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4/22/2014

New springs bill revised to remove language objectionable to ag groups, home builders

A proposed rewrite of a Senate springs bill filed on Monday would provide $55 million for projects and would revise language that raised concerns with homebuilders and agricultural groups.

SB 1576 is scheduled to be heard Tuesday (Apr. 22nd) by the Senate Committee on Appropriations during an all day meeting in which more than 50 bills are on the agenda.

Springs across the state have become covered with slimy algae as nitrogen in groundwater has increased. Sources of nitrogen include lawn and agricultural fertilizer, stockyards, septic tanks, dirty stormwater runoff and sewage plant discharges.

Environmentalists offered a mixed response to the proposed new bill language. A representative of the Florida Cattlemen's Association said the language was better and that the group is not supporting or opposing the bill because it still is being worked on.

Continued in The Florida Current...

4/22/2014

Strategic plan update sets 5-year path for SJRWMD

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PALATKA – The St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) set a road map for meeting the District's water resource challenges over the next five years when the Governing Board today approved an update to the Strategic Plan.

With the Governing Board endorsement of the plan, which sets goals and strategic priorities, the District will continue its focus on 12 key initiatives and eight continuing core programs. The Strategic Plan allows the District to focus on the most important water issues.

The Strategic Plan includes the following 12 key initiatives:

  • Develop and implement sound science-based solutions to ensure the availability of sufficient water for existing and future uses
  • Protect water resources from significant harm due to water withdrawals by establishing necessary and sufficient minimum flows and levels
  • Ensure sustainable water supplies and protect groundwater systems in the District's north Florida region
  • Work in partnership with the Central Florida Water Initiative to identify and further develop the Regional Water Supply Plan
  • Protect the water quality and ecological value of the middle and lower St. Johns River
  • Enhance and protect the water quality and ecological habitat of the coastal basins of northeast Florida
  • Restore the ecological, recreational and economic value of Lake Apopka and the Upper Ocklawaha River Basin
  • Optimize flood control, protect and enhance natural ecosystems, and improve water quality in the upper St. Johns River
  • Protect and restore the water quality and ecological habitat of the Indian River Lagoon
  • Utilize District resources to develop and coordinate the protection and restoration of major springs
  • Develop a framework for levee and water control structure maintenance and restoration
  • Identify and implement restoration and vegetation management projects on District-owned lands

The continuing core programs will include ongoing science, data collection and management, and regulatory and administrative support services to all District programs.

In April 2013, the Governing Board adopted its first Strategic Plan, which is updated annually, and is for a minimum five-year planning horizon. It includes a "report card" of how well the District achieved its fiscal year 2012-2013 milestones and success indicators.

Source: St. Johns River Water Management District news release

4/22/2014

FIU Professors Win Grant For Sea-Level Rise Project

Florida International University is one of twelve colleges in the country to win a grant from the Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education this year. Four FIU journalism professors proposed a project on sea-level rise in South Florida.

Juliet Pinto, Susan Jacobson, Kate MacMillan and Robert Gutsche proposed and are now creating the Sea-Level Rise South Florida project. The goal is to give South Floridians easy access to data on sea-level rise, using a website and an app created by students.

"It's really getting the citizens into the classroom and the students out of the classroom," says Robert Gutsche.

Continued on WLRN.org...

4/21/2014

Free Webinar on Water Quality

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EPA will be hosting a free webinar on April 23 from 1:00pm- 2:00pm Eastern Time to detail the new enhancements to How's My Waterway, a mobile friendly website that enables users to easily access water quality information for their local lakes, rivers, and streams.

The mobile friendly website has proven popular with the general public and more technical users alike because of its plain-English approach, map and list formats, simple design, and rapid retrieval of local-scale information. The enhanced version includes, among other things, drinking water source protection areas, watershed information, information on local permits that limit pollutant discharges, and National fish habitat partnerships to restore waterways to protect and improve fish habitats.

EPA water scientist Doug Norton, who developed How's My Waterway, will discuss the new enhancements and provide practical examples of how the tool can be used by various audiences. Visit How's My Waterway or register for the webinar here.

4/21/2014

Oil company drilling in sanctuary fined $25,000 for violation that could be fracking



The Texas company that stirred controversy by applying to drill for oil in Florida panther habitat was doing more with one of its wells than what its state permit allowed.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection on Friday afternoon revealed that it had fined the Dan A. Hughes Co. $25,000 for violating its permit. The violation involves using a process that sounds like fracking — although the word "fracking" appears nowhere in either Friday's DEP news release or the legal paperwork about the fine from 10 days earlier.

Instead, the 12-page consent order, dated April 8, says DEP officials became concerned about a "workover operation" that the Texas company launched without DEP permission in late December 2013. The well site is on an island surrounded by the National Audubon Society's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a major nesting site for wood storks. DEP officials told Hughes to stop right away.

Determining exactly what the company did is difficult because the DEP censored that part of the order, labeling it "a confidential trade secret."

However, the DEP news release says Hughes "proposed an enhanced extraction procedure that had not previously been used in Florida. The company proposed to inject a dissolving solution at sufficient pressure to achieve some openings in the oil-bearing rock formation that would be propped open with sand in pursuit of enhancing oil production."

That matches the dictionary definition of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking: "the forcing open of fissures in subterranean rocks by introducing liquid at high pressure, especially to extract oil or gas." Florida Petroleum Council executive director David Mica said it may mean Hughes was fracking, or it could mean it used one of several similar procedures.

Fracking has helped the United States vastly expand its production of natural gas by allowing greater access to reserves once considered too difficult to tap. However, scientists have expressed concern that the chemicals used in fracking may pose an environmental threat. Studies of fracking sites in Texas, Pennsylvania and Wyoming found elevated levels of arsenic in the groundwater, and Ohio geologists found a probable connection between fracking and a sudden burst of mild earthquakes.

The DEP's order, which resulted from negotiations with Hughes officials, says the company must provide an "estimate of the total amount of flowback material" from the injection and explain where and how it disposed of it. The types of chemicals used were not named.

The order also says the Texas company must put in four monitoring wells to watch for any pollution spreading beyond its drilling site that might contaminate drinking water wells.

The company also must pay for independent experts to consider "the potential for injected or native fluids to migrate through the deep geological formations or the well casing into surrounding groundwater-bearing zones" —in other words, the aquifer.

DEP officials would say little about the order and did not respond to a reporter's request to interview Ed Garrett, who heads up the oil and gas permit program. Hughes officials did not return repeated calls. Neither did anyone from Collier Resources, which owns the land.

Joe Mule, as president of Preserve Our Paradise, has led protests against a DEP permit allowing Hughes to drill on the edge of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge as well as about 1,000 feet from the nearest occupied home in Naples' Golden Gate Estates neighborhood. He said nobody from the DEP had told him or his neighbors of what the company had done.

Neither the DEP nor Hughes disclosed the violation during a recent hearing on the Golden Gate permit, said Preserve Our Paradise attorney Ralf Brookes.

Florida is not exactly Texas, where oil fields produced 588 million barrels of crude last year. But there are geological formations in the Panhandle and the area west of Lake Okeechobee that produced more than 2 million barrels in 2012.

As of last count there were 156 active wells in Florida, and the oil they pump out provided $700 million in tax revenue for the state. The oldest oil field is in Collier County, where the company that's now Exxon drilled its first well in 1942.

Rising oil prices in recent years have spurred a push to increase drilling in Florida, and Hughes has been in the forefront. Last year the company boasted, "Hughes has been in the business of drilling oil and gas wells for over 50 years and enjoys an exemplary reputation as a domestic and international operator."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Craig Pittman can be reached at craig@tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @craigtimes.

4/18/2014

Register now for "Ag Module 2014: Innovation in the Water Space"

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On April 24 and 25, Florida Earth, in partnership with Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD), University of Florida IFAS, Florida Farm Bureau and Crystal Springs Preserve, will host the SWFWMD Edition of the Ag Module Series.

​What: The Ag Module: SWFWMD Edition
When: April 24 & 25, 2014, 8:30 AM to 4 PM each day
Where: Crystal Springs Preserve, Crystal Springs, Florida
Cost: $95 for the first day, $195 for both days

The first day of the two-day forum will be held at beautiful Crystal Springs Preserve just south of Zephyrhills, northeast of Tampa, and will feature speakers addressing agriculture's interaction with water and programs designed to enhance stewardship in this space. The second day will be in the field visiting sites talked about on the first day including a tour of the UF IFAS Gulf Coast Research & Education Center and SMR Farms. For agenda and registration, visit the link below.

Featured Speakers:
• Craig Stanley (UF/IFAS)
• Ernie Cox: Family Lands
• Mac Carraway: SMR Farms
• Eric DeHaven: SWFWMD
• Michelle Hopkins: SWFWMD
• Robert Thomas: Two Rivers Ranch

Draft agenda and online registration

4/15/2014

Do you know what to do if you hook a pelican?

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Photo by C. Frank Starmer

Catch fish, not pelicans! With just a little extra attention to your surroundings, you and your pelican friends can both have a great day out on the water.

The brown pelican is now a common sight on the coasts. Pelicans eat smaller fish that are not preferred by recreational fishermen and that are not commercially important. Pelicans are protected by federal and state laws.

A brown pelican’s keen eyesight allows it to spot fish from high in the air. Plunge-diving for fish is their specialty. After surfacing and draining water from its pouch, the pelican swallows its well-deserved catch. Even though pelicans are large birds with broad wingspans, their feathers and hollow bones are very light, exquisitely designed for agile and expert flight.

Entanglement in fishing gear may be their number one enemy, leading to slow death from dehydration and starvation. Bony fish scraps are also a killer, tearing the pouch or lodging in the throat. Feeding pelicans draws them to fishing areas and puts them in danger. Shorebirds, storks, herons, terns and gulls are also casualties. We can all help keep pelicans alive and healthy.

Audubon Florida has produced a handy brochure that gives step-by-step instructions for safely removing a fishing hook from a pelican or other shore bird. Print it out and keep one in your tackle box… Just in case!

"What to do if you hook a pelican" brochure

4/7/2014

Senate committee approves estuary reauthorization bill

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Legislation Would Reauthorize Program First Established by Sen. John Chafee

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee today approved the Clean Estuaries Act of 2014, introduced by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), to reauthorize the National Estuary Program (NEP). The legislation, crafted with Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA), was approved with bipartisan support. The program was first established in 1987 by the late Republican Senator John Chafee to protect and restore estuarine habitats threatened by pollution and overdevelopment. Authorization for this important program expired in 2010.

“Estuaries are important for fisheries and wildlife, for tourism and recreation, and they are disappearing,” Whitehouse said. “Estuaries also provide buffers against dangerous winds and storm surges, protecting homes and critical infrastructure in our coastal communities. Protecting and strengthening our estuaries is our defense against these threats, and our way of protecting the economic and social value they provide.”

Although the program expired in 2010, it has continued to receive funding through the congressional appropriations process. Reauthorizing the law, however, provides an opportunity to make needed improvements to the program. Whitehouse’s legislation would maintain the funding authorization for the NEP at $35 million per year while also limiting the amount of the funding that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – which administers the program – can use for overhead. This change will help ensure that more funds are directed straight to the field programs.

Source: News release from Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

4/3/2014

Environmentalists fight proposed bill that reduces local control of water resources

By Jessie Van Berkel

TALLAHASSEE — Environmentalists across Florida are on edge as a bill that would reduce local control over environmental protection moves through the state Legislature.

The House bill would limit counties’ ability to enforce regulations on springs, stormwater and wetlands adopted after July 2003, and allow local government officials to change their long-range growth plans with a simple majority vote. Currently, if Sarasota County and other communities change their plans, by increasing density in a certain area, for example, a supermajority — four of the five commissioners — must support the move.

The bill would also allow for decades-long water use permits to be granted to major developments on rural land.

“This bill not only wreaks havoc with the environment, it hits at our ability to have local control,” said Gerry Swormstedt, a conservation chairwoman for the Manatee-Sarasota Group of the Sierra Club.

Continued in the News-Journal Online...

4/3/2014

Charlotte Harbor Coastal Awareness Day event promotes community resilience

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The Nature Conservancy in Florida is hosting Charlotte Harbor Coastal Awareness Day on Saturday, April 26 from 10 am – 3 pm at Laishley Park Municipal Marina. This family-friendly event highlights Punta Gorda’s efforts to become a more resilient coastal community. Learn about the Conservancy’s work in Punta Gorda to restore oyster reefs, volunteer to make oyster mats, and meet leaders in the city who are planning ahead for sea level rise.

Coastal Awareness Day highlights the Conservancy’s efforts to develop natural solutions to help coastal communities weather the impacts of storms and prepare for sea level rise in Florida. The Nature Conservancy is collaborating with the Florida DEP-Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves, Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, and the City of Punta Gorda to create oyster reef habitat adjacent to Trabue Harborwalk – and you can help!

Join us on April 26 at Laishley Park Municipal Marina to get your hands dirty and experience first-hand the power of communities working together to return critical oyster reef habitat to Charlotte Harbor. Volunteers will help prepare oyster mats for deployment in Charlotte Harbor and learn how Punta Gorda is leading the way in buffering its coast against storms and sea-level rise.

Charlotte Harbor Coastal Awareness Day is hosted by The Nature Conservancy and the City of Punta Gorda, with support from Florida Weekly and WCGU – Southwest Florida Public Broadcasting. For details, visit www.nature.org/coastalawarenessday.

WHAT: Charlotte Harbor Coastal Awareness Day
WHEN: Saturday, April 26, 2014, 10 am – 3 pm
WHERE: Laishley Park Municipal Marina, 120 Laishley Ct., Punta Gorda, FL 33950

A Family Friendly Event — No RSVP Necessary

Schedule of Activities:
  • Oyster Mat Making: 10 am–3 pm
  • Kid’s Craft Station: 10 am–3 pm
  • Nature Can Help! Panel Discussion hosted by John Davis of WGCU: 11 am–noon
    • Christine Shepard – Director of Science, Gulf of Mexico Program, The Nature Conservancy
    • Laura Geselbracht – Senior Marine Scientist, Florida Chapter, The Nature Conservancy
    • Joan LeBeau – Chief Planner, City of Punta Gorda
    • Lisa Beever – Director, Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program
  • Coastal Resilience 2.0 (There’s an app for that): 1:30 pm–2 pm

Contact Information
Rocio Johnson, Marketing Manager, The Nature Conservancy, rocio_johnson@tnc.org
phone: (305) 432-2440.
http://www.nature.org/florida/
3/31/2014

Federal judge rules Okeechobee pumping illegal

TALLAHASSEE – A federal judge says pumping water from farmlands into public water supplies such as Florida's Lake Okeechobee violates the Clean Water Act.

Environmental groups say Friday's ruling by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas in New York's Southern District was "long overdue."

The nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice first filed its case in 2002 over polluted water from sugar cane and vegetable fields pumped into Lake Okeechobee. Earthjustice argued that the South Florida Water Management District violated federal law by allowing agricultural companies to send polluted water into southern Florida's water supply without decontaminating it first.

The Florida case was bundled with similar claims from several other states and heard in New York federal court.

Environmental groups say stopping pollution at its source is key to fixing South Florida's water problems.

Source: Associated Press

3/26/2014

Opinions sought on new Watershed Stewards Academy program

A team of faculty from the University of Florida (UF) is working on the development of a new educational program. They are reaching out to environmental organizations to get input about the level of interest and curriculum content.

The proposed program is called the Watershed Stewards Academy and it will be offered through UF/IFAS Extension. The program will be modeled after many of the other “Master” programs the University of Florida offers (like Master Gardener, Master Naturalist, etc.) with 7 to 12 sessions over a period of time. It will focus on enhancing Floridians’ connection to water; relationships with the watershed in which they live, work and play; and the dynamic interaction of water quality, quantity and their associated policies and regulations. It could include potential action projects and lead to volunteer service in local communities.

The Watershed Stewards Academy team has developed a state-wide needs assessment to aid in the development of this program and they want to hear from you! Your responses to this survey will help them design the program to best meet the needs of potential participants like you. Based on this brief description, they would very much appreciate your time in completing this survey. Approximate survey time: 10 minutes.

Take the survey

Contact Information
Lara Miller, Natural Resources Agent, Pinellas County Extension, lmiller@pinellascounty.org, 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo, FL. 33774
phone: (727) 453-6905.
http://pinellas.ifas.ufl.edu/
3/26/2014

House, Senate differ sharply over agricultural water spending in their budget proposals

The proposed House and Senate fiscal year 2014-15 budgets are close on several key programs within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services budget but are far apart on the department's water programs.

The House budget would provide $47.7 million for agricultural water policy programs including $34.3 million from general revenue. The Senate budget includes $20.5 million for those programs including $7.1 million from general revenue.

The House water programs proposal provides $24.5 million for agricultural nonpoint source best management practices including $5 million for springs, $3 million for the Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and $1.5 million for the Bessey Creek hybrid wetland treatment system.

The Senate proposal provides $16.5 million for those programs with the only specified spending being $3 million for the Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

In addition, the House provides $9 million for hybrid wetlands treatment projects in the Everglades region and $10 million for Okeechobee restoration and agricultural projects.

Continued in The Florida Current...

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