rules governing the release of nitrogen and phosphorous. The Florida Water Environment Association Utility Council estimates that the state's utilities will have to spend between $24.4 billion and $50.7 billion in capital improvements (before interest charges) to comply with the new standards and up to $1.3 billion more in annual operating costs.

This price tag will trickle down to every home and business, with yearly annual sewer rates expected to rise an average of $726 per customer, per year. And that's just for the customers with sewer service.

For large businesses, including agriculture, the annual hit could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, analysts say.

Cleaner water is an admirable, even essential, goal but critics say the EPA's proposal is murky, at best.

David Guest, managing attorney for Earth Justice in Florida, said the state was targeted because of its "uniquely serious problems" of "toxic algae" and "uncontrolled slime growth."

Florida Clean Water Network director Linda Young said during the Tallahassee hearing that opposition was “the result of many months of organizing that’s been done by … our own state government.”

“DEP has exaggerated the threat and there is a little bit of panic created by a state agency screaming fire,” Young charged.

Guest believes that the fertilizer industry is driving much of the resistance, because nitrogen- and phosphorous-heavy fertilizers -- both in commercial and residential use -- are laden with the chemicals that cause algae blooms.

Click here to read the full story.

Hold polluters accountable for what they do to Florida waters

David Guest, Special to the Times
St. Petersburg Times, November 9, 2009

It is hard to imagine anyone defending the polluters that are turning our waters green.

At long last, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is agreeing to set legal, enforceable limits on Florida's worst water pollution problem: excess nutrient runoff from fertilizer and manure. Now the state's biggest polluters are trying to get out of complying.

Florida has one of the worst water pollution problems in the nation. We've got toxic algae blooms, contaminated drinking water, beaches closed by dangerous bacteria and Red Tide, rivers fouled with green slime, dead fish, dead lakes and excess nutrients bubbling out of our crystal springs.

A Florida Department of Environmental Protection report last year found that half the state's rivers and more than half of its lakes had poor water quality.

Click here to read the full story.

Land Management In Florida: Old Challenges In The New Economy

Nathaniel P. Reed, Chairman Emeritus, 1000 Friends of Florida
Why Florida Needs Smart Growth, March 2009, 1000 Friends of Florida

We are all facing up to the gross financial mismanagement on the national level, but I would like to share with you some thoughts on how Florida fits into the picture. I agree with those who say that the Ponzi premise pretty much sums up Florida’s management strategy. As long as you can recruit new suckers to pay back the existing pyramid club members you’ll be okay. I would invite you to name one public program in Florida – transportation, education, public health, environmental resource management – where we have actually put the cost of meeting immediate needs upon the existing population. Florida’s history has been to expect that future growth will cover the cost of the current needs. Next year’s new taxpayers will get the bill for existing infrastructure deficiencies, and their new demands will in turn be paid by their successors. As the St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald recently reported:

For years, governors and legislators relied on population growth to create jobs, avoid raising taxes, and shield the state from recession. The saw Florida’s population swell annually by 2 to 3 percent per year, adding the equivalent of a new Miami or Tampa each year.

We’ve marked ourselves as a low-tax, low-cost retirement haven. We have further convoluted the scheme with an absolutely archaic tax scheme, full of exemptions intended to provide short-term growth incentives but higher future costs, which will supposedly be covered by distributing those costs over a larger taxpayer base in the future.

But now we are finding that if Florida doesn’t keep growing, the pyramid can’t be sustained. Florida’s residential and commercial building spree has resulted in a vastly overbuilt market with, by some estimates, at least two years of inventory. The Times/Herald reported that Florida led the nation in job growth in 2005, and now leads the nation in job losses. After five years of double-digit increases in housing starts, it is now second in the nation in foreclosure filings. Florida led the nation in gross domestic product in 2005. It now ranks 47th in this most important indicator of a productive economy.

In its 2009 New Years Day editorial, the Palm Beach Post summarized brilliantly our past and possible future:

For decades Florida and the officials running the state, counties, and towns have perpetrated the myth that growth will pay for itself and provide a prosperous lifestyle for everyone who buys into the myth. With special tax breaks for long-time residents, the expectation that an ever-increasing supply of newcomers, snowbirds and tourists would pay most of the bills was as enticing a Ponzi scheme as any that Bernard Madoff promised. Now, Florida’s growth scheme has collapsed. The growth myth should collapse along with it. Yes, the real state market will come back – let’s hope in a more rational form. But unbridled growth never again should be seen as Florida’s perpetual money machine.

Some might argue that Florida hasn’t really had unbridled growth, but rather truly managed growth, some have said over-managed. This is a rather hard premise to accept given the obvious massive over-building which has glutted the state.

Over the past ten years, the Florida Department of Community Affairs – which oversees growth management in our state – has been continually reduced until, according to current DCA Secretary Tom Pelham, the agency is barely able to fulfill its statutory mission. Rather than confront the large public and institutional support for growth management controls, the budgetary process has become the tool to curtail growth management. In the early 1990’s – during the height of DCA’s efforts to implement the 1985 law – it had a staff of more than seventy professionals, two field offices, and three separate divisions. By the end of the Bush administration, the field offices were gone, one division had been reassigned to the Governor’s Office, and fewer than thirty professionals remain.

The Legislature is now faced with addressing a massive budget shortfall – in the neighborhood of $5 billion – for the 2099-2010 year and has only two options – further cuts in spending or additional revenue income. I expect that the legislature will be forced, reluctantly, to consider additional revenue sources. Higher “sin” taxes such as cigarettes or Internet taxes are easy, but reform of our tax codes will require real courage.

I also expect proposals to relax environmental rules, or even eliminate the Florida Department of Community Affairs, and/or all comprehensive planning will surface as possible “quick fixes.” Some of the same interests who gave us the current market glut claim that they need unbridled freedom to respond to “market conditions,” that the “planning process” takes too long and will impeded recovery. Private landowners who still believe that unrestricted property rights are a divine right will certainly join in any opportunity to eliminate growth management programs.

In another spin, counties across the state are all now facing requests to simply extend existing approved expiring development permits that are no longer economically viable until “the market improves.” In almost all cases, they are extending the projects. Is that really a good idea? Admittedly, it saves both the developer and the government the costs of repeating the permit process, but are all those projects really that good?

With hundreds of approved projects dormant for lack of funding, and with an estimated two-year glut in existing housing and commercial space, we should feel no urgency to encourage more. It will be a long time (if ever) before fixed-income retirees in the north again contemplate mass-migration to Florida. The bleak economic situation affords Florida a unique opportunity to reconsider our land management planning programs.

I think that all the discussions need to face the fact that sound economic policy must also be sound environmental policy – or we’re just once again pawning the true costs into the future – with compounded interest! And while “smart growth” is considered a desirable goal, I would argue that any growth that doesn’t pay for itself isn’t smart at all!

We now have the time, and hopefully the economic incentive, to move (sic) promote serious planning policies that would:

  1. Promote infill and rehabilitation of existing urban areas over creating new towns. The argument for years has been that remote vacant land is cheap, and building on a blank slate is faster and cheaper – so we’ve gone toward new communities in the boondocks.
  2. Pay special attention to agriculture in Florida. We need an environmentally sound, productive agricultural industry in our state for its economic, social and environmental benefits. Our current development model is driving out agriculture as speculative real estate ventures swallow rural tracts with “New Towns” that don’t pay for themselves.
  3. Rethink new rural communities. In the future, they should only be built if they offer us true long-term benefits economically, socially, and environmentally. If they don’t, let’s learn to just say NO and wait for a true enhancement to the state to be developed.

Florida is truly at an economic crossroads; do we try to fall back to our old ways, or find a smarter growth model for our future, one that sustains our economy, protects our environment, improves education – and truly best serves our citizens? Do we simply try to jumpstart quick growth, or can we develop a well-devised, balanced economy and a rational growth program supported by a truly intelligent tax program? This will take true leadership and courage.

Reaping the fruit planted by greed

By Carl Hiaasen
Miami Herald, February 15, 2009

It wasn't surprising that President Barack Obama came to Florida to push his economic stimulus package, because no place in the United States has fallen so hard, so fast.

And when the mega-recession finally ends, Florida will be one of the last places in the country to turn itself around. That's because other states have actual industry, while our employment base depends fatally on double-digit population growth and, to a lesser extent, tourism.

Everything was going gang-busters when a thousand people a day were moving here, but now the stampede is over, and the jig's up. Without fresh meat for the housing market, Florida basically hasn't got an economy.

Developers have controlled state and county governments for so long that no Plan B exists. Lost and clueless, lawmakers desperately hack away at public budgets while clinging to the hope that boom times will return.

For good reason, Florida has become the poster child for America's fiscal disintegration. We stand at the top of the leaderboard in rising unemployment, foreclosures and, of course, mortgage fraud.

Where else could a man step out of prison and straight into a job peddling adjustable-rate home loans to buyers with virtually no credit?

Click here to read the full story.

For sale: One state, everything must go

St. Petersburg Times, August 19, 2007

Wipe out 2,000 acres of wetlands in the Florida Panhandle to build an airport?

Sure. We have to do it.

Otherwise, developers might miss a spot of the state. And we can't have that.

Here's what was striking about last week's approval of a $330-million airport northwest of Panama City:

It felt like the year was around 1965, and a bunch of guys in horned-rimmed glasses were bragging about how they were going to Put Florida on the Map.

Florida's governor, Charlie Crist, hailed the airport's approval because, he said, it will "attract new businesses and jobs to grow and diversify the local economy."

(Then Crist went out and appointed a couple more gator rasslers to the Florida Fish, Wildlife and Manatee-Eatin' Commission.)

Realtors predicted the airport would be just the thing for jump-starting the Panhandle's real estate market.

"Once they start turning dirt," one declared, "we'll see things really rapidly escalate."

Click here to read the full editorial.

Overcrowding? Nature will fix that

By Carl Hiaasen
Miami Herald, May 13, 2007

In the absence of a sane growth-management policy, nature is becoming the great equalizer in Florida.

A 17-month drought has made a puddle of Lake Okeechobee and has parched the Biscayne Aquifer. Parts of the Everglades are drying up, while advancing seawater endangers the well fields that serve hundreds of thousands of residents in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Water managers warn that, unless consumption is drastically reduced, the taps could run dry -- or, at the least, start spitting salt -- in several coastal communities. Forget about watering your lawn; you won't be able to water your kids.

The emergency is so dire that even a busy hurricane season may not make it go away. Florida, one of the wettest states in the country, is running dry.

Drought cycles here are nothing new, but this is the first one to occur with 18 million people encamped on the peninsula. They might cut back on sprinkling their geraniums, but they won't stop taking showers or washing their laundry.

Not many politicians are brave enough to cite overpopulation as a cause of the current crisis, though it is. There are too many people using too much water, but it's easier to blame the weather.

Click here to read the full opinion article.

Activist says Indian River County gave road contractor wrong plans

Press Journal, December 13, 2006

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Tim Glover, president of the Friends of the (sic) St. Sebastian River, isn't blaming the county's road contractors for clearing the wrong property in October on County Road 512, burying at least one gopher tortoise, breaking the cap off an artesian well and letting the water carry silt into the St. Sebastian River.

Rather, he said Tuesday, crews with J.W. Cheatham Co., of West Palm Beach, got the wrong set of plans from the county.

"As far as I know, the contractor is fine," Glover said. "The problem seems to be the county provided the wrong information. ... This is a real can of worms."

Click here to read the full story.

...What Manatee Zone Signs?, editorial cartoon by Jim Petrone, Hometown News
by Jim Petrone, Hometown News, April 7, 2006

Vanishing Wetlands

Special Report
Craig Pittman and Matthew Waite
St. Petersburg Times, May 23, 2005

"Florida has more wetlands than any other state but Alaska. They stop floods, clean up water pollution, and replenish drinking supplies. Yet despite government promises, they are disappearing."

This is a Special Report series of articles by the St. Pete Times that also includes multimedia graphics and photo galleries with some wonderful images. Click here to view their Web page with links to all the stories.

Our Coastal Watershed

Pelican Brief - Official City of Sebastian Quarterly Newsletter
Winter 2005

What's (sic) is a Coastal Watershed?

"A watershed is a geographic area in which all sources of water including the rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands as well as ground water, drain into a common surface water body. Because all watersheds are defined bu natural hydrology and ultimately drain to coastal waters, they are a good focal point for managing coastal resources. In Sebastian the watershed drains into the Indian River Lagoon, a distinctive estuary that extends from Volusia county to our south. This estuary provides a unique habitat for a diverse group of organisms. It is the breeding and feeding grounds for a variety of aquatic and terrestrial animals."

What are some of the Impacts on our Coastal Watershed?

"Loose soil from construction sites, farms, and other areas where dirt is exposed can wash off into the streams and rivers when it rains and flow to our estuary. The result is muddy waters which leave deposits in the Lagoon that smother the organisms living on the bottom, decrease the amount of sunlight reaching the sea grass beds, and clog fish gills. Some types of pollutants can bind to the sediment and flow with it to the coastal waters."

"Excess nutrients and pesticides can also wash off the land when it rains and end up in the coastal waters. Sources of excess nutrients include lawn and garden fertilizers and pesticides, pet and farm animal waste, decaying plant material, and failing septic tanks. The loss of wetlands in many watersheds has reduced the ability of nature to process these nutrients before they enter rivers, streams, and ultimately estuaries."

"Toxic substances such as lead, oils, antifreeze, brake linings and greases deposited on the roads from cars, trucks and buses, can all run off the streets and land with the rainfall. Commercial and industrial sites can also contribute to the amount of toxic substances entering the coastal waters."

What can I do to help protect our watershed, you ask?

"You can do several things to help protect our beautiful Indian River Lagoon."

  • "Start in your back yard through sensible lawn care, and resource conservation. Use pesticides and lawn fertilizers sparingly and correctly. Composite (sic) organic waster."
  • "Practice good housekeeping by properly disposing of toxic substances like paint and paint thinners, automotive fluids and cleaning products. Take your toxic wastes to the Indian River County Recycling centers. Many of the local automotive stores collect and recycle automotive wastes."
  • "When walking your dog remember to pick p the waste and dispose of it properly. Co not leave it on the ground where it will increase the public health risks by allowing harmful bacteria and nutrient (sic) to wash into the storm system. Flush it to your septic system."
  • "Properly maintain your boat, use pump out facilities, and operate your boat in a responsible manner to avoid shoreline erosion."
  • "Pick up litter when you see it and properly dispose of your own trash."
  • "Take your car to a car wash where the water is cleaned and recycled or wash your car over your lawn where the nutrient rich soapy water is good fertilizer but can lead to algae blooms in canals stream and the Indian River Lagoon."

"It is our duty as responsible citizens to start at home and do everything possible to protect our great natural resources, especially the Indian River Lagoon, a special waterbody that provides us with all types of wildlife, recreation and enjoyment."

Sebastian's Stormwater Utility and you, working together to improve water quality and protect your property!

Pelican Brief - Official City of Sebastian Quarterly Newsletter
Spring 2004

What's the Problem with Stormwater?

The first and most obvious issue is flooding. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, one inch of rain falling on one square mile of land equates to 17,378,560 gallons of water.

Our environmental concern is the pollution all of this water picks up as it rushes into storm drains and heads to the receiving water body. In Sebastian, the runoff water goes to the Sebastian River (sic) and the Indian River Lagoon where the pollutants are deposited. In fact, stormwater runoff is the number one pollution problem in the Indian River lagoon (sic) and in other waterways across the country. When it rains, the water carries with it dirt, discarded trash, nutrient rich fertilizers, grass clippings left on the curbside, pet waste, insecticides, motor oils, brake dust, tire fragments, and toxic chemicals, from the road. The good news is that corrective action can be taken. The City of Sebastian and Sebastian Stormwater Utility is taking strong action to fight the problems of stormwater pollution, measures that will also help alleviate potential flooding problems. There are also many things residents can do to fight the problem and keep our waterways clean and safe so we can enjoy sailing, motor boating, fishing, kayaking, jet skiing, swimming, and nature watching.

What can I do?

Sweep up leaves or grass clippings that accumulate on your driveway, sidewalk or in the street. If you are using a blower, blow them back into your yard, never into a storm drain or swale.

  • Pick up pet waste and dispose of it by flushing it down the toilet or by burial.
  • Redirect roof down spouts from paved areas to grassy areas.
  • Wash your car on the lawn rather then on the driveway. The nutrient-rich soapy water is good fertilizer for the grass but can lead to algae blooms if it enters the Indian River Lagoon system.
  • Plant native landscaping and reduce your amount of sodded areas. Native plants require less irrigation, maintenance, fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Dispose of used motor oil, paint and other household hazardous waste at a designated collection center.

    (The IRC Collection Convenience Center for the disposal of hazardous materials is located at 7860 130th Street, Roseland and is open daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., except Tuesday and Wednesday. For additional information call Solid Waste Disposal District at 770-5112.)

  • Never throw trash or cigarette butts out the window where they can enter the stormwater system.
  • Don't overuse fertilizers. The nutrients released into the water can cause algae bloom.
  • Never fertilize before rain is expected.
  • Use pesticides sparingly and only on problem areas.

Deep Trouble: The Gulf in Peril

A Naples Daily News Special Report

This is a 15 part special report on the many threats that are destroying the Gulf of Mexico.

Click here to access the full report.

National News Stories

Supreme Court rejects Trump administration’s view on key aspect of Clean Water Act

By Robert Barnes
The Washington Post, April 23, 2020

The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected the Trump administration’s reading of a key part of the Clean Water Act as creating an “obvious loophole” in its enforcement, and gave a partial win to environmentalists in a case from Hawaii.

The court ruled 6 to 3 that a wastewater treatment plant in Hawaii could not avoid provisions of the act, which regulates the release of pollutants into rivers, lakes and seas, by pumping the pollutants first into groundwater, from which they eventually reach the ocean.

“This decision is a huge victory for clean water,” said David Henkin, an attorney for Earthjustice who argued the case. “The Supreme Court has rejected the Trump administration’s effort to blow a big hole in the Clean Water Act’s protections for rivers, lakes and oceans.”

The test endorsed by the court’s majority is “one under which environmentalists can prevail in most every kind of case that environmentalists have brought under the Clean Water Act,” said Richard Lazarus, an environmental law expert at Harvard Law School.

Click here to read the full story.

Clean Water Act - Trump's rewrite is finalized. What happens now?

Jeremy P. Jacobs and Pamela King
E&E News, April 21, 2020

The Trump administration today finalized its controversial definition of what marshes, wetlands and streams quality for protections under the Clean Water Act.

But don't expect regulatory certainty anytime soon.

EPA published its Navigable Waters Protection Rule in the Federal Register this morning, nearly four months after the administration unveiled the rule.

Publication starts a 60-day clock before the rule goes into effect and waves a green flag for an onslaught of lawsuits likely to be filed around the country. The litigation will undoubtedly run beyond Election Day, so the future of the rule likely depends on whether Trump wins a second term.

Environmentalists and several left-leaning states have signaled they are ready to sue, saying the rule — which cuts protections for most of the country's wetlands — is far too narrow.

On the other side, at least one conservative group stands ready to file, arguing the rule doesn't go far enough in paring back the Clean Water Act's reach.

Click here to read the full story.

There’s a Solution to the Fight Over Clean Water—and Trump’s Rule Isn’t It

Jeff Moyer, CEO, Rodale Institute
Food Tank, February 6, 2020

I’ve been watching as the media covers the new “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” which was recently finalized by the Trump administration.

The rule has been the subject of much debate. The divide most notably falls between two groups: farmers and environmentalists.

As a farmer for over four decades, my question is: why must these groups be at odds with each other? The answer is, they don’t have to be.

Click here to read the full editorial.

The New Navigable Waters Protection Rule, Explained

Anthony L. Francois
Property and Environmental Research Center, January 28, 2020

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a consequential change to federal regulations that define “navigable waters” under the Clean Water Act. The new rules maintain protection of many categories of waters but significantly reduce the range of protected wetlands.

Under federal law, the Clean Water Act prohibits discharges of pollutants from point sources to “navigable waters,” also referred to as “waters of the United States” (or WOTUS), unless permitted by either the EPA or the Army Corps of Engineers. The definition of these waters, therefore, sets the boundaries of these federal agencies’ authority.

Click here to read the full story.

The Clean Water Case of the Century

The U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing Hawaii Wildlife Fund v. County of Maui. The fate of the nation’s clean water hangs in the balance.

Earthjustice, November 14, 2019

The nation's highest court is set to settle a decades-long legal dispute involving a wastewater treatment plant, its pollution discharges, and a partially dead coral reef in Hawai?i.

What started as a local water pollution case could have disastrous repercussions for clean water across the United States.

On Nov. 6, 2019, Earthjustice attorney David Henkin presented oral arguments before the nine Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court in Hawai?i Wildlife Fund v. County of Maui. A decision is expected in 2020.

At its most basic level, this case is about whether a wastewater treatment facility in Maui is violating the Clean Water Act by polluting the ocean indirectly through groundwater.

In 2012, after years of complaints from the community and unsuccessful negotiations with county officials over the destruction the pollution has caused to the reef and marine life, Earthjustice sued Maui County on behalf of four Maui community groups....

Click here to read the full story.

Lake Champlain Steward Intercepts Hydrilla

October 22, 2019
Lake Champlain Basin Program

“Clean, Drain and Dry” is the motto for boaters across the Lake Champlain basin. This was not the case for a boat and trailer that was about to be launched into Lake Champlain at the South Hero John Guilmette access site in early September. The Lake Champlain Basin Program’s boat launch steward Matthew Gorton was conducting routine courtesy boat inspections to prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species when he noticed an unusual looking plant hanging off the trailer backing up into the Lake.

While Lake Champlain is host to 51 known nonnative and invasive aquatic species, Hydrilla verticillata has not yet been found in Lake Champlain. The watercraft carrying the plant in South Hero was last in the Connecticut River, a system in which the highly invasive plant hydrilla is established.

Hydrilla is an aquatic plant, common and often misnamed in aquarium trade, that grows aggressively while outcompeting most native plants. Hydrilla causes significant economic and ecological impacts in Florida where it grows in dense beds.

Click here to read the full story.

What the Trump Administration Is Doing to Your Water

The administration is attempting to undo the landmark 1972 Clean Water Act. Read on to learn why you should be concerned.

By Rebecca Bowe, October 15, 2019

Everyone and everything needs clean water. Without clean drinking water, humans get sick. Plants, animals, aquatic life, and the entire food web need clean water to survive. That’s why the Trump administration’s efforts to gut federal clean water protections are so disturbing.

The administration repealed the Clean Water Rule and is now attempting to undo the landmark 1972 Clean Water Act.

Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972. Even though the 1972 Clean Water Act established that all “waters of the United States” would be federally protected, things haven’t exactly panned out that way.

Instead, there have been a lot of attacks by industry and developers over which waters should really get the protections of the Act, because polluters would prefer to not be subjected to the Acts requirements and the permits that ensure those requirements are applied.

The Clean Water Rule — enacted by the Corps and EPA in 2015 under the Obama administration — sought to clear up this confusion and provide science-based guidance on how the Corps and EPA would decide which waters are protected under the Act. Obama’s EPA first completed a comprehensive study on watershed health and connectivity and checked its work with panels of the most significant experts in all fields related to water from biology to geology to hydrology. They then rolled out a new rule based on that science. Environmentalists generally received the Clean Water Rule as a step in the right direction.

The repeal of the Clean Water Rule effectively threw away those science-based definitions, so now decision-making about Clean Water Act permits will revert back to the old, convoluted system.

Click here to read the full story.

Last Chance for a More Sustainable Future

A More Sustainable Path to 2050

Heather Tallis
Nature Conservancy magazine, Fall 2019

There is a clear path to 2050 in which both nature and 10 billion people can thrive together, says Heather Tallis, a lead scientist for TNC.

A few years ago The Nature Conservancy began a process of reassessing its vision and goals for prioritizing its work around the globe. The resulting statement called for a world where “nature and people thrive, and people act to conserve nature for its own sake and its ability to fulfill and enrich our lives.”

That sounds like a sweet future, but if you’re a scientist, like I am, you immediately start to wonder what that statement means in a practical sense. Could we actually get there? Is it even possible for people and nature to thrive together?

Our leaders had the same question. In fact, when the vision statement was first presented at a board meeting, our president leaned over and asked me if we had the science to support it.

“No,” I said. “But we can try to figure it out.”

Ultimately, I assembled a collaborative team of researchers to take a hard look at whether it really is possible to do better for both people and nature: Can we have a future where people get the food, energy and economic growth they need without sacrificing more nature?

We need to do much more to remove the policy and economic barriers that still make a transition to clean energy hard. Technology is no longer the major limiting factor. We are.

How will we get there? By far the most critical action each of us can take is to support global leaders who have a plan for stopping climate change in our lifetimes. Climate may not feel like the most pressing issue at times—what with the economy, health care, education and other issues taking up headlines. But the science is clear: We’ve got 10 years to get our emissions under control. That’s it.

Click here to read the full article.

Clean Water Rule Rollback May Benefit Golfer-in-Chief While Wiping Out Protections for Millions of Americans

Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen
Press Release, December 10, 2018

Note: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to announce a rollback of the Clean Water Rule tomorrow, that would dramatically curtail the number of protected waterways and wetlands.

“I want clean water. Very important.” So spoke the nation’s Golfer-in-Chief just a few weeks ago.

But he apparently doesn’t want obtaining clean water to interfere with the prerogatives and profits of his businesses.

A rollback of the rule would benefit Trump, who owns or has Trump-branded golf courses in Florida (two), New York (three), New Jersey (two), Virginia (outside Washington, D.C.), California, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. As the nation’s Golfer-in-Chief, Trump is aiding his industry – and his own businesses – by undercutting vital protections for Americans’ drinking water and waterways.

The Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule was designed to protect the cleanliness and health of our nation’s waters. It is hard to exaggerate the importance of this objective. Almost one in three Americans – roughly 117 million people – get their drinking water from streams that lacked clear protection before issuance of the rule. Golf course owners – including Trump – shouldn’t be able to pollute the nation’s water with pesticides and fertilizers, as a rollback would in many cases allow them to do. News reports indicate we should expect not just a recalibration but a major scaling back of Clean Water Act application, leaving the public in the rough.

Click here to read the full press release.

America's Coastal Waters, Bays, and Estuaries in Bad Shape

EPA Classifies the Vast Majority of Our Marine Waters “Impaired” by Pollution

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, August 30, 2018

Washington, DC — As Americans flock to the beach for the long Labor Day weekend, they are likely to find their coastal holiday destinations under severe eco-stress, according to federal figures posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Shorelines, bays, and estuaries suffer from high levels of mercury, PCBs, sewage, and urban runoff, fouling both the waters and their marine life.

“South Florida’s ocean waters are in the grips of massive, toxic red tides that may be a harbinger for other states, as climate change warms their waters while they become more nutrient-laden,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA. “The take-away message should be that America cannot keep using the sea as our main pollution disposal system.”

These indices of marine water quality have declined significantly since EPA first started displaying this data in 2012, with more than double-digit percentage increases in impairment for each category.

Click here to read the full press release.

America Losing the War for Clean Water

More Than Half of U.S. Rivers and Two-Thirds of Lakes and Reservoirs Impaired

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, August 23, 2018

Washington, DC — Most American rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds are seriously polluted, and getting worse, according to federal figures posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). These freshwaters increasingly are not potable or swimmable, and contain fish not fit to eat.

“Florida’s current water quality emergency should be a national wakeup call,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA, noting that the figures also do not account for new, emerging chemicals, many of which are damaging to aquatic life but for which there are no pollution standards. “We are losing the battle to protect the quality of America’s freshwaters.”

In 2012, EPA released a new database (called “How's My Waterway?”) which then showed similar but better water conditions. The figures are drawn from state reports submitted to EPA. Yet, EPA exerts little quality control over these reports, and reporting states often skew assessment methodologies to mask problems. Thus, states have little incentive to monitor water quality and, in many cases, have no dedicated budget for the task.

Click here to read the full press release.

Arctic ice choked with record amount of plastic from cigarette butts to packing material

John Bacon
USA Today, April 25, 2018

If you are wondering what happens to all those cigarette butts flicked on sidewalks and plastic packing peanuts blowing down the street, researchers have found an alarming amount of particles from them deep in the ice of the Arctic Ocean.

The record amount of microplastic appears to be courtesy of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and increased fishing and shipping in the Arctic, researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute of the Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research report.

The study raises concerns about the impact on human and sea life.

Ice samples from five regions across the Arctic Ocean contained up to 12,000 of the tiny particles per liter of sea ice, researchers say. More than half the particles trapped in the ice were less than 1/500th of an inch wide — less than one-tenth the thickness of a credit card.

“They could easily be ingested by arctic microorganisms,” said biologist and report author Ilka Peeken. “No one can say for certain how harmful these tiny plastic particles are for marine life, or ultimately also for human beings.”

Click here to read the full story.

Tom Evans’ conservation legacy forged through consensus

Kathy Canavan
Delaware Business Time, October 19, 2017

Former Republican Congressman Tom Evans sipped brandies in Richard Nixon’s den during a private fireside chat. He bet on the ponies with Democrat Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill. He broke party ranks to bring one of Jimmy Carter’s energy bills to the floor.

National Wildlife Federation President Collin O’Mara called the Delaware Republican “one of the most nonpartisan politicians I’ve ever met.”

Conservationists say Evans’ friendships were pivotal in the passage of a law that protected almost 2,700 miles of shoreline and probably saved lives and homes this hurricane season. The New York Times called it a “magic formula” and “the most important environmental law nobody has even heard of.”

The Coastal Barrier Resources Act of 1982, midwifed by Evans and the late Sen. John H. Chaffee of Rhode Island, allows anyone to build anything on 3.5 million acres of fragile seaside property, but it forces them to pick up the check — no federal flood insurance, no federal funds for roads or utilities and no federal bailouts after landfalling hurricanes.

“Some people don’t understand wetlands are very important in flood control,” Evans said. “They are exactly like a sponge, and, if we had not destroyed so many of them, Katrina, for example, would have been much less harmful. The same thing is true in Houston. The same thing is true in Puerto Rico. They’re not going to stop the water, but they’re going to make it a lot less harmful.”

“It’s one of the most important acts since 1980 to conserve habitat, protect communities and keep people out of harm’s way,” O’Mara said.

Of Evans, O’Mara said, “I would put him in the top 15 to 20 members of Congress in history in terms of working on environmentalist issues.”

Click here to read the full story.

Hurricane Irma, Rising Seas and Our Endangered Cities

Why the back-to-back blows of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have certainly woken people up to the risks of climate change

Jeff Goodell
Rolling Stone, September 11, 2017

President Donald Trump and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt may not want to talk about climate change right now, but judging from these storms, Mother Nature sure does.

I began covering energy and climate change in 1990, shortly after George H. W. Bush was elected president and announced the fossil fuels were going to be a big part of American life again. I wrote about coal mines and electric cars (My test-drive of a prototype Tesla roadster through the hills above Palo Alto made me an early and enthusiastic convert to electric cars), and interviewed influential climate scientists like NASA's James Hansen. I understood a lot about climate change in an intellectual and theoretical way, but I had not yet had what Al Gore calls an "oh-shit" moment. For me, my oh-shit moment was Hurricane Sandy, which spun into New York City in 2012. In the days after, as I walked through the sodden, mold-smelling streets of the Lower East Side, I understood not just the power of Mother Nature, but, more specifically, the power of water to destroy – or at least, deeply wound – a great American city. And it wasn't just big storm surges. As one scientist said to me, "Imagine a world where the water comes in ... but then doesn’t go out."

In the aftermath of Sandy, I tried to imagine exactly that. A scientist I was interviewing suggested that if I wanted to see a city that was really at risk from sea level rise, I should visit Miami. So I did. I arrived during the annual king tides (the highest tides of the year), and was stunned to find myself wading through knee-deep water in the swanky streets of Miami Beach. It became clear to me within 24 hours that the city of Miami was doomed.

Click here to read the full story.

EPA asked the public which regulations to gut — and got an earful about leaving them alone

Brady Dennis
The Washington Post, May 16, 2017

Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency put out a call for comments about what regulations are in need of repeal, replacement or modification. The effort stemmed from an executive order issued by President Trump earlier this year instructing agencies to reexamine regulations that “eliminate jobs, or inhibit job creation” and/or “impose costs that exceed benefits.”

More than 55,100 responses rolled in by the time the comment period closed on Monday — but they were full of Americans sharing their experiences of growing up with dirty air and water, and with pleas for the agency not to undo safeguards that could return the country to more a more polluted era.

“Know your history or you’ll be doomed to repeat it,” one person wrote. “Environmental regulations came about for a reason. There is scientific reasoning behind the need for it. It is not a conspiracy to harm corporations. It’s an attempt to make the people’s lives better.”

“Have we failed to learn from history, and forgotten the harm done to our air, water, and wetlands?” EPA is for the people.

Click here to read the full story.

Historic Climate Case Led By Kids Is Headed to Trial

Twenty-one children want to hold the federal government accountable for climate change, potentially changing how we handle environmental law.

Molly Bennet
"Audubon," Winter 2016

Early one morning this past August, as torrential rains pounded Louisiana, a 13-year-old named Jayden Foytlin woke up, stepped onto her bedroom floor, and found herself ankle-deep in water. At first she was confused, Foytlin says. She knew the storm would cause flooding, but it wasn’t supposed to reach her home, in the small city of Rayne. By the time the storm passed, 7 trillion gallons of rain had fallen across the state, flooding more than 60,000 homes and leaving 13 people dead. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the odds that the central Gulf region would be hit by a rain event of that magnitude have increased by at least 40 percent compared to a century ago because of climate change.

Foytlin first learned about climate change when she was seven or eight. “I always thought, ‘Oh, there are people that will handle it,’ ” she recalls. But as the years passed, “I noticed that nothing is getting better,” she says. “They aren’t taking control.” So in 2015, when she and her mother heard that an Oregon-based nonprofit called Our Children’s Trust (OCT) was looking for youth plaintiffs to participate in a potentially groundbreaking climate lawsuit, she wanted in. In August of that year, Foytlin and 20 other children from around the country—joined by renowned environmental expert James Hansen—filed a civil suit that accuses the government of failing to protect future generations from the impacts of climate change.

Click here to read the full story.

Why Are Dolphins Dying on East Coast? Experts Alarmed

Nearly 120 corpses have washed up so far this summer, government says

Christine Dell'Amore
National Geographic News, August 7, 2013

Bottlenose dolphins are washing up dead in unusually high numbers along the U.S. East Coast this summer—a "very alarming" situation that has experts scrambling to decipher the cause.

Nearly 120 corpses have washed ashore in coastal states from New York to Virginia in July and the first week of August, which is much higher than the normal number of strandings attributed to natural deaths. Virginia has had the highest mortality, with 64 animals found during that period.

Gregory Bossart, the Georgia Aquarium's chief veterinarian and pathologist, has been studying the impact of infectious disease and pollutants on bottlenose dolphins in Florida's Indian River Lagoon (map) for several years.

He's found that many of the lagoon's dolphins carry toxic mercury at 20 times the level permitted in human food by the U.S. government.

Said NOAA's [Trevor] Spradlin, "Marine mammals are like the canary in the coal mine"—many bottlenose dolphins live on the same coasts and eat the same fish that we do.

Click here to read the full story.

A Republican Case for Climate Action

The New York Times, August 1, 2013

Each of us took turns over the past 43 years running the Environmental Protection Agency. We served Republican presidents, but we have a message that transcends political affiliation: the United States must move now on substantive steps to curb climate change, at home and internationally.

There is no longer any credible scientific debate about the basic facts: our world continues to warm, with the last decade the hottest in modern records, and the deep ocean warming faster than the earth’s atmosphere. Sea level is rising. Arctic Sea ice is melting years faster than projected.

The costs of inaction are undeniable. The lines of scientific evidence grow only stronger and more numerous. And the window of time remaining to act is growing smaller: delay could mean that warming becomes “locked in.”

Mr. Obama’s plan is just a start. More will be required. But we must continue efforts to reduce the climate-altering pollutants that threaten our planet. The only uncertainty about our warming world is how bad the changes will get, and how soon. What is most clear is that there is no time to waste.

Click here to read the full editorial letter.

Trash Inc - The Secfet Life of Garbage

CNBC Special Report on a $52 billion-a-year industry

Garbage. It's everywhere — even in the middle of the oceans — and it's pure gold for companies like Waste Management and Republic Services who dominate this $52 billion-a-year industry. From curbside collection by trucks costing $250,000 each, to per-ton tipping fees at landfills, there's money to be made at every point as more than half of the 250 million tons of trash created in the United States each year reaches its final resting place.

At a cost of $1 million per acre to construct, operate and ultimately close in an environmentally feasible method, modern landfills are technological marvels — a far cry from the town dump that still resonates in most people's perceptions. Not only do they make money for their owners, they add millions to the economic wellbeing of the towns that house them. Technologies, such as Landfill Natural Gas and Waste To Energy, are giving garbage a second life, turning trash into power sources and helping to solve mounting problems.

Across the world, we’re producing more trash than ever before…nearly a ton per year for every man, woman and child in the U.S. Nearly half of it winds up in landfills....

For more information about the program and to view video segments and slideshows from the program, please visit their website.

New Report Warns of Expanding Threat of Hypoxia in U. S. Coastal Waters

Declining oxygen levels in Nation's waters forming dead zones, destroying habitats

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
September 3, 2010

A report issued today by key environmental and scientific federal agencies assesses the increasing prevalence of low-oxygen “dead zones” in U.S. coastal waters and outlines a series of research and policy steps that could help reverse the decades-long trend.

The interagency report notes that incidents of hypoxia—a condition in which oxygen levels drop so low that fish and other animals are stressed or killed--–have increased nearly 30-fold since 1960. Incidents of hypoxia were documented in nearly 50 percent of the 647 waterways assessed for the new report, including the Gulf of Mexico, home to one of the largest such zones in the world.

To read more about, and download a copy of the full report, please visit the NOAA website.

Study Reveals Mercury Contamination in Fish Nationwide

The Florida Monitor Weekly, August 21, 2009

Scientists detected mercury contamination in every fish sampled in 291 streams across the country. About a quarter of these fish were found to contain mercury at levels exceeding the criterion for the protection of people who consume average amounts of fish. More than two-thirds of the fish exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency level of concern for fish-eating mammals. Some of the highest levels of mercury in fish were found in the tea- colored or "blackwater" streams in Florida, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana - areas associated with relatively undeveloped forested watersheds containing abundant wetlands compared to the rest of the country. High levels of mercury in fish also were found in relatively undeveloped watersheds in the Northeast and the Upper Midwest.

For more information, please visit the National Water-Quality Assessment Program website.

Also see U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Listing of Fish Advisories www.epa.gov/waterscience/fish/advisories/.

Natural Connections - Harness the healing power of time spent outdoors

Publix "GreenWise Market", May 2008

Though it happened more than 40 years ago, Dan Shelton remembers it like it was yesterday. "My family had just moved to rural Illinois, and I was standing on a riverbank, looking at a field and some woods," he recalls. He was only 6 years old, and life at home was tumultuous. Yet Shelton says that while standing there, alone with the trees and grass, he had an emotionally healing experience. "I felt so peaceful," he says. "I remember deeply feeling that somehow I was meant to be there."

For Shelton, frequent contact with nature played a key role in his emotional and spiritual health until the late 1980s, when he moved to Chicago. "It was my first time living in the big city," he says. Without easy access to the natural world he loved, he slipped into depression. "I didn't experience any relief until I moved back to South Carolina nine months later."

Since then Shelton has made it his mission to help others get back to nature via workshops he conducts. Shelton is just one of many involved in the emerging field of ecotherapy¿the practice of promoting mental and physical well-being by deepening one's relationship with the natural environment. Like Shelton, "many people have some of the deepest experiences they've ever had through the natural world," says Linda Buzzell-Saltzman, a psychotherapist and founder of the International Association for Ecotherapy. Yet today many folks are more disconnected from nature than ever. "People are realizing that something has gone profoundly wrong in the human/nature relationship," she says.

Click here to read the full story.

The Encyclopedia of Life, No Bookshelf Required

By Carl Zimmer
The New York Times, February 26, 2008

Imagine the Book of All Species: a single volume made up of one-page descriptions of every species known to science. On one page is the blue-footed booby. On another, the Douglas fir. Another, the oyster mushroom. If you owned the Book of All Species, you would need quite a bookshelf to hold it. Just to cover the 1.8 million known species, the book would have to be more than 300 feet long. And you’d have to be ready to expand the bookshelf strikingly, because scientists estimate there are 10 times more species waiting to be discovered.

It sounds surreal, and yet scientists are writing the Book of All Species. Or to be more precise, they are building a Web site called the Encyclopedia of Life (www.eol.org). On Thursday its authors, an international team of scientists, will introduce the first 30,000 pages, and within a decade, they predict, they will have the other 1.77 million.

While many of those pages may be sparse at first, the authors hope that the world’s scientific community will pool all of its knowledge on the pages. Unlike a page of paper, a page of the Encyclopedia of Life can hold as much information as scientists can upload. “It’s going to have everything known on it, and everything new is going to be added as we go along,” said Edward O. Wilson, the Harvard biologist who spearheaded the Encyclopedia of Life and now serves as its honorary chairman.

Click here to read the full story.

The Power of Green

The New York Times Magazine, April 15, 2007

One day Iraq, our post-9/11 trauma and the divisiveness of the Bush years will all be behind us — and America will need, and want, to get its groove back. We will need to find a way to reknit America at home, reconnect America abroad and restore America to its natural place in the global order — as the beacon of progress, hope and inspiration. I have an idea how. It’s called “green.”

In the world of ideas, to name something is to own it. If you can name an issue, you can own the issue. One thing that always struck me about the term “green” was the degree to which, for so many years, it was defined by its opponents — by the people who wanted to disparage it. And they defined it as “liberal,” “tree-hugging,” “sissy,” “girlie-man,” “unpatriotic,” “vaguely French.”

Well, I want to rename “green.” I want to rename it geostrategic, geoeconomic, capitalistic and patriotic. I want to do that because I think that living, working, designing, manufacturing and projecting America in a green way can be the basis of a new unifying political movement for the 21st century. A redefined, broader and more muscular green ideology is not meant to trump the traditional Republican and Democratic agendas but rather to bridge them when it comes to addressing the three major issues facing every American today: jobs, temperature and terrorism.

How do our kids compete in a flatter world? How do they thrive in a warmer world? How do they survive in a more dangerous world? Those are, in a nutshell, the big questions facing America at the dawn of the 21st century. But these problems are so large in scale that they can only be effectively addressed by an America with 50 green states — not an America divided between red and blue states.

Because a new green ideology, properly defined, has the power to mobilize liberals and conservatives, evangelicals and atheists, big business and environmentalists around an agenda that can both pull us together and propel us forward. That’s why I say: We don’t just need the first black president. We need the first green president. We don’t just need the first woman president. We need the first environmental president. We don’t just need a president who has been toughened by years as a prisoner of war but a president who is tough enough to level with the American people about the profound economic, geopolitical and climate threats posed by our addiction to oil — and to offer a real plan to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

... Bush won’t lead a Green New Deal, but his successor must if America is going to maintain its leadership and living standard. Unfortunately, today’s presidential hopefuls are largely full of hot air on the climate-energy issue. Not one of them is proposing anything hard, like a carbon or gasoline tax, and if you think we can deal with these huge problems without asking the American people to do anything hard, you’re a fool or a fraud.

Being serious starts with reframing the whole issue — helping Americans understand, as the Carnegie Fellow David Rothkopf puts it, “that we’re not ‘post-Cold War’ anymore — we’re pre-something totally new.” I’d say we’re in the “pre-climate war era.” Unless we create a more carbon-free world, we will not preserve the free world. Intensifying climate change, energy wars and petroauthoritarianism will curtail our life choices and our children’s opportunities every bit as much as Communism once did for half the planet.

Equally important, presidential candidates need to help Americans understand that green is not about cutting back. It’s about creating a new cornucopia of abundance for the next generation by inventing a whole new industry. It’s about getting our best brains out of hedge funds and into innovations that will not only give us the clean-power industrial assets to preserve our American dream but also give us the technologies that billions of others need to realize their own dreams without destroying the planet. It’s about making America safer by breaking our addiction to a fuel that is powering regimes deeply hostile to our values. And, finally, it’s about making America the global environmental leader, instead of laggard, which as Schwarzenegger argues would “create a very powerful side product.” Those who dislike America because of Iraq, he explained, would at least be able to say, “Well, I don’t like them for the war, but I do like them because they show such unbelievable leadership — not just with their blue jeans and hamburgers but with the environment. People will love us for that. That’s not existing right now.”

... Am I optimistic? I want to be. But I am also old-fashioned. I don’t believe the world will effectively address the climate-energy challenge without America, its president, its government, its industry, its markets and its people all leading the parade. Green has to become part of America’s DNA. We’re getting there. Green has hit Main Street — it’s now more than a hobby — but it’s still less than a new way of life.

Why? Because big transformations — women’s suffrage, for instance — usually happen when a lot of aggrieved people take to the streets, the politicians react and laws get changed. But the climate-energy debate is more muted and slow-moving. Why? Because the people who will be most harmed by the climate-energy crisis haven’t been born yet.

... An unusual situation like this calls for the ethic of stewardship. Stewardship is what parents do for their kids: think about the long term, so they can have a better future. It is much easier to get families to do that than whole societies, but that is our challenge. In many ways, our parents rose to such a challenge in World War II — when an entire generation mobilized to preserve our way of life. That is why they were called the Greatest Generation. Our kids will only call us the Greatest Generation if we rise to our challenge and become the Greenest Generation.

Click here to read the full story.

Crossing the Divide - Evangelists and Environmentalists Join Forces

by Rachel Martin
National Public Radio

All Things Considered, January 21, 2007 · A group of leading scientists and evangelicals have chosen to put aside their differences on how the world came to be and join forces to protect its future. They've formed a coalition and are lobbying Capitol Hill on environmental issues.

Richard Cizik is the vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He believes God made the world in matter of days. Eric Chivian is a biochemist from Harvard University who maintains that man evolved from matter over billions of years.

Chivian says that, before meeting each other, Cizik may have thought of him and other scientists as "latte-sipping, Prius-driving, endive-munching, New York Times-reading snobs. And we might have seen them as Hummer-driving, bible-thumping, fire-breathing…"

"…snake-handling fundamentalists," Cizik finishes.

Unlikely allies? Perhaps. But that's exactly what they've become in their mutual quest to fight global warming. The two men have launched what they're calling a dialog between leading figures in science and religion, specifically evangelical Christianity. They're not pushing any specific legislation, but they're trying to raise the public profile of environmental issues.

Click here to read the full story and a link to listen to the entire broadcast online.

Introduction to the Clean Water Act

The Clean Water Act celebrated its fortieth anniversary in October 2012. The EPA has produced a "slide show" to help the public understand the Act and how it is used. A link to the slide show can be found on the EPA's "Watershed Academy Web" homepage.

New Reports Assess the Condition of U.S. Coral Reefs, Outline Strategy to Reduce Threats

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

NOAA announces the availability of two new reports on coral reef ecosystems produced in cooperation with the United States Coral Reef Task Force and other partners.

The new report—the first-ever national look at the condition of U.S. coral reefs—points to pressures posing increasing risks to reefs, particularly in certain "hot spots" located near population centers.

Click here to access more information on the NOAA reports.

International News

A Warming Planet Struggles to Feed Itself

Justin Gillis
The New York Times, June 4, 2011

The rapid growth in farm output that defined the late 20th century has slowed to the point that it is failing to keep up with the demand for food, driven by population increases and rising affluence in once-poor countries.

Consumption of the four staples that supply most human calories — wheat, rice, corn and soybeans — has outstripped production for much of the past decade, drawing once-large stockpiles down to worrisome levels. The imbalance between supply and demand has resulted in two huge spikes in international grain prices since 2007, with some grains more than doubling in cost.

Those price jumps, though felt only moderately in the West, have worsened hunger for tens of millions of poor people, destabilizing politics in scores of countries, from Mexico to Uzbekistan to Yemen. The Haitian government was ousted in 2008 amid food riots, and anger over high prices has played a role in the recent Arab uprisings.

Now, the latest scientific research suggests that a previously discounted factor is helping to destabilize the food system: climate change.

Many of the failed harvests of the past decade were a consequence of weather disasters, like floods in the United States, drought in Australia and blistering heat waves in Europe and Russia. Scientists believe some, though not all, of those events were caused or worsened by human-induced global warming.

Click here to read the full story.

Animals face extinction threat

By Dan Vergano
USA TODAY, October 26, 2010

Nearly one in five mammal, reptile, bird or amphibian species — from Tasmanian devils to whooping cranes — face extinction, international conservation experts reported Tuesday.

And without the nature reserves erected over the past half-century, more would be gone.

"Conservation is working, there is just not enough of it," says study author Ana Rodrigues of France's Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive. "Now is the time to scale up conservation."

The five-decade survey of the extinction status of 25,780 vertebrate species, roughly half of all backboned animals, was released by the journal Science. Led by Michael Hoffmann of the United Nations Environment Programme, the results find that almost one-fifth of those species are threatened with extinction (from 13% of birds to 41% of amphibians) — meaning either there are fewer than 50 individuals left, or the species' chances of extinction are 50% or greater within 10 years. The declines are mostly tied to expanding farmland, overlogging, overfishing and competition from invasive species.

Click here to read the full story.

Footprint of Nations: World's Ecological Footprint Exceeds Biocapacity by Nearly 40%

Redefining Progress works with a broad array of partners to shift the economy and public policy towards sustainability.

The Ecological Footprint is a measure of the amount of nature it takes to sustain a given population over the course of a year. According to the new 2005 Footprint of Nations report, humanity’s footprint is 57 acres per person while the Earth’s biological capacity is just 41 acres per person. By comparing a population’s footprint with its biological capacity, Ecological Footprint analysis suggests whether or not that population is living within its ecological means. If a population’s footprint exceeds its biological capacity, that population is said to be engaging in unsustainable ecological overshoot.

Please visit the Redefining Progress website to learn more.

General Information

Horseshoe crab survey in Florida

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute has recently started a new horseshoe crab survey. The goal of this survey is to locate and document horseshoe crab nesting beaches around the state of Florida. To document these important nesting beaches around the state, they are relying on volunteers to report any observations that they have of horseshoe crab nesting activity. The FMRI is asking anyone to report information on the date of their observations, location of their observations, whether or not horseshoe crabs were mating, and estimates of the number of horseshoe crabs seen. They have set up a toll-free phone line (1-866-252-9326), an email address (horseshoe@myfwc.com), and an online survey (http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/horseshoe_crab) for volunteers to use to report their observations. This project provides an excellent opportunity for the public to get involved with a scientific/conservation-oriented study.

You can also read more about horseshoe crabs, the results of the survey to date, and view photos at: http://www.myfwc.com/research/saltwater/crustaceans/horseshoe-crabs.

Florida's "Impaired Waters Rule" and TMDL's

We have been participating with the Southeastern Regional Office of the Clean Water Network (CWN), in a challenge of Florida's "Impaired Waters Rule" (IWR). This rule was designed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to comply with the requirements of the TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) provisions of the Clean Water Act.

The CWN felt there were numerous problems with the IWR and coordinated with more than 50 organizations around the state (including the FSSR) to challenge this rule. The FL Department of Administrative Hearing's Officer ruled in favor of the FDEP. The ruling is being appealed and the participating organziations have also filed suit against the EPA for what we believe is their non-discretionary duty to either approve of or deny what amounts to Florida changing its water quality standards unilaterally.

If you would like to read more about TMDLs and the process Florida is currently following to implement them, click here for lots more information.

The state of Florida is also in the process of developing a system of water pollution trading credits. This is similar to the free-market based system the EPA has used for years in air pollution regulation. Click here to read more about Florida DEP water resource management programs.

St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park - Volunteers

The St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park has a large group of volunteers that do various tasks. They are always looking for more people who are interested and they are currently especially looking for more volunteers to help with manatee spotting surveys. There is a designated spot on the C-54 canal where volunteers spot and count manatees twice a day. If you can spare a few minutes of time and are interested in helping out with this or any other project at the Preserve, give them a call at 321-953-5004.

Informational Graphics

Sport Fish of the Sebastian Inlet - Life Cycle

This image was produced by the Sportfish Research Institute, Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Florida. To download the full-size version of the image, click here (1.4 MB).

Everglades Restoration

The following graphics are from an article in the Washington Post, June 23, 2002 on the components, projects and technologies being proposed for the restoration of the Florida Everglades.

Everglades Restoration Plan
Everglades Water Flow
Environmental Toll of Diverted Flow
Restoring the Kissimmee River
An Everglades Alternative
Lake Belt
Untested Technologies
Crowding out Panthers

Drinking Water Supply

The following graphics are from the Orlando Sentinel.

Drinking water sources...critical issues today
How rain refuels our drinking supply
Water useage per day

Sebastian Area Land Use and Submerged Aquatic Vegetation

Sebastian area 1995 land use, 1996 sea grasses
Sebastian area 1996 Submerged Aquatic Vegetation