Current News Items (within the last 30 days)
Gov. Scott wants more staffing cuts in health, environment
For the fifth year in a row, Gov. Rick Scott is asking for big job cuts to state agencies responsible for health care and the environment.
In his budget priorities released Monday, Scott asks the Legislature to eliminate a net of 718 jobs in the Department of Health and 152 in the Department of Environmental Protection.
All told, if the Legislature honors Scott’s request, the Department of Health will have shrunk by a fifth — more than 3,400 jobs eliminated — since Scott’s first budget in 2011-2012. More than 1,500 of those are in the last two years.
By and large, the cuts are expected to be for positions funded by the Legislature that have not been filled by Scott's agencies. About 200 jobs are expected to be connected to the transitioning of a health care plan for kids to be run by private insurers. Many of those could be filled by state workers who could be reassigned into other open jobs.
That means few workers are expected to lose their jobs. But it also means jobs for which the Legislature has set aside money are not being filled.
Scott is asking to eliminate more than 500 jobs in county health departments, which are charged with serving low-income people across the state. Last year, the governor asked for 758 health department jobs to be cut. Lawmakers got rid of an additional 55.
Continued in The Tampa Bay Times »
DEP welcomes new director of water policy
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection recently welcomed Ryan Matthews as the new Director of the Office of Water Policy. Matthews will be responsible for overseeing the coordination and implementation of Florida’s statewide water policy issues with water management districts and other agencies.
“Ryan will be a tremendous asset to the department and Office of Water Policy,” said DEP Secretary Jon Steverson. “His education and experience will enable him to coordinate and address Florida’s most pressing water issues with water management districts, local governments and stakeholders.”
Matthews earned his Juris Doctor from Florida Coastal School of Law and an L.L.M. in Environmental/Natural Resources Law from University of Denver-Sturm College of Law. He brings experience from both the private and public sectors, where he focused on issues relating to the environment, water standards and growth management at local, state and federal levels. Most recently, he served as first assistant general counsel and associate director of Legislative Affairs for the Florida League of Cities.
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Announces Projects
More than $80 Million goes toward a third round of Gulf restoration programs
On Tuesday, November 10th the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced the award of more than $80 million from its Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund (GEBF). The funding will go toward 22 projects in the states of Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Texas. This is the third round of grants from the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund (GEBF). Projects in Florida that received funding include:
- Enhanced Assessment for Recovery of Gulf of Mexico Fisheries - Phase III $5,814,200
- Pensacola East Bay Oyster Habitat Restoration- Phase I $1,957,600
- Increased Capacity for Marine Mammal Response & Analysis $4,400,000
- Eliminating Light Pollution on Sea Turtle Nesting Beaches - Phase II $2,115,100
- Water Quality Improvements to Enhance Fisheries Habitat in the Lower
- Choctawhatchee River Basin - Phase I $931,600
- Florida Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund Restoration Strategy $4,514,048
Click here for more information about the projects receiving funding
Red Tide Report 11-13-15
As evident from recent satellite images, fish kill reports, and analysis of water samples, blooms of the Florida red tide organism are currently present along Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, and Bay counties in Northwest Florida and Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, and Lee counties in Southwest Florida.
In Northwest Florida over the past week, Karenia brevis was detected in low concentrations in one sample collected alongshore of Escambia County; in very low concentrations in 3 samples collected inshore of Okaloosa County; and in very low to high concentrations in 9 samples collected in and alongshore of Bay County. In Southwest Florida, Karenia brevis was detected in very low to high concentrations in 6 samples collected in and alongshore of Pinellas County; background to medium concentrations in 8 samples collected in and alongshore of Manatee County; very low to high concentrations in 25 samples collected in and alongshore of Sarasota County; background to low concentrations in 5 samples collected in and alongshore of Charlotte County; and background to very low concentrations in 7 samples collected in, along, and offshore of Lee County. One sample collected alongshore of Collier County also contained background concentrations of K. brevis. In addition, one sample collected alongshore of Miami-Dade County on the East Coast contained background concentrations of K. brevis. Samples were not collected this week in Santa Rosa, Franklin, Wakulla, Jefferson, Taylor, Dixie, Levy, Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, or Monroe counties along the Gulf Coast. FWC continues to receive reports of fish kills in bloom areas in both Northwest and Southwest Florida. Respiratory irritation is possible throughout the areas where red tide is present.
Forecasts by the USF-FWC Collaboration for Prediction of Red Tides show a slight easterly movement of bloom patches in Northwest Florida and a slight southerly movement of bloom patches in Southwest Florida over the next three days.
This information, including maps and reports with additional details, is also available on the FWRI Red Tide website. The website also provides links to additional information related to the topic of Florida red tide including satellite imagery, experimental red tide forecasts, shellfish harvesting areas, the FWC Fish Kill Hotline, the Florida Poison Information Center (to report human health effects related to exposure to red tide), and other wildlife related hotlines.
To learn more about various organisms that have been known to cause algal blooms in Florida waters, see the FWRI Red Tide Flickr page. Archived status maps can also be found on Flickr.
New Swiftmud Water Plan Reflects Advances In Conservation
Swiftmud’s regional plan is now part of a another regional plan called the Central Florida Water Initiative whose purpose is to come up with a long-term, sustainable plan to supply water in what is essentially the greater metro area surrounding Orlando, which includes Polk County.
It traces its origins to an earlier cooperative that was ordered to be established under orders from then-Gov. Jeb Bush to head off what appeared to be a protracted and wasteful legal fight over water allocation reminiscent of what happened in the Tampa Bay area decades earlier.
The reason water allocation decisions nearly ended up in court was because scientists had concluded that the Orlando area had reached the point where its projected water demands threatened to outstrip the ability of the Floridan aquifer to supply it.
This had happened decades ago in parts of the Tampa Bay area. That forced the development of wellfields in then-rural inland areas north of Tampa and St. Petersburg. Those wellfields eventually pumped so much water from underground that the effects showed up above ground. Lakes went dry. Cypress domes went brown. In areas closer to the coast, the increased pumping allowed salt water to advance into what were once sections of the aquifer filled with fresh water.
Here in Polk, Kissengen Spring, a second-magnitude spring that fed the Peace River south of Bartow for millenia, quit flowing in 1950 as a result of heavy groundwater pumping by the phosphate industry. It never recovered and it’s unlikely it ever will.
In the meantime occasional droughts, such as the ones in 1981 and 2000, highlighted the limits of water supplies in this part of Florida, which are totally dependent on rainfall.
What this all means is that water plans these days must include two important elements: conservation and development of alternative water supplies, which means using something besides wells to take care of part of future demand.
Continued in The Ledger »
Shocking new way to get the salt out
As the availability of clean, potable water becomes an increasingly urgent issue in many parts of the world, researchers are searching for new ways to treat salty, brackish or contaminated water to make it usable. Now a team at MIT has come up with an innovative approach that, unlike most traditional desalination systems, does not separate ions or water molecules with filters, which can become clogged, or boiling, which consumes great amounts of energy.
Instead, the system uses an electrically driven shockwave within a stream of flowing water, which pushes salty water to one side of the flow and fresh water to the other, allowing easy separation of the two streams. The new approach is described in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters, in a paper by professor of chemical engineering and mathematics Martin Bazant, graduate student Sven Schlumpberger, undergraduate Nancy Lu, and former postdoc Matthew Suss.
This approach is “a fundamentally new and different separation system,” Bazant says. And unlike most other approaches to desalination or water purification, he adds, this one performs a “membraneless separation” of ions and particles.
Continued on MIT News »
District Board approves regional water supply plan strategies for central Florida
The St. Johns River Water Management District's Governing Board today approved the amended Regional Water Supply Plan (RWSP) and the draft 2035 Water Resources Protection and Water Supply Strategies Plan (Solutions Plan) for five counties in central Florida.
The RWSP charts a long-term course for water supply in the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI) region, which includes Orange, Osceola, Polk, Seminole and south Lake counties through 2035.
The plans call for more aggressive water conservation programs, expanded and more efficient water reuse projects, and a comprehensive menu of alternative water-supply project options to ensure adequate water supplies for the region through 2035.
Water supply plans identify future water supply needs for a 20-year planning horizon, and programs and projects needed to ensure sustainable supplies. However, the plans do not require that specific projects be implemented. Decisions to choose project options are made at the local level by water supply utilities.
"The board's vote to approve the CFWI plans allows us to move to the next steps in the important work of water supply planning in central Florida," said Governing Board Chairman John Miklos. "By working collaboratively, the region will be able to meet future demands through appropriate management of water resources, increased conservation and reclaimed water use, and alternative water supply projects."
The plans will be considered by partnering water management districts' governing boards over the next two weeks -- the South Florida Water Management District on Nov. 12 and the Southwest Florida Water Management District on Nov. 17.
The CFWI is a collaborative effort that engages three water management districts, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, central Florida utilities and stakeholders representing agricultural interests, the business community, local governments, and the environmental community.
The CFWI process led to the creation of a regional groundwater model, which found that the potential water-supply needs of 2035 could exceed the sustainable limits of the Floridan aquifer by as much as 250 million gallons a day. The plans identify more project options than are needed to meet the region's water supply needs.
The plans represent more than five years of a coordinated effort led by the CFWI involving many experts in the fields of water supply and water management. More than 6,000 stakeholders participated in the process by attending public meetings and providing comments that helped shape the plans.
Click here to view original article »
Winter Haven Commission OKs water study
Winter Haven is on board with a $100,000 water study to determine the best way to implement a regional water plan.
Polk County is planning a regional water authority to deal with a projected shortage of drinking water as the population expands and water use increases — and that means the eventual rise in the price of water. City officials said that 16 of the 17 municipalities in the county are involved in the plan, with only tiny Highland Park taking a pass.
The study will cost more than $200,000, officials said, with other members of the authority contributing the rest of the money.
City commissioners Monday night at City Hall unanimously approved the spending.
City Manager Deric Feacher said the project “will benefit Winter Haven and other areas” of the county.
“This is something we’ve been pushing since 2009,” Commissioner Steven Hunnicutt said.
Commissioner Brad Dantzler calls the plan “good news” for Winter Haven.
In interviews, Mike Britt, the city's utility services assistant director, and Danny Kushmer, a Southwest Florida Water Management District government affairs manager, explained why the vote is a good deal.
Continued in The Ledger »
Microplastics: A macro threat
Eight trillion microbeads enter into marine habitats every day in the United States alone. That’s enough to cover over 300 tennis courts every day, according to a research paper published in September in the Environmental Science and Technology journal.
Maia McGuire of University of Florida Institute Food and Agricultural Sciences has made it her passion to spread awareness about microplastics. McGuire was awarded a Marine Debris grant from NOAA to continue her research.
“I have this great new project called Florida Microplastic Awareness Project. This was funded by a grant from NOAA’s Marine Debris Project,” says McGuire.
Volunteers help McGuire collect water samples along the coast and look for the presence of plastic.
“Microplastics are microscopic pieces of plastic debris, generally defined as being less than 5 millimeters in size,” says McGuire.
The type of microplastics that are found in everyday products such as face wash, toothpaste, deodorant and even cosmetics are called microbeads. They are made of polyethylene or polypropylene and they are contaminating the world’s oceans.
Continued on Gargoyle.flagler.edu »
Global warming's fingerprints are all over recent extreme weather, research shows
Extreme weather events, from droughts to floods and heat waves, are some of the most tangible present day impacts of global warming, and they will take center stage in speeches at the upcoming Paris Climate Summit. Now a new report gives leaders pushing to reduce emissions of global warming pollution, including President Obama, additional ammunition.
The report, published Thursday as a special supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, amounts to the largest-ever assessment of global warming’s role in intensifying the severity and altering the likelihood of extreme weather events during 2014.
It amounts to the equivalent of a climate change CSI report, and its conclusions are damning in pointing to global warming as being an accomplice to numerous damaging extreme events worldwide.
In total, the report contains analyses from 32 different research groups examining 28 extreme weather and climate events on all continents. The dozens of researchers from 21 countries found that climate change’s fingerprints are all over the scene of the crime in more than half of these events, including California wildfires, Middle Eastern drought and heat waves in Australia.
Specifically, tropical cyclones in the central Pacific, deadly heat waves in Australia, Asia and South America, and a deadly snowstorm in the Himalayas, were each in part the result of human activities, the studies show.
Continued on Mashable.com »
House subcommittee chair cautions against sea level rise “speculation”
TALLAHASSEE — A House subcommittee chairman, who this week during a meeting twice cautioned a state environmental protection official about expressing "speculation" on sea level rise, tells POLITICO Florida that "the world goes through cycles" of climate change.
Rep. Ben Albritton, a Republican from Wauchula and chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, said in an interview that the world may be headed for a cold spell, as he read in a 2011 book written by someone who does not believe that humans contribute to climate change.
"I don't understand sea level rise, global warming — this whole discussion," Albritton said. "I've seen really good data that shows global warming. I read a book recently that had really good data in it that shows we are actually entering into a cooling period that happens about every 200 years."
On Tuesday, Albritton cautioned Department of Environmental Protection Deputy Secretary Drew Bartlett on answering questions from subcommittee members about sea level rise.
"Feel free to answer that if you'd like to," Albritton said. "We want to be very careful of course in providing speculation or personal opinion on something that may be out 5, 10, 15 or 30 years from now, and not building concrete ideas or concrete decisions around this table on something that might be speculation."
In 2014, Gov. Rick Scott touched off controversy during his re-election campaign by dismissing questions about climate change by saying, "I'm not a scientist." He later met in the governor's office with scientists who explained that climate change and sea level rise are occurring because of industrial greenhouse gas emissions.
Continued on Politico.com »
Lakeland Public Works Director Rick Lilyquist leaving for Osceola County
The slate of major transportation projects within reasonable commuting distance provided the temptation for Rick Lilyquist to leave Lakeland after 17 years as its public works director for a new opportunity, he said.
“Osceola County is well positioned to experience significant economic development activity in the upcoming years,” Lilyquist wrote in his Oct. 2 letter of resignation. “The associated challenges of growth created by such development present professional opportunities that I look forward to with anticipation.” His last day was Saturday.
Most of Osceola's population lives in the dense northern section in the Orlando metropolitan area, but the county has large suburban and rural areas, providing a complex landscape to prepare for expected growth in the county, Lilyquist told The Ledger.
Continued in The Ledger »
Senate measure to stop water rule advances
The Senate voted Tuesday to advance a measure to block the Obama administration’s new regulation asserting federal authority over small waterways.
The vote came just over an hour after Senate Democrats blocked a procedural vote on a related bill from Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) to force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to go back to the drawing board and re-write its Waters of the United States rule.
The successful vote, passed 55-43, moved forward a resolution under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), a rarely used tactic that allows for a simple majority to disapprove of any regulation without a 60-vote threshold.
The vote was almost along party lines, with Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) voting with all Republicans present except Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to proceed.
Republicans had put great efforts into Barrasso’s bill, which would have given the EPA specific instructions to rewrite the rule with certain exemptions and consultations to protect stakeholders.
But with that bill’s failure, Ernst said the CRA is necessary to stop the rule.
Republicans have long complained that the rule, made final in May, goes too far in expanding federal authority over small waterways, and in fact puts the government in charge of large swaths of state and private land.
“My legislation is the necessary next step in pushing back against this blatant power grab by the EPA,” Ernst said on the Senate floor. “We will send this to the president, where he will be forced to decide between the livelihood of our rural communities nationwide and his unchecked federal agency.”
Under the CRA, Ernst’s resolution still requires House approval and President Obama’s signature to block the rule, something that is all but impossible.
The White House said it strongly opposes Ernst’s resolution and defended the rule.
“The agencies' rulemaking, grounded in science and the law, is essential to ensure clean water for future generations, and is responsive to calls for rulemaking from the Congress, industry, and community stakeholders as well as decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court,” it wrote Tuesday.
“If enacted, S.J.Res. 22 would nullify years of work and deny businesses and communities the regulatory certainty needed to invest in projects that rely on clean water.”
In some ways, the CRA resolution goes further than Barrasso’s bill. It would prevent the EPA from ever writing “a new rule that is substantially the same” as the one that is blocked.
Click here to view original article »
USF Biologist Discovers Secret to Highly Efficient Swimming in Certain Animals, Such as Jellyfish
Previous studies have shown that jellyfish and eels can move using very low amounts of energy that would make a Toyota Prius jealous. In fact, these ocean denizens can go from point A to point B using less energy than any other swimmer, runner or flier ever measured. However the secret behind such amazing energetic efficiency has remained a mystery, until now.
A team of scientists led by Dr. Brad Gemmell, an assistant professor in the University of South Florida’s Department of Integrative Biology, has revealed that these marine animals do something completely unexpected when they swim.
According to the research team, comprised of scientists from five institutions, understanding how animals move is essential to understanding their evolutionary history, their fitness and their ecological impact. Understanding how animals move so efficiently through water is also important to engineers who study bio-inspired design and take ideas from nature to make more efficient underwater vehicles. Experiments carried out to better understand the locomotion used by free-swimming jellyfish and lampreys, eel-like animals that move with undulating, wave-like body motions, has revealed that these animals move forward not by pushing against the water, but by sucking the water toward them.
“Until now, it has been widely assumed in the literature and the text books that animals swim primarily by pushing against the fluid to generate high pressure and move the animal forward,” said Gemmell. “However, it turns out that at least with some of the most energetically efficient swimmers, low pressure dominates and allows these animals to pull themselves forward with suction.Given our findings, we may have to rethink our ideas about some of the evolutionary adaptations acquired by swimming animals and how we approach vehicle design in the future.”
Their recent experiments, recounted in a paper just published in Nature Communication, aimed at better understanding lamprey and jellyfish locomotion by observing lampreys swimming through a tank of water containing tiny glass beads that were illuminated with a laser. The animals’ swimming motion perturbed the beads in such a way as to enable visualization of the flow and timing of glass bead movement in concert with the lampreys’ movements. Using high speed digital cameras that recorded movement in fractions of a second, the scientists were able to directly measure the ‘hydrodynamic efficiency’ of their swimming process.
Click here to continue reading »
USF researchers develop off grid NEWgenerator to treat waste around globe
2.6 billion people in the world could benefit from a new wastewater treatment technology developed by a University of South Florida research team.
USF Associate Professor of Engineering Daniel Yeh has been researching the technology at the core of the wastewater treatment machine, the NEWgenerator, since 2002; Yeh started developing the current application with a team of students in 2011, when his venture received $100,000 in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Yeh’s project, which has also received funding from the Indian government and won $50,000 from the Cade Museum Prize in 2014, aims to develop a new technology for sanitation and waste treatment in developing countries.
An environmental engineer who received a PhD from Georgia Tech, Yeh explains, “We work on the interface between humans and nature – making sure society has its needs met, but without destroying nature in the process. We want to find solutions that are sustainable, and that protect both human and ecological health.”
Yeh was drawn to working on the technology to turn dirty wastewater into clean water during post-doctoral research at Stanford University, but he notes, “This idea of recycled water is not new. Humans have been doing this for hundreds of years, at least. The trick is determining how to do it safely.”
Using animal or human waste as fertilizer is dangerous because of pathogens that can result in sickness, Yeh says, so reusing wastewater requires a conversion process that eliminates dangerous pathogens. Wastewater treatment plants can recycle reclaimed water on a large scale, but there are few systems that can treat water on a small scale. The NEWgenerator can.
Continued on 83 degrees »
Red tide confirmed in Florida: What you need to know
Red tide is a naturally occurring, higher-than-normal concentration of microscopic algae. In Florida, the species that causes most red tides is Karenia brevis. This organism produces toxins that can affect the central nervous system of aquatic organisms such as fish and marine mammals. Red tide toxins also pose a human health risk. The toxins can aerosolize and be carried to beaches with onshore winds, leading to respiratory irritation in people. Toxins can accumulate in shellfish and result in illnesses if contaminated shellfish are consumed. Shellfish harvesting areas are closed when blooms are present.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) researchers are currently monitoring two blooms along Florida’s Gulf coast, one located in northwest Florida and the other in southwest Florida.
“We confirmed the presence of both blooms in September, and they have persisted since that time,” said Alina Corcoran, FWC research scientist. “The bloom in the Panhandle is currently affecting Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay and Gulf counties. In southwest Florida, patchy blooms have been confirmed along Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte and Lee counties. Extensive fish kills and respiratory irritation have been associated with the bloom in the Panhandle but in southwest Florida the effects have been less.”
Red Tide Public Health Tips