Current News Items (within the last 30 days)
Study: phosphate mine expansion will cause 'significant' wetlands damage
By Craig Pittman
Creating three phosphate mines and expanding a fourth will destroy nearly 10,000 acres of wetlands and 50 miles of streams, causing a "significant impact," according to a study prepared to guide permitting by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
But the two-year study —- prepared for the corps by a consultant paid by the phosphate industry — contends the miners would do such a good job of making up for the damage, through a process called mitigation, that the impact will not be all that noticeable.
"Without mitigation, a lot of the effects would be significant — on wetlands, on groundwater, on surface water," said corps senior project manager John Fellows, who works in the Tampa office. "No question about it, mining is an impactive industry."
The report is so vague about just what kind of mitigation would make up for such widespread destruction in Hillsborough, Hardee, Manatee, Polk and De Soto counties that Fellows called it "a hand-wave" at the subject. He said that was all the law required.
Both Mosaic and CF Industries, the two phosphate companies that want federal permits for about 42,000 acres of new and expanded mining, issued statements saying they welcomed the report.
Continued on TampaBay.com...
Florida Geological Survey receives national grant to map in NE Florida
Grant will increase knowledge of geology, which helps improve land-use planning in northeastern area of Florida
TALLAHASSEE – The Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Geological Survey has been awarded $193,183 by the U.S Geological Survey to produce a detailed geologic map of a portion of northeast Florida. The STATEMAP grant is the fourth-highest award amount distributed nationwide this year for work that will begin in September and is expected to be publicly available for digital download by December 2014.
“The funding provided by the USGS allows us to produce a geologic map in support of the societal, economic and scientific welfare needs of Florida,” said STATEMAP Project Manager Rick Green. “Our goal is to make these findings readily available and accessible to the public.”
The benefits of this type of mapping include a more comprehensive understanding of the distribution of rock, mineral and groundwater resources, including vulnerability of aquifers to contamination. These maps are also important in providing shallow subsurface geological information that can be used in understanding sinkholes and other geologic hazards.
The mapping effort involves extensive field work over a 12 month period, including visits to accessible rock and sediment exposures in mines and other excavated areas, as well as natural exposures in rivers, streams, sinkholes and springs. To better understand the underlying geologic units, project staff inspect rock and sediment samples from hundreds of wells, including new wells drilled in support of the project to fill data gaps. Extensive data management and map making in a geographic information system platform is also involved.
This work is conducted under the STATEMAP component of the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, which serves to create a national geologic database that is accessible to the public. The STATEMAP Advisory Council, which is comprised of geologists and engineers in Florida, prioritized the St. Augustine quadrangle as the primary focus for this year’s work.
The approximately 2,000 square mile area was approved due to its location adjacent to current project mapping underway in the Daytona Beach area, as well as an additional project being conducted along the northeast coast of Florida funded by the National Park Service and Florida Geological Survey. This will allow the Florida Geological Survey to maximize its resources and expand upon existing data.
Since its inception in 1994, this component of the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program has funded more than $4.6 million in support of mapping to benefit Florida’s residents and environment, covering an area of more than 13,000 square miles.
Data gathered by the STATEMAP program is also used by other agencies in Florida. The Florida Department of Transportation used information from mapped STATEMAP projects for an assessment of strategic aggregate reserves in the state and to develop a better understanding of the geology in support of projects, such as the Florida Future Corridors program.
The maps are published annually and released in segments online.
Source: Florida DEP news release
Decades-old nitrate found to affect stream water quality
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) hydrologic researchers have found that the movement of nitrate through groundwater to streams can take decades to occur. This long lag time means that changes in the use of nitrogen-based fertilizer (the typical source of nitrate) — whether the change is initiation, adjustment, or cessation — may take decades to be fully observed in streams, according to a recent study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
Water quality experts have been noting in recent years that nitrate trends in streams and rivers do not match their expectations based on reduced regional use of nitrogen-based fertilizer. The long travel times of groundwater discharge, like those documented in this study, have previously been suggested as the likely factor responsible for these observations.
"This study provides direct evidence that nitrate can take decades to travel from recharge at the land surface to discharge in streams," said Jerad Bales, acting USGS Associate Director for Water. "This is an important finding because long travel times will delay direct observation of the full effect of nutrient management strategies on stream quality."
Rivers and streams are fed by both groundwater held in underground aquifers and surface water from precipitation runoff. In low streamflow conditions, groundwater sources take a larger role.
In this study, USGS scientists closely examined surface and ground waters at seven study sites from across the nation to determine the portion of stream nitrate derived from groundwater. They found that most of the nitrate observed in streams located in groundwater-dominated watersheds was derived from groundwater sources. To determine the time it takes groundwater to reach a stream in a groundwater-dominated watershed, an age dating tracer study was conducted in the Tomorrow River in central Wisconsin. The findings indicated that decades-old nitrate-laden water was currently discharging to this stream. Consequently, base flow nitrate concentrations in this stream may be sustained for decades to come, regardless of current and future practices.
The slow release of groundwater nitrate to streams may also affect the water quality of large rivers. For example, increases in nitrate concentrations during low and moderate flows in large rivers in the Mississippi River Basin have been observed to be greater than or comparable to increases in nitrate concentrations during high flows. (See USGS website, Nitrate in the Mississippi River and its tributaries, 1980 to 2008.) These findings also suggest that increasing nitrate concentrations in groundwater are having a substantial effect on nitrate concentrations in rivers and nitrate transport to the Gulf of Mexico. Because nitrate moves slowly through groundwater to rivers, the full effect of management strategies designed to reduce nitrate movement to these rivers may not be seen for many years.
Learn more about the nitrate study on USGS.gov
Up to 375 USGS flood gauges to turn off because of fund cuts
Just in time for the spring flood season, the federal sequester is threatening to shut off funding for hundreds of stream gauges used by the U.S. Geological Survey to predict and monitor flood levels across the country.
"The USGS will discontinue operation of up to 375 stream gauges nationwide due to budget cuts as a result of sequestration," the USGS notes on its website. Additional stream gauges may be affected if USGS partners at state and local agencies reduce their funding support.
USGS is quick to point out, though, they won't take out of service the gauges now being used to monitor the heavy floods soaking the Midwest. Robert Mason, deputy chief of the USGS Office of Surface Water, says the USGS plans to prioritize those gauges that are used by the National Weather Service for forecasting, so that the impact of the cuts is minimized.
In all, a total of 682 gauges have some level of funding issues (some of the gauges may not be shut off entirely). The USGS, which operates about 95% of the gauges, is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Continued in USA Today online...
Legislators prepare for potential ‘fracking’ in Florida
By Mary Ellen Klas and Curtis Morgan
TALLAHASSEE – No one knows if Florida is going to be the next frontier for the new generation of oil and gas drilling known as fracking, but state legislators say — just in case — it’s time to write rules to require disclosure of the controversial technology.
The Florida House on Wednesday is expected to pass a bill that will require companies to disclose what chemicals they use when they explore for oil and gas using the controversial extraction process.
Fracking uses hydraulic fracturing technology to inject water, sand and chemicals underground to create fractures in rock formations. Oil and gas is released through the fissures and is captured by wells, built at the sites. Environmentalists warn that the chemical makeup of the fluid that is pumped into the ground could contaminate groundwater and release harmful pollutants, such as methane, into the air.
Continued in the Bradenton Herald online...
EPA awards $198K to Central Florida Regional Planning Council for brownfields sites
ATLANTA – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on April 25th that it plans to award the Central Florida Regional Planning Council (CFRPC) with a brownfield grant to help them plan for the assessment, clean up and reuse of Brownfields properties. This funding is part of the Brownfields Area-Wide Planning program, which aims to help communities develop area-wide plans and specific implementation strategies for integrating the cleanup and reuse of brownfield sites into neighborhood revitalization efforts.
“EPA is certainly excited about the opportunity for communities in the Southeast Region to realize sustainable environmental results,” said EPA Region 4 Administrator, Gwen Keyes Fleming. “Through EPA’s Brownfields Program we support not just environmental revitalization but economic revitalization.”
EPA has selected the Central Florida Regional Planning Council as a Brownfields Area-Wide Planning grant recipient. CFRPC will work with the community, area businesses, the City of Lakeland and Polk County to develop an area-wide plan and implementation strategy for a brownfields property on the southeast shore of Lake Parker. Under this grant, CFRPC will carry out research, inventory existing conditions, effectively involve the community and other stakeholders to identify priorities, and identify the resources needed to bring the plan to fruition. Key partners who will work with the CFRPC are the City of Lakeland, Polk County, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Combee Area Revitalization Effort, and various other community groups.
Read the full EPA news release
Register for May 1st webcast on "Using Social Indicators in Watershed Management Projects"
The US Environmental Protection Agency is offering a webcast on May 1, 2013 from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm EDT. The topic will be "Using Social Indicators in Watershed Management Projects."
Working with landowners and managers to find effective and practical solutions to water quality problems is crucial to achieving environmental goals. Social indicators provide information about the social context, awareness, attitudes, capacities, constraints, and behaviors in a watershed or project area. Using social indicators can help resource managers and conservation professionals understand target audiences, select effective interventions, and evaluate their impacts.
At the end of this webcast, participants will understand some basic concepts of behavior change and have the tools to use a framework for using social indicators in nonpoint source management work.
To register for this Watershed Academy Webcast, please visit the link below. The webcast presentation will be posted in advance at this URL. Webcast participants are eligible to receive a certificate for their attendance.
More information, flyer, additional resources, online registration