Water-Related News

Florida lawmakers push water agenda

WASHINGTON – Fully upgrading the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee could be done three years ahead of schedule if Congress appropriated the full amount this year to complete the project, a senior U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official told a gathering of congressional lawmakers from Florida Wednesday (Feb. 15th).

“If we were able to maximize funding, we think we could move the timetable up to 2022 (from 2025),” Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds, the agency’s deputy district commander for South Florida, told the group. “There are some constraints with being able to work on components of the dike at the same time, so we don’t think it’s feasible to speed it up any faster than (that).”

But convincing Congress to pony up the $800 million for the dike — not to mention funds for dozens of other Everglades-related projects — won’t be easy considering the limited resources and competing interests on Capitol Hill, said Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Weston.

“We should all maintain a constant worry that the patience of our colleagues who have very major water projects of their own (around the nation) in the queue and the number of years that this project was expected to take — and is taking — has a tendency to wear thin not only on the staff that makes recommendations on funding these projects but on our colleagues.”

The bipartisan Florida congressional delegation met to discuss the state’s significant water woes, which range from last summer’s toxic algae blooms along the Atlantic coast that were visible from space, nutrient-addled shorelines in Southwest Florida that have wreaked economic devastation, and red tides that led to massive fish kills near Sarasota.

Much of Wednesday’s meeting focused on speeding up and funding the massive, multibillion-dollar project to rehabilitate the Everglades.

Haines city commissioners vote to suspend composting operation at controversial plant

HAINES CITY — No composting will take place at the controversial facility operated by BCR NuTerra until at least mid-March.

Although the item wasn't on the agenda, city commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to suspend composting at the facility until at least March 16.

"(This vote) is in line with our existing plan," said Robert Curry, a member of BCR's leadership team. "We're committed to addressing this issue. BCR is aligned with the commission, with the residents to address this and get this taken care of."

The facility, which began operations this summer, has been a topic of controversy for months. The plant, near the city's wastewater facility on East Park Road, brings in biosolids and other waste before it is composted into soil.

A half-dozen residents spoke before the commission Thursday night about issues related to the facility, ranging from the stench that resemble ammonia and dead animals to piles of sludge left on the street from trucks entering and leaving the facility.

Long slog likely if Trump EPA attempts WOTUS do-over

President Trump's pick to lead U.S. EPA, Scott Pruitt, is an avowed foe of the agency's Clean Water Rule.

As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt sued the Obama administration over what he deemed an unlawful expansion of federal regulatory power over isolated streams and wetlands. And if he's confirmed as EPA chief, he has said he will replace the rule.

But legal experts say killing that rule is one thing, replacing it another.

The regulation — which is also known by an acronym, WOTUS, for "Waters of the United States" — was written by the Obama EPA and Army Corps of Engineers in an effort to help regulators and landowners end a murky, decadeslong legal battle over the reach of the Clean Water Act.

At issue: unclear case law and a vaguely written statute.

Bernadette Rappold, former director of the EPA Office of Civil Enforcement's Special Litigation and Projects Division, said all the legal baggage complicates the effort to write a clear, scientifically defensible rule for protecting areas that are valuable as filters for water pollution, buffers for floodwaters and habitat for wildlife.

Florida has seen bad effects from Trump-like climate gag orders

Kristina Trotta was working for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in Miami in 2014 when she and her colleagues were called into a staff meeting. “We were told by the regional director that we were no longer supposed to say ‘global warming,’ ‘climate change’ or ‘sea level rise,’” says Trotta, who works on coral reef conservation. “We were finally told we are the governor’s agency and this is what the governor wants, and so this is what we’re going to do.”

Florida’s hush order, along with a similar effort in North Carolina, offers a preview of what will happen if Pres. Donald Trump continues preliminary moves to muzzle climate communication from key federal agencies. The Florida gag effort was part of a broader move by Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican who questions the scientific consensus on climate change. Experts and local officials say it hampered community efforts to plan for worsening flooding and extreme weather.

Now on the national level all references to climate change have been removed from the White House Web site (except those promising to eliminate Obama climate policies). Trump aides also reportedly ordered the deletion of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s main page on the topic, although those plans were put on hold after word leaked out. Federal agencies have more responsibilities than state authorities, including gathering and analyzing authoritative data about effects on wide areas of the country. If they pull back, the negative effects could be much bigger.

Household Hazardous Waste Collection event in Lakeland Feb. 28th

BARTOW – Polk County Waste & Recycling is encouraging residents of the City of Lakeland to dispose of toxic materials in a safe and environmentally sensitive way at an upcoming Household Hazardous Waste Collection event.

A Household Hazardous Waste Mobile Unit will be on site on February 18, at the Lakeland Solid Waste Parking Lot, located at 602 Evelyn Avenue in Lakeland, from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Representatives will be on-hand to collect small quantities of unused or unwanted waste products such as lawn and gardening chemicals and fertilizers, swimming pool chemicals, paint, household cleaning solutions, motor oil and used gas, batteries, fluorescent lamps, light bulbs and small appliances such as cell phones, computers, etc.

The staff at the event will be offering convenient drive-thru disposal of items so residents won’t have to leave their vehicles. This event is open to all Polk County residents.

For more information about this event, or to find out about future collection events, visit this link or call Polk County Waste & Recycling at 863-284-4319.

Composting company tries to reassure Haines City residents that plant will be fixed

HAINES CITY &ndsh; Dead animal carcasses, feces and the occasional profanity dominated the conversation during a workshop at the Haines City Public Library on Tuesday night.

The workshop was the first of three set up to create a dialogue between residents who have had complaints with a compost facility and the facility's upper management team at BCR Environmental.

The facility, which was built this summer, turns human waste into soil. Residents in the area have been complaining about a series of smells ranging from dead animals to ammonia.

"We're not the big bad wolf," said Joshua Scott, president and chief operations officer of BCR. "We hear you and we're responding."

Fred Mussari, the company's vice president of technology, said the smell was related to a less than thorough mixing of the biosolids. Mussari said Tuesday that the facility manager and two other employees had been let go.

Mussari said he was personally going to train the new and remaining staff members to do it correctly.

Legislature needs educating about flood risk

A state senator proposing legislation to mitigate flood risk said Friday that lawmakers in Tallahassee don’t fully appreciate the extent of that risk.

Brandes discussed flood insurance during the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Insurance Summit in Miami.

He has introduced SB 584, to create a statewide flood mitigation and assistance program, providing up to $50 million per year in matching grant money.

The money would help reduce the risk and severity of coastal flooding by using Amendment 1 resources for land acquisition and preservation, and extending the expiration of deregulated rates in flood insurance to 2025 from 2017, giving the flood insurance market more time to grow.

National Flood Insurance Program costs less in communities that have mitigated their flood risk, Brandes said during a short interview.

Polk County Commission won't fund Soil and Water Conservation District

Polk County's Soil and Water Conservation District, an agency that was nearly dissolved in 2015 because of a lack of activity, took a hit Friday from Polk County commissioners.

County Commissioner George Lindsey said he has no plans to fund the district, which is comprised of five newly elected supervisors.

"No one in Polk County has been harmed by the absence of this agency," Lindsey said at Friday's agenda review meeting. "I have no intention of funding this agency in any fashion."

Brett Upthagrove, the new chairman, said it was a disheartening message from the county.

Upthagrove said the agency wasn't aware commissioners planned to discuss the agency.

Other county commissioners said the environmental concerns stated in the Soil and Water Conservation District's purpose are addressed by other agencies such as the South West Florida Management District.

Brian Dockery, one of the newly elected supervisors and treasurer of the district, said he doesn't intend to ask the county for money right now.

What would happen to Florida if the EPA really did go away?

For years the Environmental Protection Agency has been depicted as a jackbooted thug, a humorless generator of red tape, even the nefarious villain in such films as The Simpsons Movie and the original Ghostbusters.

Now the agency started by a Republican president, Richard Nixon, faces an uncertain future. The new president who once pledged to eliminate it now promises to refocus it. The man he nominated to be its new leader, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, made his reputation suing it. Meanwhile, a Florida congressman has filed a bill to obliterate it.

Under the bill filed by U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, the EPA would cease to exist at the end of 2018.

"They have exceeded their original mission substantially under both Republican and Democratic presidents and violated the sovereignty of the states," Gaetz said in explaining his bill. "I think we need to start fresh."

His bill would leave it to "states and local governments to protect their environmental assets in the absence of federal overreach."

Obliterating EPA would create chaos, experts say

After soliciting endorsement from his colleagues earlier this week to eradicate the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz has garnered support from a trio of congressmen in what he assures would translate to a smooth transition in oversight and regulations from the federal government to individual states.

But legal experts disagree with the Fort Walton Beach Republican, arguing that eliminating the agency would incite statutory chaos and devastating impacts to human health and the environment.

"When it was originally created, states and local communities didn’t have the technology or expertise to protect the environment," said Gaetz, who has targeted 2018 for when he hopes to see the agency disappear. "We’ve come a long way in the last 50 years. Time and again, I’ve seen constituents unknowingly subject themselves to the oppressive jurisdiction of the EPA by doing simple things."

Gaetz said Reps. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Barry Loudermilk (R-GA) have agreed to co-sponsor a bill to the House Committee on Natural Resources to eliminate the agency. At that point, the committee's chairman, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), would decide if it would be put to a vote. Many environmental protection laws create legal standing for states to enforce federally administrated regulations. Gaetz contended that without the EPA, authority for those laws would simply shift to states. But multiple professors at the University of Florida Levin College of Law contradicted him.

"A lot of states just don’t have resources available to them," said Mary Jane Angelo, professor and director of the Environmental and Land Use Law Program at the university. "Wealthier states would have better protection for their citizens’ health than poorer states."

In Florida, debate over pollution limits rages

In Florida, members of the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation argued with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in January about its handling of controversial new water pollution limits.

The Tallahassee Democrat reported that In May, the DEP introduced an update to human health criteria “for 43 chemical compounds that are allowed in Florida’s rivers, lakes and estuaries and [created] new limits for 39 others.”

The agency’s plan received a lot of criticism from environmental groups, not only because of the relaxed standards for some of the chemicals but also because of the way the agency presented the proposal.

The Tallahassee Democrat reported that on May 15 Florida wanted to weaken its restrictions on roughly two dozen cancer-causing chemicals that it would allow in its surface waters.

DEP Secretary Jon Steverson said the coverage "inaccurately and unfairly" depicted the agency's proposal.

"The state has some of the most comprehensive water quality standards in the country, including the most advanced numeric nutrient criteria in the entire nation," Steverson told the Tallahassee Democrat. "We will continue to coordinate with EPA to adopt standards that will ensure our residents and natural resources enjoy clean and safe water."

Originally, the DEP stated that it would take the proposal to the state Environmental Regulation Commission (ERC) for approval in the fall but changed the meeting to July. The ERC had then voted on the plan while two of its seats set aside for environmental and local government representation were vacant. The ERC in July approved the limits in a 3 to 2 vote.

State may require licensing for kayaks, canoes, paddle boards

Update: FWC refutes assertion that licensing is intended

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released a statement clarifying its position on the licensing of non-motorized watercraft, as follows:

Today, a group of citizens and stakeholders charged to make recommendations to FWC’s Boating Advisory Council considered a proposal for expanding vessel registration to non-motorized boats in Florida. The FWC appreciates the work of this advisory group, but we are not supportive of increasing fees on Floridians or visitors who participate in non-motorized boating. The FWC greatly values our boating community and will continue to work hard to keep Florida’s standing as the boating capital of the world without increasing costs and fees.

—Nick Wiley, FWC Executive Director


Original News Article:

To fans of kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding, gliding along Florida waters is an expression of freedom; to advocates of boating-regulation reform, it's time to mandate licensing for small craft without motors.

A citizens panel assembled by state-boating authorities will meet in Orlando on Wednesday to explore what could become a path to adopting registration and fees for small boats powered by humans, wind and currents.

"That sounds like a root canal for a paddler," said retired Coast Guard officer William Griswold, a member of the Non-Motorized Boats Working Group, a panel reporting ultimately to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "But we need to start to get a grip on how many of these boats are out there."

Proposals for licensing Florida's canoes, kayaks and other motorless craft have surfaced in past years.

Each has been met by vehement opposition from paddlers and sailors of small boats, who say their pastime is healthy, affordable, inflicts little harm to the environment and is akin to riding a bicycle.

President Trump transition leader's goal is two-thirds cut in EPA employees

The red lights are flashing at the Environmental Protection Agency.

The words of Myron Ebell, the former head of President Donald Trump's EPA transition team, warn employees of a perilous future. Ebell wants the agency to go on a severe diet.

It's one that would leave many federal employees with hunger pains, and jobless too.

Ebell has suggested cutting the EPA workforce by 5,000, about a two-thirds reduction, over the next four years. The agency's budget of $8.1 billion would be sliced in half under his prescription, which he emphasized is his own and not necessarily Trump's.

Court reinstates EPA rule to allow pumping dirty water unchecked

South Florida water managers can keep moving dirty water from farms and suburbs into the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee without obtaining federal pollution permits, a divided U.S. appeals court ruled this week in New York.

The ruling stems from a decades-long battle by the Miccosukee Tribe and environmentalists to stop water managers from moving water from one body of water to another — for supplies, flood control or other purposes — without first obtaining a federal pollution permit. Dirty water has been at the heart of Everglades restoration, where marshes can quickly get choked by water rich in nutrients. Similar cases eventually surfaced around the country, with sporting groups and environmentalists similarly fighting to keep dirty water from natural areas.

Wednesday’s decision, the result of consolidating a number of cases before New York’s 2nd Circuit court, means the South Florida Water Management District can continue moving water unchecked, which environmentalists directly blame for fouling the Everglades.

Environmental groups want EPA to nix Florida’s new water standards

With a series of legal challenges still hanging fire, environmental groups are asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reject Florida’s controversial water quality standards.

Environmental groups are asking the EPA to reject Florida's latest water quality standards.

Rachel Silverstein, executive director of Miami Waterkeepers, accuses state regulators of using a statistical sleight of hand to justify higher levels of toxins.

“We’re really concerned about things like the bioaccumulation factor and how these chemicals actually accumulate in fish and then get transferred to the human population; toxicity limits and other ways that they accounted for risk.”

The standards are being challenged administratively and in a Pensacola federal court. State regulators say the standards, which are more stringent for some pollutants and more lax for others, are safe and based on the latest science.