Sweetwater- A Film by Spencer Miller
The white sand beaches and tropic blue waters of Florida are contrasted by a darker story line that has held statewide water managment policy in a vice grip for decades.
Florida DEP updates:
Current Weekly UpdateOn Tuesday, April 30, Secretary Noah Valenstein joined St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle, St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman and agency water quality experts to examine an active algal bloom on the lower St. Johns and to discuss nutrient reduction projects. The bloom is present from Lake George to CR 214 and has persisted since April 10. DEP is also working with FWC to investigate possible algae and fish abnormalities in Blue Spring State Park, Silver Glen and Salt Spring.
Blooms continue to be reported to DEP by US Army Corps Lake Okeechobee lock operators. At this time, algae is present at the Caloosahatchee (C-43) structures but is light in occurrence (no thick mats). DEP staff site visits indicate generally that Microcystis is the dominant species being found, but toxins have not been detected. Lee County staff have reported three site visits this week, with only one indicating the presence of algae (Microsystis) and with Microcystin toxin detected at less than 1 microgram per liter. Satellite imagery indicates that conditions on the Lake Okeechobee have become less favorable for algal bloom development.
FCC News Brief - May 7, 2019By Haley Burger on May 07, 2019 08:00 am
Quote of the Day: “In amnesiac reverie it is also easy to overlook the services the ecosystems provide humanity. They enrich the soil and create the very air we breathe. Without these amenities, the remaining tenure of the human race would be nasty and brief.” - E. O. Wilson
Read Bill could cripple Florida’s growth management plans- “State lawmakers over the weekend passed a bill that would restrict local governments from requiring new developments to have units set aside for affordable housing. It would also mean anyone challenging a development being approved that's inconsistent with the existing growth plan would have to pay the other side's attorney's fees if they lose. Thomas Hawkins, of the environmental group 1,000 Friends of Florida, says the fear of having to pay potentially huge fees would essentially mean comprehensive plans could be gutted. "Effectively, this will prevent any enforcement action of local government comprehensive plans," he said. "The result will be local governments will not have to adhere to their own development plans." Hawkins said that could mean outside political influence and money dictating where - and how fast - Florida would grow. "So anytime somebody - and it could be a landowner, could be a developer, could be a neighborhood association - anytime somebody sees a city or a county breaking its own land development rules," he said, "before they decide whether they want to take legal action to get the city to do what it's supposed to do, they have to figure in the risk of losing and paying the city's attorney's fees. Which can be very, very expensive." The bill is now in the hands of Gov. Ron DeSantis.” Steve Newborn reports for WUSF.
Read Governor must veto toll roads - “This is a moment of truth for Governor Ron DeSantis. With limited public debate, Senate President Bill Galvano has maneuvered his pet project through the Legislature. SB7068 authorizes the construction of three massive toll roads, stretching from Naples to the Florida-Georgia line. However, as nearly 100 business and civic organizations noted this week, the plan is remarkably flawed and must be vetoed. First, there is no transportation study to warrant the largest expansion of Florida’s highway system since the 1950s. This is highly unusual, and irresponsible, for a project that will tie up billions of public dollars in construction and ongoing maintenance. To the contrary, a 2016 FDOT task force study recommended against new highways in favor of improving existing corridors. Second, there is no mechanism for local input into the siting of highways or interchanges; amendments to address this problem were voted down. Developers and road-builders will benefit from the incursion of sprawl deeper into Florida…” Sean Sellers writes for SRQ Daily
Read Republican lawmakers pass bill to make it harder to amend Florida’s constitution - “A bill to limit citizen-driven ballot initiatives — like those from the 2018 election that expanded medical marijuana and sought to give ex-felons the right to vote — was nearly dead. Until it wasn’t. In a move characteristic of the final days of the 2019 legislative session, the bill language was thrown onto the lifeboat of a different, unrelated bill in a last-ditch effort to pass the proposal. Rep. Jamie Grant’s bill was tacked onto a tax-cut bill as an amendment while he was on the floor explaining a controversial bill to implement Amendment 4...Grant’s amendment, which passed in both chambers late Friday night, makes the bill active upon being signed into law. It will be in effect for 2020, a crucial presidential election year in which other groups hope to get amendments before voters to ban assault weapons and require Medicaid expansion. Republican lawmakers have steadily made it more difficult to amend Florida’s constitution, including limiting the amount of time a group has to collect signatures and raising the threshold for an amendment’s passage to 60 percent…” Samantha J. Gross reports for the Tampa Bay Times.
Read Mullet with missing scales and lesions prompt investigation on St. Johns River- “State officials are investigating reports of lesions and ulcers in mullet and other fish in springs along the St. Johns River and whether the lesions are related to blue-green algae blooms in the river. Jason Cruz of Deltona was snorkeling at Blue Spring State Park on last week when he was surprised to notice ailing mullet in the spring run. He took a few photos and a video and then reported it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and posted photos on social media. His report was one of a series of reports that began April 18, said Catalina Brown, coordinator of the wildlife commission’s fish kill hotline. “We have received 15 reports, either reports of fish kills or abnormal looking fish or information requests” for an area including Lake George, and two springs on its western shores, Salt Springs and Silver Glen Springs, Brown said. “Citizens were describing mullet with scales off, red skin and lesions.” Simultaneously, a blue-green algae bloom is underway in the St. Johns River, in Lake George and the two springs. Another blue-green algae bloom is underway to the south, in the river’s headwaters near Fellsmere. The bloom was first reported in Lake George on April 10. It originated in Lake George, then moved northward in the river as far north as County Road 214 between St. Augustine and Palatka, said Dave Whiting, deputy director of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s environmental assessment and restoration division...Last week, officials with the department and the water district toured the river with the St. Johns Riverkeeper. The Riverkeeper, an advocacy group devoted to protecting and restoring the river, has expressed concerns about the toxic blue-green algae blooms that periodically show up in the river, but the concern this year is how early the bloom appeared…” Dinah Voyles Pulver reports for the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Read The St. Johns is in distress, and it’s not alone- “...YUK! Look at my river today. First time I’ve seen the entire river green. Driving over the Palatka bridge is scary...Hey Gov. DeSantis we need to do something.” That Facebook post was made last week by Sam Carr, who lives on the river south of Palatka. In a follow up post a few days later, Carr added, “The river is still sick...I have come to the conclusion that the dumping of sludge on the headwaters of the SJR is the major difference …Carr knows the St. Johns like an old friend. He fishes it almost daily and has explored its length, tracing the journeys of his hero, William Bartram, the Quaker naturalist whose popular writings and drawings introduced the St. Johns to the rest of the world. And Carr’s criticism of now U.S. Sen. Scott is not misplaced. During his time as governor, Scott gutted funding and staffing for Florida’s water management districts. And he turned the Department of Environmental Protection from a watchdog to a lap dog. In the meantime, South Florida was running out of places to dump its sewage sludge. So in the past decade nearly 90,000 tons of the stuff has been trucked north and spread on agricultural lands around the headwaters of the St. Johns. “What happens, when you dump it in the headwaters, it all flows this direction,” Lisa Rinaman, of St. Johns Riverkeepers, said in a recent PBS interview. “And then there’s more pollution added on to it due to septic tanks in areas, agricultural runoff, urban fertilizers ...” Unfortunately the St. Johns is not alone in its environmental distress. Every time there’s a raw sewage spill in Valdosta, Ga. — which occurs with distressing frequency— the Suwannee River gets a little sicker. The mighty Apalachicola is being robbed of the fresh water it needs to keep its celebrated oyster beds healthy. The Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers are poisoned whenever the cesspool formerly known as Lake Okeechobee is lowered to keep its levies from bursting. The Ocklawaha, once a major source of fresh water for the St. Johns, is impounded for the enjoyment of bass fisherman…” Ron Cunningham writes Opinion for the Gainesville Sun.
Resources for students interested in environmental issues:
Getting Involved in Environmental Law
Going Green On Campus
Green Career Guidebook
Green Careers Beyond Solar
Student's Guide to Global Warming
FCC News Brief - May 9, 2019By Haley Burger on May 09, 2019 08:00 am
Quote of the Day: “The wilderness holds answers to questions man has not yet learned to ask.” ―Nancy Newhall
Read Last-minute legislative amendment penalizes anyone who challenges Florida development- “A longtime watchdog group is warning that legislation soon heading to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk would gut enforcement of Florida’s 1985 Growth Management Act, a landmark law intended to make sure local governments properly plan for development’s impacts. HB 7103, approved in the closing days of the 2019 legislative session, would ban local governments from requiring developers to include affordable housing within their projects. What most worries 1000 Friends of Florida is an amendment that says anyone who sues to enforce local comprehensive development plans and loses in court has to then cover the winners’ legal fees. “It will end citizen-initiated and landowner-initiated [planning] challenges in the state of Florida. And if we don’t have that challenge, comprehensive plans will not be enforceable. We’ll be back to where we were before 1985,” said Thomas Hawkins, the organization’s planning and policy director. His group, and others, very much would like DeSantis to veto the bill, and is working with other groups to send a letter urging a veto. Hawkins worries that legislators didn’t appreciate what they were doing. “This language showed up at the very last minute. The Senate voted on it just hours after it was proposed. It was never heard in committee. It was never subjected to a staff analysis. It was not discussed on the floor at all. This language had not been vetted by anyone…” Michael Moline reports for the Florida Phoenix.
Read ‘You can call him our water czar’: Nikki Fried names Florida’s new water policy director- “Chris Pettit, who has worked for years in water management districts and county water utilities, will replace Steve Dwinell, who retired as water policy director for the state's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Office of Agricultural Water Policy. Fried said Pettit and his office will work to develop and implement best management practices, known as BMPs, for agriculture. BMPs, which have been criticized in the past for not being enforced, aim at lowering and maintaining nutrient runoff from farming operations. The nutrient runoff is a key source in the development of the red tide and blue-green algae that choked Florida's coasts and waterways last summer. Fried said she is still seeking money for BMP implementation. This year she requested $25 million in the budget to help Florida farmers implement water efficiency improvements and reduce nutrient usage, but only received $4 million — a $1 million reduction from last year's budget. "Addressing our state's water issues was one of my top priorities when I was running for office," Fried said during a press conference at the South Florida Water Management District in West Palm Beach. "Today's appointment is an important step in achieving that goal. Cleaning up our water and keeping it clean for generations to come involves real comprehensive solutions to our water problems." She said Pettit's new role will involve building partnerships to the state's agriculture and environmental community to build a "path forward" to a cleaner Florida…” Samantha J. Gross reports for the Tampa Bay Times.
Read Special interest groups putting the heat on Gov. DeSantis - “Now that the 2019 session is history, interest groups are ratcheting up the pressure on Gov. Ron DeSantis to sign or veto major legislation. They face an uphill battle in fighting bills that drew broad support from Republicans and even some Democrats. But if DeSantis signs them all, as is expected, his honeymoon with Floridians will surely begin to wane and his popularity could quickly erode...A leading environmental group, 1000 Friends of Florida, wants DeSantis to veto the most significant transportation bill to clear the Legislature in decades, a plan for three new toll roads in central and north Florida. The group, in a letter to DeSantis sent Monday, said the projects would waste billions of dollars, harm Florida’s fragile environment and promote sprawl. The plea from 1000 Friends said DeSantis can cement his legacy as an environmentalist by blocking passage of the bill (SB 7068), just as the late Nathaniel (Nat) Reed, the group’s co-founder, did by successfully fighting the Cross-Florida Barge Canal and a jetport in the Everglades. But it’s not likely: the toll roads are the No. 1 priority of Senate President Bill Galvano…” Steve Bousquet reports for the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Read What’s at risk: Study considers environmental impact on NextEra power line project- “A 176-mile powerline project proposed to cut through rural Jefferson and Leon counties may pose a risk to water health and several rare and federally endangered species throughout the ecologically sensitive area. The proposed route could jeopardize the area’s watershed, dotted with pristine springs and underground caverns that serve as the region’s water supply. It could also threaten a number of plants and animals that call it home, according to a study done by the Florida Natural Areas Inventory affiliated with Florida State University... Portions of the project's path lie within conservation lands managed by the city of Tallahassee and the state, state parks and wildlife management areas, federal and state forests and the Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail. The project is also within the Florida Forever land project along the Upper St. Marks River Corridor, which includes the Horn Springs, which was acquired by the state in August, according to the 38-page FNAI report released Thursday. The FNAI report indicates dozens of animal and plant species that call the area home. That includes four – the Eastern indigo snake, two species of freshwater mussels and the red-cockaded woodpecker – which are all federally endangered within a quarter mile of the proposed route…” Karl Etters reports for the Tallahassee Democrat.
Read Blue-green algae suffocating part of Sarasota County’s Lemon Bay- “Blue-green algae, moving in large clumps, is littering the offshore waterways of Sarasota County. It's not the exact type of cyanobacteria algae that bloomed in Lake Okeechobee but this algae comes with its own bad side effects. In Lake O, the blue-green sludge was caused by the microcystis cyanobacteria. At Indian Mound Park in Englewood, in the waters of Lemon Bay, it's a form of cyanobacteria called Lyngbya wollei. Fisherman Terry Kennan says, regardless of the name difference, he is watching where he casts his line. "I wouldn't let any kids or animals near that stuff. I don’t think it’s healthy to be around that particular bloom," he said...The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said cyanobacteria like what's being seen at Indian Mound Park is common in Florida, but Kennan said he's never seen it this bad...As the warning signs continue to present themselves, the DEP said it will continue testing and warn people to stay away from the bloom…” Kimberly Kuizon reports for Fox 13 News.
Read Begin a new focus on water quality - “The Sarasota County Commission will consider today whether to launch a Water Quality Improvement Program. The practices and policies affecting inland, bay and Gulf waters are complicated but the answer to the immediate question — Should the County Commission begin the pursuit of a comprehensive improvement program? — is simple: Yes. A devastating Florida red tide outbreak lingered, often in intense concentrations, off the shores of Sarasota and Manatee counties between 2016 and early 2019. It wasn’t the first long, nasty episode here, but it caused serious economic and environmental damage and was the first to be recorded and widely shared on social media. Concerns about the impacts of red tide were exacerbated by harmful blue-green algae in South Florida’s inland waters and in the Gulf of Mexico south of our region...The county staff cited three main contributors to nitrogen-laden waters: runoff from watersheds; septic systems in areas with high water tables or near waterways; and public wastewater-treatment plants. Each must be part of any comprehensive approach but improvements in sewage treatment should be the short-term priority. The county already faces regulatory actions and a lawsuit over sewage-plant failures and, according to the staff report, upgrades would provide the best combination of return on financial investments and decreases in nitrogen loads...Enough of operating on the cheap. The work needs to be done and during the red tide, the public called upon government to do something. The time has arrived to do it…” Editorial from the Herald-Tribune.
Read Lionfish, bugs and avocado trees: Take a deep dive into Florida’s $91.1 billion budget - “A record $91.1 billion spending plan for next fiscal year will soon be formally transmitted to Gov. Ron DeSantis, starting a 15-day clock for him to wield his line-item veto pen and decide what stays and what goes. On Saturday, shortly after lawmakers passed the new state budget, DeSantis vowed that the overall spending total would come down, to which Senate President Bill Galvano said he hopes DeSantis “really studies and understands what is there and gets to the bottom of it, as opposed to just making a statement in terms of a number to cut.” The 448-page spending package includes more than just big-ticket issues such as education funding, health-care costs and road projects. The budget (SB 2500) and an accompanying bill (SB 2502) are filled with smaller spending decisions. Among them:...The Florida Resilient Coastline Initiative would provide $5.5 million to help local governments brace for rising sea levels, conduct coastal resilience projects and maintain the health of coral reefs….With $1 million set aside for nuisance species control, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission would be able to recruit local dive shops or commercial fishermen to host state-sponsored excursions or dive trips in which anglers would be taught to harvest, safely handle, clean and cook lionfish. Ten percent of the money could be used by the commission to partner with local seafood markets and restaurants to market lionfish as a food...As part of more than $20 million in state-park improvements, $1.5 million would go to the Silver Springs State Park Swimming Area. Marion County is looking to develop a swimming area at the headsprings and down-river docking areas on the Silver River. Another $1 million would be targeted to reduce gridlock at the entrance to Wekiva State Park…” From the News Service of Florida.