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Elusive Florida panther population increasing, expert says
TCPALM by Lamaur Stancil
October 30, 2009
VERO BEACH — They prowl and hide in the deepest parts of the Everglades National Park, but wildlife biologists said they’re making progress in getting more accurate counts of the Florida panther population.
Roy McBride, a wildlife biologist and houndsman from Texas, spends several months a year in Florida finding its panthers.
The searches are done either on foot with his pack of hounds or by setting up cameras throughout the Everglades to spot the beasts unaware.
“This is fascinating to me,” McBride said about the camera footage. “I usually only get to see the panthers when they’re in a tree staring down at my hounds.”
McBride spoke Thursday to staff at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Vero Beach. He said documenting the panther populations has come a long way in the last 50 years.
“In the 1950s, we thought they were extinct,” McBride said. “Then we had some sightings, but they were unreliable. We needed something we could hang our hat on.”
About 120 panthers were counted in the state in 2008, McBride said. That’s compared to just 20 counted in 1985, when state officials began refining their counting methods.
“They’re secretive and difficult for us to census,” McBride said.
Years of studying the panthers allows McBride to determine the gender of a cat based on the footprints it leaves behind. The fallen prey left behind by a panther also has helped population counts, he said.
Since panthers typically attack other creatures at the neck and eat only certain parts of the body, wildlife biologists have used the carcasses of deer, otters, hogs and even alligators to determine where a panther can be found, McBride said.


Florida has more vulnerable seacoast areas under construction than any other state
Miami Herald by Curtis Morgan
October 30, 2009
Study divides the coast into rural or wild areas likely to be abandoned, and urbanized areas likely to be forced to employ 'increasingly ambitious' and expensive engineering to preserve real estate from encroaching ocean.
As early as the 1980s, scientists warned that rising seas could submerge vast portions of Florida's coast.
How have local and state governments responded? Build, baby, build.
A new study of development trends along the Atlantic Coast shows Florida has opened more vulnerable areas to construction than any other state. Three-quarters of its low-lying Atlantic coastline has already been, or will be, developed.
Despite mounting evidence of sea level rise, other states plan to follow Florida's lead -- though to lesser degrees -- eventually pushing homes, condos and other buildings onto nearly two-thirds of coastal land less than a meter above the Atlantic. By 2100, many scientists predict a rise near or beyond a meter.
Unlike some climate studies, however, this one doesn't suggest kayaks will be needed to navigate Miami or Manhattan
Instead, it divides the coast into rural or wild areas likely to be abandoned, and urbanized areas likely to be forced to employ "increasingly ambitious'' and expensive engineering to preserve real estate from encroaching ocean. Think dikes, levees, pumps, stilts, more dredging to rebuild eroded beaches and mountains of fill to raise roads and structures.
"A map that shows Miami completely under water may not be as realistic as Miami subjected to a lot of shore protection measures," said Jim Titus, the U.S. Environmental Protect Agency's project manager for sea-level rise and the primary author of the study published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
 Co-author Daniel Trescott, a planner for the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council, said the study is evidence that even as Congress debates how, and how much, to curb greenhouse gas emissions, it's mostly "business as usual'' at ground level.
Trescott said the study should spark planners and politicians to considering global warming impacts in land-use decisions because the protection costs, to land owners and taxpayers, will be huge.
"The thing that is hard to fathom is how are we going to be able to hold back the sea in a massive way in order to keep people at their current locations?" Trescott said. ''The reason we did this was to get people to start talking about what we are going to do."
Last week, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties held a regional climate-change summit to begin sharing strategies.
About 42 percent of the coast from Florida to Massachusetts is now considered developed. The study found that existing land-use plans envision ultimately filling upward of 60 percent of the coast, with most of the growth anticipated from Georgia to North Carolina.
Overall, the study found only 9 percent of the coastline has been set aside for conservation -- wetlands that might help buffer impacts but that also would suffer massive environmental damage.
Florida was credited for having 13 percent of the coast in conservation, but that number is skewed because the study area included Monroe County, which includes all of Everglades National Park and wraps around to the Gulf. From Miami to Jacksonville, the only large stretch of undeveloped coast rests in the Canaveral National Seashore.
Three other Northeastern states -- New Jersey, New York and Connecticut -- have developed a higher percentage of coast but Florida has roughly three times their length of shoreline.
Georgia, which protects most of its barrier islands, had the highest level of protected shoreline at 34 percent. Some other states also had strong growth regulations likely to limit coastal development. Delaware, for instance, prohibits development in the 100-year flood plain. Maryland passed a law limiting development to one home on every 20 acres for most of its shoreline.
William Nuckols, a Washington-D.C.-area environmental consultant and study co-author, said the EPA, which spent $2 million over seven years to support the study, sat on much of the information during the Bush administration, even removing elevation and planning maps from the agency report.
The authors, he said, decided to publish their own version of the study and maps in a peer-reviewed journal. Titus, once restricted by the Bush administration from talking to the media, opted to write and discuss the work under EPA rules that allow scientists to pursue outside independent research.
"We can't afford for the American people to be kept in the dark about this data," said Nuckols.
Jim Murley, a professor at Florida Atlantic University who chairs a state climate and energy committee, said local governments and the state have begun addressing the issue but will need to ramp up as scientists refine predictions.
Complex legal issues also will have to be sorted out before communities can weigh options, he said. Last week, for instance, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Walton County landowners who argue they should be compensated by the government for a renourishment project after a hurricane that turned their private backyards into a public beach.
"Sea level rise is not an event, it's a long-term trend," Murley said. "It's something you really can't go back to normal on."


No mining on contested land
October 30, 2009
Lee commissioners expect to get state approval to protect 83,000 acres after they agreed Thursday to ban mining in the area that provides 80 percent of the county's drinking water.
 Commissioner Tammy Hall said she didn't think the state would offer any major objections to what the commission approved, which includes limiting rock mining in areas around Alico Road already being mined.
"I think we've gotten through the biggest bulk of it," Hall said. "I don't think adoption's going to be a problem."
The state's department of community affairs has two months to review and comment on the county's proposal. Lee will then have two months to make changes the state recommends. From there, commissioners will have public hearings before they can adopt the measure and add it to the county's land-use plan, which is expected to happen in the spring.
Commissioners voted 4-0 for the measure. Commissioner Bob Janes did not attend the meeting because of illness.
The $1.4 million plan, developed by Coral Gables-based Dover, Kohl & Partners, is two years in the making. The area has become a battleground between environmentalists concerned about water quality and wildlife habitat and the mining companies that argue they have legal rights to the land.
Mining on the 83,000 acres produces limerock necessary for road and building construction in Lee and six other counties in the region.
A half-dozen mining companies have largely opposed the plan, which restricts mining to 20 years. When they spoke during public comment, representatives for the companies said they were concerned limiting mining would negatively impact their business. Plus, they felt it was unfair considering they had legal rights to the land.
Those companies will have an opportunity to voice their concerns during the adoption process, said James Miller, spokesman for the Florida Department of Community Affairs.
Once the plan comes back from Tallahassee, Miller said, "They have 21 days to challenge."
Dover, Kohl & Partners say there is adequate rock near Alico to keep the mines running until 2030. The firm's plan tries to appease mining companies by transferring their development rights to clusters near the 83,000 designated acres, which currently contain about 300 homes.
Brad Cornell, an environmental policy advocate for the Audubon Society, said his organization would be interested in debating the particulars. Cornell said he's pleased to see the commission move toward preservation.
"It's a great step forward," Cornell said.
Donald Schrotenboer, president of Alico Land Development, said he would continue to encourage commissioners to work with landowners during the adoption phase. His company owns 971 acres north of Alico Road and is set to acquire another 4,700 acres in the near future, which would contain a community with both commercial and residential space if the plan is approved.
"It's set the framework in place for something that can work," Schrotenboer said.
And Nicole Ryan, governmental relations director for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, called commissioners' action monumental.
"You need to take a look at where mining makes sense," Ryan said. "It was really good that they stayed strong."


US water usage drops slightly: USGS report
October 30, 2009
WASHINGTON — A new US Geological Survey (USGS) report says that despite a 30 percent population increase in the United States during the past 25 years, overall water use has remained “fairly stable,” according to an October 29 government news release.
The study looked at water consumption during the five-year period ending 2005 and found that in 2005 the country used slightly less total water than during the peak years of 1975 and 1980.
Released October 29 by Assistant Secretary of the Interior Anne Castle at The Atlantic’s Water Summit in the National Press Club here, the report notes that in 2005 Americans used 410 billion gallons per day, slightly less than in 2000. The declines are attributed to the increased use of more efficient irrigation systems and alternative technologies at power plants.
Water withdrawals for public supply have increased steadily since 1950 — when USGS began the series of five-year trend reports — along with the population that depends on these supplies, the release said.
Nearly half (49 percent) of the 410 billion gallons per day used by Americans was for producing electricity at thermoelectric power plants; irrigation accounted for 31 percent; and public supply 11 percent of the total. The remaining 9 percent of the water was for self-supplied industrial, livestock, aquaculture, mining and rural domestic uses.
According to Castle, the report “underscores the importance of recognizing the limits of the drinking water supplies on which our growing population depends. While public-supply withdrawals have continued to increase overall, per capita use has decreased in many states during recent decades.”
The four states accounting for more than one-fourth of all fresh and saline water withdrawn in the United States in 2005 are California, Texas, Idaho and Florida, the report says. The states with the largest fresh surface-water uses were California, Texas, Idaho and Illinois. The states with the largest fresh groundwater uses were California, Texas, Nebraska and Arkansas.
In its own analysis of the USGS data, the Oakland, CA-based think tank Pacific Institute said in an October 29 news release that the drop in total water consumption means that per-capita water use in the United States has decreased to 1,383 gallons per person per day — a level not seen since the 1950s.
The organization warned that when population growth in drier regions, climate change and tensions over sources are considered, there still is “tremendous untapped potential for improving efficiency in homes and businesses.”
Freshwater expert Dr. Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, is quoted in the release saying, “Even with the improvements we’ve seen, our rate of population growth and regional water usage is not sustainable. In many regions we are past the point of peak ecological water use, where current levels are damaging the health of our rivers, lakes, and groundwater aquifers. We have the tools to further reduce our water footprints dramatically. We need the will to make the changes and rethink how we manage our freshwater resources at every level.”
According to the USGS report, the largest uses of fresh surface water were power generation and irrigation, and the largest use of fresh groundwater was irrigation.


A heavy 'nay' in SW Fla. by Kevin Lollar
October 29, 2009
Following a lively Internet debate over oil and natural gas exploration off Florida's Gulf Coast, a group of area residents engaged in a similar discussion at The News-Press.
But the local debate was pretty lopsided: Six people were opposed; two were undecided; and one was for exploration.
During the Internet event, those opposed to exploration mentioned that tar balls are a problem on beaches in states with offshore drilling, and proponents said those tar balls come from natural seepage.
"They were saying tar balls were natural, so why don't they happen naturally over here ?"  said Dave Jensen, co-owner of Jensen's Twin Palms Cottages & Marine and Jensen's on the Gulf on Captiva. "I have a neighbor from Santa Barbara (Calif.), and sure enough, they have tar balls there, and they have oil drilling offshore."
Offshore drilling is not only oil rigs but also land-based infrastructure, said Charlotte County Commissioner Adam Cummings, who worked on a drill ship off Cameron, La., for a short time.
"There's a heavy offshore industry that needs a heavy onshore industry to support it," he said. "Google Cameron, La.; zoom in and see if that's the kind of place where you want to live. Look at the communities that support that kind of work and compare it to Southwest Florida."
A key argument against offshore drilling is the impact it would have on Florida's tourism, which returned $3.9 billion to Florida in tax revenue and generated $65.2 billion in direct economic impact in 2008.
An oil spill, opponents said, would be a tremendous blow to the state's economy.
"We had a recent example of how water quality affects tourism," said John Albion, director of the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce. "We had a dredging project to open Matanzas Pass, and some of the material was a little nasty. It felt mucky, and the water was cloudy before the Fourth of July, and people started checking out of motel rooms."
Another issue is the aesthetics of oil rigs along the coast, though panel members on the Internet forum said wells would actually be on the sea floor, and rigs would only be visible during construction, no more than six “
There's nothing romantic about catching sunset with an oil rig in the way," Fort Myers City Councilman Warren Wright said. "I've lived in California where there's offshore drilling. It's just different. It smells different."
Joe Mazurkiewicz, former mayor of Cape Coral, used to work in the oil industry in Central and South America and is undecided.
"There's too much unknown to make a decision," he said. "We need to allow someone to go in and determine what the asset is. We owe it to ourselves."
Jan Ganter, a member of the Lee County Republican Executive Committee, was the only person at The News-Press in favor of energy exploration.
"The risk-reward is worth it," she said. "If we always paid so much attention to risks, we'd never have gone to the moon. I'm tired of being held hostage because we always have to get energy from somebody else."
Members of the discussion at The News-Press for a forum on oil and natural gas exploration off Florida's Gulf Coast:
- John Albion, Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce.
- Dave Jensen, Jensen's Twin Palms Cottages & Marine and Jensen's on the Gulf.
- Warren Wright, Fort Myers councilman.
- Adam Cummings, Charlotte County commissioner.
- Jan Ganter, Lee County Republican Executive Committee.
- Joe Mazurkiewicz, political consultant and former mayor of Cape Coral.
- Janet Martin, Bonita Springs councilwoman.
- Martha Simons, Bonita Springs councilwoman.
- Brad Cornell, National Audubon Society.
- Raymond Rodrigues, The News-Press editorial board citizen member alumnus.


El Niño, which has calmed hurricane season, may show a nasty streak this winter
The St. Petersburg Times by Andy Boyle
October 29, 2009
El Niño has brought Floridians a calmer hurricane season, but the winter could be a much different story.
Think downpours, floods and tornadoes.
 “We’re going to have a very active winter,” said Daniel Noah, the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Tampa Bay.
No hurricanes have threatened Florida this season, which ends Nov. 30. But tornadoes have killed more people in Florida than hurricanes in recent years, so the National Weather Service is trying to get the word out about the flip side of El Niño.
El Niño forms every three to five years as warm surface waters in the Pacific Ocean shift from the west to east. Those warmer waters form upper atmospheric storms that can thwart hurricanes forming in the Atlantic.
But they can also cause havoc during the winter months.
This El Niño started in July and weakened eight hurricanes, Noah said. Now considered a moderate El Niño, it is expected to strengthen in the coming months, producing hazardous weather.
The opposite of El Niño — La Niña — occurs when surface water in the eastern Pacific cools to below average temperatures. That produces warmer winters, drier summers and a more active hurricane season in the Atlantic.
The last El Niño was during 2006 and 2007, and it led to the Christmas Day tornadoes that damaged about 100 homes in Pasco County.
Later that season, parts of Central Florida near Ocala were hit with tornadoes that struck at night and killed 21 people, damaged hundreds of homes and knocked out power to 40,000 households.
Since 1892, Florida’s 10 deadliest tornado days all occurred during an El Niño.
Tornadoes are far less predictable than hurricanes, which makes them potentially more deadly. The weather service plans a briefing Wednesday to spread the word about the potential dangers this winter.
Tornadoes have killed far more people in Florida in recent decades than hurricanes.
Since 1950, tornadoes have killed 185 people in Florida, while 66 deaths are blamed on hurricanes or tropical storms, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“Even though your chances of being hit by a tornado are small, somebody will be hit and we want them prepared,” Noah said.
Every El Niño is unpredictable, experts warn. Some disastrous hurricanes have occurred during El Niño years, including in 2004 when Frances, Ivan, Charley and Jeanne killed more than 3,000 people around the world.
Computer models suggest this El Niño will die in late spring and won’t affect next year’s hurricane season, said Jeff Masters, a founder of Weather Underground, at


Florida may start looking like Holland as oceans rise, scientists say
Miami Herald by Curtis Morgan
October 29, 2009
As early as the 1980s, scientists warned that rising seas could submerge vast portions of Florida’s coast.
How have local and state governments responded? Build, baby, build.
A new study of development trends along the Atlantic Coast shows Florida has opened more vulnerable areas to construction than any other state. Three-quarters of its low-lying Atlantic coastline has already been, or will be, developed.
Despite mounting evidence of sea level rise, other states plan to follow Florida’s lead — though to lesser degrees — eventually pushing homes, condos and other buildings onto nearly two-thirds of coastal land less than a meter above the Atlantic. By 2100, many scientists predict a rise near or beyond a meter.
Unlike some climate studies, however, this one doesn’t suggest kayaks will be needed to navigate Miami or Manhattan.
Instead, it divides the coast into rural or wild areas likely to be abandoned, and urbanized areas likely to be forced to employ “increasingly ambitious’’ and expensive engineering to preserve real estate from encroaching ocean.
Think dikes, levees, pumps, stilts, more dredging to rebuild eroded beaches and mountains of fill to raise roads and structures.
“A map that shows Miami completely under water may not be as realistic as Miami subjected to a lot of shore protection measures,’’ said Jim Titus, the U.S. Environmental Protect Agency’s project manager for sea-level rise and the primary author of the study published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
Co-author Daniel Trescott, a planner for the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council, said the study is evidence that even as Congress debates how, and how much, to curb greenhouse gas emissions, it’s mostly “business as usual’’ at ground level.
Trescott said the study should spark planners and politicians to considering global warming impacts in land-use decisions because the protection costs, to land owners and taxpayers, will be huge.
“The thing that is hard to fathom is how are we going to be able to hold back the sea in a massive way in order to keep people at their current locations?’’ Trescott said. “The reason we did this was to get people to start talking about what we are going to do.’’
Last week, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties held a regional climate-change summit to begin sharing strategies.
About 42 percent of the coast from Florida to Massachusetts is now considered developed. The study found that existing land-use plans envision ultimately filling upward of 60 percent of the coast, with most of the growth anticipated from Georgia to North Carolina.
Overall, the study found only 9 percent of the coastline has been set aside for conservation -- wetlands that might help buffer impacts but that also would suffer massive environmental damage.
Florida was credited for having 13 percent of the coast in conservation, but that number is skewed because the study area included Monroe County, which includes all of Everglades National Park and wraps around to the Gulf. From Miami to Jacksonville, the only large stretch of undeveloped coast rests in the Canaveral National Seashore.
Three other northeastern states — New Jersey, New York and Connecticut — have developed a higher percentage of coast but Florida has roughly three times their length of shoreline.
William Nuckols, a Washington-D.C.-area environmental consultant and study co-author, said the EPA, which spent $2 million over seven years to support the study, sat on much of the information during the Bush administration, even removing elevation and planning maps from the agency report.
The authors, he said, decided to publish their own version of the study and maps in a peer-reviewed journal. Titus, once restricted by the Bush administration from talking to the media, opted to write and discuss the work under EPA rules that allow scientists to pursue outside independent research.
Jim Murley, a professor at Florida Atlantic University who chairs a state climate and energy committee, said local governments and the state have begun addressing the issue but will need to ramp up as scientists refine predictions.
Complex legal issues also will have to be sorted out before communities can weigh options, he said. Last week, for instance, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Walton County landowners who argue they should be compensated by the government for a renourishment project after a hurricane that turned their private backyards into a public beach.
''Sea level rise is not an event, it’s a long-term trend,’’ Murley said. ''It’s something you really can’t go back to normal on.’’


Officials try to explain water rate increases
October 29, 2009
LEESBURG -- The residents of Scottish Highlands were looking for some answers from state officials Wednesday to why their water bills have been so high.
State Rep. Alan Hays, R-District 25, and officials from the St. Johns River Water Management District and the Public Service Commission met with residents to explain the reasoning behind the rising rates.
"You may not like the answer," said Hays. "But we owe you, at least, an explanation."
Aqua Utilities asked the commission for a rate increase in May 2008. The utility serves the Scottish Highlands area in addition to 81 other service areas in Florida.
Paul Stallcup, supervisor of rates for the commission, said Aqua requested the rate increase to recover operating costs and the money it spent to improve the water and wastewater systems neglected by its previous owner, Florida Water Systems.
"For a long time you all had rates that weren't paying the cost of running the system," he said. "A lot of money was invested in the system and the utility had the right to recover that."
The utility, however, did not get the rates it requested, he said.
Aqua initially requested a base rate increase from $7.79 to $21.92 per month. A three-tier rate structure to encourage water conservation was also requested.
After a series of public hearings, the commission approved a base rate of $13.92 per month, along with rates of $1.97 per 1,000 gallons for the first 5,000 gallons, $2.47 for the next 5,000 and $5.92 for 10,000 and above. Those increases were approved March 2009 and went into effect April 1. Before the increase, Scottish Highlands residents paid $1.34 per 1,000 gallons no matter how much they used.
Residents began to see their water bills jump tremendously. Many residents saw an average increase of about $70 per household, said one resident, June Longnecker.
In response to the high rates, many residents who wanted more control over their water usage drilled their own well.
More than half of the water used by residents in Florida goes toward landscape irrigation, according the water management district.
Officials from the St. Johns River Water Management District suggested ways residents could curtail their water usage by paying attention to the quality and efficiency of their irrigation system and using Florida-friendly and drought-tolerant plants.
Residents were also upset that the district awarded a consumptive use permit to Niagara Bottling LLC to withdraw 484,000 gallons of ground water a day without charging, yet they are being asked to cut back on their water usage.
Hays said he would be pursuing legislation to impose a severance tax on large water users, such as beer breweries, water bottlers and soda bottlers.


Offshore-drilling debate reveals upcoming battle lines
Orlando Sentinel, Tallahassee Bureau by Josh Hafenbrack
October 29, 2009
TALLAHASSEE - Envision oil derricks cluttering Florida's sunset views. Oil spills threatening marine life, turning beach sand black and scaring away tourists.
Or picture a very different scenario: High-tech oil and gas operations that set a new safety standard. Thousands of good-paying jobs flooding Florida. Billions in state revenues.
Those competing scenarios emerged during a two-hour televised debate between offshore-oil-drilling supporters and foes in Florida, sponsored by the Tallahassee Democrat and Florida State University. The forum featured dueling three-member panels — for and against drilling — as well as two legislative leaders.
The debate hints at a grueling political battle on the horizon in Tallahassee: Whether to repeal the 1990 ban on oil drilling in Florida waters, which extend 10.3 miles from the coastline in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Drilling in the oil- and natural gas-rich Gulf could become the top issue during Gov. Charlie Crist's final year in office and the Legislature's spring session, which begins in March.
Hank Fishkind, an Orlando economist in favor of drilling, said opening Florida waters to exploration promises to create 20,000 jobs and bring in more than $2 billion in revenue. At the same time, he said, the risk of an oil spill is slight.
Another drilling supporter, Southern Strategy Group adviser David Rancourt, compared drilling to putting a man on the moon. Using modern technology, Florida could drill and maintain a strong tourism industry, he said, adding: "Oil and gas exploration and beautiful beaches are not mutually exclusive."
But drilling foes say if Florida lifts its drilling ban, the state would risk its economy and environment based on an unproven promise of jobs and money. And drilling off Florida's coast won't drive down gas prices or do much toward making American energy independent, they said.
"Near-shore oil drilling will put at risk our environment, our economy, and will change Florida as we know it forever," said Pinellas County Commissioner Kenneth Welch, a drilling opponent. "Florida's coastal environment is not for sale. Why would we risk a world-class tourism economy?"
In Tallahassee this spring, an effort to repeal the Florida oil-drilling ban passed the House, but stalled in the Senate. At Wednesday's forum were Rep. Dean Cannon, R- Winter Park, and Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Indialantic. Both lawmakers support oil drilling — at one point Wednesday, Haridopolos decried the "scare tactics" of drilling opponents — but said they want to gather facts and lead a thorough review before voting.
The debate moderator, Gannett Capitol Bureau Chief Paul Flemming, pressed the pro-drilling panelists over the shadowy finances of the group lobbying for the drill-now effort. Rancourt would only say that the group includes a "God-fearing" collection of American oil and gas explorers. "Some of them wish to remain anonymous for the time being," he said, citing competitive concerns.
That didn't cut it for Florida Audubon's Eric Draper, who noted the public owns the waters petroleum interests want to explore. "We don't get at the truth when we're hiding behind the claim of anonymity," Draper said.


Expert to discuss phosphorus' impact on Gulf 'dead zone'
Physorg, Source American Society of Agronomy
October 28, 2009
Phosphorus is an essential element in production agriculture, however fertilizer runoff and wastewater discharge have led to massive eutrophication problems in water bodies worldwide.
Many researchers believe such contamination is at least partly responsible for offshore "dead zones," such as the expansive area found in the Gulf of Mexico. While wetlands often act as filtering or storage systems for nutrients, protecting our landscape from contamination, researchers still do not fully understand the complex relationships between phosphorus and wetland ecosystems.
Dr. Curtis Richardson, an internationally acclaimed ecologist and wetland soil scientist at Duke University, will share his perspectives on current phosphorus research as part of the William H. Patrick Jr. Memorial Lectureship at the 2009 Annual Meetings of the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA) and Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) in Pittsburgh, PA.
Richardson's lecture, "Phosphorus Biogeochemistry and Wetland Function: The State of Our Understanding," will translate phosphorus biogeochemistry research into realistic management techniques to improve wetland ecosystems while sustaining ecological functions of the landscape. It will be held Tuesday Nov. 3, from 9:55 to 11:00 am in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Room 321.
The presentation will focus on questions surrounding phosphorus cycling and limitations, as well as the role of phosphorus in wetland functioning and landscapes. Through a comparative analysis of new studies and research, Richardson will address these and other issues, providing a modern analysis of the importance of phosphorus to our wetland world.
Richardson is the director of the Duke University Wetland Center and a professor of resource ecology at the Nicholas School of the Environment. He also serves as a scientific advisor to a USAID-sponsored project to restore the marshlands in southern Iraq. His research has focused on long-term ecosystem responses to large-scale perturbations such as nutrient additions, hydrologic alterations and trace metal effects in such areas as the marshes of Iraq and the Florida Everglades.
A new USDA program highlights the need for increased conservation practices. Called the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, it provides a $320 million investment over four years to support programs in 12 states to help farmers voluntarily implement conservation practices which avoid, control, and trap nutrient runoff, improve wildlife habitat, and maintain agricultural productivity. In addition, agricultural researchers are developing sustainable conservation practices to decrease soil erosion and nutrient runoff.


Growth watchdog group asks state to leash county, protect Everglades
Palm Beach Post by PAUL QUINLAN
October 28, 2009
A high-profile growth watchdog group called on the state Wednesday to rein-in the Palm Beach County Commission, whose land use decisions, they fear, will cripple the multibillion-dollar Everglades restoration.
The group, 1000 Friends of Florida, wants the state to form a committee of stakeholders to weigh the environmental and economic issues and write up development guidelines for the Everglades Agricultural Area, a 700,000-acre region of former Everglades marsh south of Lake Okeechobee that was drained to create farmland. Efforts are underway by the state and federal governments to use land in the area to restore the southward flow of water from the lake into the parched Everglades.
Creating the committee would diminish the role of the Palm Beach County Commission, which now controls land-use in much of the region.
The group pointed to the commission's endorsement Oct. 22 of 600 acres of additional rock mining at Star Ranch and a proposal by sugar grower Florida Crystals, owned by the Fanjuls of Palm Beach, to develop a sprawling distribution complex - both of which are next to land the state wants to use to repair the Everglades.
"The county commission is seven people and they're making a decision that's going to affect the entire future of agriculture and Everglades restoration in the EAA," Joanne Davis, of 1000 Friends of Florida, said in telephone conference with reporters. "They're making land use decisions and I don't think they're fully armed with all the science and all of the facts."
Charles Pattison, the head of 1000 Friends of Florida, called on the state to form a committee of landowners, businesses, environmental groups and local governments - including representatives of Palm Beach County - who could draw up guidelines that would balance the needs of the Everglades against economic interests to draw up land development guidelines. That could also mean designating the region an Area of Critical State Concern - similar to the Florida Keys and the Big Cypress Swamp - which would give the state a much larger role in land use decision-making.
"The idea of making piecemeal decisions on development proposals is simply not going to be in the best interest of the EAA in the long run," said Pattison.
The move comes as big plans are underway to at once develop and restore portions of the EAA. Crist is pushing to close a $536 million land deal with U.S. Sugar Corp. to buy farmland in the area to use for Everglades restoration.
Meanwhile, the Port of Palm Beach is moving forward, despite objections from the state, with plans to develop and inland port, envisioned as a 3,500-acre transportation and distribution hub that would serve as an off-site expansion of South Florida's three seaports. Florida Crystals' wants to develop the complex on its land - a plan that Palm Beach County Commissioners have endorsed.


Scientists recommend improvements after reviewing Panther protection plan for eastern Collier
Naples Daily News by Eric Staats
October 28, 2009
NAPLES — A team of scientists is calling for improvements to a plan to protect the endangered Florida panther in eastern Collier County.
In an 80-page report — chock full of number-crunching tables, aerial images and detailed maps — the scientists issue a ground-breaking overview of what could become the plan by which panthers either stay or disappear in the heart of what is left of their habitat.
The report strikes a careful bottom line: A 2008 proposal by a coalition of environmental groups and farmers and ranchers to guide growth across almost 200,000 acres around Immokalee “would represent an enhancement of panther conservation” over existing controls, the report states.
 “The conservation value to panthers would increase,” even more if a long list of recommendations by the science review team is added to the plan.
However, it doesn’t change the fact that growth in eastern Collier County has the potential to cut into habitat for the panther, and that “does not aid panther recovery,” the report concludes.
 “In an ideal world, obviously, we wouldn’t have any development in panther habitat,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service panther recovery coordinator Chris Belden, a member of the science review team.
The report also recommends that a proposed new Interstate 75 interchange at either Everglades Boulevard or two miles east, between the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and Desoto Boulevard, “receive no further consideration” because of its impact to panther habitat.
The interchange is not part of the 2008 plan, which builds on a landmark rural growth plan adopted by Collier County in 2002.
The 2002 plan, which is voluntary, allows landowners across almost 200,000 acres around Immokalee to preserve natural land in return for credits to develop on less sensitive land.
The Florida Panther Protection Plan would award credits for preservation of agricultural land, create two panther travel corridors, cap development at 45,000 acres and require additional mitigation under the federal permitting program for development in panther habitat.
The plan also proposed new fees on mitigation credits and real estate sales in eastern Collier County that would raise an estimated $150 million to buy panther habitat for preservation and to pay for habitat restoration and wildlife crossings.
The number of wild panthers had dwindled to around 30 before scientists released eight female Texas cougars into South Florida to restore the population’s genetic diversity.
Now, scientists estimate between 100 and 120 panthers roam across less than 5 percent of its historic range, mostly south of the Caloosahatchee River.
Scientists say habitat loss continues to threaten the survival of the panther, including in eastern Collier County, where the 2002 plan laid the groundwork for the new town of Ave Maria and Ave Maria University. A second new town, called Big Cypress, and an earthmine also are on the drawing board.
The coalition that hand-picked the six scientists to answer the question of whether the plan would benefit the Florida panther issued an upbeat assessment of the science review.
“The PRT (Panther Review Team) unequivocally and unanimously responded in the affirmative,” the statement says.
Other members of the review team besides Belden were senior scientist Randy Kautz and vice president Tom Logan, with consultants Breedlove, Dennis and Associates in Tallahassee; Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission panther team leader Darrell Land; Conservancy of Southwest Florida biologist David Shindle; and University of Central Florida research associate Daniel Smith.
As for the recommendations to improve the plan, the coalition will carefully consider whether they are feasible in light of other issues the review team did not tackle, including private property rights and economic viability, the statement says.
The Florida Panther Protection Plan coalition includes Audubon of Florida, Collier County Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Florida Wildlife Federation and landowners Alico Land Development Corp., Barron Collier Partnership, Collier Enterprises, Consolidated Citrus LP, English Brothers, Half Circle L Ranch Partnership, Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd. and Sunniland Family Limited Partnership.
The science review team’s recommendations would bring the plan “very close” to a proposal put forth by the Conservancy, which has been critical of the coalition’s plan, Conservancy President Andrew McElwaine said.
 “The concern I have going forward is there not be an effort to cherry pick the recommendations but that they go forward as a bloc,” McElwaine said.
The federal permitting mechanism that would put the plan into action will require further review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, including public input.
Collier County also will have to adopt changes to its 2002 plan, which will require a sign-off from the state Department of Community Affairs.


Study raises new red flag on coastal development
Miami Herald by CURTIS MORGAN
October 28, 2009
Despite growing concerns about rising sea levels, Atlantic states, led by Florida, continue to steer development toward the coast, a new study finds.
As early as the 1980s, scientists warned that rising seas could submerge vast portions of Florida's coast.
How have local and state governments responded ?  Build, baby, build.
A new study of development trends along the Atlantic Coast shows Florida has opened more vulnerable areas to construction than any other state. Three-quarters of its low-lying Atlantic coastline has already been, or will be, developed.
Despite mounting evidence of sea level rise, other states plan to follow Florida's lead -- though to lesser degrees -- eventually pushing homes, condos and other buildings onto nearly two-thirds of coastal land less than a meter above the Atlantic. By 2100, many scientists predict a rise near or beyond a meter.
Unlike some climate studies, however, this one doesn't suggest kayaks will be needed to navigate Miami or Manhattan.
Instead, it divides the coast into rural or wild areas likely to be abandoned, and urbanized areas likely to be forced to employ ``increasingly ambitious'' and expensive engineering to preserve real estate from encroaching ocean.
Think dikes, levees, pumps, stilts, more dredging to rebuild eroded beaches and mountains of fill to raise roads and structures.
``A map that shows Miami completely under water may not be as realistic as Miami subjected to a lot of shore protection measures,'' said Jim Titus, the U.S. Environmental Protect Agency's project manager for sea-level rise and the primary author of the study published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
Co-author Daniel Trescott, a planner for the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council, said the study is evidence that even as Congress debates how, and how much, to curb greenhouse gas emissions, it's mostly ``business as usual'' at ground level.
Trescott said the study should spark planners and politicians to considering global warming impacts in land-use decisions because the protection costs, to land owners and taxpayers, will be huge.
``The thing that is hard to fathom is how are we going to be able to hold back the sea in a massive way in order to keep people at their current locations?'' Trescott said. ``The reason we did this was to get people to start talking about what we are going to do.''
Last week, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties held a regional climate-change summit to begin sharing strategies.
About 42 percent of the coast from Florida to Massachusetts is now considered developed. The study found that existing land-use plans envision ultimately filling upward of 60 percent of the coast, with most of the growth anticipated from Georgia to North Carolina.
Overall, the study found only 9 percent of the coastline has been set aside for conservation -- wetlands that might help buffer impacts but that also would suffer massive environmental damage.
Florida was credited for having 13 percent of the coast in conservation, but that number is skewed because the study area included Monroe County, which includes all of Everglades National Park and wraps around to the Gulf. From Miami to Jacksonville, the only large stretch of undeveloped coast rests in the Canaveral National Seashore.
Three other northeastern states -- New Jersey, New York and Connecticut -- have developed a higher percentage of coast but Florida has roughly three times their length of shoreline.
William Nuckols, a Washington-D.C.-area environmental consultant and study co-author, said the EPA, which spent $2 million over seven years to support the study, sat on much of the information during the Bush administration, even removing elevation and planning maps from the agency report.
The authors, he said, decided to publish their own version of the study and maps in a peer-reviewed journal. Titus, once restricted by the Bush administration from talking to the media, opted to write and discuss the work under EPA rules that allow scientists to pursue outside independent research.
Jim Murley, a professor at Florida Atlantic University who chairs a state climate and energy committee, said local governments and the state have begun addressing the issue but will need to ramp up as scientists refine predictions.
Complex legal issues also will have to be sorted out before communities can weigh options, he said. Last week, for instance, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Walton County landowners who argue they should be compensated by the government for a renourishment project after a hurricane that turned their private backyards into a public beach.
``Sea level rise is not an event, it's a long-term trend,'' Murley said. ``It's something you really can't go back to normal on.''


Drilling’s benefits unproven to Florida
Herald Tribune to the Editor by Fred Strobel
October 27, 2009
The fine series of articles by the Herald-Tribune’s Jeremy Wallace and Zac Anderson place the problem in the proper perspective: Opening the eastern Gulf of Mexico to drilling is an environmental question, not an economic one, and soon to be a political one. The articles carried Sept. 27 and Oct. 3 correctly depict the lineups of various political groups for and against the drilling question.
The Century Commission of Florida has been undertaking a study to reach a position on the issue. The commission’s mission is to look at long-range concerns for the state. State Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, has recently called for a delay in the Legislature’s discussion of drilling until the commission makes its report. This is a proper call by Bennett, since he is a member of the commission.
The Century Commission probably will attempt to provide an economic argument. But ascertaining the economic benefits is practically impossible at this time, because the proposed legislation has not been written and no study can correctly estimate the possible economic costs of an oil spill.
The technology of deep-water drilling and oil transport is unsafe. We obviously live in a hurricane-prone state. In the areas affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, there were 44 spills caused by the storms. Fully 113 offshore platforms in the storm area were destroyed, and hundreds of pipelines damaged. More than 17,000 barrels (or roughly three-quarters of a million gallons) of petroleum products were spilled from various facilities.
Worst-case scenarios
How much damage could a major oil spill or a series of minor oil spills cause? The 1989 oil spill in which the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound s obviously one of the worst-case scenarios. Exxon was ordered to pay $1 billion in fines, did an estimated $2 billion worth of cleanup, and later was determined to owe hundreds of millions of dollars in civil damages and interest fees. The matter was in litigation for years. Only this summer did Exxon Mobil announce that it would no longer challenge a court settlement.
This raises the question: What damage could oil spills cause in Florida? Prince William Sound, while a big fishing area, was not a beach and recreational area. The possible injury to the tourist and recreational industries in a state like Florida remains almost incalculable.
Tourism is worth $65 billion a year in Florida. What source of revenues could replace it at the state level if it were lost?
It is doubtful that oil revenues could come anywhere near the potential losses in the event of a catastrophic spill. Florida’s wealth is in its tourism industry, its residential real estate and building industries. Many are drawn to the state by its clean air, clean beaches, clean water and recreational boating. How powerful would the tourist industry and the state be in collecting money on damages and judgments against such industrial giants as Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Shell?
The loss of property values inherent in a major oil spill would reduce tax revenues seriously to state and local governments. Florida relies heavily on sales, tourism and property taxes.
Risks vs. benefits
Can we get a reliable estimate that the oil drilling benefits to Florida are greater than the potential damage? Let us remember what the net benefits will be — oil revenues minus financial impacts if environmental damage occurs. The costs of environmental damage will accrue to the travel industry, which includes hotels, motels, restaurants and entertainment centers.
How much drilling-related tax revenue will flow into he state? Will the Florida Revenue Estimating Conference, held yearly at the University of Florida, be provided with numbers from the oil industry and the Legislature ?  What information will be forthcoming next year, and each of the following 10 years, to provide a budget framework?
The plain fact is that such information is not available. How will legislators vote intelligently on drilling when data is not available?
The drilling issue is an environmental one to be solved by the political process, not by unfounded economic claims.
If Floridians do not want to have a Prince William Sound type of disaster on Longboat Key, on Siesta Key or in Tampa Bay, the voters should choose politicians who oppose such a thing and not those who switch their allegiances. We ask that these pro-drilling politicians provide us with the cost of cleanup.


Offshore drilling splits House by Bill Cotterell
October 27, 2009
Polls show growing support as opponents warn of environmental fallout.
During the Florida Legislature's first big hearing on offshore oil drilling, state Rep. Paige Kreegel summed up the collision of economic, environmental and political factors.
"They say it will take years to produce anything," the Punta Gorda Republican said last week. "But if we were sitting here in 1960, couldn't they say that about the Apollo project to put a man on the moon?"
Statewide public discussion of Gulf coast oil exploration starts with a public forum broadcast from Florida State University from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday. An evenly split panel of six experts will take questions from a studio audience and viewers watching on television and the Internet.
Florida's territorial control extends 10.36 miles into the Gulf of Mexico. Although 124 leases have been issued and 19 wells were punched into the seabed, the term "offshore oil drilling" has, in the past, ranked somewhere between "state income tax" and "anti-death penalty" among the state's political taboos.
Changing sentiment?
Opponents speak of tar balls washing ashore, hurricanes uprooting even submerged oil pumps and a change of Florida's image from the nation's playground to its utility room. Proponents promise jobs, hundreds of millions in sorely needed tax revenue and an environmentally safe contribution to energy independence.
Public support for some forms of drilling has risen in polls by Associated Industries of Florida since 2006. Last year, aligning with GOP presidential nominee John McCain, Gov. Charlie Crist switched — saying he could support considering drilling that's "far enough, safe enough and clean enough" — and the state House passed a bill that would have allowed the state's Cabinet to grant drilling permits.
The idea sank without a ripple in the Senate but AIF is making a major push in the 2010 session to get exploration started. The lure: up to an estimated 20,000 new jobs, with an equal number produced in support industries once production starts.
Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, citing 15-percent unemployment in Collier County parts of his district, said the state has to get started on a frank assessment of how much oil and natural gas is out there and how safely it can be pumped up. Hudson's district runs across the Everglades to Broward County and he said some inland wells prove it can be done.
"I'm the only guy in the state of Florida with active drilling now in his district," he said. "We've been doing it responsibly for 66 years in the middle of the Everglades and if you can drill in the most sensitive lands on the planet responsibly, for the balance of the environment, then we can do it anywhere."
'Not just … beaches'
But Eric Draper of the Audubon Society, one of the panelists at Wednesday's forum, said drilling will jeopardize Florida's beaches. He said it won't produce the promised jobs and won't lower prices at the pump.
"Many people make the assertion that the production of oil here in Florida will somehow affect gas prices. It will not," he said. "Gas prices are affected by international supply and demand. The amount we could produce in oil won't affect that."
David McLain of Eastpoint, policy director for Apalachicola Riverkeeper, said much is at stake.
"We're not just talking about beaches," he said. "We're talking about the entire coastline of Florida. We're talking about the impact of it inboard, as well as along the beachline."
Leadership listens
In addition to the panelists, state Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, and Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, will attend the forum. They will become presiding officers of the House and Senate next year, and Cannon got his special House council on strategic planning to work on the drilling issue last week.
Cannon said that "20 years ago, the Legislature made a reasonable and, I believe, correct decision" to ban drilling in Florida waters. But now, with the state facing revenue shortfalls projected as high as $2 billion, and technology possibly making exploration safer, Cannon said it's time to take another look.


We must grab this chance to restore Everglades water flow
Naples - Guest commentary by Joseph Z. Duke III, Everglades Foundation Board member
October 27, 2009
My family connection to South Florida and the Everglades began with my grandparents, so when Nathaniel Reed asked me to join the Everglades Foundation to help with restoration, I was honored to say yes.
Albert Gammage, my grandfather, was a circuit preacher in South Florida. In 1921, soon after my mother Alice was born in Tarpon Springs, he moved his wife and eight children to Miami to start a permanent church there.
The Everglades were, for the most part, in a natural state when they arrived and created a wilderness boundary to the west of Miami. Change was coming quickly to the Everglades. The drainage project that would transform the “River of Grass” into productive agricultural land was under way, along with construction of the Tamiami Trail, which would cross it. Soon the shallow and slow-flowing, 100-mile-wide river from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay would be strangled.
The Glades weren’t widely regarded as beautiful or wondrous then. They were “God-forsaken,” “hellish” and “mosquito-infested” in the common sentiment of the time.
When I was a young boy in the 1950s, my father and uncles would take me fishing in the mangrove creeks and backwater sloughs of the Ten Thousand Islands. We launched our wooden skiffs from Chokoloskee, Everglades City and Marco Island. We fished for snook and spent at least part of the day lost in a confusing, but beautiful natural maze.
To get there, we crossed the Everglades on the Tamiami Trail west from Miami. I didn’t know at the time that the road we traveled was blocking the water flow and backing it up to the north, drowning ancient tree islands and wildlife. The Trail, along with miles of dikes and canals, was choking off the life-giving flow of fresh water supplying Florida Bay, to the south.
By then, Lake Okeechobee was firmly under man’s control and no longer flooded its banks to the south as it had forever; most of its waters were diverted through canals east and west to the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
As a child, nature seemed to me immense and indestructible. As an adult, I’ve come to know how vulnerable it is.
I’ve learned that without a flow of fresh water, Florida Bay, the sprawling estuary at the southern tip of the state, has become too salty. The bay historically had a mix of fresh water from the Everglades and salt water from the Gulf of Mexico and was the perfect nursery for shrimp, lobsters and reef fish of the Florida Keys. The entire ecosystem now teeters on collapse.
I’ve joined with my fellow board members of the Everglades Foundation who share my commitment to restore the flow of fresh water.
The engineering to do it is not technically difficult: Build water storage facilities to amass enough water to replenish the ecosystem and construct filtering marshes into which the floodwaters of Lake Okeechobee would be directed and cleansed. At the same time, build a bridge over a portion of the Tamiami Trail to allow that water to flow south.
The actual work is simple. The hard part is convincing some of our policy makers that it must be done.
You’ve probably heard a lot lately about the plan to purchase U.S. Sugar Corp. land by the South Florida Water Management District. If you fly over the land south of Lake Okeechobee, you’ll understand why Gov. Charlie Crist is so strongly in favor of the plan. Where once were only Everglades, today is mostly sugar-cane fields.
The plan would take some 73,000 acres of agricultural lands out of sugar-cane production and convert them into water storage and filtered marshes. The marshes would be flooded with water, allowing the natural process by which plants take up nutrients to remove the high levels of pollutants. The cleaned water would then flow south out of the marshes, eventually ending up mixing with the salt water of Florida Bay as it did for eons before man interfered.
To realize this goal, we have to cross a political minefield. Opposition to the plan comes from a handful of powerful interest groups. The role of the Everglades Foundation is to counter the opposition with science-based advocacy. Our mission is to engage and motivate people to restore the Everglades, the only natural system of its kind in the world and America’s only subtropical national park.
We have a briefly opened door to acquire the land we need and should do so. If we miss the opportunity, we risk losing one of the last great places on Earth.


Everglades restoration needs growers to collaborate
Palm Beach Post Letters to the Editor by KIRK FORDHAM, CEO, Everglades Foundation
October 24, 2009
While The Post accurately reported overwhelming public support for the state's historic U.S. Sugar land acquisition (Oct. 20), the story incorrectly asserted that we seek to "boot sugar companies out of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA)."
In fact, we believe that the Glades communities' future depends on a healthy agricultural industry, along with a thriving Everglades and an abundant clean water supply. If Everglades restoration is to succeed, it is important that sugar farmers continue their role in the cleanup of water pollution through more environmentally friendly farming practices. Additionally, poorly planned industrial sprawl in the heart of the EAA, like the Florida Crystals proposal for an inland port, is more harmful to the Everglades than sugar cane production.
It is for this reason that we - along with a strong majority of Floridians - oppose the building of a massive inland port complex in the middle of the region slated for key Everglades restoration projects. Instead, it is only logical to locate such a sprawling transportation and distribution center closer to the very communities that are most in need of economic development and the jobs that would result from such a facility.
State planning, transportation, and environmental protection officials have raised unusually strong concerns about the location of a massive industrial complex on the Florida Crystals site. They have questioned the wisdom of the Port of Palm Beach's effort to unilaterally make such a regionally important siting decision without coordinating with other ports and state agencies that are critical to the viability of such a venture.
Nonetheless, a wealthy and politically connected corporation is seeking to steamroll the opposition of citizens and agencies, significantly increasing the value of thousands of additional acres of its land by securing approval for massive industrial development, interfering with Everglades restoration and sending even more polluted water into this fragile ecosystem. The company's claim that it is doing this for the good of the economically disadvantaged citizens of the Glades cannot be taken seriously.
We continue to develop a cooperative relationship with farmers throughout the state who are constructive partners in Everglades restoration. Florida Crystals should follow the lead of their colleagues in the agriculture community who recognize that the future of our state depends on a collaborative effort to grow our economy, protect the Everglades and preserve our water supply.


Mercury in fish: Insidious, still largely mysterious, especially in Florida
Miami Herald by Kevin Spear
October 24, 2009
Mercury has the nickname "quicksilver," yet it poisons environments, wildlife and people around the world in a slow, relentless manner.
Florida, with extensive wetlands and waterways, is one of its most vulnerable targets.
Molecules of mercury begin their conquest by riding a plume of exhaust from a coal-powered electricity plant somewhere on Earth — coal contains trace amounts of the metal — and drifting high in the atmosphere for years.
Then they come down, often rinsed from the sky by rain. What happens next hinges on the biology and chemistry of whatever the metal encounters, with possibilities as varied as desert sands, deep swamp or, in Florida's case, one of 7,700 lakes that are an acre or larger.
It's in watery worlds where mercury makes a critical passage into the tissue or flesh of living things; many of the intricacies of how that happens are well-documented.
But researchers in Florida don't have anywhere near a complete grasp of the many variables. Those include exactly where mercury comes from — which boils down to determining sources from within the state and from elsewhere in the world — and why the state's environments, especially the Everglades, interact the way they do with the metal.
Data are lacking
Detailed mercury data and related health warnings exist for only a small fraction of Florida's rivers and lakes. As for the waters not yet examined, researchers know only that the mercury levels in them could be anywhere from barely detectable to off the charts.
"Each water body has its own characteristics," said Ted Lange, a longtime mercury researcher at the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission laboratory in Eustis.
Bacteria, particularly in wetlands, convert mercury into a form readily absorbed and stored by living things. Called methylmercury, it infiltrates algae, insects and small fish, which are then eaten by bigger fish, which in turn are eaten by still bigger fish.
The metal accumulates along the way, peaking in the flesh of top aquatic predators. The largemouth bass, for instance, eats nearly everything it can close its mouth around, from lizards to crayfish. Some of the fish have very high levels of the toxic metal; as such, the species is presumed to have significant amounts of mercury no matter where bass are caught in the state.
Alarming levels
Years of public-service announcements about mercury in fish have had some success in warning the public of potential dangers. A recent survey in Escambia County found that one-third of 600 women between the childbearing ages of 18 and 49 were aware of advisories warning that eating fish with high levels of mercury can cause birth defects.
The survey also found that one in about every six of those women had enough mercury in their bodies to harm developing fetuses.
But mercury's path to people — not only from power plants but also from volcano plumes, forest fires, cement plants and incinerators — can take many side trails. Biologists recently discovered to their shock that exotic Burmese pythons infesting the Everglades have some of the highest levels of mercury measured in any species in Florida.
Of far greater concern is what effect the metal has on a variety of native species, including wading birds, turtles, alligators, frogs, deer, ducks and highly endangered Florida panthers.
"Birds tend to ingest a lot of fish, so therefore they get pretty high doses of mercury," said Peter Frederick, a biology professor at University of Florida.
Even low levels of mercury might be a problem. Frederick said white ibis wading birds changed their behavior after being exposed to just small amounts of the metal in a laboratory setting.
"We've seen some real differences in the balance between [male hormone] testosterone and [female hormone] estrogen that seems to affect pairing behavior," said Frederick, who also observed an unusual number of nesting pairs consisting only of males.
To Frederick, such findings suggest that just as high levels of mercury can cause convulsions and death, low levels can trigger ailments that are subtler and slower but equally serious.
"We really don't know where the bottom is, where there are no effects from mercury," Frederick said.


Scientists struggle for mercury answers
United Press International  
October 24, 2009
ORLANDO, Fla., Oct. 25 (UPI) -- Scientists studying how mercury pollution affects Florida's environment say mercury levels in many rivers and lakes have yet to be measured.
With extensive wetlands, waterways and more than 7,000 lakes, Florida remains a vulnerable target of the poisonous metal, experts say. How mercury is absorbed into the tissue or flesh of livings things in these watery environments in well-documented but concrete details still elude the researchers, the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel reported Sunday.
Researchers are trying to determine exactly where the mercury comes from and why the state's environments, particularly the Everglades, respond the way they do to the metal, the newspaper said.
"Each water body has its own characteristics," Ted Lange, a longtime mercury researcher at the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission laboratory, said.
Health warnings based on precise mercury levels can be made only for a small number of Florida's rivers and lakes, researchers caution. For locations that haven't been examined, mercury levels could be anything from almost zero to off the scale, they said.


South Florida counties to team up to combat climate change
Miami Herald by CURTIS MORGAN
October 24, 2009
South Florida's three largest counties have competed -- for jobs, conventions, sports teams, cruise ships, federal funds and many other things -- as much as they have cooperated over the years.
But Friday, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, joined by Monroe, agreed that they share a large, looming problem they better start working on together fast: global warming, which brings with it the scary prospect of waves washing against abandoned beachside hotels before the century is up.
In the first regional summit on climate change, more than 200 political leaders, planners, water experts and environmental scientists from the four counties met in Fort Lauderdale. They kicked off what participants pledged would become a cooperative effort to address rising seas and temperatures that threaten to profoundly change the landscape and life from Key West to Palm Beach -- and the rest of the state as well.
Broward Commissioner Kristin Jacobs, who spearheaded the summit, said it makes not only practical sense to share resources, data and strategies but political sense as well.
The three counties alone have more than 5.5 million residents, more people than 30 entire states. Only 80,000 live in Monroe but the low-lying islands of the Keys rank among the nation's most at-risk communities and will be the first measuring sticks of sea rise.
``It's really about us speaking with one voice,'' Jacobs said. ``There is strength in numbers.''
And, the counties hope, more clout with lawmakers in Tallahassee and Washington. The primary goal is to shape state and federal climate policies and steer more funding to communities most at risk -- namely, South Florida.
The current House version of federal climate change legislation, for instance, divvies up funding to states alone. The counties back the Senate bill, which sets aside 12 percent for local governments.
Judging by the presentations, South Florida will need every dollar it can get, with major infrastructure overhauls needed even under the low-ball sea level scenarios.
With just an eight-inch rise, drainage canals can lose 40 percent of capacity and salt intrusion will taint and squeeze underground drinking water aquifers. With a four-foot rise by 2100 -- projected by Miami-Dade's climate task force -- the sea covers much of the barrier islands and begins percolating up from the Everglades in low-lying western suburbs.
As part of a regional climate compact, the four counties will develop building, mass transit and land-use policies to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions that scientists blame for global warming.
But Jim Murley, director of Florida Atlantic University's Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions and chairman of a state energy and climate commission, said political leaders will need to start doing more, including something many have been loath to do -- saying ``no'' to some development.
``I would suggest to you we need to reset the way we think about doing land-use planning in the future,'' he said. ``We're going to have to start to understand how we can accommodate where to put the water.''
Environmentalists have been screaming for stronger growth management for years and say they've gotten back mostly lip service.
Many remain skeptical that politicians will follow through on climate issues, citing how economic issues have pushed Gov. Charlie Crist's green agenda to the back burner.
``The nuclear power plants are moving full speed ahead. They're about to propose more offshore drilling,'' said Panagioti Tsolkas, co-chairman of the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition, who did not attend the summit.
His group is fighting a gas-fired power plant that Florida Power & Light wants to build in western Palm Beach, which he says will annually emit 12 tons of carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas. FPL was among the sponsors of the regional conference.
``It still seems the priority is keeping the energy empire happy,'' he said.


Update: Get involved in offshore oil-drilling debate
Florida Capital Bureau by Bill Cotterell
October 24, 2009
During the Florida Legislature’s first big hearing on offshore oil drilling, state Rep. Paige Kreegel summed up the collision of economic, environmental and political factor.
“They say it will take years to produce anything,” the Punta Gorda Republican said last week. “But if we were sitting here in 1960, couldn’t they say that about the Apollo project to put a man on the moon?”
Statewide public discussion of Gulf coast oil exploration starts with a public forum broadcast from Florida State University 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday night. An evenly split panel of six experts will take questions from a studio audience and viewers watching on television and the Internet.
Florida’s territorial control extends 10.36 miles into the Gulf of Mexico. Although 124 leases have been issued and 19 wells were punched into the seabed, the term “offshore oil drilling” has, in the past, ranked somewhere between “state income tax” and “anti-death penalty” among the state’s political taboos.
Opponents speak of tar balls washing ashore, hurricanes uprooting even submerged oil pumps and a change of Florida’s image from the nation’s playground to its utility room. Proponents promise jobs, hundreds of millions in sorely needed tax revenue and an environmentally safe contribution to energy independence.
Public support for some forms of drilling has risen in polls by Associated Industries of Florida since 2006. Last year, aligning with GOP presidential nominee John McCain, Gov. Charlie Crist switched -- saying he could support considering drilling that’s “far enough, safe enough and clean enough” -- and the state House passed a bill that would have allowed the state’s Cabinet to grant drilling permits.
The idea sank without a ripple in the Senate but AIF is making a major push in the 2010 session to get exploration started. The lure: up to an estimated 20,000 new jobs, with an equal number produced in support industries once production starts.
Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, citing 15 percent unemployment in Collier County parts of his district, said the state has to get started on a frank assessment of how much oil and natural gas is out there and how safely it can be pumped up.
Hudson’s district runs across the Everglades to Broward County and he said some inland wells prove it can be done.
“I’m the only guy in the state of Florida with active drilling now in his district,” he said. “We’ve been doing it responsibly for 66 years in the middle of the Everglades and if you can drill in the most sensitive lands on the planet responsibly, for the balance of the environment, then we can do it anywhere.”
But Eric Draper of the Audubon Society, one of the panelists at Wednesday’s forum, said drilling will jeopardize Florida’s beaches. He said it won’t produce the promised jobs and won’t lower prices at the pump.
“Many people make the assertion that the production of oil here in Florida will somehow affect gas prices. It will not,” he said. “Gas prices are affected by international supply and demand. The amount we could produce in oil won’t affect that.”
David McLain of Eastpoint, policy director for Apalachicola Riverkeeper, said much is at stake.
“We’re not just talking about beaches,” he said. “We’re talking about the entire coastline of Florida. We’re talking about the impact of it inboard, as well as along the beachline.”
In addition to the panelists, state Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, and Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, will attend the forum. They will become presiding officers of the House and Senate next year, and Cannon got his special House council on strategic planning to work on the drilling issue last week.
Cannon said that “20 years ago, the Legislature made a reasonable and, I believe, correct decision” to ban drilling in Florida waters. But now, with the state facing revenue shortfalls projected as high as $2 billion, and technology possibly making exploration safer, Cannon said it’s time to take another look.
 Gannett Florida and Florida State University are sponsoring Florida Forum on Energy Exploration 7-9 p.m. Wednesday from the studios of WFSU-TV in Tallahassee. As lawmakers prepare to consider legislation to allow exploration for oil and natural gas in state Gulf of Mexico waters, this is your chance to be a part of the discussion.
David Rancourt, Southern Strategy Group
Terry Cunningham, Florida Grassroots Energy Forum
Hank Fishkind, Fishkind & Associates
Eric Draper, Audubon Society
Kenneth Welch, Pinellas County Commissioner
David McLain, Apalachicola Bay and Riverkeeper
Legislative leadership
Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and
Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, will be a part of the forum, listening and seeking answers.
Readers can submit questions in advance for consideration to be used during the forum. Please include your name, town, phone number and any relevant association.
The forum will be streamed live on Viewers can also comment and ask questions live.
You may also participate on Twitter. Posts with the #flaforum hashtag will automatically be pulled into the live chat during the forum.
Florida State University will air the program live on 4FSU, its cable television channel in Leon, Gadsden, and Wakulla Counties, as well as webcasting the program on


Florida Utilities Considering Seawater to Meet Growing Demands, Diminished Supplies
Water World by Christopher P. Hill, Edward R. Balchon, Scott C. Shannon, and Jerry M. Salsano
October 23, 2009
In an effort to meet increasing water demands and address limitations in future groundwater usage, the Coquina Coast Project Partnership, together with the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD), are evaluating seawater desalination as a potential future source of drinking water.
Centered in Flagler County, the Coquina Coast gets its name from the unique geological features of the northeastern coast of Florida. The Coquina Coast Project Partnership includes seven Suppliers (the cities of Palm Coast, Bunnell, Leesburg, and Mount Dora, St. Johns and Flagler counties, and the Dunes Community Development District), as well as four "Ex Officio" members (the cities of DeLand and Flagler Beach, Marion County, and the Water Authority of Volusia).
The Coquina Coast Seawater Desalination Project includes several unique features, including the incorporation of sustainability into the planning process, evaluation of vessel-based desalination (VBD), considerations affecting seawater intake alternatives, and planning for a large regional transmission system. The focus of this article is the impact of treated water quality and quantity demands, intake type, and raw water quality on pretreatment process selection and seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) performance.
Future Water Demand
The projected supply capacity of the project varies significantly and is likely to be refined several times before design activities commence. However, based on preliminary water demand estimates, the project is anticipated to ultimately provide between 50 and 80 million gallons per day (mgd) of finished drinking water in 2050.
The treatment facility is anticipated to provide first water by approximately 2017. Construction of the facility, as well as the related infrastructure will be phased to minimize the cost impacts to the Partners' customers.
Raw Water Quality
Raw water quality is of particular importance to treatment process selection; however, very little site-specific water quality data are currently available for the project area. To complete the evaluation of seawater desalination and establish pretreatment requirements, a number of sources were used to determine likely water quality, including data from the National Data Buoy Center (NDBC), a local marine attraction and research facility with seawater intakes, and data published by the Water Research Foundation (Loveland and Means, 2009). Table 1 provides a summary of the raw water quality assumptions derived from those data and being used during the conceptual planning phase of the Project. A comprehensive raw water quality monitoring program will be implemented as the project moves forward.

Treated Water Quality Requirements
The treatment process will be designed to meet all established National Primary and Secondary Drinking Water Standards. In addition, the Partners have established several other water quality objectives for currently unregulated parameters or which exceed current regulatory standards: chloride < 40 mg/L, total dissolved solids < 250 mg/L, bromide < 0.2 mg/L, and boron < 1.0 mg/L.

Figure 1: Comparison of Annual Average Day Demand and Future Supply Capacity.

The bromide goal is intended to reduce the formation of brominated species of disinfection byproducts. Boron is primarily an agricultural concern, and is currently not regulated. Although the Partners have preliminarily adopted the World Health Organization (WHO) goal, water from the desalination facility is not anticipated to be used for irrigation. Therefore, this objective may be refined in the future based on the impact of the goal to treatment costs. Treated water must also be stable, non-corrosive and suitable for transmission to each of the Partners with an adequate and appropriate disinfectant residual.
Treatment Process
The Partners are committed to identifying the most cost-effective seawater desalination process that is practical for the project. To that end, the Partners are committed to evaluating emerging desalination technologies should they prove feasible for this project. However, while there are a number of emerging desalination technologies, only SWRO is being considered in the current conceptual phase. Thermal processes are not considered viable for economic reasons, and most of the emerging technologies are still being researched, so their applicability at the scale of the project is likely years away.

Table 2 summarizes the SWRO feed water quality objectives and the basis by which pretreatment processes will be selected. Pretreatment is critical to producing a feed water quality suitable for optimum membrane treatment.
In terms of water quality, the following are factors in pretreatment process selection to reduce membrane fouling, minimize the need for excessively frequent cleaning, reduce damage risk, and preserve membrane life expectancy:
• Particle fouling of membranes can be minimized if turbidity of less than 0.5 NTU and silt density index (SDI) below 3 is maintained to comply with membrane warranties.
• Biological fouling can be a potentially significant problem for SWRO membranes. Therefore, minimization of organic content and algae, such as that experienced in "red tides" along Florida's coastline, should be given high priority.
• Organic fouling from natural organic matter such as organic carbon and biopolymers. Entrained hydrocarbons, such as tars and oils, must be removed if present.
The following pretreatment processes are being evaluated:
• Screening, both coarse and medium screening depending on intake type.
• Coagulation and flocculation.
• Clarification, including sedimentation, dissolved air flotation, and high-rate processes such as ActiFlo®.
• Filtration, including gravity media filtration, pressure filtration, and membrane filtration.
The SWRO process can be configured as a single- or two-pass system. Certain predominant ions, such as chloride, sodium, and bromide, will remain in permeate from a single pass at potentially high levels which could cause taste, dietary or corrosion issues. Molecules with low molecular weights and uncharged ions, such as boron, are poorly rejected by the SWRO process. As a result and to meet the preliminary treated water quality objectives, the Partners are considering a two-pass SWRO process. A cost-benefit analysis of the single-pass versus two-pass SWRO alternatives and the impact to the preliminary water quality objectives will be conducted to make the final process selection.
Based on an assumed SWRO recovery of approximately 45 percent and a pretreatment process recovery of approximately 95 percent, the pretreatment process will need to be sized to treat approximately 2.5 times the treated water volume.
Intake, Discharge Considerations
The bathymetry and aquatic environment off the northeastern coast of Florida are quite unique compared to other seawater desalination projects in the U.S. Ideally, an ocean intake would be located in approximately 60 feet of water. However, to reach this depth would require an intake be located 5 miles or more off the coast. Additionally, co-location with a power generation facility is not an option in the project area, so the concentrate, if returned to the ocean, will need to be dispersed in an open ocean environment. These factors, combined with some of the known native and migratory aquatic species concerns will have significant impacts on the ultimate intake and concentrate discharge solutions that can be used.
Pretreatment process selection will be strongly influenced by the type of intake adopted in the plant design. There are a large number of possible variants of intake design. Selection of the appropriate design approach is project specific and is influenced by seawater quality, maintenance/biofouling control, design capacity, geotechnical conditions, marine conditions, construction risk, cost, and schedule impacts.

Figure 2: Impact of Intake Type on SWRO Pretreatment

Open sea intakes include both onshore and offshore intakes. There are numerous examples of open intakes for large SWRO plants with production capacities of 20 to more than 100 mgd. All open intakes require screening to keep out larger species of aquatic life and larger floating or suspended debris. Velocity through the screens is also kept low to prevent impingement and entrainment of smaller mobile aquatic species.
Onshore intakes, such as a wet-well or concrete fore-bay structures, draw their water from the shallower layers of the sea, and as such are subject to higher water quality risks and variability compared to deeper intakes. Examples of these variations include; greater salinity fluctuation (direct effects of rain), significant temperature variability, and the presence of algae and floating material, including sediments (wave or wind induced disturbances) and potentially oils.
Offshore intakes normally include passive coarse bar screens at the offshore end and active medium screens at the onshore end, with the two connected by seabed pipeline or tunnel. The intakes themselves are typically 30-feet to ideally over 60-feet deep where temperatures and light are lower, and water quality is generally better and more stable. The intakes are deep enough to be unaffected by ocean swells, and positioned above the local floor to avoid sediment entrainment into the intake conduits. However, continuous intake of seawater past the screens provides an ideal growth environment for marine organisms such as filter feeding mollusks (e.g., mussels) both on the screens and potentially within the pipeline or tunnel. The use of plastic intakes will inhibit attachment but any growth may require shock chlorination together with periodic maintenance to reduce biofouling.
Subsurface intakes include beach wells, infiltration galleries and recently developed drilled horizontal drains (Neodren). For these types of intakes, natural beach sand acts as a filter to eliminate larger particles but, if the natural sand grading is unfavorable, sub-surface intakes may become clogged over time reducing the efficiency of removal and limiting hydraulic capacity. These intakes may increase uptake of inorganic contaminants such as iron, manganese and silica, if prevalent in the sands. Water temperature variation in subsurface intakes is normally lower than in open sea intakes. Subsurface intakes generally have lower capacity than open intakes and require multiple collectors to meet ultimate design capacity.
There is still a need to conduct many additional studies to determine the most viable intake type for the project.
The need for alternative water supplies is causing many public water systems in the United States to consider seawater desalination. In Florida, the Coquina Coast Partners are one such group of utilities. Though the project is in its early phases, it is clear that the Atlantic Ocean is a viable source of drinking water. SWRO remains the most viable technology for seawater desalination in the U.S. The challenge locally is to determine the most appropriate intake type and associated pretreatment process to optimize SWRO performance.


Herbicide chemical turns up in water
Tampa Bay online by CHRISTIAN M. WADE
October 23, 2009
TAMPA - For nearly a decade, the Tampa Sports Authority has used an arsenic-laden weed killer on the fairways of the golf courses it oversees.
The industrial-strength herbicide, monosodium methanearsonate, or MSMA, is approved by the Florida Department of Agriculture and applied only by licensed professionals.
However, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is concerned the weed killer is contaminating the groundwater beneath at least one of the courses, Rogers Park, 7911 N. 30th St., which is bounded by the Hillsborough River and within a mile of hundreds of drinking-water wells.
Recent tests conducted by a consulting firm hired by Tampa to monitor contamination from an old municipal landfill underneath a section of the golf course, revealed higher-than-acceptable levels of arsenic in one of several groundwater testing wells.
DEP wants the city to conduct more extensive soil and groundwater testing of the area to determine the source of the arsenic and remove the contaminated soil, if needed.
Eric Hart, the sports authority's executive director, said he was not aware of the DEP concerns about groundwater contamination from MSMA until contacted by The Tampa Tribune and He said the authority will temporarily discontinue MSMA use at its golf courses until the issue is resolved.
Industry groups defend the use of MSMA as a relatively cheap and effective way to rid parks, athletic fields and fairways of weeds. They claim that low doses of its primary ingredient, inorganic arsenic, pose no threat to public health or the environment.
Still, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services say chronic exposure to inorganic arsenic is known to cause cancer and has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and declines in brain functions.
Regulators are concerned enough about the potential harm from MSMA that they have banned most uses of the controversial herbicide after 2013.
EPA officials plan to study its possible effects on wildlife and water supplies.
In Florida, where a mix of sandy soils and a high water table means contaminants such as arsenic can pass easily into groundwater and aquifers used by public utilities, the sale and use of MSMA on golf courses will be prohibited by the end of 2010, the EPA said.
Hart said the herbicide is sprayed in certain areas of golf courses where the weeds are most prevalent. The authority only uses about 7 gallons of MSMA a year, he said.
"We don't use that much of it anyways," Hart said. "It's only applied where it's needed."
The sports authority has come under fire in previous years for its use of a controversial worm-killing pesticide, Curfew, at the Babe Zaharias Golf Course in Forest Hills.
After neighbors complained about the use of the pesticide applied to fairways to kill worms that feed on grass, Dow Chemical discontinued its use on Babe Zaharias.
Dow said it would continue using Curfew on other city-owned golf courses. The sports authority also operates Rocky Point golf course near Tampa International Airport.
Tampa doesn't use MSMA on any of the city-owned athletic fields or public parks, according to a spokeswoman from the city's parks and recreation department.
Hillsborough County officials said they do use it, occasionally, on many of their parks and athletic fields, most of which are managed by dozens of youth associations.
"It's the only thing that works to keep certain kinds of crabgrass under control," said Mark Thornton, the county's parks and recreation director. "But we don't use a lot of it."
There could be other sources for the elevated arsenic levels at the golf course.
Rogers Park was built on a former municipal landfill that was shut down in 1957. It is one of several old dumps that the DEP wants the city to investigate and clean up, if needed.
Since the early 1990s, the city has been required by the DEP to conduct annual reports of the groundwater using several test wells at the perimeter of the old landfill.
DEP said it won't know the source of contamination until further tests are conducted


Oil industry greases votes at Florida Legislature
TCPALM - Editorial
October 23, 2009
The oil industry's money machine is pumping money into the state Legislature in an effort to open drilling within three miles of Florida’s coast.
Covering their bets, Florida Energy Associates, a consortium of oil and gas companies, spread $125,000 to the state’s Republican and Democratic parties during the first quarter. By sending so-called “soft money” to the parties, the oilmen can exceed the $500-per-candidate contribution cap.
Will it pay off? The lobbying effort is just getting started, but key lawmakers are already lining up.
State Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, says he will sponsor the drilling legislation in the Senate. Haridopolos, whose district spans most of Indian River County, has long said he will accept contributions from anyone, as long as those contributions are made public.
Slated to become Senate president in 2011, Haridopolos wields influence with his peers.
So does Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, who plans to carry the industry’s legislation on the House side. Cannon is expected to become House speaker in 2011.
In addition to the cash contributions, Florida Energy Associates is deploying 30 lobbyists to work the halls and watering holes in Tallahassee.
“They wouldn’t do it if they didn’t think it made a difference,” Common Cause Florida Chairman Ben Wilcox told the Tampa Tribune.
Or, as Doug Daniels, chief operating officer of the Associates, put it: “You’ve got to take care of your friends.”
The problem with all this is the environmental and economic threat that offshore drilling poses to Florida. Anyone who’s visited Gulf Coast communities in Texas and Louisiana can attest to the oily aroma and tarballs that come with such operations.
In a worst-case scenarios — which do happen — oil spills kill wildlife and pollute beaches. That could be an absolute killer to Florida’s $65-billion-a-year tourism industry, which dwarfs whatever revenues the state might gain from drilling.
Gov. Charlie Crist, a professed environmentalist who jets off to “green” summits and has sponsored a few, could fire a shot across the bow of the oil industry behemoth by declaring his unalterable opposition to expanded drilling. Crist’s position is crucial, since he would sign or veto whatever bill emerges from the 2010 Legislature.
At this juncture, silence from the governor’s office leaves a leadership vacuum and effectively encourages the Associates and their growing phalanx of “friends” at the Capitol.


Algae may be secret weapon in climate change war
AFP by Ruth Morris
October 22, 2009
MIAMI — Driven by fluctuations in oil prices, and seduced by the prospect of easing climate change, experts are ramping up efforts to squeeze fuel out of a promising new organism: pond scum.
As it turns out, algae -- slimy, fast-growing and full of fat -- is gaining ground as a potential renewable energy source.
Experts say it is intriguing for its ability to gobble up carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, while living happily in places that aren't needed for food crops.
Algae likes mosquito-infested swamps, for example, filthy pools, and even waste water. And while no one has found a way to mass produce cheap fuel from algae yet, the race is on.
University labs and start-up companies across the country are getting involved. Over the summer, the first mega-corporation joined in, when ExxonMobil said it would sink 600 million dollars into algae research in a partnership with a California biotechnology company.
If the research pans out, scientists say they will eventually find a cost-effective way to convert lipids from algae ponds into fuel, then pump it into cars, trucks and jets.
"I think it's very realistic. I don't think it's going to take 20 years. It's going to take a few years," said chemical engineer George Philippidis, director of applied research at Florida International University in Miami.
One of the factors fueling enthusiasm is algae's big appetite for carbon dioxide -- a by-product of burning fossil fuels.
"We could hook up to the exhaust of polluting industries," Philippidis said. "We could capture it and feed it to algae and prevent that CO2 from contributing to further climate change."
California company Sapphire Energy has already fueled a cross-country road trip with algae-tinged gasoline.
The trip, meant to raise awareness, prompted the headline, "Coast to Coast on Slime". Another California company is looking at fattening fish on algae and then processing the fish for oil.
"Where algae is very nice is, it's prolific. It's everywhere... and you don't have to do much. Mother Nature has kind of figured it out," said Roy Swiger, a molecular geneticist and director of the Florida division of the non-profit Midwest Research Institute.
MRI began studying algae as an energy source three years ago. Swiger warned that algal fuels are not ready for prime time yet. Even though algae grows like gangbusters, it currently costs up to 100 dollars to make a gallon of algal fuel-- hardly a savings.
The rub is bringing cost down, and production up. To do this, scientists must find cheap ways to dry algae and extract the lipids, where energy is stored.
Swiger noted that it would not make sense to spend five dollars of electricity to run a centrifuge to dry out algae, that in turn would only produce one dollar of fuel.
If research goes well, Swiger thinks it will take five years to bring down production costs to 40 dollars per gallon.
But taking even a tiny chunk out of the energy market -- ethanol has eked out a 4.0 percent share, for example -- can shift the energy mix.
"Four percent is not a lot, and yet everywhere you look there's a pump," Swiger said. "So four percent of a gigantic number is a lot."
Some start-ups are more optimistic. Paul Woods, chief executive of Florida-based Algenol Biofuels, says his company will beat others to market.
He has patented a technology for "sweating" ethanol from algae, without drying it first.
"We see ourselves as a very cheap way to supplement (energy supply)," said Woods, "and the more cheap ethanol we have, the more we're winning in efforts to have independence from foreign fuel."
Woods announced a partnership with Dow Chemical in July to build a demonstration plant, and expects to launch commercial production by 2011.
Experts don't see algal fuel replacing fossil fuels completely, and some have become leery of hype.
The idea of harnessing algae for fuel has been around for decades, they say. Still, no one has been able to make it financially feasible.
"Any fantastic claims will eventually discredit the field if given much credence," said algae expert John Benemann.
Instead, he sees algae as a good source for animal feeds, chemicals and fertilizer.
Back at FIU, Philippidis agreed "there is no silver bullet" to reduce dependency on fossil fuels.
But he saw promise on the horizon, especially as larger companies become involved in algae research. "We are still at an early stage... but as we scale up (production) I think costs will come down very, very quickly," he said.
And if that works, he added, "there is a small Greek island I would like to buy."


Environmental concerns fail to stop expanded rock mining in Everglades Agricultural Area
South Florida Sun-Sentinel by Andy Reid
October 22, 2009
WEST PALM BEACH - Rock mining that environmentalists say threatens to pollute water supplies and hamper Everglades restoration can expand to more western farmland, Palm Beach County commissioners decided Thursday.
Star Ranch, mined by Broward County businessman Ron Bergeron's excavation operation, plans to expand mining to almost 600 additional acres west of U.S. 27 in southwestern Palm Beach County.
Bergeron, who serves on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, has mined Star Ranch for two decades and contends it does not hamper Everglades restoration.
Star Ranch, owned by Noel Shapiro, is beside property the South Florida Water Management District acquired as part of the multibillion-dollar effort to store and clean stormwater to replenish the Everglades.
The district has raised concerns that expanded mining could affect the district's restoration plans and reduce the environmental benefits of projects to store and clean water.
Environmental groups object to expanded rock mining in the agricultural area, arguing that it threatens to lead to water pollution and tie up land potentially needed for Everglades restoration.
The rock is used for everything from road building to home construction.
Commissioners last year approved two new rock mines covering about 11,000 acres in the Everglades restoration area -- former Everglades land South of Lake Okeechobee that was drained to make way for farming.
 Environmental groups are trying to stop the spread of rock mining and industrial development in the agricultural area, in the hopes of using more of that land to restore stormwater flows to the Everglades.
In addition to potentially tying up land needed for restoration, rock mining opponents contend that the digging can allow pollutants to foul underground freshwater supplies relied on by the public and the environment.
 "This is a bad land use and a bad location," said Richard Grosso, of the Everglades Law Center. "This has major unresolved issues."
Star Ranch still needs to get state environmental permits before it can expand. That permitting process requires the mining operators to prove that they can harvest rock without polluting water supplies or causing other environmental problems, said development consultant Kieran Kilday, who represents the property.
"We understand the geology … the science that we have to satisfy to move forward," Kilday said.
Commission Chairman Jeff Koons turned out to be the swing vote in a close commission decision to approve expanding the rock mine. The state permitting requirements will address the environmental concerns, said Koons, who voted along with Commissioners Steven Abrams, Burt Aaronson and Priscilla Taylor.
 The votes against the mining plan came from Commissioners Shelley Vana, Jess Santamaria and Karen Marcus.
 "I can't support something that we don't have the answers for and perhaps could do damage to the Everglades," Vana said.
The county approval gives Star Ranch three years to get its state permits, or the mine risks losing the chance to expand.
Getting those state permits will likely require including designing costly safeguards to address concerns about mining threatening water supplies or hampering Everglades restoration, said Carol Wehle, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District.
"These issues are serious. They need to be addressed," Wehle said.


Everglades deal's supporters, sugar grower clash over poll
Miami Herald by Curtis Morgan  
October 22, 2009
The latest volley in the political battle over Gov. Charlie Crist's controversial $536 million land deal with the U.S. Sugar Corp. was fired Tuesday in the form of a poll bankrolled by its strongest supporters.
Commissioned by the Everglades Foundation, the poll took dead aim at the Florida Crystals Corp., a rival grower and leading critic of the governor's land deal.
It found 75 percent of 600 likely voters statewide backed the 73,000-acre purchase and 78 percent supported "strict land-use controls" to block residential or commercial development in the farm belt southeast of Lake Okeechobee.
Crystals has a parcel of farm land in play for a proposed "inland port," one of four sites contending for a transportation and shipping hub that the Port of Palm Beach Commission is scheduled to select Wednesday.
Kirk Fordham, chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation, said the group wanted to gauge public opinion on Everglades restoration, the governor's bid to buy sugar fields for future restoration projects and other "current issues."
"The fact that the numbers are so strong against development in the area surprised me in this economic climate," Fordham said.
But Gaston Cantens, a spokesman for Florida Crystals, dismissed the results and called the timing of the release an "outrageous attempt to manipulate public opinion in order to hurt us."
Any statewide poll dilutes strong regional support for development, he said. "Seventy-five percent of Florida do not know who Florida Crystals is, much less that we're proposing any inland port."


Fla. Offshore Oil Drilling Debated
The by Lloyd Dunkelberger
October 22, 2009
Council hears arguments about opening state waters to industry.
TALLAHASSEE | Beginning a move that could fundamentally change Florida's relationship with one of its most unique features - its sandy coastline - a House committee opened debate Wednesday on reversing years of state policy in order to allow oil drilling just a few miles off Florida's beachfront.
The debate, which already features a small army of lobbyists and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, will not culminate until early next May when lawmakers conclude their annual session and will have decided the fate of the oil-drilling bill.
Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, chairman of the Select Policy Council on Strategic and Economic Planning, said the hearing was the first in a series on the issue, with more hearings scheduled to review the economic, environmental and financial impact of the proposal.
Cannon promised a "methodical and thoughtful" examination of the issue.
He said lawmakers would listen to experts and citizens "from all sides of the issue and remain focused on helping restart Florida's economy while protecting our state's environmental treasures and our important tourism economy."
Earlier this year, the House passed an oil-drilling bill, which was supported by Cannon, that would have allowed rigs as close as three miles to Florida's shores.
But the legislation was never taken up by the Senate.
In Wednesday's hearing, council members heard familiar arguments about allowing drilling in state waters, which stretch to a little more than 10 miles off shore in the Gulf of Mexico, the most likely area for oil drilling and exploration.
Proponents, including business groups and oil companies, say technology has improved to the point where oil spills remain unlikely and that the potential oil and natural gas off Florida's coast could boost the state's budget and economy, while helping improve the country's energy independence.
Opponents, including environmental groups and some beachfront businesses and community leaders, said the drilling has the potential to severely damage the state's ecology and tourism industry if a major oil spill occurs.
They questioned whether the drilling would bring substantial money to the state or have any real impact on the country's overall energy production.
Oil drilling has been specifically banned in Florida coastal waters since 1990.
Since 1947, only 19 wells have been drilled off the state's coast, with only one test well, in the Florida Keys, producing 15 barrels of oil, said Mike Sole, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Sole said there is a lack of hard data on what may be available in the state waters as well as the much larger portion of the eastern Gulf that is under federal jurisdiction and has been under a separate moratorium.
But he said preliminary information indicates that there could be natural gas deposits near Pensacola and deposits of a heavy grade of oil off the Southwest Florida coast related to the Sunniland oil fields in the Big Cypress Swamp.
A key issue in the debate will be whether a reversal in state policy allowing oil drilling could boost the state's economy and provide additional revenue to a state budget that could face a deficit of $2.6 billion or more in the next year.
Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, said he thinks the drilling proposal could bring "high-paying" jobs to the state as well as provide more money for the state budget.
Sole told the council that Alabama brings in up to $300 million a year from the extraction of natural gas from its coastal waters.
But opponents dispute the jobs and revenue claims, arguing that proponents are exaggerating the potential benefits.
One pro-drilling study suggested the state could reap as much as $2 billion a year.
"The math doesn't add up," said Eric Draper, a lobbyist for Audubon of Florida, an environmental group opposed to drilling.
Additionally, Draper and the other opponents said even if the drilling brings more jobs and extra state revenue, it potentially could threaten the state's $65 billion-a-year beach tourism industry if a major spill occurs.
"We don't think oil drilling is going to generate the economic benefits that are going to offset the very, very important coastal tourism benefit," Draper said.
Sole, the state's top environmental regulator, told the council that the chances of an oil spill related to drilling "is low."
He said spills are more likely to occur in the transportation of the product through shipping or pipelines.
While proponents note the U.S. has not had a major oil spill related to drilling since 1969, opponents cited the on-going spill off the Australian coast that has spewed thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Timor Sea because of a damaged oil rig.
Environmental groups and other opponents also cited the 1993 oil spill in Tampa Bay that dumped nearly 400,000 gallons of oil and fuel into the water after a freighter collided with two barges.
Proponents noted the oil spill was the result of a transportation accident and not drilling, adding that drilling in Florida could reduce the need to import as much oil.


Rising seas could be worse than expected, scientific group says during stop in Tampa
Tampa Bay online by Dong-Phuong Nguyen
October 22, 2009
TAMPA — By the year 2100, much of the Pinellas coastline and parts of Hillsborough will be inundated with water, an estimate that almost doubles researchers' original predictions about the rise in sea levels, leaders in global warming said Thursday.
Scientists with the Clean Air-Cool Planet initiative, which aims to find solutions to global warming, unveiled their findings at the Florida Aquarium. It was their first stop on a "Hip Boot Tour" discussing the global effects of the rapid decline of the Greenland ice sheet.
"In a place like Florida, you're going to be constantly shoveling out buckets of water," said Gordon Hamilton, an associate research professor at The University of Maine's Climate Change Institute who studies polar glaciology. "Flooding will inundate structures and ecosystems."
Hamilton said he first realized the urgency of melting polar ice on a flight to the region in 2005. He had mapped the coordinates of a glacier a few months before his trip. The day of the helicopter fight, the glacier was no longer there.
"That was my 'gee whiz' moment," Hamilton said. "We were flying over open sea."
Melting ice and broken glaciers send water levels rising around the world. Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded through its latest research that the rise of sea levels could be approximately one meter. However, Hamilton's study indicates that the number could be double that. In Florida, the levels would rise about three to six feet, or even more.
But some scientists said the numbers vary so widely above and below the IPCC numbers that it is hard to say whose predictions are correct.
"People are measuring (the rate of polar ice melting) all the time, but no one knows for sure whether it's a long term acceleration that will continue to increase or it is part of a gradual up and down kind of thing," said Abby Sallenger, an oceanographer with the U.S. Geological Survey's center for Coastal and Watershed Studies. "There has been a tremendous amount of uncertainty."
If Hamilton's predictions come true in low-lying Florida, ground water would be contaminated by saltwater, making it unusable.
Communities in Pinellas County that sit along the Gulf of Mexico would be saturated. Homes and businesses along Old Tampa Bay and MacDill Air Force Base would also be affected.
"The implications for the environment and society are pretty alarming," Hamilton said.
Brooks Yeager, executive vice president for policy for Clean Air-Cool Planet, also took the tour to the Sun Spree Resort in St. Petersburg, where scientists spoke at the Tampa Bay Estuary Program's Area Scientific Information Symposium.
While at the aquarium, Yeager pointed to several steps people can take to slow the warming. They include reducing the release of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon into the atmosphere and looking at the development of coastal infrastructure like cultivating mangroves that can slow the rise of the water.
Emily Rocheleau, the Hip Boot Tour organizer, donned a pair of hip boots to communicate the visual difference between previous scientists' estimates and Hamilton's findings.
She raised a hula hoop near her knees to represent the 17.3-inch rise in sea levels that scientists on the IPCC have predicted for this century. She then raised the hoop to her waist and then her chest to represent the new ranges. The grimmest scenario: The hula hoop lingered above her head.


Florida may become first bagless state in nation
The Orlando Sentinel by KEVIN SPEAR
October 21, 2009
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Paper or plastic?
How about neither?
Florida environmental officials want to make the state the first in the nation to prohibit throwaway plastic and paper bags.
The proposed ban would follow a five-year phase-out during which escalating fees, starting at a nickel a bag, would be imposed whenever such bags were used. Such a statewide fee - which would also be a national first - is already drawing criticism as a type of tax.
The state Department of Environmental Protection thinks the manufacture of paper bags is as much of a pollution problem as the disposal of plastic bags. The thin plastic bags now used by most supermarket chains and other retailers are a source of litter across landscapes and on ocean currents, where they can kill marine animals and birds; they're also a headache for those who maintain storm drains and landfill machinery.
Still, use of throwaway bags would be a tough habit to break: Floridians churned through more than 5 billion disposable plastic and paper bags in 2003, the most recent year for which figures are available. But state environmental officials aren't deterred.
"There won't be any problem finding reusable bags," said Ron Henricks, the agency's recycling-program environmental manager in Tallahassee. "What we are hoping is that, as the fee ramps up over the years, people are going to find it as more incentive to use reusable bags."
The agency's proposal stems from the Energy, Climate Change and Economic Security Act of 2008, which calls for the DEP to propose regulations governing the use of disposal bags. The law also prohibits Florida cities from imposing their own rules for disposal bags, something store owners say would create chaos.
The DEP's solution is to follow the lead of San Francisco and a scattering of other communities by banning the bags. Several states have talked about adopting such a measure statewide, but so far none has adopted one.
Now it's the Florida Legislature's turn to act, with consideration of the DEP's proposal coming as early as next year's spring session. By then, lawmakers will have had an earful from supporters and critics.
"We need to stop using plastic bags for groceries," said Keep Seminole Beautiful Director Mike Barr.
"We used to have paper bags, and people would worry about chopping down trees. And then we got plastic bags, and now they worry about petroleum products and turtles," said Rick McAllister, president of the Florida Retail Federation.
The DEP's proposal, quietly released late Tuesday, targets the disposable bags provided by a wide variety of businesses, from supermarkets to fast-food restaurants, convenience stores to dry cleaners.
Items exempt from the proposed ban would include bags for produce and sub sandwiches - carryout containers, tissue, bubble plastic used to cushion delicate items, and newspaper bags.
McAllister said that, after a quick read of the DEP's report Wednesday, he considers the recommendation "draconian." He said stores have made great strides with voluntary efforts to recycle disposal bags and give away or sell reusable bags.
"The real trick here is to get consumers to change their behavior," he said. "And we are making great progress. It's almost like this issue has found its remedy already."
By the fifth and final year of the state's proposed phase-out, anyone wanting a paper or plastic bag for merchandise would be charged a quarter a bag.
"That's a heavy tax on Florida citizens - on everybody," McAllister said.
Publix spokesman Dwaine Stevens said his company is neutral on a paper-and-plastic ban. But customers at the College Park Publix were quick to weigh in Tuesday.
"I don't think it's something the government should be involved with," Michael House said.
"If they did ban them, I wouldn't have a problem with it," Veronica Mitchell said.
Pearlena Shepherd's actions spoke louder than words. She arrived at the supermarket with a large, insulated bag that she already has used at least "20 times" for grocery shopping.
Whole Foods Market stopped giving out plastic bags last year. About 20 percent to 30 percent of customers now bring reusable bags, and the percentage doing so continues to rise, said regional marketing director Russ Benblatt.
"At the very beginning ... there were a few people who, once they got their groceries home, would reuse the plastic bags, and those were the ones who weren't too thrilled," Benblatt said. "But if that resulted in 2 percent of our customers being unhappy, that's probably a high estimate."
Jim Becker, director of Orange County's landfill, wouldn't miss plastic bags, a type of trash that seems to grow wings in even the lightest breeze.
He once spotted what he thought were three birds soaring high over the landfill.
"It turned out they were plastic bags caught in a thermal," he said.


Inland port plan delayed
South Florida Sun-Sentinel by Andy Reid
October 21, 2009
RIVIERA BEACH - Growing environmental concerns and economic questions on Wednesday delayed a decision on where to build an industrial distribution center that could bring thousands of jobs to struggling Glades communities.
 The proposed "inland port" is considered a potential economic savior for communities beside Lake Okeechobee that for decades have struggled with unemployment.
But environmental concerns continue to plague the proposal to spread industrial development to western agricultural land targeted for Everglades restoration.
 The Port of Palm Beach board on Wednesday decided to wait until Dec. 17 to make a decision, calling for the competing sites to submit business plans to show why they should be chosen.
Land owned by sugar giant Florida Crystals in western Palm Beach County is competing against sites near Clewiston and west of Port St. Lucie.


Nonprofits less likely to use collected data in campaigns: Return Path study
DMNews by Nathan Golia
October 21, 2009
Though three-quarters of nonprofits gather consumers' names and locations when they sign up for e-mail communications, that's often where consumer data collection ends for those groups, according to a Return Path study, released October 20.
Nonprofits are half as likely as for-profit companies to collect information beyond name and geographic location from their e-mail subscribers — 20% vs. 42%.
"Nonprofits have the opportunity to use the point of subscription to learn who their subscriber is," said Bonnie Malone, director of response consulting at Return Path. "Am I a young enthusiast that really wants to get involved and hit the ground running? Am I an older person looking for an organization I can include in my will?"
Segmenting the nonprofits revealed a 17% gap between advocacy groups, of which only 12% collect demographic information, and arts organizations, 29% of which collect this data. However, none of the arts organizations incorporated this information to personalize e-mails, while a third of the advocacy groups that collected the information did.
"It was interesting because advocacy was a lot of political and animal-rights types of groups who had a sense of urgency around creating response for issues," Malone said. "Arts was more about being touchy-feely and less about driving a response. It's a different perspective."
Even those nonprofits that collected comprehensive data didn't often use it to pique recipients' interest about relevant issues, Malone added.
"The disconnect [between how nonprofits and for-profits used demographic information] was actually in using," she explained. "I live in Florida, they could've sent me issues that are relevant to the Everglades or my local congressman."
On the social side, half of the nonprofits incorporated links to social networking sites in their e-mails. Thirty-eight percent encourage recipients to forward to a friend.
"From what I see with clients and other mailers in the market, it seems that nonprofits have embraced social media more than traditional marketers," Malone said. "They're more apt to integrate it with their overall marketing strategies — they see it as complementary."
Return Path used a Yahoo e-mail address to subscribe to 50 nonprofits' e-mail lists on March 3. These included 26 advocacy groups and 24 arts groups. It then monitored the companies' e-mail practices for 30 days.


South Florida's dry season has arrived
Miami Herald by CURTIS MORGAN
October 21, 2009
The brisk weekend brought more than a welcome break from the heat. It also signaled that South Florida's annual dry season has arrived.
The National Weather Service on Wednesday pronounced the rainy season officially over, after five months that brought a little more rain regionally than normal -- 42 inches, topping the typical 35 to 40 inches.
But without a tropical system, some places got a lot more rain than others. Hialeah, for instance, recorded 49.50 inches. Fort Lauderdale International Airport's gauges collected only 29.30. Miami International Airport was in the middle with 41.79.
``Unless you have a lot of rain from a big organized weather system, it's typical to see these variations,'' said Robert Molleda, a meteorologist with the service in Miami.
The healthy wet season didn't totally erase water shortage worries that have gripped the region in previous years, said Susan Sylvester, director of operations for the South Florida Water Management District.
Lake Okeechobee, the heart of South Florida's water supply system, is in good shape at 14.19 feet above sea level. But things are more mixed in the marshy water conservation areas west of urban Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, with one, the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife, already a half-foot below normal.
Sylvester said a final month of hot, windy weather evaporated more water than what fell in some marshes.
``People still need to really take conservation seriously,'' she said.
Most of South Florida, which gets only about a third of its rain during the dry season, remains on twice-weekly water restrictions.
Rainy season began May 11, nine days earlier than average. It ended Sunday, a day later than average.


Tampa Bay Water's overpumping fine can pay for landscaping study
Tampa Bay online by NEIL JOHNSON
October 21, 2009
TAMPA - Money from a fine levied against the region's water supplier for excessive pumping at wellfields in the winter and spring will pay for a study of how much water Florida Friendly Landscaping saves.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District fined Tampa Bay Water $46,000 plus $2,000 in costs for exceeding the utility's permit levels at wellfields in Pasco and north Hillsborough counties during the dry season.
Instead of funneling the money into water management district coffers, the district agreed to let Tampa Bay Water use the money for a conservation study.
The board of Tampa Bay Water will put the money toward a University of Florida study aimed at finding out how much water is saved by homes that use a landscaping plan that cuts the amount of sod and uses microirrigation and plants that require less water.
Swiftmud has reached similar agreements with other public utilities fined for violating permits.
Tampa Bay Water does not receive tax money but gets its funding through residents' water bills.
The district's governing board still has to approve the deal.
The proposed study would compare water use of 200 homes, half with Florida Friendly Landscaping and half with traditional landscaping.
The study's goal is to determine how much water the landscaping technique saves, and results are expected by November 2010.
A new law this year that says homeowners associations cannot prohibit residents from using Florida Friendly Landscaping prompted the study.
Tampa Bay Water incurred the fine during the dry season when it had to ratchet up pumping at 11 wellfields. The utility that supplies wholesale water to public utilities in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties and Tampa, St. Petersburg and New Port Richey had to lean heavily on the wells after its reservoir went dry.
The Swiftmud permit limits withdrawls from the wellfields to 90 million gallons a day. At the peak of pumping in March, the utility took an average of 140 million gallons a day from the wellfields.
Pumping declined below the permit level once summer rains started and Tampa Bay Water could tap rivers instead of the aquifer


Can you take a five minute shower?
University of Florida News
October 20, 2009
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Residents of the Yulee Area residence hall complex on the University of Florida campus are being asked to take five minute showers. They are piloting water conservation education efforts sponsored by the Department of Housing and Residence Education Green Team/Recycling/Sustainability Committee.
Water conservation messages are posted throughout the area, including reminders about turning off water while brushing teeth or shaving as well as reminders to report leaking faucets and shower heads and “running” toilets through iService, an online maintenance request procedure, The most challenging water conservation effort for residents is the Shower Coach Challenge: Can You Take a Five Minute Shower?
Shower Coaches are five minute shower timers on suction cups that have been placed in the 86 showers in the Yulee Area. A five minute shower uses 12.5 gallons of water. Each additional minute uses 2.5 gallons of water. Residents are being asked to take shorter, cooler showers to support both water conservation and energy conservation efforts campus-wide.
“The Shower Coach timers are a fun way to remind residents about water and energy conservation while they are actively using resources,” said Sharon Blansett, assistant director of Housing and chair of the Housing Green Team/Recycling/Sustainability Committee. “This water conservation effort is one of many resource conservation efforts supported by the committee in residence facilities.”
Residents are responding positively to the Shower Coach, but say it is difficult to take a five minute shower. Some say it helps them with time when they are running late for class.
The Yulee Area houses approximately 520 residents and is home to the Global Living Learning Community in Yulee Hall. The Global Living Learning Community is a residential learning community that explores global issues including sustainability. If the water conservation education is successful in the Yulee Area, the program will be expanded to other residence areas.


Corkscrew named Wetland of International Importance by ERIC STAATS
October 20, 2009
NAPLES — Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is basking in the international limelight.
The International Secretariat for the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty on wetlands conservation, has named the sanctuary a wetland of international importance.
Corkscrew joins Everglades National Park, the only other place on the list from South Florida, and only 23 other Florida spots on the list.
The designation does not confer any additional protections on the swamp but puts the sanctuary on the map as one of the most valuable wetlands on the planet.
“It’s like winning an Oscar,” Corkscrew’s executive director Ed Carlson said.
The designation followed a year-long application and an extensive review process that included data about soils, wetlands maps, endangered species, wildlife and plants found at the 13,000-acre sanctuary off Immokalee Road.
Audubon of Florida owns the sanctuary, which was created in 1954 to protect its old cypress forest from loggers.
The sanctuary is home to the largest nesting colony of endangered wood storks, and its towering 600-year-old trees comprise the largest remaining virgin bald cypress forest in North America.
More than 200 bird species and 22 species of threatened or endangered orchids live at Corkscrew along with alligators, Florida panthers and black bears.
The Ramsar designation includes 2,700 acres that were restored as part of the Panther Island Mitigation Bank that were added to the sanctuary along with money for management.
The designation marks the first time Ramsar has recognized a mitigation bank.


Florida Releases Report ON Biotech Competitiveness
Public sector News, source: Governor of Florida
October 20, 2009
Governor Charlie Crist today announced the publication of the Task Force on the Study of Biotech Competitiveness Final Report and Recommendations.
The Task Force was charged with studying economic policies necessary for increasing Florida’s competitiveness in attracting and retaining biotech manufacturing and distribution businesses.
“In these tough economic times, it is critical to ensure Florida maintains a competitive edge in biotechnology and continues the momentum already established by industry pioneers who have established a presence in Florida,” said Governor Crist. “I look forward to reviewing this report and its recommendations to see how we can further this industry’s efforts.”
Created by the 2007 Florida Legislature, the 17-member Task Force was led by Senator Jeremy Ring and held a number of discussions which focused on securing Florida’s competitive edge in the growing biotech sector and furthering the development of Florida’s biotechnology economy.
Ernst & Young recognized Florida as one of the fastest growing states in the life science industry and as among the top 10 U.S. biotech centers. Currently, there are over 120 biotechnology research and development companies in the state, excelling in the areas of biological devices, diagnostics and therapeutics.
The Task Force brought together not only its members, but stakeholders and other interested parties for discussions and debate working toward the goals of the Task Force. Organizations which participated or presented to the Task Force include representatives of the Board of Governors, the Departments of Education and Health, Enterprise Florida, Inc., Agency for Workforce Innovation, South Florida Water Management District and the State University System.
“Innovation is key to strengthening our economy,” said Dale A. Brill, Ph. D., director of the Governor’s Office of Tourism, Trade & Economic Development. “This Task Force looked at how to keep innovation on the forefront and to leverage Florida’s investments in biotechnology to help ensure long-term economic sustainability and growth.”
The Task Force’s final recommendations identified three key areas of focus: Entrepreneurship, Growing Florida’s Existing Biotech Industry and Recruiting Biotech Companies to Florida. These recommendations have the capacity to give Florida a competitive edge during a time when existing biotech hubs are competing for limited resources.


Poll supports U.S. Sugar deal for Everglades restoration
Palm Beach Post  by PAUL QUINLAN
October 20, 2009
Three-quarters of Floridians support Gov. Charlie Crist's $536 million bid to buy farmland from U.S. Sugar Corp. for Everglades restoration, according to a poll commissioned by the deal's backers.
The Everglades Foundation's poll of 600 likely Florida voters found that of the 75 percent who support the deal, 41 percent "strongly support" it, said pollster Jim Kitchens, of The Kitchens Group.
The poll also weighed in on plans to develop an "inland port," envisioned as a sprawling transportation, warehousing and distribution hub that would serve as an off-site extension of South Florida's three seaports. The poll said 78 percent favored "strict land-use controls" in the 700,000-acre Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee, "to block any future commercial or residential development" - a clear swipe at U.S. Sugar's rival, Florida Crystals Corp., which is lobbying to develop the inland port on land in that area.
The poll carries a 4 percent margin of error.
The results show that Crist's 73,000-acre land deal with U.S. Sugar - potentially the state's most expensive conservation land deal ever - has "broad, bipartisan support," said Kitchens. The poll found 75 percent of Democrats, 75 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of those affiliated with neither party support the U.S. Sugar deal.
"There are very few issues that are uniting Democrats and Republicans these days, but this is one," said Kitchens.
Still, it remains far from certain whether the deal will close next spring, as scheduled.
A legal challenge brought by Florida Crystals and the Miccosukee Tribe, which lives in the Everglades, is headed to the Florida Supreme Court.
What's more, as a special legislative session approaches, opponents of Crist's land deal "are already circulating in Tallahassee to try and find ways to plot and scheme to derail this effort," said Everglades Foundation CEO Kirk Fordham.
"I think it's important to remind lawmakers that it is an issue that Floridians feel very passionately about," said Fordham. The foundation paid Kitchens $10,000 to conduct the poll, he said.
The poll results were released the day before the Port of Palm Beach is scheduled to choose a private partner to develop an inland port. Florida Crystals, owned by the Fanjuls of Palm Beach, is the only one of four contenders who wants to build in the Everglades Agricultural Area, where the company already operates its sugar mill, refinery and power plant. Restoration advocates have long wanted to boot sugar companies out of the EAA so that the farmland, which was drained over the last century, could be used to restore the flow of water from Lake Okeechobee south into the Everglades.
The poll also found that 82 percent of Floridians believe it is personally important to them to restore the Everglades. Strong majorities also agreed that it was necessary to ensure a fresh supply of drinking water, to control flooding and to preserve the state's wildlife, the poll said.


Sea level rises would flood Philly…and NYC and DC and Miami
ABC7 by Barbara Kessler
October 20, 2009
By now you’ve heard the dire predictions for how sea level rise would affect Miami. Basically this city, already imperiled by worsening hurricanes is in the bulls-eye for rising oceans too.
But did you realize that a one meter sea level increase — now believed by many scientists to be a likely outcome of global warming by 2100 — would put Philadelphia underwater?
Yes, the city of Brotherly Love would be among the large family of coastal cities potentially devastated by coastline changes. And not in the too-distance future either.
According to glacier and ice shelf expert Dr. Gordon Hamilton, Philadelphia could experience troubles decades before that 2100 benchmark if storm surges pushed rising oceans inland.
In other words, there is no magic threshold when the seas, warmed by the atmosphere and swelled by melting ice sheets, will spill over their old boundaries. There is a steady creep occurring now. But flooding, hastened by storms, could happen well before the ocean’s reach the 1 meter increase (absent any serious human action to slow the current progression).
Hamilton, a research professor at the University of Maine who studies melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica , and Dr. Asa Rennermalm, a Rutgers University professor who studies Arctic and Greenland ice sheets,  are kicking off a lecture tour today to spread this news about how the oceans are rising even faster than projected just a couple years ago.
The first talk was this morning at the Wagner Free Institute in Philadelphia followed by a demonstration at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, N.J. Subsequent engagements will take the pair to Miami; Washington, New York City and several other cities. The tour, dubbed the “hip boot tour” to emphasize the reality of the coming floods, is sponsored by Clean Air-Cool Planet, a non-profit dedicated to fighting global warming.
None of these cities where the scientists will be speaking will be spared by rising sea levels. Just as most mega-cities around the globe will be affected, because so many population centers sit on the coast or on rivers that lead directly to the coast. Cities like Paris. And Philadelphia.
Talking to Hamilton is a bit like previewing one of those apocalyptic movies where the world suffers from monster storms, vast floods, temperature changes and incredible destruction of infrastructure.
At a one-meter rise, for instance, the subway entrances in Manhattan would be at the water level, which means the subways would be inundated, permanently, said Dr. Hamilton, whose degree is in geophysics.
One doesn’t need a degree in geophysics to understand the consequences of the nation’s financial capital being underwater. Having St. Louis and Chicago on dry ground would not ameliorate the devastation to humans and world trade.
In Philadelphia, a 1 meter increase would flood the downtown district and areas along the river. Harbor trade would be shut down and on the east side, Camden, N.J., would be inundated. Across New Jersey, aquifers would likely be contaminated with sea water.
Neighborhoods at higher elevations, north and west of Philadelphia would remain dry.
In Miami, nothing would be unaffected. A 1 meter sea level rise would put most of the city underwater, and it wouldn’t be alone. “Most of Florida’s big cities would be severely affected,” Hamilton said. Models overlaid on satellite images show Miami, the Keys, St. Petersburg and Tampa under water. The everglades would become a saltwater marsh and aquifers in the state would become brackish or completely salinated.
Hamilton says he shows people how their city’s coastline would change, but also tries to get local audiences to see the global nature of the problem.  “Not only are you flooding downtown DC, but hundreds of millions of people in Southeast Asia like Bangladesh, ” he said.
The key point of the tour is not just to demonstrate impending devastation, but to explain that the threat is more imminent than was predicted by the Interplanetary Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just two years ago.
In 2007, the IPCC warned that the sea levels would rise a little more than half a meter and possibly more. Even at that less drastic increase, the “the impacts are virtually certain to be overwhelmingly negative,” scientists wrote.
That prediction was based on the best available science.
What didn’t make the report, Dr. Hamilton said, was that in 2005, geophysicists studying the freshwater ice sheets in Greenland and changes in Antarctica had witnessed an alarming quickening in the speed of some glaciers as they carried ice toward the ocean.
In Greenland, some of these rivers of ice “were doing these crazy things,” he said. Some were moving 45 meters in a day — about the distance of one half a football field. In glacial terms, they were moving very fast. You could hear the ice cracking, he said.
“Almost over night, in the course of 9 to 10 months, they started moving about three times faster than they had been,” Dr. Hamilton said.
Scientists know the changes were prompted by global warming, and that the ice melts can grow exponentially, with water in crevasses contributing to the problem. But they still don’t understand what it all means. Some glaciers later slowed, but others sped up, Hamilton said. The net effect is likely to be a faster melt, with more water raising the ocean levels worldwide.
“Our talks right now are to emphasize that the picture has changed dramatically. If you were to take a consensus among my colleagues who work in Greenland and Antarctica, everybody is likely to say that it (sea rise) is more likely to be a meter.”
If not more.
“Politicians,” he said, “regardless of their political leanings on climate change need to be aware that they’re ethically bound to consider the upper bounds of sea level change…It’s delinquent for people to say they’re going to plan for the minimum (possible change) and then in 50 years time find that huge amounts of their infrastructure is flooded because they didn’t pay attention.”


Controversy heats up as cities look to incinerators
The Vancouver Sun by Shelagh McNally
October 19, 2009
Groups argue over whether benefits of green technology outweigh the possible health effects associated with burning garbage.
Nothing creates a not-in-my-backyard mob quicker than the whiff of an incinerator coming to town, even though today's incinerators have come a long way since the 1940s, when they were the darlings of municipalities.
The older operations were essentially combustion furnaces that mass-burned everything and in the process spewed toxic emissions into our airways and eventually water and soil.
The new and improved incinerators offer high-efficiency scrubbers designed to absorb those emissions. They are also using waste-to-energy technology (WtE) that promises to deliver more than just ash.
Waste-to-energy is being touted as a green technology that can produce energy, help with global warming, reduce waste and generate revenue.
But a growing body of evidence suggests the hidden costs of incinerators outweigh the benefits.
The 2006 European Commission's study, titled Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Reference Document on the Best Available Technologies for Waste Incineration, found that "emission levels for releases to air from the combustion stage of such [gasification and pyrolysis] installations are the same as those established for incineration installations."
Both a 2009 white paper from the Florida department of environmental protection and a 2008 Tellus Institute report commissioned by the Massachusetts department of environmental protection support the findings of the European report and document high levels of dioxins and furans around the new incinerators.
"Incinerator technology has improved, but despite the new technology, they can't keep certain contaminants out of their waste stream," said Inka Milewski, science adviser and health watch director for the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.
"However they've been dressed up, they are essentially still burning waste and creating massive amounts of emissions. The assumption is that the filters are adequate and will perform properly all the time.
"Dioxins are particularly problematic because they are linked to certain cancers. They also cross the placenta and have been linked to birth defects. When you start burning waste with any chlorine compounds in it, which all plastics contain, you get high dioxin formation," Milewski said.
Also of concern are nano-particles composed of dioxins, furans and new chemical compounds formed by the intense heat. These nano-particles are small enough to pass the skin barrier and enter our bloodstreams and lungs, where they can cause a number of health problems, possibly even cancerous tumours.
Linda Gasser, incineration campaign coordinator for Prevent Cancer Now, believes the projects are being pushed through because politicians want a quick solution to a complicated problem.
"There is no magic bullet for the garbage problem but many politicians haven't researched or addressed the root causes, and by the time most communities are aware incinerators are being considered, the deal is so far along that it's hard to stop the project or re-educate the politicians," Gasser said.
Perhaps the most ironic twist is that incinerators are not going to get rid of landfills. No matter what the technique used, every incinerator produces residue that is slag, char or ash. Usually 30 per cent of what is burned becomes residue.


Florida, and U.S., should heed NOAA's concerns over environmental impacts from oil drilling
Sun Sentinel Editorial
October 19, 2009
As Florida gets serious about tapping into oil reserves off the Gulf Coast as a way to pump up a sagging state budget, warnings about very real threats to the environment should serve as a wake-up call to pause the push for drilling off our shores.
And these warnings are not coming from just anyone, or from the usual suspects. They are coming from the federal government's top ocean scientists at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.
In strong language, NOAA said it was "very concerned" that the Department of Interior's 2010-2015 draft leasing plan to open up new drilling areas in the Arctic coast, the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico would have devastating impacts on marine life, commercial and recreational fisheries and the ocean's resources.
The agency's letter to Interior officials sharply criticizes the leasing plan's assessment of the risks of such catastrophes as oil spills, calling them "understated and generally not supported or referenced," according to the Chicago Tribune.
Before irreversible damage is done to sensitive environmental areas, NOAA is urging Interior to ban drilling in the Arctic until oil companies dramatically step up their ability to prevent and clean up oil spills, and to put off any new drilling until the Obama administration's ocean policy task force can complete its study of the issue.
Given the grave consequences of not heeding these warnings, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar should not hesitate to follow NOAA's advice, and Obama must prod him to do so.
The alarm sounded by an experienced, scientific voice like NOAA also underscores the need for Florida's Legislature to cool its impulse to plunder the seas in search of a way to pay the bills. The state's economy, and its budget, is in a bad way, and the search for new revenue streams, and new job markets, is a healthy one.
But the lasting dangers of oil drilling, validated by a measured agency of NOAA's stature, are too menacing to ignore, especially for a state that prizes, and banks on, its pristine beaches and reefs. At the very least, the concerns deserve thorough study before imperiling Florida's environmental future with an impulsive quest for cash.
 BOTTOM LINE: A siren call for Florida to take heed.

Florida Keys wellfields get more monitoring
October 19, 2009
South Florida water managers and Florida Power & Light have reached an agreement that will increase monitoring of saltwater intrusion in the area of the mainland Turkey Point nuclear power plant.
The agreement is good news for Keys residents, who draw 17 million gallons of fresh water from wellfields near Florida City that could be threatened by any additional saltwater intrusion.
FPL will spend millions to increase the monitoring program first negotiated with water managers in 1983, including construction of 10 additional monitoring wells.
Jim Reynolds, executive director of the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority, said he was pleased to learn about the action being taken, especially since monitoring will help track hyper-saline water from Turkey Point's cooling canals.
"Those cooling canals were built back in the 1970s," Reynolds said. "With 30 years of loading with warm, salty water, that denser, hyper-saline water settles, hits the hard pan, and then mushrooms out in all directions."
There have been concerns lately that some of that dense, salty water has moved westward, closer to the area where both Monroe and Miami-Dade have wellfields tapping the Biscayne aquifer.
The Keys Aqueduct Authority maintains its own series of monitoring wells. Reynolds said there has been some saltwater movement closer to Keys wellfields, especially during droughts, as saltwater layers move inland from the coast.
Closely related to this week's announcement on test wells, the South Florida Water Management District announced the start of construction on a $44 million C-111 Canal project designed to restore fresh-water flows to parts of the Everglades and Taylor Slough.
The deep canal now carries away an estimated three-fourths of the fresh water that once filtered through Taylor Slough.
In recent years, scientists have blamed the lack of natural water flows for increased salinity in Florida Bay, triggering seagrass die-offs, algae blooms and fish kills.
Important to Upper Keys backcountry fishing, Florida Bay is nursery for juvenile marine life including shrimp, lobster and migratory fish.
David Anderson, executive director of Audubon of Florida, said redoing the C-111 is key to restoring freshwater flows to Taylor Slough.
He pointed to the decline of wading birds like the roseate spoonbill as an example of the ecological damage that has been done for too long with the deep, C-111 canal diverting freshwater from Florida Bay.
The restoration project, expected to begin by the end of the year, will add spreader canals, retention ponds and two new pumping stations.
Islamorada flats guide Mike Collins, the longest-serving member of the South Florida Water Management District board, told the Miami Herald this is "the down payment on the rest" of the Everglades restoration, adding the C-111 spreader canals means "significantly increasing freshwater flows through Taylor Slough toward Florida Bay.
"The result will be tangible ecological benefits that will help restore and protect an integral piece of our ecosystem and economy."
"That C-111 dumps a lot of fresh water in the bay," Reynolds said. "Holding it back for the Everglades -- that should, if anything, help our wellfields."


For big deal, too-little port
Palm Beach Post – Editorial by  Joel Engelhardt
October 19, 2009
The Port of Palm Beach is going to make a decision Wednesday that has no credibility.
The five port commissioners, elected in Palm Beach County, believe that they can decide where to build the state's next large economic driver - a warehousing and distribution rail yard covering thousands of acres and promising thousands of jobs. The port pushed the concept of an "inland port" as a way to help the Glades and to boost port finances. Commissioners heard presentations from four landowners last week, and plan to select a site Wednesday.
Letting the port make this decision, however, would be like letting the Dolphins' ball boys call the plays. The project moved forward without comment or direction from Tallahassee until Thursday, when the silence suddenly ended. In a letter, the secretaries of transportation and environmental protection told the port commissioners that this decision is too big for them. The port doesn't know where the money for road and rail improvements would come from. The roles of major players remain unresolved. "Market feasibility, freight movement ... and environmental impacts" haven't been taken into account.
Port commissioners voted unanimously to ignore the letter. They treated it derisively, thus helping to make the state's case. Commissioner George Mastics said, "I can't believe those boneheads up in Tallahassee are doing this."
Port commissioners believe - with some justification - that their project has become a pawn in state politics. The players in the inland port competition are the same as those in Gov. Crist's effort to buy 73,000 acres from U.S. Sugar for Everglades restoration. U.S. Sugar is proposing an inland port site near its hometown of Clewiston. Florida Crystals, which wants to block the U.S. Sugar deal, is offering land in Palm Beach County.
If the state plays a bigger role in the selection, as it should, the port is concerned that the governor's influence will help Hendry County. But if the port remains the sole decider, bidders outside Palm Beach County fear that the port's bias will help Florida Crystals.
Two broader goals, however, must be paramount. Any inland port must interfere as little as possible with Everglades restoration and do as much as possible to replace lost U.S. Sugar jobs. Port commissioners showed in two meetings last week that those are not their primary concerns. Jean Enright asked how far the sites are from Belle Glade. Blair Ciklin wanted to know what compensation the bidders are offering the port.
The Port of Palm Beach still lacks commitments from the Port of Miami and Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. Both should be on the site selection committee. Without their cargo, the inland port isn't feasible.
The state, too, needs to be involved. The state would have the $200 million-plus task of building a rail line between Hialeah, northwest of Miami, and South Bay, west of Belle Glade. Without that project, the inland port also isn't feasible.
The Port of Palm Beach has generated interest in a project that could help the regional economy capitalize on the expansion of the Panama Canal. By going forward on its own, however, the port could be picking a date to the dance only to learn that the dance won't be held.


FPL's big solar power project taking shape near Indiantown
Palm Beach Post  by CARA FITZPATRICK
October 19, 2009
Nearly a year ago, Florida Power & Light Co. began construction on a solar-thermal plant in western Martin County that it said would "chase the sun," using mirrors to collect its energy and, in turn, powering thousands of homes.
With the first mirrors set to arrive this week, that promise is starting to take shape.
"We want to harness all that free energy," said John Gnecco, FPL's director of project development.
The idea of solar-thermal energy sounds easy enough, and it is. Kind of.
In the most basic terms, the process works like this: The sun's light strikes a mirror and is beamed into a pipe, which "catches" the energy and moves it, via molten liquid, into a power plant where boils water into steam. The steam is used for power.
Jose Suarez, a spokesman for FPL, explains it this way: "When the sun comes up every day, you're able to take your foot off the gas and let the sun generate steam."
What seems simple on paper, though, is far more complex on the ground.
In Martin County, where the largest and most expensive of Juno Beach-based FPL Group's three solar projects is being built, 192,000 mirrors will be attached to 6,800 aluminum frames on 7,100 steel pylons on 500 acres alongside the Martin Power Plant, west of Indiantown. About 1 million gallons of recyclable fluid, heated to 700 degrees Fahrenheit, will move the sun's energy to the plant.
The $476 million project is expected to open at the end of 2010. About 1,000 workers will be used in its construction, while only about a dozen will be required for its operation, Gnecco said.
Of about 700 workers at the plant now, 60 percent are from Florida, he said.
Once it goes online, the Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center will work much like a hybrid car, switching between two sources of power, using sunlight when available and the existing gas-fired plant when clouds or darkness make such use ineffective.
The mirrors, which are made of tempered glass and can withstand up to 150 mph winds, should focus the sunlight onto a "collection piece" without causing glare, Gnecco said.
"If it's blinding, we didn't do our jobs," he said.
The plant will generate an estimated 155,000 megawatt hours of electricity each year and power about 11,000 homes, according to FPL. That's far less power than more conventional power plants, but decreases fossil fuel usage with no waste or additional cooling water.
It also will be the largest solar-power plant outside of California, according to FPL.
FPL's other two solar projects under construction are in DeSoto and Brevard counties. Both plants use solar photovoltaic technology, which converts sunlight directly into electricity.
DeSoto is expected to come online this week, while Brevard is on schedule to open in spring 2010.
All three projects are expected to cost about $700 million.
While solar energy is unlikely to replace more traditional forms any time soon - it's less consistently available and more expensive - FPL believes these projects have the potential not only to change the way Florida produces energy, but to give the state the lead in "green" technology.
"Instead of orange groves, it's sun groves," Gnecco said.


Friction between Big Cypress Basin and SFWMD bubbles up by ERIC STAATS
October 19, 2009
NAPLES — Tensions are heating up again over who is in charge of water management decisions in Collier County.
The state Legislature carved Collier County out of the larger South Florida Water Management District in 1976, creating the Big Cypress Basin, but the set-up has been fraught with friction between the two agencies.
“It’s an issue about power and money,” said John Sorey, a Big Cypress Basin board member and Naples city councilman.
In the latest incident, Big Cypress Basin board members bristled this summer over not being included on a district organizational chart meant to reflect a recent district reorganization.
Water management district officials said the omission of the basin was an inadvertent oversight and did not reflect any change in the relationship between the basin and the West Palm Beach-based district.
“We are all one agency,” district spokesman Gabe Margasak said last week.
Some Basin board members said the organizational chart reflected an ongoing erosion of the authority of the basin’s Executive Director Clarence Tears.
Lurking just below the surface of the controversy, though, are fears that the district is making a play for the basin’s tax base to pay for expensive Everglades restoration projects.
The district is dispatching Assistant Executive Director Tom Olliff, a former Collier County manager, to the basin’s Oct. 30 meeting to try to quell the bad feelings.
“I think us being omitted from the organization chart was a red flag,” Basin board member Liesa Priddy said.
She said the basin and the district have had a good working relationship.
“We just want to be sure that doesn’t change,” she said.
The district already has issued a new organizational chart showing the Big Cypress Basin board as an offshoot of the reporting line between the Governing Board and the district’s Executive Director.
Tears, the basin’s executive director, reports to the district’s Fort Myers Service Center, an arrangement unchanged in the recent reorganization.
Also unchanged in the reorganization are Basin field station employees reporting through the district field operations department.
As of the Oct. 8 effective date of the reorganization, the basin’s engineers report to the district’s engineering division.
Having Tears report to the Fort Myers Service Center instead of higher up the chain of command “doesn’t even make sense to me,” Basin board member Fred Thomas said.
“Not even close,” Thomas said.
Basin board member Pam Mac’Kie said she doesn’t see a problem.
“We’ve gotten great service from the basin and we’ll continue to get great service from the basin,” said Mac’Kie, a former Collier County commissioner and former deputy executive director at the water management district.
“It doesn’t pay to get fussy with them (district officials) when we don’t need to fuss,” she said.
By virtue of its creation in 1976, the basin is able to set its own budget and property tax rates, subject to approval of the district’s Governing Board.
That approval is routinely granted and basin taxes that are collected in Collier County are spent there.
The arrangement is generally seen as a good deal for Collier County taxpayers.
Taxpayers in the other 15 counties of the district pay $62.40 per $100,000 of assessed value in water management taxes.
Collier County taxpayers pay $48.14 per $100,000 of assessed value.
That tax is comprised of a districtwide levy, which is estimated to send $17.3 million back to West Palm Beach, and the Basin’s tax rate.
Money raised by the Basin’s own tax rate stays in Collier County, to the tune of an estimated $15.4 million this year.
Collier’s rate is cheaper because the rest of the district pays an Okeechobee Basin tax.
The basin’s status also means that Collier County taxpayers are not assessed the tax that the other 15 counties in the district are charged to pay for the construction of Everglades restoration projects.
The basin, though, cannot enter into contracts, hire employees, sue or be sued, acquire property or collect taxes.
“The Big Cypress Basin is a subdistrict of and subordinate to the South Florida Water Management District,” the district’s senior specialist attorney Frank Bartolone wrote in a Sept. 28 eight-page memo.
“Exercise and accomplishment of all of functions of the Basin (except for adoption of its budget and request to levy taxes) can occur only through the District,” he wrote.
The only way to change the relationship between the district and the basin is to get the state Legislature to change the law that set up the basin.
“I guess we’ll have to live with it,” Sorey said.
Sorey said the basin’s objections this summer got the district’s attention and that the incident has “clarified the reporting relationship.”
“Although my intention is that if they (the district) starts getting too far out of line, we’ll have to push back,” Sorey said.
In 2001, a skirmish erupted over whether the basin or the district had control over Tears’ salary.
The basin board wanted to increase Tears’ salary from $84,000 to $100,000 to put him on par with other similar water management district employees, but the district balked.
Eventually, the two boards reached an uneasy truce and the district approved a $92,000 salary for Tears.
“There’s room for turf wars in there, the way it’s set up, it’s not a perfect situation,” said former Naples’ state representative Mary Ellen Hawkins, the driving force behind the creation of the basin in 1976.
She said she set up the basin to guard against a raid on Collier County tax dollars to pay for East Coast projects and to put local water management decisions in the hands of a local board, appointed by the governor.
Hawkins remembers the fight she had on her hands to create the basin more than 30 years ago.
“I think maybe they’re still fighting,” Hawkins said last week.


Protect the water, not polluters
Tampa Bay by Diane Roberts
October 19, 2009
Florida is half-solid, half-liquid. Rivers and creeks coil through the state like curling blue and brown ribbons; springs boil up underfoot; the Atlantic and the gulf reshape the shore, encroaching on the paltry works of humankind. Most of the peninsula sits on a wafer of limestone covering a vast secret sea, some of it as old as the Ice Age, some as new as yesterday's rain.
Water is our essential element — biologically and economically. So you'd think those we elected to be stewards of the state would protect it with the ferocity of a mama gator guarding her nest. Sadly, you'd be wrong. Take Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson. He's siding with the state's biggest polluters, fighting against the Clean Water Act.
A little background is in order. Under the late, unlamented George W. Bush regime, Florida was allowed to use vague "narrative" rather than hard numerical standards for water quality. Here's how that's been working out: Toxins in the St. Lucie River have been as much as 300 times the suggested level for drinking water. Lake Okeechobee is so compromised that in 2007 a federal judge ordered that polluters had to comply with the Clean Water Act and get permits to pump dirty stuff into the drinking water source for tens of thousands of people. South Florida water managers are still fighting that decision. A toxic blue-green algae outbreak in the Caloosahatchee River forced the 2008 closure of a water treatment plant serving 30,000 people. Florida's own Department of Environmental Protection concluded that water quality in half our rivers and more than half of our lakes was poor.
Not that they are inclined to do much about it. The state of Florida has a rather idiosyncratic understanding of water quality. But as a result of a lawsuit by environmentalists, Barack Obama's EPA will now set rigorous, enforceable standards.
The predictable hissy fits have been pitched. Bronson issued a statement saying, "These new standards would impose regulations far in excess of anything being considered in any other state." Plus, he says, it will cost lots and lots of money.
"There are three standard excuses offered by polluters violating the Clean Water Act," sighs David Guest, the lawyer for the Sierra Club, the Florida Wildlife Federation, St. Johns Riverkeeper and other green groups that sued the EPA over water quality. "One: If we change anything we'll go broke and have to leave the state. Two: It'll take 20 to 25 years to figure out how to stop polluting, but we can come up with a plan by then, probably. And three: The fish like it."
Big Sugar, Big Mining, Big Citrus and Big Cattle think the fish like it because they look so peaceful, floating on their backs like that.
Seriously, it's hard to understand why Florida officialdom screams like a Hefty bag full of hyenas whenever anybody suggests that our environment should be at least as important as the fat-check interests of Associated Industries or the Chamber of Commerce. Human health depends on clean water. Nutrient-polluted water can cause gastrointestinal problems, respiratory distress and severe eye irritation. If it's bad enough, you can die. Our economic health also depends on water safe to boat on, or swim and fish in: Just imagine what it would do to tourism if visitors start getting nasty blue-green algae skin rashes.
Yet Florida politicos respond with denial, delay, foot-dragging, excuse-making, obfuscating and whining. Bronson says we ought to have "careful scientifically based standards for controlling nutrients" as if people want to set voodoo-based standards.
Florida's legislative leaders, who don't know that Florida sea water and oil don't mix, are no better: Incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President-in-waiting Mike Haridopolos have made sucking oil and gas out of the Gulf of Mexico a priority. They aren't even subtle about it. Majority Leader Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, has been named chair of the Senate committee on energy, environment and land use. His wife, Claudia, is a lobbyist for Florida Energy Associates, the sunshine-shy Texas oil interests who want to repeal the ban and drill, baby, drill. No conflict of interest there.
Along with Charlie Crist (who was for the drilling ban until he was against it), they argue that Florida could be rolling in money (in three to five years, anyway). Drilling is perfectly safe (unless there's a really big hurricane). Why not keep on encouraging fossil-fuel use? (Sustainable sources can't run a Hummer.) Besides, the fish will love it.
On Nov. 16 in Tallahassee, Judge Robert Hinkle will preside as polluters and their apologists try to persuade him not to let the EPA set real water standards. Aside from the threat to health from toxic water, don't these guys get that when the rivers and lakes get so filthy they turn the color of split pea soup and stink like an exploded septic tank, tourism suffers, property values suffer and with it all of Florida? Do we never learn?


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules critical to protecting waterways
TCPALM by David Guest
October 19, 2009
It is hard to imagine anyone defending the polluters that are turning our waters green and slimy like the creek shown above. But hey, money talks.
At long last, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is agreeing to set legal, enforceable limits on the nutrients that are poisoning Florida’s public waters. Now the state’s biggest polluters are trying to get out of complying.
Exploiters have been fattening their wallets by ruining the resources that belong to the public. State regulators — like former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Virginia Wetherell — do little to stop it, year after year. Many of them, like Wetherell, work for polluters after they leave office (She’s lobbied for phosphate miners and utilities. Former DEP Secretary David Struhs went to work for polluter International Paper.)
When we — the public — finally win a victory for clean water, the polluters come out with the same stock arguments:  No. 1, they say, “If we have to protect clean water, it will cost too much and we’ll go broke.”  No. 2: “If we want to do anything to fix polluted waters, we have to do more studies for many more years.”  And No. 3: “The fish like it!”
That third argument is now being peddled by a lobbyist for the Florida Farm Bureau, who claims cleaning nutrients out of Florida lakes will hurt fish populations. Huh? Florida was teeming with fish before fertilizer and cow manure spewed daily into our lakes and rivers, turning them pea-soup green.
A Florida DEP report last year found that half the state’s rivers and more than half of its lakes had poor water quality. When nutrient-poisoned waters are used as drinking water sources, disinfectants like chlorine react with dissolved organic compounds, contaminating drinking water with harmful chemical byproducts.
Exposure to blue-green algae toxins — when people drink the water, touch it, or inhale vapors from it — can cause rashes, skin and eye irritation, allergic reactions, gastrointestinal upset, serious illness, and even death. In June 2008, a water treatment plant serving 30,000 people shut down after a toxic blue-green algae bloom on the Caloosahatchee River threatened the plant’s water supply.
Florida polluters are trotting out their hackneyed arguments now because the U.S. EPA is finally acting. EPA’s decision came as a historic settlement with five environmental groups after we sued to stop polluters from continuing to slime our waters.
The polluters are now trying to block the settlement. Big Agriculture, developers, utilities, and phosphate miners have filed legal challenges to try to force the EPA to back down. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson is using our tax dollars to side with the polluters.
Remember: Polluters said the Clean Water Act would kill business. They said the Clean Air Act would bankrupt companies. Developers said the Growth Management Act would stop development. We can all plainly see that’s not true. Nutrient poisoning is Florida’s worst water pollution problem. We’ve got contaminated drinking water, beaches closed by dangerous bacteria, rivers fouled with green slime, dead fish, dead lakes, and excess nutrients bubbling out of our crystal springs.
It’s time to clean it up. It’s time to hold polluters accountable for what they are washing into our rivers, lakes, bays, and springs. The EPA is ready to do it, and so are Floridians.

Virginia Wetherell:  Water lawsuit could punish Florida with unworkable regulations
(former FL Department of Environmental Protection Secretary)
October 19, 2009
If events stay on their present course, the federal government could soon hit Florida with unworkable new water regulations that could impede our economic recovery, force Florida businesses to cut jobs, and increase the price of utilities, food and other necessities for Florida families.
This crisis stems from a lawsuit filed by the group EarthJustice, which is demanding stringent new one-size-fits-all standards governing the level of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphate in all Florida waterways. Driven by litigation rather than sound science, these regulations could be imposed as early as October 2010 — disrupting Florida’s existing science-based process for protecting and restoring the quality of Florida’s waters.
This is particularly distressing because Florida has long been a national leader in water quality thanks to its Total Maximum Daily Loads program to protect clean lakes and rivers. For nearly 10 years, Florida has spent tens of millions of dollars to scientifically evaluate the quality of our surface waters and promote the mechanisms necessary to clean up pollution.
This process is lengthy and time-intensive because of the state’s vast, varied and unique ecosystems — ranging from the Everglades and tropical mangrove estuaries in the south to cold springs, sinkholes and forest streams in the North. Thanks to this hard work, Florida is responsible for more than a third of all the nutrient-related water-quality samples in the national water quality database.
Unfortunately, this same hard work to improve our scientific knowledge about the health of our state’s waters has made it easier for EarthJustice to file its lawsuit to punish Florida with federal restrictions that will be so stringent as to be impossible to meet.
According to a report by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Inspector General, “Costs to implement the standards will primarily be borne by individual citizens and businesses ... For example, if new/revised standards result in stricter discharge limits for wastewater treatment plants, these plants may need to increase their user fees to support the construction of nutrient removal technology, which can run in the millions of dollars.”
Indeed, the economic impact of the proposed federal restrictions is vast and could impact every major sector of Florida industry. Water bodies mandated by development rules, such as drainage facilities, storm-water ponds, agricultural holding ponds and flood protection systems, could be required to make enormous investments in water quality technologies in order to continue to operate.
This could hit local governments especially hard in terms of paying for massive retrofits to drainage facilities and public utilities — retrofits for which there is no planned budget. Palm Beach County utilities estimate that just to continue to store its reclaimed water could cost as much as $125 million, and Panhandle utilities have preliminarily estimated that increased waste-water treatment costs could range from $4 to $8 per gallon.
Florida’s finances — for its state and local governments, for its businesses and for its families — simply are not capable of meeting these obligations without suffering severe hardship during this deep recession.
Florida is working diligently to develop the correct science for protecting our diverse water bodies, and a federally mandated court process that interrupts that process is not likely to produce good science. That is why it does not make sense for federal regulators to punish a responsible state like Florida with unfair and unaffordable restrictions.
Virginia Wetherell, who served as secretary of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection from 1991 to 1998, is a board member of the Florida Alliance for Concerned Taxpayers.


What Brockovich didn't say
Palm Beach Post - Editorial
October 19, 2009
It's hard to tell anyone who has lost a loved one to cancer that kind words can be misleading.
The words from Erin Brockovich 11 days ago on the potential cancer cluster in The Acreage were undoubtedly kind. Ms. Brockovich, a consultant made famous by the 2000 film starring Julia Roberts and laying out the case of corporate pollution in California that Ms. Brockovich uncovered, said all the right things. She displayed empathy with the bereaved and anger toward polluters.
But the words shrouded the reality. The meeting that drew about 500 people to the Palm Beach County Convention Center revealed two law firms on a fishing expedition for clients. Members of the firm handed out contracts labeled "Contingency Fee Agreement & Power of Attorney." They offered questionnaires that asked if residents ever had worked at the Pratt & Whitney jet engine plant. Full-color packets advertised the services of Weitz & Luxenberg of New York City and Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley of West Palm Beach.
The lawyers discussed water samples from 10 homes of cancer patients that showed at least trace amounts of radium, a naturally occurring metal. Those studies, however, echoed Florida Department of Environmental Protection results from 50 randomly selected homes. The state will present more information on its findings at 7 tonight at the Clayton Hutcheson Agricultural Center, 559 N. Military Trail, in suburban West Palm Beach.
Where Ms. Brockovich and the law firms may have done their potential clients a disservice was in declaring that no amount of radiation of any kind is acceptable in drinking water. "I happen to be one of those people," Ms. Brockovich said, "who don't think any level of poison is acceptable in our water at all."
It makes a nice sound bite, and it certainly appeals on a common-sense level. If by "poison" she means radium, however, it's not true, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which sets drinking water standards. The standard allows for some radium, and most of the homes tested by the law firms and the DEP did not exceed the standard.
Nonetheless, one resident concluded on a Web site after the meeting: "Last night, we were validated." Amid the personal appeals came the business pitch. Attorney Jack Scarola explained the contingency contract, which means that clients would pay nothing, even if they lost. He urged residents to take their time reading the contract because if "you inform yourselves well, you will find it's in your best interest to sign with us."
We are sympathetic to the fear expressed by the mother who worried that she would be to blame if she took no action and her child got cancer. Her fear, she said, is based on having been forewarned. So far, however, no one has verified that there's a higher-than-normal incidence of cancer in The Acreage or that there's anything wrong with the water.
Certainly, residents have every right to engage attorneys and investigate. But validation doesn't come solely in the form of kind words.


China Is Close to Oil Deal in Gulf of Mexico
October 17, 2009
HOUSTON — Trying to acquire a foothold in the American oil patch, a Chinese company is closing in on a deal to buy stakes in a few drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico from a Norwegian company, an executive close to the talks said.
The prospective purchase would not do much to quench China’s huge and growing thirst for energy, which makes it the second-leading consumer of oil after the United States. But such an oil acquisition would be symbolically important as the first by China in the United States, coming four years after the Chinese company’s $18.5 billion bid for the American oil company Unocal collapsed under pressure from Congress.
Executives at StatoilHydro, the Norwegian national oil company, would neither confirm nor deny their negotiations with the Chinese, which were first reported Friday by Dow Jones Newswires. Zongwei Xiao, a spokesman for the Chinese company, known as Cnooc, said on Saturday morning that the company has a policy of not commenting on "rumors in the market."
But the negotiations between the companies are at an advanced stage, and a formal announcement could be made soon, according to the executive close to the talks, who said it was company policy not to discuss the negotiations. The executive cautioned that the talks were at a delicate stage.
The deal would include about 20 of StatoilHydro’s 451 leases in the Gulf of Mexico. But oil analysts said they saw symbolism in the move, particularly when Chinese companies were striving to acquire much larger oil reserves in Africa and Latin America.
“By dipping their toe, they are attempting to see if it’s politically safe to get into our waters,” said Larry Goldstein, a director of the Energy Policy Research Foundation. “There’s still a hangover from Unocal.”
With an expanding economy and a car fleet mushrooming with its middle class, China has been searching far and wide for oil reserves. In recent years China has formed alliances and joint ventures in Venezuela, Russia and Brazil to produce oil, and Chinese companies are competing to obtain large-scale contracts for exploration and development of fields in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa.
Cnooc has increased its capital expenditures for exploration, development and production to a planned $6.8 billion this year, from $3.8 billion in 2007 and $5.7 billion in 2008, according to the company’s 2009 strategy preview report.
Several large American oil companies, including Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Devon Energy, have wide-ranging investments in China, from exploration and production offshore to marketing fuels and lubricants to Chinese consumers.
But China has had a rocky time investing in the United States energy patch. Cnooc, China National Offshore Oil Corporation, tried to make an $18.5 billion offer to buy Unocal Corporation in 2005. The Bush administration did not oppose it, but an array of powerful Democratic and Republican members of Congress strongly objected on national security grounds.
The purchase of a small stake in the Gulf from a Norwegian company is not likely to produce as large a reaction, especially when the Obama administration is trying to strengthen economic ties with the Chinese.
China National Petroleum Corporation held talks in March with Chevron to buy a minority interest in the Big Foot oil field in the Gulf of Mexico, but the Chinese company dropped out of the talks, apparently unhappy with the terms the American company offered.
The Gulf of Mexico accounts for about a quarter of the nation’s oil production, and its deepwater potential makes it the most exciting arena for oil exploration in the United States. Foreign oil companies like BP, Shell, StatoilHydro and the Brazilian company Petrobras have been investing heavily in the area.
Areas in the Middle East and Africa have more oil, but they can be challenging to explore because of political upheaval and because oil-rich countries are reluctant to cede control of their resources.
Amy Myers Jaffe, an energy specialist at Rice University, said it made sense for the Chinese to enter a partnership with a more experienced Western oil company in the Gulf to learn the advanced seismic and drilling technologies required to work in deep waters. She predicted little or no political opposition.
“It’s completely unthreatening,” she said. “There is no reason why any American should be concerned about a Chinese company taking a small stake in the Gulf of Mexico.”


Parties rake in oil, gas cash - by CATHERINE DOLINSKI;
October 17, 2009
TALLAHASSEE - With the debate over offshore oil drilling gaining steam but the outcome still in doubt, oil and gas companies have stepped up their contributions to the state's major political parties.
Florida Energy Associates, a mostly anonymous group of oil and gas companies that want to drill off Florida's Gulf coast, has contributed $125,000 this year. The biggest chunk - $75,000 - went to the state Republican Party. The Democratic Party received the remaining $50,000.
"They're using what's called the 'soft money' loophole," said Ben Wilcox, board chairman of Common Cause Florida, an elections watchdog group. "Basically, they can contribute unlimited amounts to the political parties. The parties can use that money to make direct contributions to candidates or to pay for in-kind campaign expenses. ... It's a way, instead of being limited to $500 contributions per candidate, to funnel huge amounts of money into the political process."
Florida Energy Associates contributed $70,000 of its total contributions during the fundraising quarter that ended Sept. 30. The group has made all its contributions since the spring legislative session, when it pressed lawmakers to lift the longstanding ban on drilling in state waters.
That plan, from House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon, would have authorized the Cabinet to approve leases for drilling as close as 3 miles from the coast. The late-arrived proposal stalled in the Senate, but Cannon plans to revise and reintroduce it in time for the 2010 session. As chairman of a House policy committee, he has scheduled a four-and-a-half hour workshop on the issue on Wed., Oct. 21.
Mike Haridopolos says he will sponsor the proposal in the Senate.
Haridopolos, R-Indialantic, is expected to become Senate president in 2011, when Cannon, R-Winter Park, takes over the House.
Doug Daniels, chief operating officer for Florida Energy Associates, said spending on the major parties is preferable to concentrating on individual campaigns because the candidates "would have the difficulty of trying to explain why they're taking a contribution from an organization like that. ... A contribution to the process is not singling somebody out."
Daniels refuses to identify most of the companies in his group, which has hired a high-octane team of nearly 30 lobbyists to make its case for drilling.
Among those lobbyists is Claudia Diaz de la Portilla, wife of state Senate Majority Leader Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, who recently became head of the Senate's panel on energy, the environment and land use.
Florida Energy Associates' members are not "big" companies, and their contributions reflect that, Daniels said. "We're not the kind that's going to come in and buy up elections and politicians. Sometimes I wonder why we make contributions to the parties at all, other than tradition," he said. "That's not going to buy any votes, the level at which we'll be making contributions - even if it was for sale."
Wilcox agreed that so far the oil group is a midsize contributor, but it is likely to keep pumping out money, he said.
He also predicted that contributions will spike just before the legislative session.
"I would say it's very effective. If it wasn't, these people wouldn't be making campaign contributions of $120,000-plus," Wilcox said. "They're hoping, definitely, to get a favorable outcome out of it. They wouldn't do it if they didn't think it made a difference."
Daniels said his group's contributions may continue and could extend to individual candidates. "You've got to take care of your friends, of course, the people who have been supportive of you."
Average Floridians may never know how much any political donor is spending. That's because a federal court recently threw out Florida's reporting requirements for political fundraising groups known as Electioneering Communications Organizations.
By law, ECOs cannot expressly advocate for or against a candidate or issue. But the law defines that so narrowly that it is relatively easy for ECOs to run thinly veiled promotions or attack ads.
Such organizations give wealthy donors the opportunity to curry favor with politicians, pressure them for action and influence the outcome of their elections, all without the public knowing.
Rep. Leonard Bembry, D-Greenville, said he would hope his colleagues' votes are never for sale, at any price.
A freshman lawmaker who opposes lifting the drilling ban, Bembry said he's not surprised Florida Energy Associates is donating to the parties. The group is pressing its case hard, he said.
"I just hope that people will look at it and understand it for what it is, that they will care more about our environment than the possibility of saving a few dollars on cheaper energy."
Reporter Catherine Dolinski can be reached at (850) 222-8382.


Delayed canal overhaul OK'd
Miami Herald by Curtis Morgan
October 16, 2009
Fixes to a canal in South Miami-Dade were approved, representing a milestone for one water management board member and for Everglades restoration efforts.
Back in the 1970s, when Mike Collins was a young flats guide in the Keys, old-timers like legendary fly-fishing pioneer Jimmie Albright already knew what was ailing Florida Bay.
They'd point north, toward the C-111 canal.
Collins pledged to do something about it. On Thursday, he finally did. Along with other board members of the South Florida Water Management District, he approved a $25 million overhaul for the canal that was cut across the southern Everglades in the 1960s.
Intended to keep farms from flooding and ferry rocket engines from a long-closed plant, the C-111 also slurped fresh water that once flowed south down Taylor Slough and kept northeast Florida Bay a rich, brackish estuary. It's been too salty and sick ever since, wracked by algae blooms and seagrass die-offs that have led to declining populations of birds and fish.
The long-delayed project represents a milestone for Collins and, more importantly, for the broader multibillion-dollar effort to restore the Everglades.
``It's the down payment on the rest of the system, and it lets me keep a promise to a bunch of guys who are dead now that I wouldn't quit until this was done,'' said Collins, who lives in Islamorada and still guides.
Environmentalists called the C-111 work critical to healing decades of ecological damage to the bay and vast, southernmost wetlands of Miami-Dade and Everglades National Park.
``There is no question this is a momentous day,'' said Kirk Fordham, chief executive officer of The Everglades Foundation. ``The C-111 canal plays an ugly role that is the environmental equivalent to the practice of blood-letting.''
The C-111 is so wide and deep that park hydrologists estimate it collects three-quarters of the water that once flowed through Taylor Slough. Instead, it shunts water 20 miles east, where it is periodically dumped in large slugs to devastating effect to Barnes Sound.
The initial work is relatively cheap and simple with the goal of holding more water in the park and raising salinity in coastal bay waters. The project includes 590 acres of ``cells,'' or retention ponds, to hold storm water, two new pumping stations, and berms and plugs in the C-111 and two connecting canals.
The plan is to slowly raise water levels in the southernmost canals -- by one-tenth of a foot a year for five years -- and assess the impact on the Glades, the bay and farm fields to the north.
In many ways, the C-111 is a test case for dozens of restoration projects still to come. Farmers in South Miami-Dade County worry that raising water in the Glades will flood fields. Environmentalists worry the marsh and bay won't get better if water isn't raised high enough.
To resolve a legal challenge filed by farmers last month, water managers approved a plan for monitoring ground water around the project and on farm fields. They also agreed to hold periodic meetings and updates as water levels rise. The district also terminated the lease of a commercial fish farm near the project.
For Collins, the longest-serving board member, the C-111 projects are a swan song. Appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush, Collins emerged as a dogged critic of Gov. Charlie Crist's controversial land deal with the U.S. Sugar Corp, a $536 million purchase of 73,000 acres the board approved despite his criticism.
After 11 years, his term will be up in March. The possibility Crist will reappoint him? Collins grinned. ``Not a chance.''


Everglades exhibit to open at wildlife refuge in Loxahatchee
Palm Beach Post by Paul Quinlan
October 16, 2009
Virtual reality airboat rides. A cross-section display of alligator hole. An "night sounds room" in which the lights dim and a grandfatherly voice narrates a soundtrack of Everglades noises: wind, rain, lightning, and teeming insects, fish, birds and reptiles.
It's all part of the new $1 million Everglades exhibition at the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.
The state-of-the-art exhibition debuts in a grand opening scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the refuge's new visitors center.
The exhibit includes a history of the refuge, a 221-square-mile, tear-drop-shaped marsh that is the northernmost remnant of the Everglades.
Other exhibit features include a history of the government's multibillion-dollar Everglades restoration effort and a tribute to Arthur R. Marshall, the champion of the Everglades who died in 1985 and whose "Marshall Plan" inspired one of the modern goals of restoration: re-establishing the flow of water from Lake Okeechobee south through the great marsh.
"It really is a great education center for the kids," said John Marshall, nephew of the refuge's namesake and chairman of the West Palm Beach-based Arthur R. Marshall Foundation.
Saturday's festivities will also celebrate the new visitors center, which reopened in June 2008 after Hurricane Wilma destroyed the old one in 2005, said refuge spokeswoman Sylvia Pelizza.
The exhibition was the result of a sustained fund-raising effort by John Marshall's wife, Nancy, who raised over $500,000, according to Pelizza. Other key players included foundation executive director Josette Kaufman and the late Leah Schad, of Audubon, said John Marshall.


Federal Water Rules Could Hurt Fla.
October 16, 2009
If events stay on their present course, the federal government could soon hit Florida with unworkable new water regulations that could impede our economic recovery, force Florida businesses to cut jobs, and increase the price of utilities, food and other necessities for Florida businesses, families and consumers.
This crisis stems from a lawsuit filed by the group EarthJustice, which is demanding stringent new one-size-fits-all standards governing the level of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphate in all Florida waterways. Driven by litigation rather than sound science, these regulations could be imposed as early as October 2010 - disrupting Florida's existing science-based process for protecting and restoring the quality of Florida's waters.
This is particularly distressing because Florida has long been a national leader in water quality, thanks to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's model Total Maximum Daily Loads program to protect clean lakes and rivers. For nearly 10 years, Florida's TMDL program has spent tens of millions of dollars to scientifically evaluate the quality of Florida's surface waters and promote the mechanisms necessary to clean up pollution.
This process is lengthy and time-intensive because of the state's vast, varied and unique ecosystems - ranging from the Everglades and tropical mangrove estuaries in the south to cold springs, sinkholes and forest streams in the north. Thanks to this hard work, Florida is responsible for more than a third of all the nutrient-related water-quality samples in the national water-quality database.
Unfortunately, this same hard work to improve our scientific knowledge about the health of our state's waters has made it easier for EarthJustice to file its lawsuit to punish Florida with federal restrictions that will be so stringent as to be impossible to meet.
According to a report by the Environmental Protection Agency's Inspector General, "Costs to implement the standards will primarily be borne by individual citizens and businesses. ... For example, if new/revised standards result in stricter discharge limits for wastewater treatment plants, these plants may need to increase their user fees to support the construction of nutrient-removal technology, which can run in the millions of dollars."
Indeed, the economic impact of the proposed federal restrictions is vast and could impact every major sector of Florida industry. Water bodies mandated by development rules, such as drainage facilities, storm-water ponds, agricultural holding ponds and flood protection systems, could be required to make enormous investments in water quality technologies in order to continue to operate.
This could hit local governments especially hard in terms of paying for massive retrofits to drainage facilities and public utilities - retrofits for which there is no planned budget. Palm Beach County utilities estimate that just to continue to store their reclaimed water could cost as much as $125 million, and Panhandle utilities have preliminarily estimated that increased wastewater treatment costs could range from $4 to $8 per gallon.
Florida's finances - for its state and local governments, for its businesses and for its families - simply are not capable of meeting these obligations without suffering severe hardship during this deep recession.
Florida is working diligently to develop the correct science for protecting our diverse water bodies.


Florida needs to follow lead of Texas in protecting water
Opinion Jacksonville by Ron Littlepage
October 16, 2009
I recently visited my native state of Texas.
While there I learned something very interesting. Folks in Texas actually take water conservation seriously.
The state has been hit by a long, severe drought.
Water levels in some lakes are down more than 50 percent. Ground water supplies are severely stressed.
Since, as in Florida, much of the state's water is poured on lawns, water managers there have instituted strict rules.
And, unlike in Florida, most people abide by them.
Conversations center on popular topics such as these:
"We're still stage 4 (no lawn watering, period)."
"Thank goodness, we're back at stage 3 (watering with a hand-held hose with restricting nozzle or bucket only)."
Why don't Texans flaunt the rules and water in the middle of the day when all can see, like people in Jacksonville often do, or even leave the sprinklers sprinkling during those rare occasions when it rains?
Because the rules are enforced in Texas.
Fines range from $500 to $1,000. In some cities, off-duty police officers are hired to search for violators. Telephone hot lines are publicized and people are encouraged to turn in neighbors who are ignoring the rules.
And in Jacksonville?
"Hey, look at that. Someone is watering when they shouldn't be. Ho hum."
Perhaps that attitude is understandable when the St. Johns River Water Management District sounds the alarm that the Floridan aquifer is over stressed and preaches the necessity of conservation, and then grants permits for water bottling companies to suck water from that very same aquifer and ship it, and their profits, out of state.
It also doesn't help that the district grants long-term permits to take millions of gallons of water out of the aquifer with feel-good stipulations encouraging conservation, but not demanding it.
We in Jacksonville readily throw darts at Central Florida for wanting to take up to 262 million gallons of water a day out of the St. Johns River to help fuel growth there and keep lawns and golf courses green.
Why endanger the river's already stressed health by doing that?
When more than half of the water drawn from the Floridan aquifer is used to water landscaping, conservation would make more sense.
Look in the mirror, Jacksonville.
A recent news story in The Times-Union outlined concerns that our water usage habits in Jacksonville are affecting supplies in surrounding counties and impacting the health of the Santa Fe River and treasures such as Ichetucknee Springs.
In other words, we are becoming their Central Florida.
We can change that by following the watering rules, which, thanks to action by the Mayor's Office and City Council, are now the law in Jacksonville.
But if the law isn't enforced, as it is in Texas, scofflaws will abound and the aquifer will continue to be drained.


Miccosukee tribe brings plea vs. US Sugar purchase to high court
AGNet by News Service of Florida
October 16, 2009
Tallahassee – Foiled in its attempt to convince a trial judge, the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida is asking the Florida Supreme Court to throw out a $536 million deal between the South Florida Water Management District and U.S. Sugar to purchase 73,000 acres in the name of Everglades restoration. The tribe, which along with some sugar growers opposes the sale, on Wednesday filed its initial brief in the case. The tribe contends, among other things, that the district did not have the authority to issue the bonds, called Certificates of Participations or COPS for short, to purchase the land. A circuit judge in Palm Beach County disagreed in August, saying the district was within its rights to sell up to $650 million in bonds to make the purchase. “The purpose of the obligation here was presented to be Everglades restoration, which requires construction of water management facilities on the purchased land,” the tribe’s attorney, Dexter Lehtinen wrote. “The COPs as approved are for a pure land purchase, without funds for facilities, so that the purpose of the bonds cannot be accomplished with the bonds issued.” Oral argument dates have yet to be set.

Nuclear reactor design has safety flaw
Miami Herald by Curtis Morgan
October 16, 2009
Federal regulators say a nuclear reactor design chosen by FPL and another Florida utility has structural flaws that might not stand up to natural disasters such as hurricanes.
The nuclear reactor design that Florida Power & Light has chosen for its expansion at Turkey Point has safety flaws, federal regulators said Thursday.
The problem, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is weakness in a structure called the shield building. It is erected around an internal nuclear containment building primarily to protect it from natural disasters such as tornadoes and hurricanes.
In a letter to the Westinghouse Electrical Co., manufacturer of the reactor, the NRC said that part of its AP1000 reactor design did not withstand design loads. The agency said it would require additional analysis, testing and possibly redesign.
FPL is one of several utilities that have chosen the Westinghouse design as part of a resurgent effort to build nuclear plants. Progress Energy, which is planning a nuclear plant in Levy County, is also using the design. Overall, 14 AP1000 units are under review in the country, and Westinghouse is building several overseas, with one in China farthest along.
Roger Hannah, a spokesman for the NRC in Atlanta, said the agency did not yet know whether fixing the flaw would delay permitting or construction of any of the plants. FPL did not return calls and e-mails seeking comment Thursday.
On its website, Westinghouse posted a statement that it had expected the NRC action and is already working to address the issue. The company said it hoped to have the design certified by 2011 and the first reactors online by 2016. ``We have fully committed the resources necessary to both quickly and definitively address the NRC's concerns, and we are confident that we will meet all applicable requirements,'' the statement said.
In a release, Michael Johnson, director of the NRC's office of reactors, said the agency had been discussing the flaws with the company since October 2008.
``This is a situation where fundamental engineering standards will have to be met before we can begin determining whether the shield building meets the agency's requirements,'' he said.
Hannah said one concern was about potential building failure, regarding a large water tank mounted at the top of the structure that contains an estimated six to eight million pounds of water.


Renewable energy folks say to solar industry folks: “Come back home”
Tampa Bay online by Catherine Dolinski
October 16, 2009
Stung by the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association’s endorsement of offshore oil drilling, the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy released a statement today that literally begs the solar trade group to “come back home.”
The solar group declared its qualified support in September for lifting the state ban on offshore oil and gas drilling in Florida’s waters—provided that the state pours some of the resulting revenue into the solar energy rebate program. There is currently a backlog of applicants for the rebates due to a lack of money, and it is scheduled to sunset next year.
The group’s formal embrace of drilling as a cash source for the program shocked environmentalists, as well as some of the solar group’s own members. At least one company has left the group as a result, and one board member has stepped down in protest. Here’s what the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy said today:
“FARE does not support the coupling of future revenues from coastal oil exploration as a viable long term funding source for the creation of renewable energy incentives ... FARE calls into question the lack of foresight on the part of FlaSeia to endorse oil exploration legislation sight unseen and strongly urges FlaSeia to reverse their endorsement of any proposed legislation until such time that an actual Bill is introduced and the entire renewable energy industry has the proper opportunity to act as one unified voice.”
Ryan Banfill, a spokesman for a group of oil companies that are pressing Florida to lift the ban, called the solar group’s decision to jump on-board “a stroke of genius.” 
“FlaSeia’s common-sense decision on the issue cold-cocked a lot of the environmental community,” Banfill said. “They are now in reactive push-back mode.”


Same political environment
Palm Beach Post – column by Joel Engelhardt
October 16, 2009
News item: The state agency that oversees the environment "believes" that "a transportation, warehousing and distribution complex that serves heavy diesel truck traffic and rail operations ... is incompatible" with Everglades restoration.
Makes sense, right? Why would restoring Florida's Everglades go hand-in-glove with creating a center of industry? Environmental groups have been pointing to the contradiction since West Palm Beach-based Florida Crystals proposed an inland port on up to 3,500 acres next to its Okeelanta mill. The sugar conglomerate counters that industry and restoration can coexist.
No agency had disputed that view - until now. But look closely at the source. Can the public trust the Florida Department of Environmental Protection?
DEP Secretary Michael Sole was appointed by, and reports to Gov. Crist. They never would countenance meddling with DEP staff. But as soon as the agency's remarks hit the street, Florida Crystals vice president Gaston Cantens, a former state legislator, was blaming politics. The comments are retaliation, he said, for Florida Crystals' opposition to Gov. Crist's proposal to buy 73,000 acres from U.S. Sugar. "It has more to do with our objections," Mr. Cantens said, "than it has to do with the substance."
This is where we step back and recall the damage done to the DEP by a previous governor, Jeb Bush, who was not above meddling politically in the work of a science-based agency. How do we know? We know because of Herb Zebuth.
Mr. Zebuth, a state biologist from 1981 to 2005, testified under oath about how the Bush administration made clear that it wouldn't allow criticism, even science-based criticism, of its efforts to bring The Scripps Research Institute to Mecca Farms in Palm Beach County. Mr. Zebuth made the mistake of stating a concern about the Bush proposal at a public meeting. It wound up in the newspaper. The next day, he got hauled into a teleconference with then-DEP Secretary David Struhs.
Mr. Struhs discounted Mr. Zebuth's concerns, and asked him to write a letter to the newspaper distancing the DEP from his remarks. Mr. Zebuth took the opportunity to ask Mr. Struhs about something that had been bothering him. What about that general order, he asked, that interference in Scripps would lead to "the harshest possible disciplinary action?" Did Mr. Struhs say, "Don't listen to that hogwash?" No. As Mr. Zebuth testified later in a trial, Mr. Struhs turned to a manager and asked, "You didn't put that in writing, did you?"
In the case of Florida Crystals, the DEP isn't trying to cram unwanted development where it doesn't belong. The agency is taking what appears to be a pro-public position. But still it bears asking, can DEP be trusted? Isn't it under political control, just as it was under Jeb Bush? Once discredited, how can the DEP regain credibility?
Tallahassee had appeared reluctant to tell the Port of Palm Beach how to pick an inland port site. That reluctance ended Thursday with a plea from the DEP and the Department of Transportation secretaries. They want the port to wait, and perhaps share the decision-making. The action most hurts Florida Crystals, since the local site figured to be a favorite with the local port. A rival bidder in Hendry County has a better chance with a broader review.
It would be nice to write that Mr. Cantens is wrong, that after years of tiptoeing around controversy, DEP staff members can say what they really think, even if that means stinging a powerhouse like Florida Crystals. But it's impossible to make such a leap. The DEP can't so casually shrug off its past.


Water district pays U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed permits
Palm Beach Post by Paul Quinlan
October 16, 2009
WEST PALM BEACH — With some grumbling, South Florida water managers agreed to keep paying the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dedicate a staffer to expedite its permits.
The South Florida Water Management District governing board voted unanimously Thursday to pay the $196,000 salary of the Corps staffer assigned to expedite their permit requests. The cost has risen about 5 percent since the arrangement began two years ago.
Last month, Palm Beach County Commissioners also groused about a similar arrangement the county has with the Corps, even as they voted to spend $175,000 to keep it up for a third year.
Water managers acknowledged the necessity, even as they complained about having to spend local tax dollars to help a federal agency deal with its work backlog.
One board member, Patrick Rooney, called the practice "bizarre," while another, Charles Dauray, called it a "pretty good racket."
"I find it a little bit abusive," said Dauray. "In my opinion, we're paying the government for something they should be doing anyway."
But not paying would saddle multimillion-dollar projects with costly delays and hold up Everglades restoration, said Ken Ammon, the water district deputy executive director for Everglades restoration.
"If we had not had this dedicated employee, it would have been years, in some cases, before we had a permit for many of our projects," he said.
The board's Shannon Estenoz said the dying Everglades could not afford the otherwise inevitable delays to restoration projects. "It's good for the Everglades the faster we move, and this moves us faster," she said.


Area's rising sea levels all too easy to ignore
Herald Tribune by Eric Ernst
October 15, 2009
In a state bounded on three sides by water, a change in sea level carries great significance.
That's Florida.
And the state's flat terrain only increases its susceptibility. For instance, as one walks inland from the Gulf or from any of the bay shorelines, a 6-inch rise in the land's elevation can introduce a new array of plants and animals.
Now imagine Gulf waters rising a foot, or 2 or 3, as some have predicted, over the next 100 years.
Not only could such a change wipe out entire natural ecosystems in some areas, it could also lead to a series of problems we are starting to recognize.
On Monday and Tuesday, Mote Marine Laboratory hosted a symposium on the subject, concentrating on the importance of planning for a rising sea level, even if it means looking ahead 50 or more years.
The topic has been easy to ignore, noted Mote ecologist Ernie Estevez, one of 15 members of the Florida Oceans and Coastal Council. While sea level has risen 130 meters over 22,000 years, the rise has been relatively slow over the past 6,000, slow enough that we haven't had to worry about it.
A number of factors indicate the rate of sea level rise will accelerate.
This is not an event, said James Murley, a member of the Florida Energy and Climate Commission and an assistant dean at Florida Atlantic University.
Floridians are attuned to events, such as hurricanes. We evacuate, go into emergency mode, rebuild, then return to normal.
Rising seas could be the new normal. They could continue to intrude into freshwater aquifers, ruining drinking water supplies. And, they could fill drainage systems, leaving nowhere for storm water to go, especially during high tides.
Considering that most Floridians live within 30 miles of a coast, this poses a real threat.
Fortunately, at least some areas have started to include a rising sea level in their planning. Sarasota County mentioned the issue in its 2007 comprehensive growth plan. And, adding rising seas as a variable, it has mapped out areas vulnerable to hurricane surges.
Mote's Marine Policy Institute, through the symposium, hopes to spur more connections between a rising sea level and public policy.
Solutions will not come easily. For instance, in trying to prevent sprawl, Sarasota County has tried to concentrate development west of Interstate 75, which happens to be the area most likely to be affected by the rising sea.
Changing directions, like the changing sea level, will come slowly, inch by inch.


Goodbye ‘R’ rule? Oyster pathogen test may help make shellfish safer
University of Florida News by Stu Hutson
October 15, 2009
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The oyster lover’s axiom of edibility — that this shellfish is safest to eat in any month with an “r” in it — may soon become somewhat of a culinary anachronism, thanks to a new food-safety test developed with help from the University of Florida.
Oysters are typically considered safest to eat in cooler months (September through April) because the shellfish-infecting bacteria in the genus Vibrio flourish best in warm temperatures.
Even in the “r” months, slurping an oyster opens some people to infection from these bacteria, which can cause fever, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea and has even led to finger amputation when it’s given a chance to penetrate a cut or skin lesion.
However, a new quick and inexpensive diagnostic test developed by DuPont Qualicon and refined by UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences could make weeding out pathogen-loaded oysters much more practical and efficient. Oysters are a $14 million industry in the Sunshine State, according to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The test is based on a technology dubbed “quantitative polymerase chain reaction,” or QPCR diagnostics. Given a small sampling of oyster, shrimp or ahi tuna, the system tracks genetic material found in three harmful species of Vibrio by amplifying their DNA into large amounts that are easily detected.
This is the first time this technology could be used in detecting pathogens in seafood on an industrial scale. So, after initially developing the basic lab-bench test, DuPont turned to UF to prepare it for commercial use and regulatory approval.
“Whether you have raw oysters or if you’re trying to validate some sort of treatment method, the old way of testing these bacteria in oysters just isn’t very practical because it’s pricy and takes about a week,” said Anita Wright, a UF food science professor whose Florida Sea Grant work is validating and expanding applications of the new test for seafood processing and research purposes.
This USDA-funded research evaluates treatments such as freezing, high pressure, irradiation, or mild heating, and is funded by the Florida Gulf Coast Oyster Industry Council.
Wright will present findings from her work at the Oct. 17-23 biennial meeting of the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference, followed by a workshop to demonstrate the methodology. Her findings will also be published in the next issue of the American Organization of Analytical Chemists.
The ISSC is a shellfish regulatory cooperation that will determine if the test is reliable enough to be used industrywide. If approved, the test could be an especially big boon for oyster harvesters in the Gulf of Mexico, the source of a third of all U.S. oysters.
Warmer water temperatures and factors such as pollution make Vibrio species a major concern for Gulf-harvested shellfish. Forty percent or more of Gulf oysters carry these pathogens in the “non-r” months, according to the FDA.


Green ideas presented at conference might help Florida water, land
News by Steve Patterson
October 15, 2009
ORLANDO - Plans for cleaning sewer wastewater in New Orleans could end up helping Jacksonville's St. Johns River.
A Central Florida project to make new fertilizers from sludge could cut the algae-feeding nitrogen running off farmland and into rivers across the state.
And a system to capture heat from sewer water and warm athlete housing at next year's winter Olympics could represent a new low-energy way of heating and cooling buildings.
Those promises of green possibilities ran through a national water industry conference this week alongside worries about hazards ranging from droughts to bacteria pollution.
"There is a huge opportunity," said Erik Lindquist, an engineer who helped design a wastewater-based heating and cooling system for 600 homes in Whistler, a Canadian resort where part of the Vancouver Olympics will be held. "I don't think you'll find a cheaper source of heat for your community."
Earth-friendly ideas were sprinkled among more than 500 presentations at the Water Environment Federation's 82nd annual technical conference.
In part, they're a reaction to pressure that cities and utilities have faced to meet federal clean-water rules. It's also about the money to be made from good green ideas.
David Weber, an engineer and company executive from St. Petersburg, spoke about his company's plan for selling a new fertilizer made from the solids left after sewage treatment. A competitor with a similar product talked just before him.
Utilities will pay to get rid of their sludge, Weber said, and farmers will buy the fertilizer because it's designed to hold nitrogen on farm fields longer and has less metal contamination. Rainwater flowing off farmlands is part of a set of problems that Weber said wastes up to 75 percent of the nitrogen in common fertilizers.
"The farmer has paid for that fertilizer, and he has lost three-quarters of it," he said. "If he buys four bags, he only ends up with one bag in the roots."
The five-day conference was also a way to circulate research that could affect many communities.
Brady Skaggs, a Tulane University doctoral student originally from Jacksonville, talked about his research on using a kind of iron called ferrate to kill bacteria in wastewater at a New Orleans sewage treatment plant.
That same approach could be important in controlling bacteria in other places, he said. Skaggs' work is part of a long-term proposal to use the fresh wastewater to restore wetlands, where cypress trees that could be a buffer against storm surges have been killed by rising levels of saltwater.
It would also mean the treatment plant wouldn't have to use chlorine-based disinfectants suspected of causing male fish to develop female characteristics.


Salt near FPL plant could harm water supply
Miami Herald by Curtis Morgan
October 15, 2009
Water managers approved an investigation of a salt plume centered near FPL's Turkey Point plant.
With cooling canals at the Turkey Point nuclear power plant a prime suspect, water managers Wednesday signed off on a broad investigation of a briny plume that threatens to taint drinking water in South Miami-Dade County.
The board of the South Florida Water Management District approved new monitoring wells, water quality sampling and ecological assessments around Florida Power & Light's plant on Biscayne Bay -- an effort intended to pinpoint the size, speed and, critically, source of a salt front that has pushed miles inland.
After months of resisting demands from the district, state and Miami-Dade environmental regulators, FPL sought to reassure water managers and skeptical environmentalists that the utility was committed to resolving questions about whether its massive canal system is fueling salt intrusion.
FPL will spend several million dollars for 10 additional wells ringing the plant and, said senior FPL attorney Peter Cocotos, would abide by a legal agreement to pay to correct problems if data points to its cooling canals.
``We've said all along we'll take responsibility for any harm we're causing,'' he said. ``We're happy to go on record with that.''
Environmentalists praised the expanded monitoring but asked the district to postpone approval, saying they needed time to analyze a complex plan completed less than a week ago.
``It's wonderful to see this long-overdue monitoring plan come to fruition. Having said that, there are still concerns,'' said Laura Reynolds, executive director of the Tropical Audubon Society.
Topping the list: Whether the two-year plan, and changes to a 1983 legal agreement, would weaken district authority to order FPL to make fixes. Data and studies already show that an ``interceptor ditch'' designed to block salty water from moving inland isn't working, Reynolds said.
``Why haven't we done anything yet to hold FPL to the 1983 agreement?'' Reynolds asked.
Stephen Walker, an attorney for Atlantic Civil, a mining company that contends that salt from the canals limits its excavations, said with the new plan FPL had simply added hoops for the water management district to jump through.
FPL was forced to negotiate the new monitoring as part of an ``uprating'' plan to increase reactor power.
The company contends there are myriad contributors to pronounced salt intrusion near the plant, including farming drawdowns and old drainage canals. Cocotos said the utility expects only ``insignificant'' effects from the uprating.
Water managers argued that the new agreement preserves their authority and they need to understand the plume before prescribing a cure.
``It's like the doctor who thinks you have a disease and starts throwing drugs at it without the proper diagnosis,'' said board chairman Eric Buermann.


Solar energy, natural gas: Florida's new power couple
Orlando Sentinel by Mike Thomas
October 15, 2009
In a most unlikely alliance, the enlightened purveyors of solar energy are joining forces with the dark lords of fossil fuels.
The plan is to open up Florida's offshore water to oil drilling, then use some of the royalties to open up more rooftops to solar panels.
This is the brainchild of future House Speaker Dean Cannon of Winter Park.
Some might call it an ingenious ploy to drive a wedge between two renewable-energy camps: The true-believer granola greenies who despise fossil fuels, and the businesspeople who believe in green as long as that includes the greenbacks to meet next week's payroll.
The payroll argument is what Cannon used on the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group of manufacturers, retailers, consultants and installers.
"We are more of an energy organization and not so much an environmental organization," says Bruce Kershner, the group's executive director.
But it's not a perspective shared by all.
Ed Strobel, president of Sunshine Solar Services in Fort Lauderdale, admits, "We are all in survival mode."
But, he adds, "I had to draw the line" — and resigned from Kershner's group.
It is a futile gesture.
The drilling rigs are coming. Cannon will push through the required legislation in the House. And his counterpart in the Senate will do likewise.
Gov. Charlie Crist is on board. It burnishes his conservative credentials. And diverting some of the royalties to renewable energy gives him some political cover.
Green drilling. What more could Charlie ask for?
It's a rare case of good politics creating good public policy.
If renewable energy is the future, we are living in the past. Florida is falling far behind other states in encouraging its development, meaning we will fall far behind in attracting the jobs it creates.
Utilities here have little incentive to promote solar energy.
Florida does not require that they generate a minimum percentage of their energy from renewable sources.
It does not require them to buy power from small solar plants at premium prices, which would encourage investors to build them.
These kinds of programs would raise utility rates, and the politicians aren't willing to go there.
Florida's only incentive is a rebate program. It kicks back about $500 for solar hot-water heaters and up to $20,000 for rooftop photovoltaic cells. But the fund went bust and had to be rescued with temporary stimulus dollars.
Kershner wants a dedicated funding source so the rebate program — and the solar business it generates — is not subject to the whims of budget writers.
Money from drilling also could be used to lure renewable-energy companies into Florida, creating next-generation research and manufacturing jobs.
That's the future. More pertinent to the present, drilling would create economic development and thousands of jobs.
Florida sits on a very unstable, two-legged economic stool: tourism and growth.
It has toppled because people are leaving instead of coming, and tourism has crashed.
We haven't been this deep in the Dumpster since the Great Depression. And we will be one of the last states out of this morass because our economy has little substance.
We need to diversify and create things that have real value.
And at least part of the answer is sitting offshore under the Gulf of Mexico.
Most of the energy down there is thought to be natural gas.
It is the cleanest of the fossil fuels, with half the carbon emissions of coal. This has created a worldwide demand for it. Use in Florida is skyrocketing because Crist has effectively banned new coal plants.
Extracting it off our coast would do no harm. It would not send tourists fleeing back to New Jersey. Yet foes keep dragging out that laughable argument for lack of a better one.
Natural gas is the perfect companion to solar energy.
The sun is a part-time source of electricity. It comes and goes with the clouds and time of day. It requires backup to ensure the power grid doesn't run out of juice.
Natural-gas power plants ramp on and off very quickly. They are best at meeting sudden spikes in demand. And they are the cheapest plants to build.
There are some greenies who think if we simply stop drilling for fossil fuels, we magically will no longer require them.
In fact, we will.
This plan works for the present and, more important, it works for the future.


Water concerns hang over huge development plan
News Journal online by DINAH VOYLES PULVER
October 15, 2009
EDGEWATER -- Water -- and its constant state of flux -- often tops discussions about long-term plans for the 59,000 acres Miami Corp. owns in Volusia and Brevard counties.
Opponents fear development could increase flooding troubles and put more strain on the area's supply of fresh groundwater, which regional water managers say is dwindling.
Competition for water concerned members of the New Smyrna Beach City Commission during a presentation about the company's plans Tuesday night. They wanted to be sure Titusville and Brevard County couldn't come looking for water in Volusia.
Today, as the Volusia County Council considers the property's future, water again may play a key role.
The council will vote on proposed land use changes to allow for eventual development during the next 50 years. Miami Corp., a Chicago-based family land trust, has owned the 92-square-mile Farmton timber farm between Edgewater, Osteen and Mims for more than 80 years.
The proposal was unanimously approved by the Brevard County Commission in September.
In exchange for rights to build 29,500 homes in the two counties, company officials dangle two enticements: permanent conservation of 40,623 acres and water. The company began spreading word to officials in both counties this summer that a consultant discovered a new "vein" of groundwater under the land.
That raised eyebrows but also proved an attention-getter in a region under pressure from the St. Johns River Water Management District to spend millions, if not billions, to develop new sources of water.
The company recently began a water partnership with the city of Titusville and expressed interest in looking into a similar agreement with Volusia County for water pumping and possibly storage.
To Maryanne Connors, a deputy county manager embroiled in water issues for years, the prospect of additional water, even for the short term, sounds pretty good.
"We are very interested," Connors said.
The company's consultants, Devo Engineering, recently discussed the findings with the county and water management district officials.
"We were impressed with the level of additional data they had collected in an area that has some uncertain aquifer characteristics, and expressed an interest in reviewing their analysis in detail," said Hal Wilkening, director of resource management for the district. However, the district wants to take a closer look and has asked for more in-depth information on the consultants' computer modeling.
Connors said some water experts long suspected more water could be found under the company's land.
A separate independent consultant said this week it isn't unusual to find additional sources of water in the ground layers where Florida's water is stored.
"Not every square mile of Florida has been explored with monitoring wells," said Tom Missimer, of Missimer Groundwater Science. And, he said, developers spend more money up front than water districts looking for water.
"Over the years in South Florida we've actually found some new systems that haven't been explored," he said. "Everybody is skeptical when they hear it the first time."
Missimer said the real issue will be what the district's subsequent studies reveal and whether the agency allows the water to be used.
Still, some environmental advocates question the long-term impacts of pumping any additional water and worry about the related impacts from population growth.
Local Sierra Club members lobbied hard against the project this week.
"They are trying to give away the heart of the county," said treasurer Elizabeth Camarotta.
Others, including Florida Audubon, are expected to lend support to the project today.
Officials for Miami Corp. and Volusia are discussing a joint venture allowing the county to pump from Farmton to help stretch the water supply it provides to its West Volusia customers. Connors said water could be available until sometime after 2025, when Farmton begins development.
Such an arrangement could dramatically extend the timeframe district officials gave the county to come up with alternative water supplies.
The district suggested the county consider building a reservoir at Farmton, Connors said. But county officials thought it might be too expensive and create too much damage to natural areas.
The county also has looked at capturing and using stormwater that flows across Farmton, as well as across a 5,000-acre tract to the northwest of Farmton owned by another family corporation, the Lefflers.
Both options gave the county a little leeway in negotiating an agreement to settle a lawsuit it filed against the water district earlier this summer. That agreement also is on the agenda today.
The district included the county, city of DeLand and the Utilities Commission of New Smyrna Beach in a list of possible partners on a project to tap the Ocklawaha River for water. All three government agencies filed a petition with a state administrative court, asking to be removed from the list.
In the settlement being considered today, Connors said the county agrees to look for alternatives that would accomplish the same thing.


Will Climate Change Ruin Your Vacation?
News by Ronnie Lovler
October 15, 2009
Climate change could alter your travel plans in the not too distant future -- including the face of world tourism destinations, how visitors get there, and who gets to go.
A new report by the British tourism industry and a sustainability think tank, Forum for the Future, warns the impact of climate change could degrade now-popular vacation hot spots.
Among the scenarios imagined is a type of "doomsday" see-it-while-you can rush to visit natural resources before they disappear; the high cost of a "green" travel and climate-related political instability in some destination countries may also threaten the industry.
Another study on the issue is just kicking off at Michigan State University, where a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation will be used to examine climate-change impacts on global industries such as tourism.
Yet destinations around the United States and the world may already be feeling the effects.
In Hawaii, warming oceans threaten both coral reefs and a $360 million tourism industry, according to an editorial in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
Off the Oregon coast, home to legendary beaches, researchers have been tracking an oxygen-starved dead zone in the Pacific Ocean the size of the state of New Jersey.
The dead zone may be expanding, permanent, and caused by a climatic forces rather than pollution, a National Science Foundation study found.
Three national parks in subtropical Florida, including the Everglades, are at risk of becoming the first U.S. national parks lost entirely to rising seas, according to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Across the globe, Mount Everest, the holy grail of mountaineering, has horse flies buzzing through its 17,585-foot base camp, and sherpas fearful of glacier-fed lakes bursting their banks and wiping out climbing trails, The Guardian reported.
The Maldives, a chain of low coral atolls in the Indian Ocean, plans on holding a government cabinet meeting under water, equipped with scuba gear and by whiteboards, to call attention to rising sea levels that threaten tourism, fishing and human habitation.
In Zimbabwe, droughts, flooding and disease may threaten wildlife, landscapes and tourism around the Zambezi River, including the world-renowned Victoria Falls, according to a report by a regional research organization.
However, the United Nations blamed "uncontrolled development," unfettered competition with Zambia for tourists, and poor government stewardship for ecological degradation around the falls.


Environmental Advisers Say Evaluate Approach to Lake Quality
The Ledger by Tom Palmer
October 14, 2009
LAKELAND | Local officials should make sure their approaches to improving lake water quality will really work before spending millions of dollars on projects, scientists told the audience at a workshop Tuesday.
"Our understanding of lakes is really screwy," said Dave Tomasko, an environmental consultant involved in restoration of lakes in the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes.
He said some projects, such as the stormwater treatment project at Lake Howard, didn't work as well as expected because no one considered specific characteristics of the lake and its surrounding watershed.
Instead, the approach relied on standardized water-quality goals that don't work equally everywhere, he said.
Tomasko said the Lake Howard project could have benefited more from restoring connections with forested wetlands and increasing tannins in the lake water rather than trying to filter nutrients through retention ponds near the lake.
He said increasing the lake's level by holding water in the chain instead of releasing it downstream into the Peace River would also help.
Tomasko was one in a series of speakers who made presentations at the workshop at PCC-USFP's Lakeland campus.
The daylong workshop was organized by the Lakes Education/Action Drive.
Tomasko was not the only one to raise cautions about approaches to lake restoration.
Mark Brenner, a University of Florida geologist, said anyone proposing to restore a lake should first hire someone to investigate the lake's history as revealed by the sediments on the lake's bottom.
"Some pollution (abatement) goals don't match pre-disturbance (water quality) levels," he said, adding that, even if the study reveals the lake was cleaner 100 years ago, it's not always feasible to restore water quality to the former condition.
Workshop moderator Tom Singleton, an environmental consultant, said it's important for people from a variety of fields to share information.
"It takes a host of technical experts to solve a very complex problem,'' he said. "The integration of this effort is unprecedented anywhere in the world.''
Tuesday's workshop also dealt with efforts to restore flow in the Upper Peace River, Polk County's plan for future water supplies.
Marty Kelly from the Southwest Florida Water Management District said it's important to consider environmental needs in setting minimum river flows.
Although in the upriver portions the main purpose is to allow fish to move, in the downriver portions it's also important to consider how withdrawals from the river for public water supply affect the salt-fresh water mix in the estuary and how it affects how far upstream salt water will be allowed to move.
Gary Fries from the Polk County Utilities Department said county officials are looking for ways to overcome a projected 28 million-gallon-per-day deficit in 2030 in a way that is environmentally sustainable.
He said tapping lakes and rivers in Polk County is impractical.
Instead, it will involve a mixture of conservation, use of reclaimed water and finding other alternative sources. It also will take continued planning, he said.


FGCU to add renewable energy research facility
Wink by Jeremiah Jacobsen
October 14, 2009
ESTERO, Fla. - Florida Gulf Coast University is getting a million dollar gift to help the school go "green." FGCU is hoping the $1 million from the Backe Foundation will help the school draw national attention with a renewable energy research facility.
"We are known as the green school," said student Casey Bansavege.
From the day it opened in 1997, FGCU has been a school with mother nature in mind.
"Part of the mission of this institution was to have environmental sustainability," said university provost Dr. Ronald Toll.
"They have the recycle bins everywhere, they're really good about keeping trash off the ground," Bansavege said.
The university has found unique avenues for energy, like giant cooling tanks at the center of campus.
"We're freezing large volumes of water to ice, then during peak hours, we're taking that energy and we're using that energy to cool buildings," Toll explained.
The million dollar gift from the Backe Foundation will be used to draw a nationally renowned scholar to teach and research renewable energy and biotechnology.
 It follows in the footsteps of existing projects like a 16-acre solar field on the edge of campus, harnessing the sun to provide nearly 20% of the school's power.
Such projects have raised eyebrows with some.
"Some of the kids in my class had an opinion of, why cut down the trees for the solar panels, its just kind of a controversy with that," Bansavege said.
The school insists it will only enhance the FGCU name.
"Renewable energy is really a part of that, this will certainly expand our regional, statewide and national reputation," Toll said.
A big part of the new renewable energy project will be a special research facility built near Southwest Florida International Airport, called the "Innovation Hub." It should be ready in just a few years.


Florida: Nonnative Snake Threats
The New York Times by the Associated Press
October 14, 2009
A United States Geological Survey report says five giant, nonnative snake species could pose high risk to wildlife, especially in Florida. The report analyzed nine types of boa, anaconda and python snakes. The Burmese python and the boa constrictor are already reproducing in the wild in South Florida. The big snakes threaten native species and ecosystems because they mature and reproduce quickly, travel long distances and can eat almost anything in fur, feathers or scales, experts say.


FPL agrees to assessment of mysterious saltwater plume near Turkey Point nuclear plant
Miami Herald by Curtis Morgan
October 14, 2009
After fighting it for more than a year, Florida Power & Light will investigate a saltwater plume near its Turkey Point reactors.
Florida Power & Light will spend millions to assess whether the massive cooling canal system at the Turkey Point nuclear power plant is fueling salt contamination of the aquifer in South Miami-Dade County.
After nearly a year of balking at demands from water managers and county and state environmental regulators, FPL has bowed to expanded monitoring. It's a step the utility agreed to in its quest to complete an ``uprating'' plan intended to coax more power from its two reactors along Biscayne Bay.
The proposed agreement, designed to measure an underground plume of salt water thought to extend inland to at least Homestead-Miami Speedway, will be reviewed Wednesday by the South Florida Water Management District governing board.
It follows new research by federal geologists suggesting that the canals -- dug in the 1970s to avoid pumping billions of gallons of damaging hot water into the bay -- could be driving a salty front that threatens wells in the Keys and Homestead and projects to restore freshwater flows to the bay.
The working theory of the U.S. Geological Survey study, which FPL has dismissed as ``fundamentally flawed,'' is this: The nine-square-mile canal system, off limits to the public and hidden from view by mangroves, creates hot, heavy ``hypersaline'' water that sinks and spreads into the Biscayne Aquifer below.
Some critics argue that enhanced monitoring comes with a trade-off, charging that the district is weakening a 1983 agreement that already gives it authority to order FPL to fix and pay for groundwater problems linked to the canals.
Atlantic Civil, a mining company that contends the advancing salt limits its ability to dig deeper pits, filed papers in Miami-Dade Circuit Court last month threatening to sue the district to force action against FPL now.
Company attorney Stephen Walker said water managers have taken a simple question -- are the canals worsening intrusion? -- and added complication and delay.
``There are multiple layers of modeling and analysis . . . we would view as delay opportunities,'' he said. ``There is not going to be any kind of significant action under the new agreement for a considerable amount of time.''
Terri Bates, a district assistant deputy executive director, said regulators have to determine the scope of any problem before proposing solutions. The plan calls for collecting water quality and other data for two years. Bates called the monitoring plan, ``very comprehensive.''
Over a year of negotiations, records show FPL pressed to limit monitoring to a handful of existing inland wells and tracking water temperature and salt levels, which it had acknowledged will rise slightly as reactors produce more power.
The proposed monitoring plan calls for 14 clusters of wells ringing the site, including in wetlands and Biscayne Bay, and sampling an array of nutrients and chemicals.
Those include a ``tracer suite'' of isotopes, including radioactive tritium, which Bates said should help ``fingerprint'' water moving inland from canals. The tritium is at such low levels that agencies do not consider it a health threat but it has been detected at 10 to 30 times expected background levels in at least one well a mile west of Turkey Point.
``I think everyone agrees there is an issue,'' Bates said. ``If you turned off the plant tomorrow and didn't do anything, those canals are there and still having an influence.''
FPL, however, hasn't agreed that its canals, dug under a plan endorsed by multiple environmental agencies, are causing significant problems. In an e-mail response to questions, spokesman Tom Veenstra said data shows salt intrusion had already reached at least four miles inland before the canals were built.
Veenstra said ``FPL takes its commitment to the environment very seriously'' and will rely on the expanded monitoring plan to establish facts before it decides on any mitigation steps.
Veenstra dismissed Atlantic Civil's claims as ``unfounded allegations'' and argued that the USGS study left out an array of potential contributors to salt water intrusion in South Miami-Dade: rock mines, the Card Sound and other drainage canals, and seasonal canal drawdowns to protect farm fields.
Christian Langevin, a USGS hydrologist who co-authored the peer-reviewed study published online in August in Hydrogeology Journal, acknowledged the relatively simple computer models used to simulate the Turkey Point system didn't analyze every potential influence or provide definitive answers.
But in all four scenarios with varying canal salinity, models showed the aquifer beneath Turkey Point quickly turning salty. With hypersaline water, which reflects existing canal conditions, the plume spread for more than 25 years and over 12 miles inland.
The study, the first of its kind, suggest the canals are fueling intrusion, he said, with the shallow, radiator-like layout likely worsening effects -- creating fingers of denser brine that descend and mix into the surrounding fresher aquifer.
``Think of a lava lamp sort of effect,'' Langevin said. ``Water wants to move from high concentrations into low concentrations.''


My Word: Oil drilling threatens tourism
Orlando Sentinel by Will Graves, founder of Friends of Florida's Coasts
October 14, 2009
He showed so much promise. That was then. This is now.
The one-dimensional thinking championed by state Rep. Dean Cannon is exactly what National Geographic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Orlando Sentinel and other publications have decried as a death knell for Florida. We have a broken economic model that puts overdevelopment first and the tourism revenue-producing environment last.
The Cannon/Sen. Mike Haridopolos oil-drilling juggernaut preys upon recession-weary Floridians at a time when they are most vulnerable and hurricanes are nowhere to be found. And Florida's tourism industry can't take the hit to its pristine, unique brand.
Friends of Florida's Coasts has nominated the state's coasts for a "threatened" listing from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Efforts are under way to enlist the help of internationally-respected celebrities interested in donating a public-service announcement to combat Cannon's oil-drilling obsession.
Economic adversity doesn't change the fact that most Floridians have always considered coastal oil drilling unthinkable. Tough times don't warrant throwing the baby out with the bath water. Cannon shouldn't be hawking our state's "family jewels" to the highest bidder. If we let Cannon ruin what attracted us to Florida in the first place, he notches a political victory at our expense. We need leaders who emphasize quality over quantity and fight to protect the world's finest beaches from oil spills in hurricane-prone waters.
Cannon says we won't have to worry about oil spills because of recent advances in technology. I guess that's why he's touting the $500 million bond for oil-spill cleanups. And, of course, there won't be any environmental effects when those underwater air guns, with dynamite force, rearrange the seabed, threaten marine life and put the ecosystem at risk.
Several facets of Florida life have come under attack over the past several years. But, not our beaches. They're as central to our state's DNA as maple trees are to Vermont and Central Park is to Manhattan.
 Do you really think that Mayor Michael Bloomberg isn't aware that he could ease Manhattan's financial woes by allowing Central Park development? But having built a multibillion-dollar brand from scratch, Bloomberg knows better than to devalue the Manhattan brand with an irresponsible change in the city's character.
 How ironic that Henry Flagler, John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil partner and pioneering Florida developer, knew better than to allow oil drilling on Florida's east coast that would have scared away tourist revenue.
Cannon's early Christmas present to big oil is the biggest threat to Florida's tourism industry ever.


Critters collected, counted in study of cypress domes
Miami Herald by Curtis Morgan
October 13, 2009
BIG CYPRESS NATIONAL PRESERVE - In the cool and spooky shade of cypress, Audubon of Florida researchers Shawn Liston and Mike Bush hunted fish and invertebrates to determine what prey is available for wading birds.
Their work is part of an ongoing study called Restoration, Coordination and Verification (RECOVER), which, in turn, is part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
"You can fix the water, but how do you know the system is going back to normal for wading birds?" Liston asked. "When the hydrology is changed, we want to make sure the system is producing enough prey for the birds to be successful."
Liston and Bush are working specifically in cypress domes, a phenomenon in which larger cypress grow in the center of a cluster of cypress trees while smaller ones grow around the edges.
Other Audubon researchers and researchers from Florida International University and Florida Atlantic University are looking at the food web in other types of wetlands from Lake Okeechobee to the coastal mangroves of Everglades National Park.
The cypress dome project receives $140,000 a year from the Army Corps of Engineers.
To collect fish and invertebrates, Liston and Bush throw a 1-square-meter trap in random directions and use a seine and dip nets to pull out all the aquatic critters.
Then they count and measure everything and throw the trap again.
The researchers are in the field five times a year: at the beginning and middle of the wet season, at the transition between wet and dry season, and at the middle and end of the dry season.
This is the fifth year of collecting in the cypress domes. Liston and Bush also catch fish and invertebrates in the wet prairie outside cypress domes.
"To have a good biological baseline, it takes 10 years of data," Liston said. "You get so much variation with hydrology and with fish populations booming and busting."
Audubon researcher Pete Frezza is sampling fish in coastal mangrove wetlands from the Ten Thousand Islands to Biscayne Bay. Specifically, he's looking for small fish such as killifish, gambusia and anchovies.
"These are the food base for wading birds and gamefish such as snook and tarpon that move up into these wetlands to find food," Frezza said. "We're estimating the abundance of fishes in the wetlands, which will give us an idea of available food for birds and fish for any given month."
Ultimately, the research goes back to Everglades restoration, Frezza said.
Although the cypress dome study still has several years of data to collect, Liston and Bush are making some interesting observations.
When water levels in the wetlands are low, for example, crawfish dominate the system; during the wet part of the year, when water levels rise, fish take over.
Historically, many areas of the Everglades had a short hydroperiod (the length of time a wetland is covered with water), and crawfish were abundant.
With massive changes in Everglades hydrology, however, hydroperiods are longer, and crawfish, an important food source for ibis and endangered wood storks, which feed by touch rather than by sight, are fewer.
This information could be important because when wetlands are developed, builders often must create wetlands on the property or on another property.
"We need to impress upon developers the importance of making short-hydroperiod wetlands," Liston said. "Developers will say, 'Well, this is our wetland,' but it's a long-hydroperiod wetland. Creating a wetland is not enough unless you create a gradient from short- to long-hydroperiod wetlands."
Among the fish collected in the cypress dome this week were non-native species such as black acara (a kind of cichlid), brown haplo catfish and African jewelfish, an aggressive predator that has become a problem in Everglades National Park.
Exotic fish are far more common in canals than natural areas, Liston said, but they're moving into natural areas in flooded all-terrain vehicle trails.
"Those trails are like superhighways for them to move in," she said. "If we put more trails in, that will allow them to move more. Nobody thinks we can get rid of all the exotic fish, but we can do something to limit their spread."
In one way, the cypress dome fish study is ground-breaking research.
"This will be the first quantitative published data of aquatic fauna in cypress forests," Liston said. "There's very little data about them because they're so hard to work in, and they're only productive a couple of months a year, so they've been overlooked."
andrew west/the news-press
Shawn Liston,left, and Mike Bush collect sample data on aquatic critters caught with a catch net. The county and measure everything caught and cast the net again.


Greedy dogfish blamed for Mass. fishery's problems
Associated Press by JAY LINDSAY
October 13, 2009
CHATHAM, Mass. (AP) -- The sea air isn't all that's salty when fishermen in the Cape Cod town of Chatham talk about the hated spiny dogfish.
Fishermen consider the small shark, renowned for its stunning appetite, the vermin of the ocean. They say the once-threatened dogfish has rebounded under federal protections to an insatiable mass that's devouring more valuable and scarce fish that regulators are trying to restore, such as cod, while it destroys nets, steals bait and eats catch right off their hooks.
"It's a (expletive) plague of locusts is what it is," hook fisherman Peter Taylor said. "I don't care if I make a penny on dogfish, we just need to kill them."
Fishermen want to catch more of the ornery, schooling predator to dent its population and make more money off it, but rules forbid that.
Federal regulators say though fishermen see dogfish everywhere, "they're not seeing the whole picture," said Maggie Mooney-Seus, a National Marine Fisheries Service spokeswoman.
Still, the dogfish dispute has prompted regulators to do a fresh assessment of the stock and how it's measured, beginning in January. Paul Rago, a National Marine Fisheries Service biologist, said he was confident dogfish have been well managed but admits anxiety amid the questions.
"It's always a concern to me that if we're off on some assumption, we've missed something, you know, it has immediate outcomes," he said. "It's fine for us to say, 'Whoops.' But for the guy that's at the end of that thing, it's not acceptable."
In the late 1990s, the dogfish population fell to critically low levels as fishermen targeted females. Regulators say the stock is now stronger and more abundant near shore, where fishermen see them, but remains vulnerable. Scientists project declines in coming years because males outnumber the slow-maturing, unproductive females.
The despised dogfish is a "perfect scapegoat" for the fishery's problems, said Sonja Fordham, a shark specialist with the International Union for Conservation of Nature who blames decades of overfishing.
"I think it's a very popular notion to say this voracious predator is scarfing up all the good stuff," Fordham said. "The facts don't back it up."
The dogfish, which has two spines on its back, prowls waters from Nova Scotia to Florida, eating anything in its way, including other dogfish.
On a recent trip off Chatham, dogfish were hanging from almost all 300 hooks fisherman Jamie Eldredge spooled into the ocean 20 minutes earlier. One hook held an unfortunate blue fish, stripped to its spine by the swarming dogs, as they're called. Other hooks had only blue fish heads and gutted whips, the nickname for male dogfish.
"That's the dogfish at work," Eldredge muttered.
The biggest market for dogfish is overseas, where their belly strips are used in fish and chips in Britain or smoked and downed at German beer gardens. At 22 cents a pound, the dogfish doesn't bring much compared to other species, but fishermen limited to a few thousand pounds per day can still earn enough to make a short trip worthwhile.
They just can't fish them for long.
In Massachusetts, for instance, fishermen chased dogfish for just weeks in September before they reached their allocation.
The 5,000-metric-ton federal catch limit is about 1 percent of the 479,000 metric tons scientists say exists. It's far too little to slow the growing population, said University of New England professor James Sulikowski, who studies dogfish behavior and contends regulators may be massively undercounting them.
He theorizes dogfish don't spend as much time near the ocean bottom as regulators believe, meaning bottom-trawling federal survey boats aren't getting representative samples.
Satellite monitoring tags Sulikowski put on three dogfish found them frequently at higher depths and far offshore, where survey boats don't go. He guesses there may be at least four times as many as regulators think.
Fordham said if dogfish were devastating the ecosystem and other fish, stocks of haddock, which fishermen say is a favorite dogfish treat, wouldn't be so robust.
Even if fishermen suddenly were turned loose on dogfish, the strict limits over the past decade have withered local markets and infrastructure, such as processors, so it would take time for those to return. Meanwhile, the European market may soon be a tougher place to sell dogfish.
In March, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species will consider a European Union proposal to require dogfish exporters to certify their catches were from sustainable fisheries. Opponents say the bureaucracy would make it impossible to get the fish to Europe while it's fresh.
While the rulemakers make rules, Charlie Felch hopes to squeeze three more years out of his business before retiring and leaving the dogfish to someone else. Felch, 58, makes his own gear, and dogfish ravage the gill nets he sets off Seabrook, N.H., sometimes snarling multiple meshes in their mouths as they crowd out the cod and pollock he's after.
He said what he sees, managers don't, and he doesn't know what he can do about it.
"I told my son, I said, 'Please find something else to do. We've got to get out of this. This is nuts,'" Felch said. "You just cannot get away from these things."


Inland port plan has new hurdle
Andy Reid by South Florida Sun-Sentinel
October 13, 2009
Palm Beach County's push to create a job-producing "inland port" on western agricultural area targeted for Everglades restoration faces new hurdles from state environmental regulators.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection considers the proposed Palm Beach County location for an industrial distribution center as "incompatible" with efforts to store, clean and redirect water to the Everglades.
The County Commission in August agreed to change county codes to allow industrial development on 318 acres of land owned by sugar giant Florida Crystals. The site, near the company's Okeelanta power plant, is among four near Lake Okeechobee that are vying to become home to the inland port.
The distribution center would connect coastal ports from Miami to Palm Beach County, delivering cargo to and from the coast via truck routes and rail lines crisscrossing the state and linking with routes to the rest of the country.
State regulators warn the proposal to start with Florida Crystals' 318 acres could grow to industrial development on more than 3,000 acres to accommodate inland port plans, which could get in the way of Everglades restoration.
"A development of this type and size will impact sensitive natural resources and spur incremental development and conversion of surrounding agricultural areas to more intense uses, which will further impact those resources," Sally Mann, DEP director of intergovernmental programs, wrote in a letter Friday.
The Port of Palm Beach, which is leading the selection process, is scheduled to pick an inland port location as early as Oct. 21.
Unless the county can persuade state regulators to sign off on the change to growth guidelines needed to allow the inland port, the standoff could end up going before a judge.
Palm Beach County commissioners last week renewed their support for the location, arguing the environmental concerns can be addressed and the need to create jobs in Glades communities is a priority.
Commissioner Karen Marcus cast the only vote against putting the inland port at Florida Crystals — on former Everglades land that was drained for farming.
Marcus said Palm Beach County industrial development should not be allowed to become an obstacle to building reservoirs and treatment areas needed to move water from Lake Okeechobee to what remains of the Everglades.
"Everglades restoration doesn't happen unless it gets fixed in Palm Beach County," Marcus said. "We need to ... not get in the way."
Other sites vying for the inland port are in Hendry County, near Clewiston and in St. Lucie County.
The plan is to open the port by 2014 to be ready for an expansion of the Panama Canal that would allow larger shipments to ports in Florida and along the East Coast.


Palm Beach County industrial plans could conflict with Everglades restoration, state regulators say
South Florida Sun Sentinel by Andy Reid
October 13, 2009
Palm Beach County's push to create a job-producing "inland port" on western agricultural area targeted for Everglades restoration faces new hurdles from state environmental regulators.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection considers the proposed Palm Beach County location for an industrial distribution center as "incompatible" with multibillion-dollar efforts to store, clean and redirect water to the Everglades.
The County Commission in August agreed to change county codes to allow industrial development on 318 acres of land owned by sugar giant Florida Crystals. The site, near the company's Okeelanta power plant south of South Bay, is among four near Lake Okeechobee that are vying to become home to the inland port.
The distribution center would connect coastal ports from Miami to Palm Beach County, delivering cargo to and from the coast via truck routes and rail lines crisscrossing the state and linking with routes to the rest of the country.
State regulators warn that the proposal to start with Florida Crystals' 318 acres eventually could grow to industrial development on more than 3,000 acres to accommodate inland port plans, which could get in the way of Everglades restoration.
"A development of this type and size will impact sensitive natural resources and spur incremental development and conversion of surrounding agricultural areas to more intense uses, which will further impact those resources," Sally Mann, DEP director of intergovernmental programs, wrote in an Oct. 9 letter.
The Port of Palm Beach, which is leading the selection process, is scheduled to pick an inland port location as early as Oct. 21.
Unless the county can persuade state regulators to sign off on the change to growth guidelines needed to allow the inland port, the standoff could end up going before a judge.
Palm Beach County commissioners last week renewed their support for the Florida Crystals location, arguing the environmental concerns can be addressed and that the need to create obs in economically depressed Glades communities is a priority.
Commissioner Karen Marcus cast the only against putting the inland port at Florida Crystals -- on former Everglades land that was drained to make way for farming.
Marcus said Palm Beach County industrial development should not be allowed to become an obstacle to building reservoirs and treatment areas needed to move water from Lake Okeechobee to what remains of the Everglades.
"Everglades restoration doesn't happen unless it gets fixed in Palm Beach County," Marcus said. "We need to ... not get in the way."
Other sites vying for the inland port are in Hendry County, near Clewiston and in St. Lucie County.
The plan is to open the inland port by 2014, to be ready for an expansion of the Panama Canal that would allow larger shipments to ports in Florida and along the East Coast.


Tree-hacking stumps residents in Boca Raton, Broward County: Was it really necessary to destroy our landscape?
South Florida Sun Sentinel by Andy Reid
October 13, 2009
Chain saw-wielding workmen, often without warning, this summer erased tree-lined backyard views cherished by residents living along the canal that divides Broward and Palm Beach counties. For those living in Countrypark, Boca Trace and other neighborhoods lining the Hillsboro Canal, the unexpected tree clearing disfigured their slice of Florida paradise.
But for the South Florida Water Management District, the tree cutting was a necessary step to keep water flowing through a canal that helps protect those very same homes and others throughout South Florida from flooding.
While residents considered the sabal palms and Australian pines along the water a welcome part of the landscape, the district considered them potential hazards - targets for toppling over during a hurricane and clogging up the canal that is relied on to safely flush away stormwater.
"We do need to protect the public," said Fred Remen, a director of field operations for the district. "When we get the big one, when those trees fall in the canal ... it's going to plug up the canal."
Some residents who live along the Hillsboro Canal aren't buying the district's explanation.
They question why the district targeted their stretch of waterway. The trees survived past hurricanes and were not all a threat to fall into the water, said Cindy Weber, who lives in Countrypark. Also, Weber and other nearby residents say they never got a letter, phone call or other warning that the district planned to start clear cutting the trees - a mistake now acknowledged by the district.
"They were like cowboys with chain saws on our canal bank," Weber said. "It's a mess. ... It's just hideous."
South Florida's system of about 2,000 miles of canals and levees guards against flooding so that suburbia can thrive on land that used to be part of the Everglades. On a typical rainy day, South Florida drainage canals dump about 1.7 billion gallons of water in the sea.
In addition to potentially clogging drainage structures, trees and other vegetation growing along canal banks threaten to damage those banks, according to the district. The district spends about half a million dollars each year cutting down trees and other vegetation along canals throughout South Florida, Remen said.
The section of canal west of Boca Raton was targeted because it had one of the largest concentrations of Australian pines, he said. As well as being particularly susceptible to toppling during storms, Australian pines are exotic trees that squeeze out native habitat.
If that's the case, then the district could have just cut down the Australian pines and left the native palm trees, residents countered.
Weber called the district's practice of pre-emptive clear cutting "fear mongering."
"We should be fearful of trees ... just in case there is a storm? That is a joke," Weber said.
Anna Borowska's Boca Trace home backs up to one of the largest newly barren sites along the canal.
Borowska said she received no warning that the cutting was coming.
"It's very empty. It doesn't look nice," Borowska said. "Everything is gone."
Stump-studded areas will be replanted with grass and other vegetation that doesn't pose a hazard, Remen said.
While Remen defended the need to cut the trees, he acknowledged that the district failed to send letters to all the homes affected by the cutting.
"We need to do a better job," he said.


Environmental agency rejects Florida Crystals land as inland port site
Palm Beach Post  by Paul Quinlan
October 12, 2009
Politically powerful Florida Crystals Corp. was dealt a blow Friday by state environmental regulators, who said a transportation, warehousing and distribution complex the sugar company wants built on its land south of Lake Okeechobee would interfere with Everglades restoration.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection sided with environmentalists in urging the state's growth management agency to reject Crystals' request to build the complex near its Okeelanta sugar mill, refinery and power plant.
The say the Crystals property - 318 of the more than 3,500 acres Crystals has available to develop the complex - sits too close to the 73,000 acres of farmland that Gov. Charlie Crist is working to purchase from competitor U.S. Sugar Corp. for Everglades restoration.
"The department believes that development of a transportation, warehousing and distribution complex that serves heavy diesel truck traffic and rail operations - whether 318 acres or 3,500 acres - is incompatible with restoration efforts in the South Florida Ecosystem and Everglades," Sally Mann, of the DEP's Office of Intergovernmental Programs, wrote in a letter dated Friday.
Crystals has fought the U.S. Sugar land deal in court, arguing that the restoration plans are too vague and public purpose too unclear to justify the taxpayer expense. The case is headed to the Florida Supreme Court.
Crystals spokesman Gaston Cantens called the DEP's letter objecting to this proposed change to Palm Beach County's comprehensive plan, or growth blueprint, as retaliation for the company's opposition to the Crist's land deal.
"This is politics," said Crystals spokesman Gaston Cantens. "It has more to do with our objections to the U.S. Sugar deal than it has to do with the substance."
He said the objections were unsubstantiated and that any concerns could be addressed when the company seeks environmental and other permits.
But Lisa Interlandi, an attorney with the Everglades Law Center, said the land use change would lead to greater development of surrounding land.
"We believe that it is clearly urban sprawl," said Interlandi. "It will result in multiple other future land use changes in the area that cumulatively will have a very negative impact on the region."
Crystals is one of several major landowners vying to develop the distribution complex known as an inland port. Backers of the project see it as a way to add capacity to South Florida's three seaports, offering an off-site location where shipping containers could be broken down and goods reshipped. Interested developers see it as a potential gold mine that could generate millions in rent from big-box retailers.


No paycheck but plenty of pride
Palm Beach Post – column by Sally Swartz
October 12, 2009
At his second meeting as a member of the South Florida Water Management District's board last month, Indiantown's Kevin Powers was surprised.
A delegation from the Seminole Tribe, scheduled before Mr. Powers took office, shared the history of a water agreement between the United States, Florida and the district. Photos of Mr. Powers' father, Timer Powers, posing genially with tribe members and alone in a Seminole patchwork jacket, flashed on the screen.
The water pact Timer Powers crafted remains in force today and serves as a model for others - an example of his extraordinary skills as a peacemaker and negotiator. A former Martin County commissioner, he was responsible for the county's famous four-story building height limit.
The Seminoles' presentation was an example of the water district's institutional memory of Timer Powers, who died in 1992.
"I was humbled beyond words," Kevin Powers said. "I know he was so good at what he did."
Mr. Powers comes to the water district with a background different from his father's. He grew up in Martin, then left after he graduated from South Fork High School. After college, he worked for the sales division of Lykes Brothers out of Tampa, marketing citrus in Asia and Europe and traveling all over the world.
Ten years ago, with a growing young family, he came back and went to work for Owens Grove, where he learned "I was not cut out to be a grower." He and brother David now are partners in Indiantown Realty Corp.
While he has not been active in local conservation or environmental causes, he said he is aware of the need to provide stewardship for Florida's waters.
"Everything you contemplate in Florida has something to do with water," he said, whether you're a landowner, a grower, or a teenager waterskiing in local canals and rivers.
Mr. Powers believes the district's plan to focus on cleaning water before it flows into the lake from the north is important.
He hasn't decided yet how he will vote on the U.S. Sugar Corp. deal, which proposes buying land south of the lake for $536 million, allowing a slow flow of water south to the Everglades.
Mr. Powers points with pride to Martin County utilities' reuse of nearly 100 percent of its wastewater, and believes other South Florida counties will have to follow that trend.
He supports the district's efforts to conserve water by imposing twice-weekly watering restrictions, even during times when plenty of water is available. While the use-less-pay-more situation isn't popular, particularly in counties where wastewater reuse is the exception, he said he believes "it's a diet we're all going to have to stay on."
Mr. Powers said he agreed to serve on the water board, which provides no paycheck, because of his father's example. Many remember working with Timer Powers and are eyeing his son with positive expectations. "I recognize the shoes I have to fill are enormous," Kevin Powers said. "But public service is part of who I am. It's how I was raised."


Proposed ATV park in Everglades prompts delight, concern
Miami Herald by Curtis Morgan
October 12, 2009
Unless you ride one, which is a blast, all-terrain vehicles can seem annoying.
Knobby tires turn pasture into mud pit. Some engines howl like angry tomcats. And since driving off the beaten pavement is all the fun, riders are often at odds with farmers, homeowners, park managers, environmentalists and, sometimes, police.
ATV owners across South Florida have clamored for years for open land to ride without a hassle. Now, Miami-Dade Parks Department planners, in a joint proposal with Collier County, believe they've found just the spot.
It's miles from homes, dotted with rock pits and concrete pads, crisscrossed with existing trails and next to a 10,500-foot runway.
It's also in the middle of the Everglades, on a site where Miami-Dade County decades ago envisioned a massive jetport before public and political outrage scuttled the project.
Supporters insist the proposed 1,608-acre park -- just north of Tamiami Trail at the Collier-Miami-Dade line -- will do the Everglades more good than harm by drawing ATVs from more pristine places.
``Something has to be done with all these bikes running anywhere,'' said Miami-Dade Commissioner Jose ``Pepe'' Diaz, who has championed the ATV cause for years. ``We're trying to gather them and put them in one location and try to protect the more sensitive areas.''
Environmentalists and regulators are dubious. Damage from swamp buggies and ATVs in the adjacent Big Cypress National Preserve have long been the subject of disputes and lawsuits.
``It's difficult to find a spot in South Florida that doesn't have issues,'' said Carol Ann Wehle, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District. ``This is going to be a very sensitive permit.''
That was evident last month when the proposal barely cleared a preliminary hurdle. Collier's Environmental Advisory Council supported approval -- but by a 3-2 vote and over a staff recommendation to reject it.
The staff endorsed camping, RV parking, fishing, archery, hiking and biking but opposed ATVs, saying they would affect wetlands and increase traffic and greenhouse gas emissions from owners trailering ATVs to a site halfway between Miami and Naples. It's also land prowled by the endangered Florida panther.
The proposed park is located in Collier but is part of 24,000 acres owned by Miami-Dade's Aviation Department, which planned a six-runway jetport there in the late 1960s. The project largely launched the modern Save the Glades movement and helped create the adjacent Big Cypress preserve.
The runway, the only one built, now mainly operates as a training facility for large jets, which sometimes practice touch-and-go landings.
The property is almost all wetland and under water part of the year. Miami-Dade estimates ATV use would rise 20-fold from 150 to about 3,000 annually.
But Kevin Asher, a Miami-Dade parks planner, argued the project would improve natural conditions because the number of old trails would be cut by half. In addition, remaining trails would be stabilized with rock, stopping soil damage and allowing water to flow through an area often swamped with high water.
To reduce disturbances to the panther, which typically hunts at night, riding would be limited to daylight hours.
 The site was selected after a feasibility study paid for by the state Division of Forestry. The Aviation Department has signed off and Miami-Dade commissioners approved a resolution, sponsored by Diaz, endorsing the ATV park in May.
But it still faces significant hurdles -- the Collier County Commission, the state Department of Community Affairs, water managers and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The jetport site, about an hour from either coast, doesn't exactly thrill ATV riders. But given the dwindling options, they say they'll take what they can get.
``I approve anything that gets open land, no matter how small,'' said Cary Hernandez, a Kendall rider who runs the website and has campaigned for an ATV park for years. Hernandez, who rides with her children, calls it a matter of safety for a sport that draws many families.
``We have to keep these kids off the street,'' she said. ``Right now, we don't have anywhere we can ride legally.''
As the number of ATVs is rising -- there are 54,000 registered within 100 miles of the park -- the places to ride shrink. Collier riders remain livid over losing access to the Picayune Strand, site of an Everglades restoration project, and the failure of water managers to follow through with a pledge to find 640 acres elsewhere.
Collier has so far rejected the district's one offer of a site in Immokalee once used to store dredged-up lake muck that is contaminated with arsenic.
``They're trying to give us a Superfund site,'' joked Rick Varela, a Collier rider who runs an ATV website.
Miami-Dade did open a motocross track at Milton E. Thompson Park in the northwest corner of the county, but it caters mainly to racing bikes, not open-country enthusiasts. Permits to ride in Big Cypress are limited, with hunters and camp owners snapping up most.
Varela said he couldn't see how anyone would find the jetport a problem given how it's been used over the last several decades.
``It befuddles me how you can land a 727 on 10,000 feet of pavement and it had no environmental impact, but if you go disturb three inches of dirt you're altering water flow,'' he said.
Environmentalists counter that the proposed ATV park would only multiply an existing problem -- the gouges from ATV and swamp buggy tires that crisscross the wetlands of the Big Cypress. Several groups have sued to confine swamp buggies and ATVs to a number of hardened trails in the preserve, but the damage continues, said Matthew Schwartz, Everglades chairman for the Broward County chapter of the Sierra Club.
Schwartz doubts ATV riders at the jetport will stick to marked paths any better than riders in the Big Cypress.
``We've been fighting to get them to do that for 14 years,'' he said.


Environmentalist speaks at UF about history of conservation
The independent Florida Alligator by CAROLYN TILLO
October 9, 2009
Joe Browder may have talked about the Florida's history of environmental activism, but he warned his audience not to take history too seriously.
Browder spoke to a crowd of about 85 Thursday night at Pugh Hall.
He said history has a tendency to make struggles like the environmental movement seem less intense than they were.
"History has a way of sanitizing conflicts and making the prevailing participants appear to have been safer and more acceptable than they were at the time," Browder said.
Browder, an environmental activist who worked in the Carter administration and served as the conservation director of Friends of the Earth, helped preserve the Florida Everglades and continues to work as an environmental consultant.
Browder said the environmental activism of the 1960s and 1970s was possible because of the public awakening that occurred across Florida and the nation.
He said the public's frustration over the Vietnam War and the struggle with discrimination led to an increased openness to the movement on a national level, while South Florida was open to an opportunity to end its associations with land fraud and crime.
"I think we were riding somebody else's waves," Browder said.
Looking back on his role as an environmental advocate, Browder said he encouraged students interested in protecting the environment to develop a thick skin and a willingness to engage in conflict.
Ryan Scott, a Gainesville resident, said Browder's message emphasized standing up for the environment even in the face of adversity.
Scott said the speech taught him how the history of Florida's natural resources involves a connection between industry, the economy and politics.
Jack Davis, an associate professor of history at UF, said he values Browder for his ability to offer precise, first-hand memories about his role and the roles of other figures in the environmental movement.
Davis interviewed Browder for his biography of environmentalist Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, who worked with Browder.
"He has a steel-trap mind," Davis said.
Browder will be donating letters, newspaper clippings and photos to the UF Libraries Special Collections during a ceremony at Library East at noon today, Davis said. 


Fall ?  Doesn't feel like it in record-breaking Central Florida heat
Orlando Sentinel by Susan Jacobson
October 9, 2009
We broke the record high for Oct. 8 today when the mercury reached 95 degrees in Orlando, the National Weather Service in Melbourne said. The previous record for the day, 92, was set in 1986.
There have been only two days as warm in October. The temperature reached 95 degrees on Oct. 2, 1962 and Oct. 6, 1986.
After a dip into the mid-70s tonight, the forecast is for more heat again Friday. Expect highs in the mid-90s, which could break the Oct. 9 record of 92 degrees, said weather-service meteorologist Derrick Weitlich.
Worse, it will feel more like 100 to 105 degrees because of a warm, moist air mass hanging over the area.
Experts advise precautions such as drinking lots of water, applying sunscreen and staying indoors air-conditioning if possible.


FWC hosts ‘CSI in the swamp’
October 9, 2009
The scene is disturbing. A hunter finds a lifeless body in the woods. He sees a 12-gauge shotgun next to the dead, middle-aged man. The hunter notifies conservation law enforcement officers, and when they arrive, he tells them he was hunting when he came upon the body. He says he heard shooting prior to the discovery, but observed no one – other than the deceased.
It is up to the officers to determine if this death is a result of natural causes, suicide, murder or an unwanted discharge of the victim’s firearm.
This is an actual case, which occurred in Iowa, re-created by the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA) for training. In the humid, damp woods of North Florida, actors played out the scenario to help educate conservation officers on how to investigate hunting-related incidents in the field. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) hosted the training at the Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy in Quincy, and the Joe Budd Aquatic Education Center in Midway, just outside Tallahassee. Fish and wildlife officers from around the country made up the class of 36.
“Last year, hunting incidents in Florida doubled, and we want to change that,” said Bill Cline, director of hunting safety for the FWC. “We call this training ‘CSI in the woods’, or in Florida, ‘CSI in the swamp.’ This training helps us look for clues as to what happened at a hunting incident. If an injury or death could have been avoided, we want to pass on to hunters what we learned, so they know how to avoid similar behavior.”
Like most any outdoor activity, there is the risk of injury. With firearms involved, the injury may be more serious. Nevertheless, nationwide, for every 100,000 hunters, there are only five hunter incidents. Overall, hunting is safe. Tim Lawhern, president and co-director of the International Hunter Education Association, stands by this.
Lawhern has been with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for more than 20 years and knows a thing or two about hunting safety.
“International statistics indicate that the chance of a hunter getting killed while hunting is exactly the same as the chance of any person getting struck by lightning,” Lawhern said.
He also knows that not everything is as it appears.
“Sometimes a murder, suicide or attempted suicide is disguised as a hunting incident,” Lawhern said.
This happened in the case of the hunter finding a body. Evidence at the scene revealed that the man had committed suicide. He attempted to make his death look like a hunting accident so his wife and two children could collect on his life insurance policy. He was also religious and his religion forbids suicide.
In another recreated scenario, a turkey hunter shot a Georgia conservation law enforcement officer. The officer was checking to see if the hunter, accompanied by his unarmed daughter, was hunting over bait – which is illegal. The shooter fired at the officer from 28 yards away, believing he was shooting at a turkey. The officer was hit on the lower part of his body, and he nearly bled to death. Because of his injury, the officer had to retire. The hunter broke one of the cardinal rules for hunter safety: be certain of your target.
“There are four rules that every hunter, or anyone else with a firearm, needs to follow,” Lawhern said. “First, treat every firearm as if it were loaded, even if you think it is not. Second, always point the muzzle in a safe direction. Third, be certain of your target and what’s beyond it. And fourth, keep your finger outside of the trigger guard until you are ready to shoot.”
For one instructor at the IHEA training, hunter safety is particularly personal. On two separate occasions, a decade apart, a hunter shot Capt. Mike Van Durme of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. A man in a boat who was shooting frogs with a .22 rifle shot the 34-year veteran in 1986. The shooter didn’t see Van Durme, who was in uniform and in plain view, standing on a dike. When the man shot at the frog, the shot ricocheted off the water and struck Van Durme in the ear.
Van Durme was more seriously injured when he was shot a second time in 1996 while he was hunting, off-duty. As Van Durme was walking through short grass, a deer ran between him and another hunter. Though Van Durme was wearing the required bright orange vest and hat, the hunter failed to look beyond the deer and fired. In an instant, Van Durme realized he was being shot at and turned away. The slug ran along his left shoulder. His injury could have been fatal, but his instantaneous reaction likely saved his life.
“It was my crime scene, but I was the victim,” Van Durme said. “The shooter was with four other people, and when he realized what he did, he tossed his shotgun into the woods. I had to sort that out and make arrests – two of the hunters were felons, and it is unlawful for felons to possess firearms.”
Though Van Durme made arrests and collected evidence immediately after being shot, nearly 24 hours later it hit him how close he had come to death.
“I was in my church choir the next day, singing the closing song,” Van Durme said. “Then I thought, I don’t want to be a part of being a victim, or having people congratulate me and telling me how great I was. I just felt my life energy leave me. Being shot is traumatic.”
It took a while for Van Durme to get back to hunting, but eventually he did. He uses his near-death experience to improve hunting safety.
“I’ve been instructing at IHEA since 2000,” Van Durme said. “I instruct at every academy in my state, and my incident has led to a comprehensive 12-page report on hunting incidents.”
Though a stranger shot Van Durme, IHEA president Lawhern says that in the majority of cases, a friend or family member shoots the victim. He also stresses that one-third to one-half of the time, hunting-related shooting injuries are self-inflicted. These are the things that Lawhern and others who investigate shooting incidents have learned and train others to investigate.
“Every crime scene should be investigated as if a member of your family was the victim,” Lawhern said.
FWC’s Cline stresses that safety needs to be the No. 1 priority for hunters.
“Hunting is a great sport,” Cline said. “We want everyone to come home from hunting, safe and sound; bagging something is secondary to that.”


UDB nightmare looms
Miami Herald, letter to the editor by Florida program coordinator, Clean Water Action, Clean Water Fund, Miami
October 9, 2009
Will Miami-Dade County commissioners deliver another growth-management nightmare and approve the Ferro Development proposal outside the Urban Development Boundary?
Despite empty lots, vacant storefronts and foreclosed homes, Mario Ferro is once again seeking to move the UDB. In this economy, the idea is so ludicrous that it would be funny, but the Planning Advisory Board recommended that commissioners advance an application for unwarranted new development.
Just last April, commissioners approved a Lowe's store over public opposition. Mayor Carlos Alvarez vetoed it, twice. Florida's growth agency, the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) rejected it. Gov. Crist and the Cabinet agreed with the judicial finding that the initial approval was unlawful.
Yet Miami-Dade residents are still footing the bill -- more than $400,000 -- in the legal battle to allow Lowe's on the UDB's outskirts.
Will the same commissioners who tout fiscal responsibility transmit the new application with no regard for the burden to taxpayers?


Another Raytheon? Residents just learning of old pollution
Tampa Bay online by Mark Douglas
October 8, 2009
State records show environmental agencies had enough information to "clearly indicate" industrial pollution posed a public health threat in the Bay Pines area of St. Petersburg 14 years ago.
But 300 people who live near the contaminated site didn't get their first clue about the danger until two weeks ago.
That's when teams of workers from the Pinellas Health Department started delivering door hangers to a neighborhood west of 4800 95th St. N, the site of a former APF Industries plant. They were seeking permission to test private irrigation wells.
Little was done to clean up the site other than some first steps taken by the federal government. But there has been correspondence about it among agencies including the health department, the state Department of Environmental Protection, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and even the Pinellas Sheriff's Office.
The only ones kept out of the loop were those who must live with any effects of the pollution.
The same official silence spurred state Sen. Charlie Justice to sponsor legislation requiring notification of nearby residents when industrial pollution is found.
Justice, a St. Petersburg Democrat, was reacting to concerns raised by people living near the now-vacant Raytheon Co. defense plant, who never knew about a plume of groundwater pollution there until it was reported by News Channel 8.
"People are upset that it happened, but they're more upset that they didn't know about it," Justice said.
When DEP came under fire in the Raytheon case, District Director Deborah Getzoff said many people don't want to know if pollution is near, only if it is on their property.
That's not true with at least one of the people living near the APF site.
"I can't imagine why they wouldn't want to know if their families are at risk," said Phil Greene, who said he bought his house 18 years ago. "I think it's something anyone would want to know."
Justice's bill failed in the Legislature earlier this year. It got no support from DEP, he said. He plans to introduce it again when lawmakers convene in January.
Meantime, the door-to-door surveys and testing are finally planned for the APF site. The state already knows that groundwater on the site of the plant contains a hazardous stew of vinyl chloride, trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene, arsenic, lead and cadmium.
One question now is whether it has spread.
"If they received a door hanger from us, we'd like them to call our office and give their consent to sample the well," said Lisa Frazier, the health worker who led the well surveillance teams.
Those teams delivered 400 door hangers to 300 parcels of property and logged 50 private irrigation wells in their target area, said Maggie Hall, Pinellas Health Department spokeswoman.
Hall said her agency will refer 15 of the wells to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for contamination testing.
The health workers are performing the well surveys under a contract with the DEP. They do not alert homeowners about the underlying reason for the well tests.
"It's not really up to us to say why they're testing," said Hall. If residents have any questions, the health department refers them to the DEP.
Records on file at the DEP indicate APF began metal-plating operations for airplane parts in 1964 at the industrial park and went bankrupt in 1990 after saturating the soil with hazardous chemicals. Some are found in concentrations as much as 1,400 times the level at which the state targets an area for cleanup.
According to federal records, the Pinellas Sheriff's Office Environmental Crimes Division initially notified the EPA in 1992 that the site "posed a threat to the community."
The EPA initiated a $1.7 million partial cleanup to remove contaminated soil and obvious sources of hazardous chemicals from the site.
There is no indication the sheriff or EPA alerted Greene or his neighbors to the risk.
When the Florida DEP took over the problem from the EPA in 1995, no one in the state agency warned neighbors either, even though DEP administrators were telling each other that the pollution still posed a definite health risk.
In 1996, a local DEP official wrote to his boss that "sufficient data exist which clearly indicate that contamination from the site is threatening public health and the environment."
Ownership of the APF property has changed twice since in the last 14 years.
In December 1995, county and state records indicate, the Investment 195 Trust from Mission Viejo, Calif., purchased the land out of foreclosure for $1,000. In October 2006, the current owners, known as 4800 LLC, bought the property for $500,000, according to records from the Pinellas County Property Appraiser.
Since then, the DEP has been losing patience with the owners' lack of progress in assessing the pollution and cleaning it up. Last year, the DEP filed a notice of violation to force 4800 LLP managers Darrin and Collette Horst to take action or face civil penalties up to $10,000 a day.
Darrin Horst referred a reporter's questions to his Tampa attorney, Ron Noble, who responded through a legal assistant that he would have no comment.
On Aug. 15, 2008, one day after DEP filed its violation notice, DEP's William Kutash requested funding for a well survey from his bosses, noting "both soils and groundwater are heavily contaminated, and the groundwater plume is off-property."
Kutash, district program administrator for the DEP's Division of Waste Management, wanted a count of private irrigation within 1a quarter-mile of the APF site and public water supply wells within half a mile of the site. He called the request a high priority, seeking tests for TCE, vinyl chloride, arsenic, lead and cyanide and other chemicals.
Nevertheless, 14 months passed before the Department of Health began well surveys.
Asked what took so long, the health department's Pamala Vazquez responded in writing.
"It has taken some time to negotiate the additional work with DOH, and to design a meaningful scope of work to ensure that this pilot project becomes a viable process that can be used as needed throughout the state," said Vazquez, district spokeswoman for the department.
The well testing arose, in part, out the state's investigation of the Raytheon Co. defense plant in St. Petersburg. The Raytheon pollution is the subject of a federal class-action lawsuit.
Vazquez said the health department didn't notify neighbors of the APF contamination because state law does not require it. The agency did inform another property owners in the industrial park that the plume had moved under his land.
Records suggest the plume is migrating toward the east and south in the general direction of the Harbor Lights Mobile home park.
So far, the only word Harbor Lights property owner Dave Travis has received about the pollution nearby came from a reporter.
"I haven't hard from anybody at the state on that," Travis said. "It's definitely something that we'd like to know."
State Sen. Justice said he understands their concerns.
But Justice said his notification bill drew concerns from DEP that resulted in a watered watered-down proposal, limiting notice to those living just 500 feet from a contaminated site. That's about how far Greene lives from the APF site.
The DEP negotiations took so long, Justice said, he couldn't build support for the bill.
"I wouldn't say they lobbied against it," Justice said. "They certainly were not supportive."
He added, "There were some stumbling blocks with them, quite frankly."
Notification, Justice said, is likely to make the wheels of government turn faster.
"I think if the community had known about it and the law had been in place, we would have had more public pressure on cleaning it up faster and maybe you wouldn't have had migrating plumes."


Audubon Recommends Management Approach to Big Cypress Lands by Lori Beall
October 8, 2009
Drawing on its science and policy expertise and experience in the Big Cypress Swamp, coupled with local chapter leadership, Audubon of Florida and Collier County Audubon Society (Audubon) on September 30 sent a formal set of recommendations for a resource and recreational access management plan for 147,000 acres of Addition Lands in the Big Cypress National Preserve. Please read the letter at this link
Audubon’s and many other letters followed more than two years of working with interested parties in the public, plus State and federal agencies, which developed and reviewed numerous alternatives. Among the prominent issues were proposed formal wilderness designation on much of the lands; addressing resource protection, research and management needs; and allowing for appropriate public access for traditional swamp buggies on trails. Audubon’s researchers doing baseline Everglades restoration monitoring studies in this area drafted the bulk of the recommendations which struck a balance between wilderness resource protection and allowing compatible traditional motorized access by sporting groups who were integral to the original protection and establishment of the Preserve in 1974 and the Addition Lands in 1988.


Bacteria advisories issued for 2 beaches in Miami Beach
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
October 8, 2009
MIAMI BEACH - Swimming advisories have been issued for two beaches in Miami Beach because of health concerns.
One is at 53rd Street, and the other is at Collins Park at 21st Street.
The Florida Department of Health issued the advisory after water samples did not meet the criteria for bacteria. The advisory issued recommends not swimming at these locations at this time.
The prevalence of the bacteria found in the water is an indicator of fecal pollution, which may come from storm water run-off, wildlife, pets and human sewage, the department reported.


Drilling proposal protects Pinellas
Tampa Bay online by CATHERINE DOLINSKI
October 8, 2009
TALLAHASSEE - Supporters of oil drilling off Florida's Gulf coast say their plan would leave waters around Pinellas and a few other counties free of derricks. But Gulf Coast lawmakers who oppose drilling say that assurance is not enough to change their minds.
Drilling has been a hot topic in Tallahassee since Speaker-designate Dean Cannon amended a bill near the end of this spring's legislative session to lift the ban on offshore oil drilling in state waters. His proposal, which stalled in the Senate, would have let companies apply to the state for leases to drill up to 10 miles - and as close as three miles - off the coast.
This week, oil industry lobbyist Frank Matthews presented House Democrats a map of environmentally sensitive areas that his clients propose keeping clear of oil rigs. Among them: the entire coastline of Pinellas County, which the state has classified as an aquatic preserve. A few other counties including Dixie, Levy and much of Taylor would receive the same protection.
"Those areas would not have structures for drilling, assuming you want to protect those areas," he said. "That's not to say you couldn't lease and extract from a remote location."
Cannon, who plans hearings on oil drilling this fall, said this week he supports protecting the state's aquatic preserves and marine sanctuaries. "I would imagine there would be a lot of consensus on that as well."
Rep. Bill Frishe, R-St. Petersburg worries that future Legislatures could repeal the protective language. Of greater concern, he said, is potential for oil spills off neighboring coastlines to drift into his district. "Ocean currents don't respect aquatic preserve lines."
The oil lobby's proposal leaves most of Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties' waters open to oil rigs. Hillsborough would benefit from the protections afforded to Pinellas County, though rigs could appear along coasts of Manatee and Sarasota counties.
Republican Rep. Bill Galvano, whose district includes parts of Hillsborough and Manatee, wants to expand the discussion of alternative energy sources, including nuclear energy. The drilling issue itself, he said, is "much bigger" than a few carve-outs for sensitive areas. "I don't think that would sway me."
Protections for several of the northern coastal counties that Democratic Rep. Leonard Bembry represents won't change his stance, he said.
He recounted walking the beaches of Biloxi, Miss., after a hurricane. There were no reports of an oil spill, but "everything you touched was oily," he said.


If it’s not the water, then what is causing the sudden rash of brain cancers & tumors, Acreage residents ask
The Westside gazette by  K. Chandler
October 8, 2009
It’s not the water.
So says the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) following an extensive analysis of the water quality of 50 ground wells scattered throughout the Acreage, a sprawling, rural/suburban community of 55,000 in northwestern Palm Beach County with a sizeable population of American Blacks and Caribbean islanders.
The water quality testing was done to determine if contaminants in fertilizers and industrial waste products were causing the rash of brain cancers and tumors among adults, young children and even in some cases pets.
There are causes for concern, however, as three ground wells indicated elevated levels of the naturally-occurring carcinogen radium 226 and radium 228. Still other signs of radioactivity were found at yet another residence. [It might be noted that the residences in question were listed as not being located in areas where there had been incidences of brain tumors or cancers.] Also, not every well underwent testing for the 100 chemical and metal substances the DEP was checking for. Of the other 46 wells, all were said to have met state safety standards.
These isolated cases were enough for the state DEP to pronounce the water safe and free of health-endangering contaminants, even as the state Department of Health (DOH) continues its search for a cause of the troubling and mysterious rash of brain cancers and tumors plaguing numerous children living out in the Acreage.
According to the state report — compiled after the DEP took samples of private well water over a two month period beginning in August, including the Seminole Improvement District’s water filtration facility serving local area schools — “When compared to Florida’s health-based standards, ground water quality within the Acreage is generally good,” the report concluded.
Seconding that opinion, State Environmental Director over waste management, Mary Jean Yon wrote in a recent letter to the Florida Department of Health that they were of the belief that “homeowners can —through a few simple steps —ensure their drinking water meets all standards.”
Not everyone is convinced however. The new results run contrary to an earlier September 2009 assessment that the level of radium-226 in the un-treated water in the Seminole Improvement District’s wells was higher than state standards for acceptable drinking water.
Attributed to a ‘calculation error,’ which occurred at Florida Radiochemistry Services, Inc., the naturally occurring elevated radium levels were said to be in keeping with allowable drinking water standards as originally determined by the mid-August water testing results.
Florida Radiochemistry Services, Inc. is the Orlando-based, state certified lab subcontracted by Genapure Inc., which was itself hired by county officials to test the Seminole Water Plant for dozens of potentially dangerous chemical and metal substances. Its conclusion: there were no harmful pollutants associated with the Seminole water plant.
A month earlier, the prospect of connecting to public city water was being seriously contemplated by many residents in lieu of the cancer scare that had swept through their out-lying community like a raging fire.
The cost to bring city water to the Acreage, according to Palm Beach County officials was estimated at $300 million, roughly $17,000 per household — a staggering amount in this climate of economic turmoil.
While many residents balk at the cost, others believe it may be the only way to remove the toxic stigma of cancer associated with their once idyllic community, especially if they eventually plan to sell their homes. Meanwhile, residents wait and pray as the mystery deepens.


Landfill sites rejected, decision delayed
News 12 by Chuck Weber
October 8, 2009Where to put a new landfill in Western Palm Beach County has been the subject of debate for years. But a decision will have to wait at least another year.
Wednesday county commissioners considered two locations for the waste dump-- one at State Road 80 and U.S. 98, the other just to the south on County Road 880.
At a packed meeting at the headquarters of the county Solid Waste Authority, Glades residents opposed the northern site, because it's on the main road to their communities.
"It's pitiful for the Glades," complained Pahokee resident Leroy Jackson, Jr. "The Glades area needs something positive."
On the other hand, environmentalists fought the southern location, because of fears a landfill there could contaminate the nearby Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to Palm Beach County's remaining Everglades. It's also next door to a Stormwater Treatment Area, where water runoff from Glades farms is cleansed.
In the end, commissioners decided to reject both locations, and hold off on making a landfill decision, to see if they could find better-- and less expensive-- sites, through the state's planned U.S. Sugar land buy. That land sale is now being challenged in the Florida Supreme Court. However staff at the South Florida Water Management District told commissioners the Court could rule in a matter of months. Commissioner have property in Western Palm Beach County they would trade for the sugar land.
Joanne Davis, of the environmental group 1,000 Friends of Florida, said she was happy with the decision to delay action. "I think it's good to look a little bit further and see if we might get a better deal for the taxpayers and a better deal for the environment," Davis explained.
But Pahokee resident Jackson said even though the location on the main road is out of the picture, he still worries about the eventual landfill site will hurt the Glades communities.
Commissioners said they will revisit the landfill issue next October.


Panel calls for new approach to federal ocean management
October 8, 2009
WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration's Ocean Policy Council is calling for a coordinated approach to restoring fragile ocean areas, many of which have been damaged by decades of piecemeal management decisions by the federal government.
According to Larry Crowder, a professor of marine biology at Duke University, dividing ocean management among multiple agencies has taken a heavy toll on marine ecosystems and economies. "There were 20 different federal ocean science agencies trying to enforce 140 different ocean laws."
Comparing the work of ocean agencies to that of doctors evaluating patients, Crowder said that collaboration is essential. "We need to get all of the ocean specialists in the same room before we can ask: How are we going to treat Long Island Sound?"
The administration's Ocean Policy Council will unite a variety of interests as it works to finalize recommendations for a new ocean management plan by Dec. 9.
The Ocean Policy Task Force released an interim report on Sept. 10, saying the new approach must take into account "environmental sustainability, human health and well-being, national prosperity, adaptation to climate and other environmental change, social justice, foreign policy, and national and homeland security."
In the past, laws have been passed one at a time to address individual issues in U.S.-controlled waters, from regulating scallop fisheries to protecting the feeding grounds for endangered whales.
For example, although the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sets aside fragile areas such as Monterey Bay in California and the Florida Keys for special protection through the National Marine Sanctuaries program, their jurisdiction is only within sanctuary boundaries. "There is no control over downstream affects," Crowder said.
To complicate matters, added Sylvia Earle, a former chief scientist at NOAA, the agency that monitors marine sanctuaries also heads the National Marine Fisheries Service. While the official purpose of the fisheries service is "to promote sustainable fisheries, recovery of protected species, and the health of coastal marine habitats," Earle described it as "about killing and marketing fish."
Although she acknowledged that sanctuaries have expanded to encompass more than 150,000 square miles, Earle said the term "sanctuary" is slightly misleading. "They're management areas."
She said NOAA's current administrator, Jane Lubchenco, has championed fully protected ocean reserves, for the sake of both marine life and economic prosperity. "It's not only good for the fish," Earle said. "If there are to be fishermen, there have to be fish."
Crowder agreed that the Obama administration has said that protecting species is the first priority. Under the "marine spatial planning" approach, all ocean agencies that have activities in a certain area - from the Gulf of Maine to the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Ontario - would collaborate on regulations that support investment and commerce, but also protect species.
However, disparities in international compliance have made protecting species more complicated. "Animals do not know about lines on maps," Crowder said.
While countries such as Germany and Belgium have crafted sound management practices, other nations continue to hunt species that are listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, or practice unsustainable fishing. In Mexico, for example, tuna "fishermen" drop nets as large as football fields from helicopters, snagging dolphins and sea turtles.
To set a precedent, the U.S. must first address how it regulates its own waters, especially given the challenges presented by climate change.
This summer the polar ice cap melted to its third smallest recorded size, and Crowder pointed out that more vessels are seeking passage through the Arctic Ocean. In a sense, he said, "a new ocean is opening up."


Early glance verifies First Coast's threat to rural water supplies
News Jacksonville by Steve Patterson
October 7, 2009
Districts are working on a plan to avoid problems ahead of 2010.
LAKE CITY - Jacksonville's thirst appears to pose a bigger threat to rural North Florida water supplies than the water demand from within that region, early estimates by state agencies show.
The findings bolster earlier forecasts that measures will be needed to limit new demands for ground water in Northeast Florida.
State regulators have already warned that growing water use is likely to create supply issues closer to Jacksonville.
In a meeting Tuesday with people interested in the health of Ichetucknee Springs, about 70 miles southwest of Jacksonville, a state water manager shared preliminary forecasts of how much the region's water consumption could lower Floridan Aquifer levels in that area over the next 20 years.
The forecasts show water use in Northeast Florida lowering those levels in inland areas significantly more than the use by people who actually live in inland communities in Bradford, Union, Alachua and Columbia counties.
Those forecasts suggest that part of the Santa Fe River, into which the Ichetucknee River drains, could have damage to its fish and plants if water use in Northeast Florida isn't controlled.
State regulators are "definitely" seeking other ways to supply that water, said David Hornsby, a project manager with the St. Johns River Water Management District.
He told the group that state rules won't allow withdrawing ground water if it hurts the Santa Fe, which starts near Keystone Heights in Clay County and winds west to the Suwannee River.
Special regulations set a minimum amount of water that has to be preserved for the Santa Fe, which is fed partly by springs connected to the aquifer.
'Cumulative impact' eyed
But Hornsby said it would be a mistake to focus solely on effects from Northeast Florida, describing the risk to the Santa Fe as "a cumulative impact" from many sources.
Managers from two water districts - the St. Johns and Suwannee - will settle jointly on a plan to avoid problems, he said. Both districts are facing a 2010 deadline for doing that.
"The water of the state of Florida is the state's. It is not any one person's or entity's," Hornsby said.
The forecast of trouble is based on estimates that Northeast Florida's population will grow from its 1995 level of 1.2 million people to about 2.7 million by 2030. But those figures are also being rechecked because of the state's sudden drop-off in growth.
While Jacksonville's footprint is worrying water managers now, water use in coastal areas has actually been drawing ground water away from the Suwannee-Santa Fe area for decades, said Trey Grubbs, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey.
Grubbs said under natural conditions, a sort of boundary line arcing from Keystone Heights north through Baker County and into Georgia would represent the divide where ground water would either flow east toward the coast or west toward the Suwannee.
But by 1980, that line had shifted west into Union and Columbia counties, he said. And because more water is being drawn toward the coast today, the line has moved a little further west since then, Grubbs said.


Fla. drilling advocate: Money won't come quickly
Miami Herald by BILL KACZOR
October 7, 2009
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- An offshore drilling advocate acknowledged it'll take years before the state can realize the promises of a revenue windfall from oil and natural gas exploration during a Capitol debate Tuesday.
Frank Matthews, a lawyer representing Florida Energy Associates, said the state likely wouldn't see any money for at least three years.
"It's going to take some time to do it," Matthews said. "I don't believe you're going to get revenue in the next two years as a result of your passing this."
It would take that long to get nomination, leasing and permitting procedures in place, he said, but urged lawmakers to take a long-range view of the state's financial needs.
Matthews and Audubon of Florida policy director Eric Draper debated during a meeting of the House Democratic caucus. It was their first head-to-head confrontation on the issue in Tallahassee.
"Let's let the games begin," Draper declared.
The issue isn't expected to come to a vote until the next regular legislative session that begins in March. The House earlier this year passed a bill that would have allowed drilling as close as three miles from shore. The vote was largely along party lines with Republicans in favor and Democrats against. It died without action, though, in the Senate.
Draper also spoke for a new group of environmentalists, coastal businesses and local governments called Protect Florida's Beaches that has been formed in response to the push for drilling.
He argued the risks of spills and other pollution from drilling, pipelines and on-shore processing facilities was too great in a state with a $562 billion-a-year coastal economy including tourism, fishing and other water-dependent businesses.
"Why pit one economy, which is a dirty economy, an ugly economy and a dangerous economy, against what we currently have, which is clean, safe and, of course, very desirable because people come here to see our sunsets?" Draper asked.
He also said any oil from Florida's waters would amount to only one thousandth of the world market.
Those are the same arguments most Florida politicians had been making until last year when the national Republican ticket adopted its "drill, baby, drill," mantra.
Matthews dismissed Draper's comments, accompanied by photos of oil spills, refineries and drilling rigs, as "hoopla and the horror of what might happen."
He said the risk is nominal and pointed out Florida already faces a potential hazard from millions of barrels of oil that come into the state via ships from such places as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela.
"Is anybody screaming in horror? Is anybody out there picketing beaches?" Matthews asked. "We've got to get it from somebody."
Retired Louisiana State University petroleum research professor Don Goddard, who accompanied Matthews, said the recent blow out of an offshore well that's been polluting waters off Australia's coast couldn't happen in the Gulf of Mexico because of different technology and standards.


Heat wave interrupts fishing pattern
October 7, 2009
Fishing conditions for the rest of the week will heat up, again, to the mid-90s and this will cause water temperatures to reach levels that will slow down the early-morning bite. In fact, expect the faster bite you experienced last week to completely come to a halt.
Just when we thought the fall fishing pattern was here to stay, it gets interrupted with what we hope is the last summer heat wave of the year. I don't know about you, but this current heat wave is making me a little hot under the collar. And with no significant rain predicted in the extended weather forecast, evaporation will increase and take an early toll on our already-too-low lakes.
We are still not boating on lakes that have reached their normal level yet. This past rainy season's total rainfall was only average and therefore didn't do anything more than hold our lakes from further level decline caused by the drought of the past few years. We desperately need a few above-average rainy seasons. Hopefully 2010 will consist of several tropical storms and this upcoming winter will be wetter than normal.
Ok, back to the forecast for the remainder of this week: As the last-quarter moon arrives in four days and the lunar perigee two days later, the later-afternoon bite will be enhanced by the major feeding migration of the day. With no significant afternoon storms, mild winds, and bright clear sunshine, oxygen rates will be highest, enabling fish to feed better than at any other time of the day.
The major feeding migration will occur from 4 to 8 p.m., with a peak period happening right at sunset. The rating should reach 6 or 7 but could be higher in the shallow lakes where water temperatures have a greater impact on the total fish population - once enough oxygen is produced by the bright afternoon sun, fish take advantage and move into feeding areas just as the plants begin to stop photosynthesis.
Both Friday and Saturday the afternoon bite will increase in intensity and duration as more fish join the pattern change brought on by the heat wave. The rating could climb to an 8 or 9 by Friday night.
The early-morning bite will most likely have smaller bass feeding than over the past 10 days. The oxygen content will be less each morning until this summer heat ends and fall resumes.
Fishing Facts
All fish move into patterns, which are created by weather, the moon and fishing pressure. This occurs at greater rates in shallow lakes than in deeper lakes - deeper meaning over 20-foot depths and an average of 15 feet or more.
Fishing Formula
This is the time to work top-water baits through shoreline vegetation right after supper - as long as supper time is over by 6 p.m. The largemouth bass will have to wait until this time of day to have the energy to feed as its body requires, so be ready for an aggressive strike by 2- to 5-pound bass.
To get the big girls to strike the top-water lure, you'll have to slow way down and use several pauses followed by a 45-degree turning of the lure. If you haven't perfected this technique, now is the time to try to. A 10-pound bass will swim up 3 or4 feet if the frog seems to be enjoying itself in the warm summer water, just turning left and right and not in any hurry to get anywhere fast.
Oh, and one reminder when using frogs and other top-water baits: Don't forget to drop the rod tip when the strike occurs before you set the hook, or the chances of ripping the bait out of their mouth increases significantly. She needs to be able to inhale and turn, and the very-brief pause - 1 1/2 seconds - accomplished by the rod drop, provides her the freedom to start consuming her meal. Now show her the "Bill Dance" hook set but make sure you drop the rod to the water surface after you set the hook. This reduces the number of times she will jump as you battle her to the boat.


NASA Plans to 'Bomb the Moon' Friday Morning
ABC2 News by Chris Kline
October 7, 2009
TAMPA BAY, FL - NASA plans to crash a rocket into the moon early Friday, blasting a huge hole in the lunar surface to search for hidden water.
The explosion, scheduled for 7:30 a.m. Florida time, is expected to visible with from Earth using amateur telescopes, according to NASA.
It's also expected to be aired live by NASA-TV and on
According to NASA's website, the Centaur rocket will make impact at the Moon's south pole.
Scientists tell Scientific American Magazine that they expect the blast to be so powerful that a huge plume of debris will be ejected.
A spacecraft will fly through the debris plume, sending data back to Earth before crashing into the lunar surface and creating a second debris plume, according to NASA's website.
Why blast a hole in the moon? NASA wants to see if any water, ice or vapor is revealed in the cloud of debris. If there is, that might provide supplies for a future manned moonbase.
Friday's explosion is part of NASA's LCROSS (Lunar CRater Observing and Sensing Satellite) mission looking for lunar water.
Will you get up early to watch? Click 'add a comment' at the bottom of this page to soundoff.


Time to decide: Should county buy new landfill spot or swap for it? And which spot should it pick?
Palm Beach Post by Jennifer Sorentrue
October 7, 2009
Palm Beach County commissioners will decide today whether to move forward with the purchase land for a new landfill or wait and see if they can swap property they already own for the dump instead.
After months of delays, the county commission is slated to pick between two alternative sites for the western landfill. But at least one commissioners, Karen Marcus, is pushing for the seven-member board to delay its decision until the South Florida Water Management District completes its purchase of land owned by U.S. Sugar.
Marcus hopes the county's Solid Waste Authority will be able to trade land it already owns for property purchased as part of the U.S. Sugar deal. The delay could save the county millions, Marcus said.
The authority owns 1,600 acres next to the refuge, the northernmost remnant of the Everglades. It once planned to build a new landfill on the property, but county commissioners agreed in 2007 to pursue alternate locations. The decision came after environmentalists objected to the site.
Commissioners are now considering two sites west or northwest of 20-Mile Bend for the landfill: a 1,733-acre site near the intersection of State Road 80 and U.S. 98, and a 1,500-acre tract on County Road 880 owned by Hundley Farms.
Today's decision has pitted environmentalists against leaders of the Glades region.
Several environmental groups fear the Hundley Farms site is too close to a filter marsh that cleanses runoff water entering wildlife refuge.
Glades leaders, however, have opposed the State Road 80 site, saying it would be an eyesore marking the gateway to their community.
Palm Beach County's Caucus of Black Elected Officials released a statement last week backing the Hundley Farms site.
But at least two of the group's top members now say the caucus never actually voted in support the farmland.
Mangonia Park Mayor William Albury, the group's president, said Tuesday that a resolution sent Friday to The Palm Beach Post and county commissioners stating that the group's "preferred location" for the landfill is a 1,500-acre tract owned by Hundley Farms was incorrect.
Although Albury signed the resolution, he said the caucus' vote was not about that specific site. Instead, he said the group voted to support Glades leaders in their push to create jobs for their community by bringing a landfill to the area. The resolution that he signed misstated the decision, he said.
"I should have read the document thoroughly," Albury said. "ÖIt should have been we simply support their effort." Former County Commissioner Addie Greene, the group's executive director, disagrees. She said the executive committee voted on Sept. 23 to support the Hundley Farms site, and acknowledges the resolution was incorrect only in the date of the vote that it listed: Sept. 25.
But State Rep. Mack Bernard, who chairs the caucus' executive committee, said the group never voted at all. No decision was made regarding the landfill sites on either date, he said Tuesday.
"That is not correct in my opinion," he said.


Burying CO2: Fix or folly?
Calgary Herald by Graham Thomson
October 6, 2009
It promises to clean our dirty coal, green the oilsands and save the global climate.
Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) -- a complicated title for what is essentially a simple concept.
Instead of continuing to send our emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal, we would capture the emissions in the smokestacks, compress them into a fluid and inject them deep underground.
Thus, CCS promises to turn our world upside down when it comes to our emissions of carbon dioxide.
Proponents argue a fully functional CCS system would fight global warming, while allowing us to continue with the seemingly contradictory practice that got us into the climate change predicament to begin with: burning huge quantities of fossil fuels.
Scientists working on CCS argue the technology will be safe and effective with careful site selection and management.
However, CCS technology is expensive, would require large amounts of fresh water and energy, and is unproven on an industrial level at the scale necessary to achieve significant climate change results.
Nobody knows how billions of tonnes of highly compressed carbon dioxide will behave underground over centuries. Could CO2 eventually leak and find its way into underground sources of drinking water (USDWs)?The challenges relating to CCS are enormous, but some scientists maintain that they can be met.
Leaders in the energy industry suggest we have little option but to embrace CCS. Lord Oxburgh of the Royal Dutch/Shell oil group is blunt: "Sequestration is difficult. But if we don't have sequestration, I see very little hope for the world."
However, detractors say CCS is what you do when you're in a hurry and have no plan "B."
Who's right?The clock is ticking. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, every tonne of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere contributes to global warming.
The best candidates for CCS are large point sources of emissions--the facilities that emit large amounts of CO2.These include industrial facilities such as cement plants, steel factories and most notably, coal-fired power plants.
The old adage that "coal is king" is as true today as it was a century ago.
It keeps the lights on, the fridge cold and the computer charged. You might communicate by cellphone and shop in cyberspace but you likely recharge your electronics via coal. Seventy per cent of the power in Alberta comes from coal-fired plants. In the United States, half of all electrical generation is thanks to coal.
There are over 600 coal-fired power plants in the United States and 21 in Canada.
Coal is inexpensive and abundant. It is also dirty. The average 600-megawatt power plant emits four to five million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.
If we cannot or will not shut down the big emitters of CO2 we have to do something to shut down the emissions. That's where carbon capture and storage comes in.
The Pembina Institute, an environmental organization in Alberta, is candid. "The stakes are high," it said in a January 2008 report which pointed to CCS "as one of a number of potentially effective technologies for reducing GHG emissions on the scale required to combat dangerous climate change."
For the Pembina Institute, CCS is not a silver bullet for global warming but an arrow in a quiver. At this point, though, it's the biggest arrow we've got. Alternative energies (wind and solar) are expensive. Energy conservation is difficult. Nuclear power is controversial and expensive to construct. CCS carries the promise of business as usual with a minimum of inconvenience to the consumer. Under the promise of CCS, we can keep on burning massive amounts of fossil fuels.
To implement CCS on the scale necessary to combat global warming will be, in the words of a proponent, a "large, massive, daunting task." The words do not do it justice. The scale is staggering.
In Alberta, for example, the government wants to sequester five million tonnes of CO2 a year by 2015 in a$2-billion experiment.
In the next phase, it will be spending as much as $3 billion a year in conjunction with the federal government to sequester 30 million tonnes a year
By 2050, Alberta promises to be injecting 140 million tonnes a year. By comparison, the longest-running sequestration project in the world, Statoil's Sleipner project, currently injects a relatively tiny one million tonnes a year.
On a global context, sequestering one billion tonnes of carbon would mean building 3,600 injection projects on the scale of the Sleipner project. Some estimates say we should be sequestering 10 billion tonnes of CO2 a year globally to make a dent in the climate.
David Hawkins, head of the climate change program at the Natural Resources Defense Council and an advocate of CCS, says the scale should not be an impediment: "Yes, burying billions of tons of CO2 is a huge job, but that is not necessarily an argument against CCS. You can't solve a big problem without a big effort."
However, the effort necessary would not be merely "big" but so immense as to be impractical, according to Vaclav Smil, an energy expert at the University of Manitoba.
Smil, a self-described "intellectual agent provocateur," has declared "carbon sequestration is irresponsibly portrayed as an imminently useful option for solving the challenge (of global warming)."
Smil has estimated that simply capturing a fraction of global emissions and sequestering them in one year would require moving volumes of fluid CO2 on a scale similar to the worldwide transportation of oil, a massive enterprise requiring tens of years and trillions of dollars. "Beware of the scale," he said. "Sequestering a mere 1/ 10 of today's global CO2 emissions (about three billion tonnes)would thus call for putting in place an industry that would have to force underground every year the volume of compressed gas larger than or ...equal to the volume of crude oil extracted globally by the petroleum industry whose infrastructures and capacities have been put in place over a century of development. Needless to say, such a technical feat could not be accomplished within a single generation."
Which brings us back to Alberta's assurance that it is "committed to reducing projected emissions by 200 megatonnes by 2050--70 per cent of which will be achieved through CCS."
That target actually falls far short of the IPCC's recommended reductions for industrialized nations--but at this point nobody knows if Alberta, or anyone else, can even reach a moderate target via CCS.
It's not just Alberta politicians who may be getting ahead of themselves with CCS.
In 2008, U. S. President Barack Obama praised the promise of CCS in an interview with CBC by saying, "I think that it is possible for us to create a set of clean energy mechanisms that allow us to use things not just like oilsands, but also coal."
Canadian Environment Minister Jim Prentice has already proclaimed CCS a proven technology and he confidently predicted success tomorrow: "It is applied commercially in Enhanced Oil Recovery kinds of operations and it will be commercial in the future."
The reality of CCS is that it is as much about the politics as about the science or economics. The political assurances are premature, the promises ethereal, but for anyone dependent on fossil fuels the allure of "clean coal" is irresistible.
If CCS is to make coal "clean" it has to dispose of the dirty emissions somewhere. And that takes us deep underground.
To get a good idea of where to go about sequestering CO2 in Canada, perhaps the best source is the United States Department of Energy's website, which contains the Carbon Sequestration Atlas of the United States and Canada (Second Edition).
The Atlas is an impressive 140-page report with colourful, informative maps that graphically illustrate the locations of the largest emitters of carbon dioxide and the best locations to bury those emissions.
As the title suggests this is a transboundary investigation that looks at carbon sources and potential sequestration locations as if the 49th parallel didn't exist. And it surely does not exist underground in the geologic formations where Canada and the U. S. hope one day to bury a large portion of their carbon waste.
The Atlas is also a graphic illustration of how the Americans are looking at carbon sequestration, not merely as a national issue but as a continental strategy.
The best geologic formations for sequestering carbon dioxide are mature oil and natural gas reservoirs, deep unmineable coal seams and, most importantly, deep saline formations or aquifers. The aquifers are sponge-shaped rock formations filled with salt water and are prevalent throughout western North America, including Alberta and Saskatchewan.
They potentially have an enormous storage capacity for carbon dioxide estimated to range from 3,900 billion tonnes to 12,200 billion tonnes--enough theoretical space to sequester CO2 emissions for centuries. But the Atlas has a caveat: "Much less is known about saline formations because they lack the characterization experience that industry has acquired through resource recovery from oil and gas reservoirs and coal seams.
"Therefore, there is a greater amount of uncertainty regarding the suitability of saline formations for CO2 storage."
It is in saline aquifers that scientists plan to sequester most of our carbon dioxide emissions.
We can catch a glimpse of how carbon capture and sequestration might work on a grand scale by watching how it already works on the small. CCS is underway at three unrelated pilot projects in Weyburn, Sask., Algeria and off the coast of Norway where a total of roughly five million tonnes of CO2 is injected into geologic formations each year.
In each of these projects, the capture of the CO2 is not performed at a coal-fired plant but is part of the routine process of stripping excess CO2 during the production of natural or synthetic gas.
In the Weyburn project the liquefied CO2 is captured from a coal gasification plant in North Dakota, compressed into a fluid and shipped 330 kilometres by pipeline across the border to Saskatchewan.
There, it is injected underground not into a saline aquifer but into an old oil field to squeeze out more oil in a well-known process called enhanced oil recovery (EOR).
However, EOR is not the same as CCS. EOR has been employed over a relatively short term (decades) to recover oil from a depleted field. It is not concerned with storing carbon dioxide indefinitely, or even with keeping track of where the CO2 ends up after the EOR process is completed.
Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal explained the difference between the two in a cautionary speech in May to the 8th Annual Conference on Carbon Sequestration in Pittsburgh.
Freudenthal has high hopes for CCS but admitted the still unproven technology for long-term sequestration is "not ready for primetime." As Freudenthal points out, CO2 injected underground in a saline aquifer can form carbonic acid and if that happens "you have more than an adequate mixture to dissolve cement in an oilfield plug" and cause a leak.
That's why he says carbon capture and storage projects will have to be designed differently than enhanced oil recovery projects. "It is not proper to equate EOR activities automatically with CCS," he concludes.
Using CCS to recover more oil is, of course, economically attractive -so attractive that a recently released report on CCS for the Alberta government emphasizes the Enhanced Oil Recovery side of CCS, arguing that by injecting 450 million tonnes of carbon dioxide underground, the province could recover an extra 1.4 billion barrels of oil from conventional reservoirs worth $105 billion (assuming $75 per barrel of oil).
Let's look at that from a different angle. Burning three barrels of oil on average generates about one tonne of CO2 which means that burning those 1.4 billion barrels will produce about 444 million tonnes of CO2-almost exactly the amount of CO2 injected in the first place. In other words, Alberta could claim to have buried 450 million tonnes of CO2 but as far as the global climate is concerned almost no carbon dioxide would have been removed from the atmosphere.Gov.Freudenthal's warning points to another
concern with large-scale CCS: leaks of carbon dioxide through old oil and gas wells.
Western North America--the region where most of the CCS projects will take place--is a veritable pincushion of oil and gas wells, some dating back a century or more. Alberta has an estimated 350,000 oil and gas wells puncturing the earth.
There will be leaks.
David Keith, a CCS expert based at the University of Calgary, said as much in a paper investigating the leakage of wastewaster pumped deep underground in Florida that made its into underground sources of drinking water. The analogy to large scale CCS is inescapable.
"It seems unlikely that large-scale injection of CO2 can proceed without at least some leakage," concluded Keith. The answer, he says, is to create procedures "dealing with leaks when they occur."
Experts such as Keith think a catastrophic leak is a remote possibility and that the chance that a properly engineered CCS project would contaminate groundwater is a "long shot." Keith, a firm proponent of CCS, argues that any risks associated with CCS are far less than the consequences of allowing global warming to remain unchecked: "Just to put this in perspective, right now we kill 3,000 people a year from fine particulate pollution from coal-fired power plants. You've got to have some perspective on what the relative risks are."
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a supporter of limited CCS, predicts the vast majority of CO2 will stay in place.
The best sites would be those with strong cap rocks and few if any old wells puncturing the rock. "If, however, you have abandoned wells or if you have faults and fractures that create a short circuit for the water, it could go up those," says Dr. Sally Benson of Stanford University, also a proponent of CCS.
According to the MIT report The Future of Coal, "[t]here are large numbers of orphaned or abandoned wells that may not be adequately plugged, completed, or cemented...Little is known about the specific probability of escape from a given well, the likelihood of such a well existing within a potential site, or the risk such a well presents in terms of potential leakage volume or consequence."
It should be noted that coal-fired plants won't be injecting pure, food-grade CO2 into the ground but rather a soup of other elements and chemicals.
"Captured CO2 often contains various by-products of combustion processes such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulphur dioxide (SO2)as well as trace heavy metals including lead, mercury and cadmium," says a Greenpeace report into carbon capture and storage called False Hope.
The report warns that "co-storage of CO2 with sulphur dioxide (SO2) increases the risk of leakage due to its chemical properties. In contact with water, SO2 forms the highly corrosive sulphuric acid that more readily dissolves materials, such as the cement used to seal wells. A greater risk of leakage means higher likelihood of damage and liability.
"How much SO2, if any, to allow in captured CO2 streams will need to be determined."
The American Water Works Association --representing more than 4,600 utilities that supply water to 180 million people in North America--is afraid large-scale CCS projects could endanger underground sources of drinking water not just through leaks but through displacement of saline.
Simply put, the pressurized carbon dioxide plume injected over years could force salt water from the aquifer into underground sources of drinking water.
"This can cause saline aquifers located close to the carbon dioxide plume to be displaced into existing USDWs (Underground Sources of Drinking Water), contaminating the freshwater aquifer and rendering it unusable as a drinking water resource," said Don Broussard, a board director with the AWWA, in a presentation to the U. S. government in 2008.
What happens when we have a leak? Who is responsible?
At this point, we don't know. This uncertainty could bring large-scale CCS to a halt before it even gets started. The companies operating the sequestration sites would probably be liable during the sequestration process and government would probably take over after a site was decommissioned. But this remains undecided.
In the race to establish large-scale CCS projects, the United States is moving quickly to address the complicated questions of how to regulate the process and assign or assume liability.
In July 2008, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new federal requirements for protecting the nation's drinking water to "address the unique nature of CO2 for GS[geological storage].The relative buoyancy of CO2, its corrosivity in the presence of water, the potential presence of impurities in captured CO2, its mobility within subsurface formations, and large injection volumes anticipated at full scale deployment warrant specific requirements tailored to this new practice."
Since 2005, the EPA has held seven workshops and two public stakeholder meetings on the effective management of geological carbon storage. Canada has held none.
This summer Natural Resources Canada helped create a federal-provincial CCS Network to coordinate various provincial and federal departments that are working on issues such as the protection of groundwater. However, like much of the CCS regulatory development in Canada, the workings of the provincial-federal CCS Network is a closed-door process that is difficult for the public to unlock.
Alberta, at this point, seems intent on regulating large-scale CCS with rules under its Class III well system that is designed for small-scale injection of acid gas through the Energy Resources Conservation Board. Acid gas is carbonic acid and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) that is stripped from sour gas wells and injected into geologic formations. The practice has been performed in western Canada for 20 years and, like enhanced oil recovery, is offered by proponents as proof that CCS can work safely.
Acid gas injections, however, are small compared with the plans for large-scale CCS. "The current ERCB requirements for acid gas injection need to be reviewed in light of the large volumes of CO2 which will be injected," says Mary Griffiths, a renowned former researcher on CCS and water issues for the Pembina Institute. Her position is bolstered by the EPA which studied acid gas injections in the U. S. and concluded new regulations are needed for full-scale CCS.
Alberta has a series of partnerships studying CCS, including the Heartland Area Redwater Project (HARP), the Alberta Saline Aquifer Project (ASAP), and the Wabamun Area CO2 Storage Project(WASP), demonstrating, among other things, a talent for acronyms
All are investigating a workable CCS system but none so far has an operating pilot project that captures CO2 from a coal-fired smokestack, transports it by pipeline and sequesters it in the earth. But then, nobody else in the world has managed to do that, either.
Full-scale CCS projects remain stubbornly attached to the drawing board. Some promising pilot projects, such as one in northern Germany, have been held up by public fear over injecting large amounts of CO2 underground. The opposition has been dubbed NUMBY--Not Under My Backyard.
The three to five pilot projects Alberta hoped to be approved this summer are still in negotiations with the province over funding. The number of potential projects has been reduced to three, at most.
None are in the oil sands.
A cautionary tale can be found in Alberta's oil sands that initially looked to CCS as a way to mitigate the industry's huge carbon footprint. With CCS, Premier Ed Stelmach was proud and optimistic that he had found a way to green the tar sands and improve his province's battered environmental image. "Alberta believes CCS can help ensure the economy and the environment both thrive in the 21st century. That is the backbone of Alberta's position, a pragmatic approach that will allow us to continue to make a significant contribution to the Canadian economy while at the same time protecting the environment."
However, oil sands companies have backed away from CCS, realizing the technology will likely not help the industry reduce CO2 pollution because the oil sands have too many diffuse emission sources, such as the huge trucks used in the extraction process. In 2008, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation obtained internal federal briefing notes that explained that CCS is better suited to large single-point industrial sources of CO2 such as coal-fired plants. "Only a small percentage of emitted CO2 is 'capturable' since most emissions aren't pure enough," the notes say. "Only limited near-term opportunities exist in the oil sands and they largely relate to upgrader facilities."
Despite this, the Alberta government insists CCS will somehow help the oil sands in a significant way. The government's assurance that 140 million tonnes of CO2 will be sequestered each year requires explanation. Even a firm supporter of CCS has his doubts. "I don't know where they got that 140 number from," says David Keith.
"The Alberta government to my knowledge does not have any substantive, bottom-up technological economic analysis that produces that number and the reality is that it is beyond anybody's ability to guess how the different technologies shake down by 2050."
Many sincere and credible scientists argue that CCS remains the best mitigation option and some environmental groups such as the Pembina Institute advocate for CCS as a bridging mechanism to reduce greenhouse gases while building and investing in renewable energy.
The technology holds the promise of massive reductions in emissions but any success may ultimately be limited to a relatively few projects due to cost, liability, technology, scale and public skepticism. CCS may turn out to be another costly Faustian bargain and classic technical fix.
Instead of buying us time to find alternate sources of clean energy, CCS is buying politicians' time to avoid making tough, unpopular decisions. The allure of CCS as a political fix threatens to divert resources from energy efficiency and delay more durable reforms.
"It is being used as the excuse for not doing anything," said Dr. David Suzuki in an interview. He compares CCS to dead-end, dangerous or destructive practices of the past, including widespread spraying of DDT, false hopes raised by nuclear fusion, and the dumping of nerve gas and other toxins into the oceans. "CCS is exactly the same thing based on the observation that when you pump carbon dioxide into the ground you can squeeze a little more oil out of a depleting well and low-and-behold the carbon doesn't come back out. What's it doing down there?...How long will it stay down?We have no idea."
Current CCS technology will also aggravate the growing energy-water nexus. It takes energy to move water and it takes water to make energy. Coal-fired power plants are among the largest users of water in both Canada and the United States and often compete with other industries for water.
Retrofitting coal-fired plants with CCS will increase energy demands by 20 to 30 per cent. As a consequence CCS could substantially increase freshwater consumption by fossil-based power plants.
Many economic alternatives to CCS exist but to date they have received little attention. They include the systematic reduction of fossil fuel consumption, improved energy efficiency, the control of fugitive emissions or leaks from the energy industry, a dedicated carbon tax, and the protection and restoration of important carbon sinks such as forests, grasslands and peat bogs. Technologies that capture carbon from the air or convert CO2 to formic acid may also prove to be more economic than CCS.
The Bottom Line
In sum, the marriage of a brave new technology with a political fix for an immediate climate problem could have negative long-term consequences for Canadian taxpayers and water drinkers without stabilizing the climate. If we ultimately decide to move forward on the sequestration of billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide in underground saline aquifers, we need strong regulations, clear liability, effective oversight, sound science and a transparent decision-making process. To do otherwise would be sheer folly


Environmentalists say climate change threatens 25 national parks
Associated Press by The Canadian Press
October 6, 2009
NEW YORK — The Natural Resources Defence Council and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization say 25 national parks are threatened by climate change.
A report called "National Parks in Peril: The Threats of Climate Disruption" say the changes in landscapes and ecosystems are harming plants, trees and wildlife, but also threaten human activity in the parks and manmade structures. The factors include a loss of ice and snow, including melting glaciers; a loss of water, especially in the West; and higher seas and stronger coastal storms, which leads to flooding in coastal areas.
The parks on the list are Acadia National Park, Maine; Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland and Virginia; Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico; Biscayne National Park, Florida; Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina; Colonial National Historical Park, Virginia; Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska; Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida; Ellis Island National Monument, New York Harbor; Everglades National Park, Florida; Glacier National Park, Montana; Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee; Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana; Joshua Tree National Park, California; Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada; Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado; Mount Rainier National Park, Washington; Padre Island National Seashore, Texas; Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado; Saguaro National Park, Arizona; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota; Virgin Islands National Park, U.S. Virgin Islands; Coral Reef National Monument, U.S. Virgin Islands; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming; Yosemite National Park, California; and Zion National Park, Utah.


Erin Brockovich law firm finds high radiation levels in some Acreage water
Palm Beach Post by Mitra Malek
October 6, 2009
THE ACREAGE - Radiation levels were higher than normal at the homes of as many as 10 Acreage families with brain tumors or brain cancer, according to a New York City law firm affiliated with the nationally known environmental activist Erin Brockovich.
The radiation appears to be coming from well water, said Lemuel Srolovic, an attorney with the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, which is investigating a suspected cancer cluster in the semi-rural community. A Stuart engineering company hired by the firm measured the radiation in mid-September using a Geiger counter.
"Generally, it showed there appeared to be radioactive material in ground water being drawn up," Srolovic said.
A report issued last week by the state Department of Environmental Protection similarly found elevated levels of radioactive particles in four wells in The Acreage. But the DEP stressed that the radiation can occur naturally, and the report said the problem is "simple" for homeowners to address by installing water-treatment systems.
The DEP report found no evidence that water in The Acreage faces hazards from man-made pollution. But a state Health Department investigation into the possible cancer cluster is continuing, as is a separate inquiry by Brockovich's firm.
Brockovich, best known for being portrayed by Julia Roberts in an Oscar-winning move, is scheduled to appear Thursday in West Palm Beach to update residents on the firm's findings.
The law firm's investigation started after the state Health Department in May began a resident-prompted study of brain cancer rates in the community. That study is now in its second phase, examining nine children who were diagnosed with brain tumors from 1995 through 2008.
Meanwhile, the DEP last week declared that its testing of 50 randomly selected Acreage wells showed that water in the 45,000-resident community generally meets state health standards. None of the 50 homes tested appear to have included families suffering from brain cancer or brain tumors.
"Our effort was kind of a supplemental testing to fill in the holes we feel weren't filled in by the DEP," Srolovic said.
The law firm's digging is fine with state environmental officials, said DEP spokesman Doug Tobin.
"While DEP has concluded our initial and secondary testing in and around The Acreage, the department encourages any other independent review or testing," Tobin said.
EnviroHome Inc., the environmental engineering firm that Weitz & Luxenberg hired, used a Geiger counter throughout the 10 residents' homes and yards. Only at water sources — wells, faucets and filtration systems — did readings rise higher than "background," or normal, radiation levels.
That prompted the Stuart company to take well water samples from nine of the 10 locations. Results are expected later this week and will include analysis for radium-226 and radium-228, radioactive metals that could cause cancer at elevated levels.
Geiger counters are used to read radiation levels, but can't tell what is causing the radioactivity.
Srolovic said he was concerned about the DEP's test results.
"Certainly the Florida DEP testing at Seminole Water Plant and at private wells generally show widespread radiation in the water," Srolovic said. "The presence of this harmful material in water is a matter of concern."
All 18 wells that the DEP tested for radium showed some level of the metal. Only three of those wells showed levels that failed to meet drinking water standards, and one well showed elevated levels of alpha particles, a measure of radiation.
Weitz & Luxenberg has neither filed a lawsuit nor been retained to represent anyone in the community.
Brockovich became famous from the 2000 movie, which portrayed her showdown against Pacific Gas & Electric Co.
Without formal legal or scientific training, Brockovich, a legal assistant, played a crucial role in pursuing a lawsuit alleging that the corporate giant had allowed toxic chromium-6 to leak into ground water near Hinkley, Calif., In 1996, the company agreed to pay $333 million in damages to more than 600 Hinkley residents.


My View: Education and environment: We need quick work on both by  Bob Crowley
October 6, 2009
Since my move back to Florida from Louisiana, I have fallen more and more for a city that a ridge line runs through — Tallahassee. I sometimes retreat to the top of the Capitol and look over its grandeur, beauty and landmarks.
But then something begins to gnaw at my innards. Amidst this wonder and grandeur, things are amiss. First, to the south, one of the crown jewels of the Tallahassee area, Wakulla Springs is dimming rather than sparkling — despite the heroic effort of the Florida State Park Service.
On a good day the water there has a chartreuse cast. You can't see the springs, let alone the bottom of it as you could 40 years ago, due to the algae bloom occasioned by our profligate use of lawn fertilizer, unwise sewage treatment and unretrieved dog poop.
The limpkin, a graceful shore bird has gone away from the Wakulla. The apple snail, which constituted its diet, preceded the limpkin in departing.
But on the floors below when I visit the top floor of the Capitol is an even worse decay that requires deep, deep cleaning. But I don't think a bucket of water and a bottle of Mr. Clean will take care of the problem. Maybe bleach, lye and a clean sweep will help.
Florida's environment, which was on the rebound and in pretty good shape when I left Jacksonville in 1971 for the already environmentally ruined Louisiana, supported approximately the same population as Louisiana (around 4 million). Both states had 10 Congressmen.
Years later, Louisiana has six Congressmen and Florida has worked its guts out to try to enter the top three states in population and Congressmen in the nation — and happily failed — but not by much; we're No. 4.
Louisiana's effort to restore its coast (sold off to oilmen and despoiled by environmental pirates) is failing while Florida seeks to import the same environmental gangsters who have despoiled Louisiana's coast and made it super-vulnerable to hurricanes.
I'm talking about offshore oil drilling, which is feverishly backed by Florida's governor and some legislators as a jobs and revenue-enhancing measure.
Leadership's role
Florida's governor has some vague ideas that the environment must be held hostage to oil developers, that public education is needed, but so are vouchers, and that it's okay for the Leon County School Board to cut property taxes in the same year that it laid off 90 teachers. Otherwise, why doesn't Charlie Crist say something other than the smarmy nothing-isms he so often utters.
Crist should have an even better idea that in this economic climate teachers need pay increases and, very importantly, their tuition paid at public and private colleges by the corporate entity they work for, the state.
There are enough sales tax exemptions that, if they were repealed, the new revenue would go a long way toward making public education a top priority rather than the bottom feeder it's become.
An educated populace taught by a brainy and informed teaching force is the underpinning of both Florida's economy and its environment. Education develops thought and Florida's public schools and teachers deserve those pay raises and post-graduate tuition paid for by a state that should be weary of quick fixes and shortcuts and ready to do something about its intellectual and environmental future.
We human beings are a successful, lemming-like species not headed for a cliff but rather a watery grave 125 feet deep if we don't soon address the problems of the environment and public education.
Recent reports from the news agency, Reuters, indicate that if we don't stop firing carbon into the atmosphere from coal-fueled electric generating plants we will melt the polar ice by 2020 and see a rise of 250 feet in sea level.
That would put Tallahassee under 125 feet of water.
William Faulkner, in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in literature, said that he thought man would not only endure but prevail.
Prevailing means more than sitting on a log or frittering away God's blessings. One can only hope that a state perched on a precarious environmental and educational ledge would make the right moves by stopping the oil privateers and helping teachers and school employees do their jobs better and get paid a decent wage for doing them even in tough economic times.
The monster storm, Katrina, has restored some semblance of sanity and respect for the environment to the often loony state of Louisiana, but that's only natural for a state that's looking at an environmental death sentence — which is what Florida will be if the oil developers are allowed in.


Nursery replenishes Lake O grass species
News Press by kevin lollar
October 6, 2009
Aquatic plant populations decimated by hurricanes.
MOORE HAVEN - With the help of an aquatic plant nursery, Lake Okeechobee is getting a little boost to two important aquatic species.
The Army Corps of Engineers built the nursery near the western shore of the lake and is growing pondweed and eelgrass to help replenish the lake's grass population.
"The idea came after the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons," corps biologist Jon Morton said. "The hurricanes churned the water up and turned a clear lake into a muddy mess, cutting off the sunlight to the plants. The hurricanes also ripped up the plants with wind and waves, so eelgrass and pondweed all but disappeared from the lake."
Illinois pondweed, also known as peppergrass, and eelgrass, also known as tapegrass, are submerged vegetation that are important to the lake's health.
"Submerged communities are habitat for fish and other organisms; they trap sediments and remove contaminants from the water," Morton said. "The lake is so shallow that it gets incredible wave action so one of the most important, if not the most important, functions is that they dissipate wave energy."
Healthy grass beds make a healthy lake and fish populations - good news for fishermen, including thousands of Lee
County residents who fish Okeechobee.
Lee also benefits from the grasses because they clean the lake's water, which leads to a cleaner Caloosahatchee River.
Designed and built by the corps for $25,000, the nursery was completed in December.
Peppergrass and tapegrass have started coming back on the north and west sides of the lake, and in March, Morton collected 16 samples of each species and planted them in 12-foot-by-4-foot 20-inch deep wooden nursery tanks, where they grew and reproduced rapidly.
What makes this nursery different is that water for the plants is pumped in from the lake.
"We have actual lake water, so the water chemistry is the same as the plants were growing in under natural conditions," Morton said.
For reasons not yet understood, the grasses didn't recover on the south side of Lake Okeechobee.
In August, to help jumpstart grass growth in that area, Morton placed 50 peppergrass and 50 tapegrass plants in each of three 9-square-meter cages (to keep grazers such as turtles from eating them); he also planted 25 of each species in three unprotected plots.
This process is known as the founder-colony approach: Plant a small number of specimens and let them expand throughout the area.
Plants inside the cages and out are thick and healthy.
Mary Martin of Roland and Mary Ann Martin's Marina in Clewiston said she's glad people are focusing on the lake's health.
"Peppergrass is the best thing in the world; so is eelgrass. They're the start of the whole food chain. They're great habitat for fish grass shrimp," she said.
The nursery is also being used for research.
One project involves the newly discovered non-native grass Luziola subintegra, which was recently given the official name tropical American watergrass: Researchers want to know how long Luziola seeds remain viable under natural conditions.
In December 2007, Mike Bodle of the South Florida Water Management District's Division of Aquatic Plants, discovered a patch of tropical American watergrass along the northwestern shore of the lake. It was the first documented example of Luziola in the United States. No one knows how this native of Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean reached Florida.
It's an aggressive plant that poses a threat to native vegetation, so research at the nursery could help find ways to control it.
"Luziola got into the Caloosahatchee recently," Bodle said. "We treated it, but it definitely got out there. We've found it in the rim canal, and it's also been found in Miami-Dade County. That's alarming."
Other research includes looking at herbicides for the non-native plants water hyacinth and water lettuce and the growth rates of bulrush, spikerush and duck potato.
But the main interest is growing peppergrass and eelgrass.
"A lot of guys are asking why they're seeing the grasses come back," Morton said. "There's a misconception that it's because we're planting it. But it's mostly natural recovery.
"We can't compete with Mother Nature, but we can provide a supplement to what she's doing."


Palm Beach County landfill proposals up for a vote Wednesday
South Florida Sun Sentinel by Andy Reid
October 6, 2009
PALM BEACH COUNTY - Neighborhood objections and environmental fights keep pinballing potential sites for a new landfill all over Palm Beach County.
After decades of indecision, county commissioners on Wednesday are expected to decide between the two newest alternative locations -- or opt for yet another delay with the hopes of trading for far-flung farmland in the Everglades Agricultural Area.
The county's Solid Waste Authority owns 1,600 acres pegged for a new landfill on the west side of the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, land it picked after residents west of Boca Raton in the 1980s scuttled plans for a landfill near their neighborhoods.
Environmental concerns about putting a landfill next to the refuge prompted the county in 2007 to once again go looking for other locations. That produced the two alternative sites, which are attracting opposition of their own.
The two alternatives west of Royal Palm Beach are the 1,500-acre Hundley Farms, just north of Southern Boulevard, and a 1,700-acre parcel farther north at the northwest intersection of State Road 80 and U.S. 98.
Glades business leaders oppose putting a landfill at the S.R. 80-U.S. 98 intersection, the stretch of road they consider the gateway to their towns.
Environmental groups are fighting the Hundley Farms site, because it sits next to a stormwater treatment area alongside the wildlife refuge that filters water headed to the Everglades.
Wind-blown trash and polluted water potentially leaking out of the landfill are among the environmental concerns, said Charles Lee, senior vice president of Florida Audubon.
"A big, nasty, tea bag form of a landfill with water trickling through it ... you have to scratch your head and wonder why we are even talking about the Hundley site anymore," Lee said.
Solid Waste Authority staffers estimate that long-term, it would be about $137 million less expensive to acquire, develop and operate a landfill on the Hundley Farms site. They point out that the county's current landfill operates safely next to the Grassy Waters Preserve, which provides drinking water to West Palm Beach.
Another option for commissioners would be passing on both the alternative sites and trying to negotiate a land swap with the South Florida Water Management District.
The commission meets at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Solid Waste Authority administrative building at 7501 North Jog Road, West Palm Beach.


State wants to set water quality standards by Fred Hiers
October 5, 2009
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has joined the legal fray over who should determine the state's new water quality standards, arguing that state agencies should set pollution limits and that federal government standards would be too strict.
Florida Department of Agriculture officials are trying to block a proposed settlement between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a Florida environmental group in which the EPA would set pollution limits for Florida's lakes and rivers. On Nov. 16, the state department will ask a federal judge to block a proposed agreement and allow the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to set those standards.
"I think EPA's numbers would be overly protective. The EPA errs on the side of caution all the time," said Rich Budell, director of the Florida Department of Agriculture's Office of Agricultural Water Policy.
"We don't believe the EPA has the technical expertise and the knowledge of Florida water data," he said. "I know EPA hasn't collected the data and I know that FDEP has collected the data."
Budell said the FDEP, which has studied Florida's rivers and lakes for many years, was better suited to determine water standards and "wouldn't select a number as protective as the EPA would. We want the FDEP to do this … not EPA from Washington."
The pollutants EPA is expected to set standards for are primarily phosphates and nitrogen, found principally in fertilizers.
While Florida already has limits for nitrogen and phosphorous when it comes to maximum daily loads entering the state's water bodies, it doesn't have such standards when it comes to average allowable limits.
Instead, Florida water officials have for many years only said that nutrient levels, such as for phosphorous and nitrogen, should not create an imbalance between flora and fauna, but never dictated specific levels for those nutrients.
Originally, the FDEP was working with the EPA to help establish average allowable limits for unwanted nutrients in water, but stopped when EPA was sued over the issue, the FDEP's Mary Paulic said last month.
Budell said EPA has indicated during past weeks that the standards it will propose next month will be significantly tougher than what Florida scientists had been considering.
"It's going to cost huge amounts of money to reach those standards," Budell said, warning that water and sewer bills would skyrocket.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson is also asking the state's water management districts to challenge the federal EPA during the November hearing, which will be held in Tallahassee.
Bronson said that the EPA creating water standards undermines FDEP's efforts to develop nutrient standards and would cost the state billions of dollars to meet.
"These new standards would impose regulations far in excess of anything being considered in any other state, drastically increasing costs for all consumers," Bronson said in a press release.
Also suing EPA is the Florida Water Environmental Association Utility Council, which is a group of more than 50 Florida utilities. The group is also trying to block EPA from establishing maximum acceptable pollutant levels.
The group said in its lawsuit that EPA is moving too quickly in setting those pollutant limits.
EPA spokeswoman Davina Marraccini said her agency's timetable for determining water quality limits are set, in part, by the U.S. Clean Water Act and was triggered in January when the EPA issued a "formal determination for numeric nutrients." That meant that one year after beginning the process, standards have to be established, Marraccini said. In this case, that means January 2010.
Marraccini said it was too early for Florida officials to complain about EPA's water standards.
"I think it's a little premature what those numbers will look like and whether they're achievable," she said.
She also said EPA would still evaluate FDEP's water quality recommendations if the agency submitted them.
The ultimate goal by having EPA establish standards is not to ride roughshod over Florida water agency officials, but to increase the "efficiency and effectiveness" of how Florida establishes its own water standards, Marraccinni said.


UM researcher uses Hurricane Katrina to make coral connection
Miami Herald by LUISA YANEZ
October 6, 2009
The same oceanic temperature shifts that created Hurricane Katrina in 2005 also caused warm water to settle over parts of the Florida Keys, triggering a mass coral bleaching event that affected up to 90 percent of reef cover in the area.
Now, a study led by a University of Miami professor who studied the waters before, during and after Katrina has found that bleaching can make corals more susceptible to disease and, in turn, coral disease can exacerbate the negative effects of bleaching.
A paper in the October issue of the journal Ecology shows that when they occur together, this combination of afflictions causes greater harm to corals than either does on its own.
``Traditionally, scientists have attributed coral declines after mass bleaching events to the bleaching alone,'' said Marilyn Brandt, a post-doctoral researcher at the UM's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and the lead author on the paper.
``This study shows that the interplay between diseases and bleaching can play a much larger role than we realized.''
Brandt and her colleagues examined coral colonies in the Florida Keys before, during and after Hurricane Katrina to determine the relationship between bleaching and coral disease.
The researchers found that the coral diseases they saw were related to bleaching, but in different ways. The prevalence of white plague disease increased during the bleaching, which Brandt said may have to do with increased susceptibility to the disease.
Because diseases happen on a much finer scale than mass bleaching events, Brandt suggests that management of coral ecosystems should involve more frequent monitoring to determine the underlying causes of coral damage.
``Understanding how these different stressors interact can help explain the mortality pattern we see after large-scale bleaching events,'' Brandt said. ``If we understand what's causing the mortality, we can institute control measures that are more specific to the causes.''


Bronson, Environmental Groups Battle Over Water Treatment
The Jacksonville Observer by News Service of Florida
October 5, 2009
The state’s agriculture commissioner and environmental groups are at odds over a potential plan to implement nutrient standards for bodies of water in Florida.
Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charlie Bronson is intervening in a proposed settlement of a lawsuit filed by a Florida environemtnal group against the U.S. Environemental Protection Agency, saying that the proposed settlement between the two groups is “arbitrary and unreasonable.”
Earthjustice, a public law interest firm, filed a suit in the Northern District of Florida in July 2008 on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John’s Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club, arguing for stricter water standards.
In 2008, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection had concluded that half of the state’s rivers and more than half of its lakes had poor water quality. The St. Johns River has experienced a toxigenic blue green algae bloom. And Tampa Bay has suffered from bacterial outbreaks as well.
In August, the EPA proposed a settlement that would compel the state to comply with strict limits on nutrient standards for the state’s bodies of water. The proposal is still subject to a judge’s approval.
But Bronson and the South Florida Water Management District are challenging the order. Bronson said the EPA’s proposal would preempt efforts by the state Department of Environmental Protection to develop science-based nutrient standards and cost the state millions of dollars.
“These new standards would impose regulations far in excess of anything being considered in any other state, drastically increasing costs for all consumers,” Bronson said in a release. “It is important that the court understands the magnitude of this issue and the standards for controlling nutrients in our state.”
Bronson has asked the state’s other four water management districts to join him in the intervention, prompting outrage from Earthjustice attorneys.
“This is shameful,” said Earthjustice Attorney David Guest. “There are toxic algae blooms all over the state, water treatment plants closing due to nutrient poisoning, and yet Bronson directs the state to work for the polluters and against the people.”


Don't dump on taxpayers
Palm Beach Post by Editors
October 5, 2009
In choosing a landfill site, Palm Beach County commissioners once again are asking for a legal battle that the commission may not win.
If commissioners on Wednesday accept a staff recommendation to build the landfill on 1,500 acres of farmland owned by the Hundley family, they likely will draw a court challenge from environmental groups over pollution in the Everglades. We all know how the county fared the last time commissioners belittled such a challenge. The county still hasn't recouped the $120 million spent to put Scripps Florida on Mecca Farms.
An environmental lawsuit blocked that plan, and a lawsuit is all but assured if the county seeks permits to build a 200-foot-tall mountain of incinerated trash next to a South Florida Water Management District treatment marsh west of 20-Mile Bend. The marsh removes phosphorous from surface water flowing into a northern remnant of the Everglades. It is needed to meet the terms of a 1992 court order that requires sharp reductions in phosphorous levels. A landfill means two things: garbage and birds. Environmental groups are prepared to argue that the garbage will not be contained in floods and high winds, and that the birds will poop. More poop means more phosphorous.
The Solid Waste Authority, in recommending that commissioners select the Hundley site over another 2 miles away, is basically saying, "Bring it on." If selected now, a new landfill could open by 2018, about six years before the existing landfill at Jog Road near 45th Street will fill up. The schedule provides five years for permitting, including lawsuits.
But what happens if the county loses those lawsuits? Five years from now, the county could be no closer to finding a place for all that garbage. Such an outcome, however, doesn't figure into the authority's recommendation. "I have no crystal ball," Executive Director Mark Hammond said, "But I believe, at the end of the day, we can permit that site."
The second site, at State Road 80 and U.S. 98, has drawn objections from Glades area leaders, who fear that a landfill on the main road to the Glades would send the wrong message. With landfills, including the county's existing facility, lining Florida's Turnpike that concern matters less than the prospect of lawsuits.
A third option, which Commissioner Karen Marcus will present, would delay the decision until next year to line up a land swap with the water district. Commissioners put off a decision six months ago to get specific sites, but the district says that it cannot offer specifics before closing on the U.S. Sugar deal.
Commissioners should not rush to put a landfill where it could damage the Everglades. The delays could be devastating, and the public would pay for the commission's arrogance.


Don't let feds backslide on Everglades by Editorial
October 5, 2009
Here we go again. Congress is considering a $34 million cut to Everglades restoration funding, continuing a decade-long betrayal of its commitment to this epic project.
"It is amazing the federal government is eager to fund scores of new programs but can't uphold its commitment to restoring the Everglades," said U.S. Sen. George LeMieux.
"Florida continues to lead restoration efforts in the Everglades and the federal government continues to shrink from its obligations and responsibilities," said LeMieux, a Republican from Tallahassee.
"These projects were in the president's budget; they have bipartisan support; and cutting them is a mistake."
The projects affected directly by the new cuts are on the east coast, but they involve the same kind of water conservation and cleansing that is hoped for on our side of the state. We could easily be next, and it is important for the whole state to stand together against cuts to any part of this plan.
Remember: The feds have dragged their feet for a decade on the Everglades, failing to live up to their 50-50 funding commitment to Florida, leaving the state to carry the entire burden for most of what has been done so far.
Florida is overdue for a real commitment on this tremendously important project to reverse historic mistakes and provide future water supplies for cities, farms, industry and the environment.
The new cuts come as a special disappointment given the success in getting money authorized for Everglades restoration under the 2008 Water Resources and Development Act. The Everglades had lost out in the past on this crucial project, despite the federal moral commitment.
People all over South Florida should get busy urging our leaders in Washington to stop backsliding-again-on Everglades restoration.


Drilling in state waters is too great a threat
Bradenton Herald
October 5, 2009
Communities along Florida’s Gulf coast again face a grave threat from oil and gas exploration and drilling in state waters close to shore.
This time, the resurgent campaign by a group of Texas and Louisiana oil interests promises a stronger campaign unlike the last-minute rush during the Legislature’s spring session.
Known as Florida Energy Associates, the well-financed organization has been touring the state to promote legislation to open up Gulf waters from three to 10 miles offshore with promises of great wealth and environmental protection.
In this age of massive state budget reductions, the temptation is strong to grab billions in oil and gas royalties along with jobs and other economic impacts.
But at what cost? This idea brings many tough questions, tougher than those associated with drilling in federal waters far offshore.
Should Florida gamble that advanced technology will preserve our shoreline?
State-of-the-art technology did not spare Australia’s Kimberly region from an August well blowout that leaked hundreds of thousands of crude oil into the Timor Sea — covering 5,800 square miles.
Unquestionably, oil and gas drilling is safer today, but there can never be any kind of guarantee. With wells only a few miles from our beaches, pollution could coat the pristine sand before emergency measures stop it.
Do Floridians want an industrialized shoreline with the new infrastructure required to support drilling and well operations, including stations to separate water and natural gas? That water would be loaded with chemicals and heavy metals, toxic byproducts that must be trucked to treatment plants or pumped deep underground.
What about the release of toxins in the material used to lubricate drill bits during exploration?
How would all that impact our bays and estuaries, and marine and wildlife habitats?
Another consideration in the transportation of the crude oil. Would the industry build a land or underwater pipeline? Pipelines leak.
Or would tankers be utilized? Ships wreck. Just days ago, a tanker rammed a barge in the Houston ship channel and leaked more than 10,000 gallons of fuel oil. Close to home, two tank barges and a ship collided in Tampa Bay in 1993, and oil contaminated Pinellas County beaches.
How valuable is our Gulf shoreline, in terms of our tourism, fishing and recreation industries — not to mention as a magnet for business recruitment and economic development? Billions and billions more than the oil promise.
Why would we take a chance on trading a clean industry for a dirty one?
Plus, we’d be selling the birth right of future generations — that of pristine shores.
What does that say about us, that we were willing to gamble their future heritage for the lure of money?
Unlike last spring’s rush on a drilling bill — the measure passed the House but stalled in the Senate — a new proposal will get strong consideration.
Both of the Legislature’s incoming Republican leaders — Rep. Dean Cannon of Winter Park, the new speaker, and Sen. Mike Haridopolos of Melbourne, the chamber’s 2010 president — are cosponsoring the measure. The proposal wouldn’t allow drilling directly, but would let the Florida Cabinet decide.
Floridians will hear much more about this proposal during future public forums around the state.
If Florida opens state waters to drilling, some offshore sites would be exempt — state aquatic preserves, including those off Pinellas County, Port Charlotte and Fort Myers, and the national marine sanctuary along the Keys.
That puts the waters off Manatee and Sarasota counties at greater risk from oil exploration.
While recent polls show a majority of Floridians support oil and gas exploration and drilling, we doubt most residents of Gulf coast communities do. Our industries, our lifestyles and our future are in peril.
When this proposal comes before the Legislature, either in a special session this year or in next spring’s regular session, our voices must be loud and clear.
When this country’s most pristine land came under threat from strong mining, timber and other business interests, presidents and other power brokers stepped in and established many of our great national parks. They created a natural heritage enjoyed by millions of Americans every year.
Florida needs that kind of vision to ensure a bright future for many generations to come.


Drinking-Water Supply: Pump at Our Peril
October 5, 2009
The politics of water in Florida is fairly straightforward. Politicians representing the water-rich north-central region want the water to stay right where it is. Politicians representing the growing cities want the water to go where it's needed.
So it was no surprise to receive a press release this week from Alachua County's State Sen. Steve Oelrich urging the St. Johns Water Management District not to withdraw water from the St. Johns and Ocklawaha rivers for drinking purposes. If cities like Jacksonville need more water, Oelrich said, they should invest in desalination plant.
"I don't think we need to get into the business of piping water from our rivers and lakes," Oelrich said. "This sets a dangerous precedent for other areas with water shortages. It becomes a slippery slope, and we don't need the default solution to be draining our rivers and lakes."
We agree. Tapping Florida's rivers and lakes does set a dangerous precedent, whether in the less developed areas southwest of Jacksonville, or in Polk County - sandwiched between the thirsty Tampa Bay and Orlando metro areas.
Oelrich's press release goes on to remind us that the senator "has been a strong proponent of preserving the Lake Ocklawaha reservoir. In previous legislative sessions he has filed bills to protect the reservoir from draining and the destruction of its well-established ecosystem."
"Lake Ocklawaha" is better known as the Rodman Reservoir. It was built as part of the long abandoned Cross Florida Barge Canal project. Environmentalists have urged its draining for years and the restoration of a free-flowing Ocklawaha River.
By definition, a reservoir exists to store water. Rodman's original purpose was to store enough water to float barges. Now it stores water mainly for the enjoyment of fishermen.
Sen. Oelrich is naive if he really believes it's possible to keep the Rodman intact without having it eventually tapped as a drinking water source. It is too big and too convenient a target of opportunity for powerful urban politicians to ignore for long.
The best way to protect the Ocklawaha from being turned into a spigot for Jacksonville or Orlando is to drain the Rodman and restore the river. It is political fantasy to preach that it's possible to keep the reservoir untapped forever more.
While the Rodman may be a man-made reservoir, the state's largest natural underground reservoir - the Green Swamp - resides in substantial part within Polk County. It is the high point of the Floridan Aquifer and serves as the headwaters for four important rivers - including the Ocklawaha, as well as the Hillsborough, Peace and Withlacoochee rivers, and connects to a fifth river system, the Kissimmee.
Protects Florida's - and Polk's - rivers, lakes and aquifers. Keep their water in place.


Ed Killer: Sea grass beds get new protection – at least from prop scars
TCPALM  by  Ed Killer
October 5, 2009
Sea grass in Florida’s waters is the staff of life.
At least it is for the majority of marine fish, mammals and birds.
And I’m not just talking about marine life on the Treasure Coast or Florida, but for a good portion of the planet.
The underwater grass-like plants — which in Sunshine State waters dozens of species live — are found as shallow as a few inches and as deep as where sunlight reaches the bottom.
Sea grass serves as habitat. It serves as erosion control. It produces oxygen, consumes carbon dioxide and performs photosynthesis.
One of its most important functions is to filter nutrients and other impurities from upland areas before they reach the sea.
Sea grass is also an important food source for many coastal species.
As a baseline for marine life in coastal Florida, it is economically important. State legislators recognize the connection between sustainable beds of sea grass and sustainable coastal businesses.
One danger to sea grass is Florida’s growing boating public. Places that once had pristine meadows of lush green sea grass, now are showing crisscrossing white trails caused by boaters running in water too shallow for their motors. Aerial photos of flats all over the state show the carved paths made by turning propellers as a boater unwittingly plowed into a grassflat.
Many times, a boater is unaware he is outside a navigable channel. Sometimes, a boater is trying to save time on his trip at the wrong tide.
Grass often cannot re-grow in the disturbed sand. The destruction has been labeled “prop scars” or “propeller scars.”
Sea grass’s importance is why the legislature agreed to protect it through a bill passed this spring. Now it is a “noncriminal infraction” punishable by a citation if a boater is observed damaging sea grass in one of the state’s 41 designated aquatic preserves. The law protects some 2 million acres of underwater habitat.
I’m not sure how deterring a $50 fine is. A second conviction is $250, third $500 and fourth $1,000. Wow, that’s really packing some punch there. Fifty whole dollars. Did you want that right now, officer? Do you take debit cards?
I am pretty sure the only lesson an irresponsible boater would learn by incident No. 4 is that he was the unluckiest — or dumbest — guy on the water to get caught four times. Enforcement along the state’s 1,500 miles of coastal waterways is nearly impossible.
In some parts of the state, nothing short of a concrete wall would keep boaters eager to get to the Sand Bar on a given weekend from short-cutting it across a shallow grassflat.
We know that about 80 percent of Florida’s marine fisheries spend a part of their life cycle in sea grass. Studies have indicated that a single acre of sea grass can support 40,000 fish and 50 million invertebrates.
In one seine net pushed across the grassflat near the House of Refuge in Stuart in 1977, Dr. Grant Gilmore counted more than 50 different species of fish.
Fines and even if one day jail time accompanies prop scarring, will only go so far to protect the sea grass. Once an incident occurs, the damage already is done. The law in and of itself is not a preventative measure.
How about instituting a Florida Boater’s License? Make it mandatory that before one can get the keys to the new 45-foot Sea Ray, one must complete an accredited boater skills course. We’re halfway there requiring boaters under the age of 22 to do so. Why not require everyone else? Who knows, a life or two may even be saved as a result.
I am glad to see the sea grass get protection from some of the state’s 1 million-plus registered boats. Now, if we could only protect it from an even greater destructive force the Army Corps of Engineers and managers of the state’s many drainage and flood control districts.
Every time the Corps sends water from Lake Okeechobee towards the Indian River Lagoon and Charlotte Harbor, thousands of acres of sea grass is strained, and sometimes shaded out by dirty, silt-laden water.
Maybe the Corps should be slapped with a $50 fine every time it “scars” a sea grass bed.


Enough to drive you to drink
SUN newspapers by S.L. Frisbie
October 5, 2009
In the abstract, it’s probably a good idea.
But we don’t live in the abstract.
We live in the here and now, and for my money, neither the here nor the now is ready for an idea that was . . . uh . . . floated in Tampa last week.
The idea: inject treated sewage back into our drinking water.
Okay, there’s a more technical term.
Last I knew, it’s called tertiary treatment: treating what is now called “wastewater” to drinking quality standards.
Just as Swine Flu is now known as H1N1 so the pigs (who have nothing to do with the illness that bears their name) won’t get their feelings hurt, that stuff that goes down the drain is no longer called sewage.
I used to know – and think I still do – what primary and secondary treatment consist of; but I draw the line on discussing details.
I first heard of tertiary treatment from a Florida National Guard buddy who was mayor of a Florida city that was going to tertiary treatment.
The product coming out of the sewage treatment plant, he said, would be drinking water quality.
I told him I could not imagine myself ever being that thirsty.
He said that at the dedication of the plant, he would drink a glass of water coming from the discharge pipe.
I wasn’t there to see, but somehow, I suspect some sleight-of-hand, lik e magicians engage in to make some playing card, or pigeon, or small county disappear and reappear.
The concept in Hillsborough was to take this stuff that used to be drinking water and turn it into drinking water again. Okay with me, as long as I get a choice:
To drink or not to drink; that is the question.
This stuff would then be injected into the soil, where it would seep through Mother Earth in that natural filtration process that keeps us in drinking water.
Yeah, only Mother Earth lets this stuff go through the dripping process at its own pace; and while yes, a certain amount of tomorrow’s drinking water has been through a sewage treatment plant at some point in its life, we really don’t know when or where.
Somehow, there’s a certain comfort in that ignorance.
Fifty years or so ago, I read an advertisement for cast iron pipe that asked: “Would you wash your baby in used water?”
The answer was: Yes, you would, because that’s all we’ve got. A scientifically valid observation, to be sure, if not a comforting one.
I have long maintained that the solution to our water supply needs is as simple as reusing “gray water” from our homes for lawn irrigation. “Gray water” is the term applied to water that comes from our sinks, bathtubs, dishwashers, and washing machines.
That means all the water that comes from the house except . . . well . . . you get the idea.
Even as fussy as St.=2 0Augustine grass is, I don’t think it would object to a little residue of laundry detergent. After all, the stuff is made from phosphate, right?
The water that goes on the nasturtiums doesn’t have to be treated to drinking water quality.
The problem, of course, is figuring out how to capture this stuff as it comes from the house, and to store it until it is needed. And I haven’t gotten those details figured out, though I suspect it won’t be long until somebody else does.
When that happens, sign me up.
In the meantime, I am in no hurry to have the stuff from sewage treatment plants rushed back into the aquifer.
The very thought is enough to drive me to drink . . . bottled water.


EPA Needs to Do Job and Protect Creek
Tampa Tribune – Editorial
October 5, 2009
Oct. 2--U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor is correct to appeal directly to Washington for a review of the poor decision-making that resulted in federal permits being issued for a massive mall that threatens Cypress Creek and Tampa's drinking water supply.
So far in the process, local, state and federal regulators in Florida have refused to force the developers to reduce the scope of the 1 million-square-foot Cypress Creek Town Center in Wesley Chapel.
Such a move is clearly warranted. It would provide stronger protections to the creek, an Outstanding Florida Water, while still allowing reasonable development.
The biggest disappointment has been the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, whose permit allowing the destruction of more than 50 acres of wetlands cleared the way for construction to begin. That agency forgives and forgets too easily.
The Corps correctly suspended its permit for the mall in early 2008 after a series of unauthorized discharges into the creek, which is a tributary of the Hillsborough River, Tampa's main drinking water source.
Yet a few weeks ago, the Corps decided to reinstate the permit, requiring only minor adjustments in the plans instead of mandating such meaningful changes as smaller asphalt parking areas or a parking garage that would reduce runoff.
It's difficult to believe, as the Corps does, that the revised project "represents the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative."
The Corps did fine the developers $297,000 for the discharges and unauthorized destruction of nearly an acre of wetland.
But, clearly, more should be done to shield the creek.
And that's what Castor, a Tampa Democrat, wants Environmental Protection Agency officials to do. She appealed directly to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in Washington.
Given the history of the project, Castor is smart to go over the Corps' head and seek an EPA reevaluation, which the agency has agreed to do.
EPA already had signed off on the permit, but its review was far from impressive. For starters, not a single EPA employee even visited the site -- a failure that must be corrected. Officials blamed "time and resource constraints."
With an environmentally sensitive area and a community's drinking water source at stake, you would think regulators would do more than read paperwork and make a few phone calls.
To conduct the "independent assessment" it now has promised Castor, EPA needs to conduct inspections of the 500-acre site and the creek, and thoroughly study all the ramifications of the project.
Surely, the nation's chief environmental agency will do its job this time -- and provide the buffer necessary to protect key water resources.


Florida's forgotten coastline
Toronto Star
October 5, 2009
Panhandle, Riviera – no matter what you call it, life is a beach in this part of the Sunshine State
WATERCOLOR, Fla.–A hallucinatory morning mist hangs over Western Lake, which is rimmed by long-stemmed sea oats set in the spongy banks and water lilies anchored just off the shore.
On the other side of the dunes, the rhythmic breathing of the Gulf of Mexico is punctuated by a cacophony of quacks, honks, cackles and excited waterbird jabber.
In the lake's shallows, I watch two great blue herons, eyes alert under black brows, stand on long legs stabbing fish with their dagger bills.
Suddenly, an osprey with a two-metre wingspan plunges feet first, grabs a fish with its talons and resumes flight. Pelicans with steely blue eyes jostle over fish scraps.
This is a scene that hasn't changed much since Spanish explorers made landfall near here 450 years ago en route to establishing the first European settlement in the U.S. at Pensacola. But just out of sight a few hundred metres from the lake is WaterColor, a trendy beach community that was established 10 years ago.
Florida's Gulf coast, stretching from Apalachicola to Pensacola, seems to be going in one era and out the other. Glittering highrise condos and polished resort communities give way to quaint fishing villages and pine forests teeming with wildlife (there are bear crossing signs along the highways).
The travel industry has been struggling to come up with a name for this 270-kilometre crescent. Years ago it was known as the "Redneck Riviera" because it was where working-class families throughout the South often took their vacations. Sometimes it was called "LA," short for "Lower Alabama." More recent names included the "Florida Panhandle," the "Emerald Coast," and the "Forgotten Coast." Now, they just call it THE Beach, a name cooked up by a group representing local tourism interests.
It's cumbersome, but accurate. What the entire area has in common is some of the world's most beautiful beaches. The surf is gentle and the water shimmers in shades of blue and green like emerald meadows. But it's the sand that amazes new visitors. It is the colour of snow and has the consistency of talcum powder. The sand was formed when quartz crystals were carried here by streams flowing out of the Appalachians and then pulverized to powder by the surf and bleached by the sun.
Pensacola, the area's largest and westernmost community, often gets overlooked as a tourist destination. Pensacola was settled by the Spanish in 1559 (440 years before WaterColor sprang into existence), and it takes its long past seriously. The well-tended historic district has squares and streets with names like Zaragoza, Cervantes and Intendencia. At the Plaza Ferdinand, grey-haired men polish their idleness on benches beneath orange trees and live oaks.
County Highway 399 cuts down the middle of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and is one of the most scenic roads in America. This expanse of windswept beach dunes and bluffs along the Gulf, Pensacola Bay and Santa Rosa Sound begins in Mississippi, and stretches for 83 kilometres into Florida. There are no condos, fast-food emporiums or crowds – just sea birds coasting around in the thermals and kites anchored to the beach by small boys and girls.
At WaterColor, you can rent plush, one- to five-bedroom cottages. Many of them are on the beach with big balconies and wraparound porches. For shorter stays, there's the WaterColor Inn, where all 60 rooms have either private patios or balconies facing the beach with a view of the Gulf or the dunes from the glass-windowed shower. On the second floor is one of the Panhandle's best restaurants, Fish Out of Water.
There's nothing new or pretentious about Apalachicola at the eastern end of the Panhandle. When dawn leaked into my suite at the Water Street Hotel, a very comfortable and reasonably priced inn on the harbour, I stepped on my balcony and watched shrimp boats, with rust dripping from their rivets, head out into the Gulf.
Apalachicola has a good chance of staying this way. Development will be close to impossible because it is surrounded mostly by state and federal land devoted to wildlife and forests.


The dish on phosphates
Daily Magazine by Tom Avril
October 5, 2009
Pennsylvania is joining 15 states that have banned dishwasher detergents containing the compound. But will dinnerware get clean?
A prodigious task awaits the dishwasher in Andrew Herman's Mount Airy kitchen: a tightly packed, three-day jumble of bowls, plates, cutlery, cups.
Oh, and one glass stained with the sticky remains of a "poor man's Frappuccino" - the family's pet name for a mixture of coffee, milk, and chocolate syrup.
Herman's weapon? An earth-friendly brand of detergent.
For now, he is in the tiny minority, but in a matter of months, you'll be joining him.
Pennsylvania is among 15 states that have banned dishwasher detergents containing phosphates - a family of compounds that are great for sparkling silverware, but become an algae-nourishing problem once they wash down the drain.
The ban will take effect July 1, 2010, and many manufacturers already are offering varieties billed as phosphate-free (though, technically, they'll be allowed to contain a trace amount).
Industry officials say more such products are on the way in the coming months, and before long, it will be tough to find the old kind of detergent anywhere, including states such as New Jersey and Delaware that did not enact bans. Most companies have decided it is not worth the hassle of maintaining separate supply chains.
But will the new kinds work as well?
For the most part, so far, they do not, according to surveys in Consumer Reports. In its August and October issues, the magazine subjected a total of 21 detergents to a tough test: dishes "smeared with a baked-on blend of 17 foods," including chocolate pudding and peanut butter.
Most of the phosphate-free varieties cost about the same, but did not perform as well, though companies say better ones are in the works. Procter & Gamble, which makes numerous varieties of Cascade, has spent a year perfecting its phosphate-free formulations and will continue to supply "immaculate dishes every time," says spokeswoman Susan Baba.
One phosphate-free brand that did well was Smarty Dish by Method.
To be fair, the Consumer Reports tests were brutal. Like lots of people, Gladwyne resident Jennifer Mettler takes the extra step of scraping or rinsing food off dishes before loading them in the machine.
But even then, the phosphate-free products - though they get dishes clean - do not measure up in the aesthetics department, she says.
"Your glasses aren't going to be shiny-sparkly," says Mettler, who uses a store brand of green detergent from Trader Joe's.
Herman, who uses an eco-friendly liquid detergent from Seventh Generation, says he sees no drop-off in performance. Indeed, the poor man's Frappuccino washes out just fine.
There are spots on his glasses, but Herman says he also gets those when he runs out of the eco-detergent and uses what's left in an old box of Cascade - a failing he blames on his dishwasher. Beth Murray of Swarthmore also reports no difference with her eco-brand, though she confesses she "just may not be as picky."
Crystal-clear dinnerware or no, the three early adopters all say green is better. Mettler has switched to greener products in general, not because of phosphates, but because she blames other chemicals for her mother's death from a neurological disease.
For Herman, who shops two blocks from his house at the Weavers Way Co-op, a big reason for phosphate-free detergents is fish.
When growing up, he'd visit his grandparents in Virginia Beach, at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.
"We'd fish with a net, and we'd just literally throw the crabs back," the 35-year-old recalls.
The fishing stock is so depleted now, Herman says, that "it's not even worth going fishing most of the year."
Part of the reason is that phosphorus, the element contained in phosphate compounds, is a fertilizer. Together with nitrogen, it promotes the growth of excess algae, which can lead to several problems.
When algae dies and decays, the process robs the water of oxygen, making life tough for fish.
Algae also blocks sunlight, which can harm the underwater grasses that provide habitat for baby fish and crabs, says Rich Batiuk, chief scientist for the federal Chesapeake Bay Program.
Compared with runoff from farms and suburban lawns, dishwashers account for a small amount of the total phosphorus in rivers and streams - perhaps 4 percent to 5 percent of what ends up in the tidal Chesapeake, Batiuk says. In Minnesota, a study found the contribution was about 2 percent.
Still, the industry's Soap and Detergent Association lobbied for the states to adopt the bans, which apply only to residential machines. The goal was to have states pass uniform laws, so that companies didn't have to deal with a patchwork of different rules. (Phosphates were removed from laundry detergents years ago.)
Manufacturers are loath to disclose the new ingredients they are using to replace phosphates for dishwashers. But it's no secret that these workhorse compounds got the job done and that it may take two or three replacement chemicals to perform phosphates' various functions.
Phosphates are not cleaners, but water softeners. They bind to the calcium, magnesium, and iron found in "hard" water - allowing manufacturers to put in less of the cleaning agents called surfactants, which are expensive. With no phosphates, you'd have soap scum.
By binding to those ions, phosphates also prevent them from forming spotty deposits. And to some extent, they help maintain the proper pH, says Kenneth Doll, a chemist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service.
Doll, who works in the agency's Peoria, Ill., research center, helped develop a couple of phosphate alternatives several years ago, though they did not make it to market. In one, Doll and a colleague used a combination of sodium aspartate, which is a building block in artificial sweetener, and sorbitol, derived from corn starch. Some companies are trying sodium citrate, a citric acid salt, to replace phosphates.
It is easy enough to develop alternatives, but they are likely to cost more, says Jeff Harwell, a professor of chemical engineering at Oklahoma University. Phosphates are plentiful; in the United States, they come primarily from mines in Florida and North Carolina.
Fear not for the humble phosphates, however. They remain a key component in a staggering number of products, ranging from strawberry-flavored milk (by binding to iron, phosphates maintain the pink color) to fertilizer. A major supplier is Innophos Inc., of Cranbury, N.J.
But as for detergents, no longer. And if the industry is lucky, most customers will be like Swarthmore's Murray.
"You know, I have four kids and two dogs," she says. "I'm not really looking for how much it sparkles. I'm happy if it gets put back in the cabinet before the kids pull it out again."

Theories on tumors in The Acreage
WPTV by Shannon Cake
October 5, 2009
THE ACREAGE, FL-- Several theories have been tossed around about what could be causing tumors and cancer cases that have cropped up in The Acreage.
While many experts are doubtful that a cause will ever be found, there are some burning questions that remain; such as why so many cancer cases involving kids? And why have they all been found within a 4-mile radius?
These are questions giving laymen and experts alike a reason to dig deeper. 
Dr. William Louda is watching and waiting for results in The Acreage.  He’s an Environmental Bio-Geo chemist at Florida Atlantic University.
Among other things, Dr. Louda studies metals and compounds and how they move in and around water.
"The specific brain cancers in children primarily is the thing that got me involved in this,” said Dr. Louda.
He's a resident in Loxahatchee, not far from the growing cluster of complaints about tumors in Palm Beach County's western communities.
Louda is also a cancer survivor.
"In my case, with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and given my history as a chemist and a child of Florida riding behind spray trucks, I probably caused the cancer myself.  But when I look at children, and see cancer coming up in them, it’s very scary,” said Louda.
As a concerned resident and student of the environment, Dr. Louda sat down to talk about the theories behind a possible cause.
Could the cancerous tumors be the result of popular pesticides used by farmers? Not likely according to Louda.  He says there have been a lot of changes in farming.
"Now-a-days pesticides are very fast acting, very targeted.  Old pesticides and herbicides, I would suspect more than modern ones,” said Louda.
Another concern debated by some; illegal dumping in the area's extensive canal system.
"That's a hard push, because I just don’t think the amount or volume of material would be there," said Louda.
Power lines that swarm overhead in some regions of The Acreage have been a source of speculation too.
"Power lines I doubt very seriously. A friend of mine at FAU did a study on power lines and there was no sign, no correlation between power lines and anything, except transmission of electrical power," Louda said.
Several months ago, News Channel 5 reporter Katie Brace unearthed a 1988 report showing concern over the disposal of hazardous materials found near Pratt and Whitney, which is just a few miles from The Acreage. 
A Pratt and Whitney spokesperson told NewsChannel 5, “We are aware of no connection to Pratt and Whitney and we have not been contacted (about a problem) by the state.
But Louda isn’t ruling out anything.
 “There is a chance it could be Pratt as there's a chance it could be other things, and also there's a chance it could be a whole bunch of things operating together synergistically," Louda said.
There is also speculation about the landfill that was brought into the area to raise the land prior to building homes in the Western communities.
Some have claimed their fill was dirty, made up of old construction debris, and rain or other water trickled down into the aquifer.
The aquifer is the river of water you can’t see that flows many feet beneath the ground.
Contamination of both water and soil was the focus of a Contact Five investigation 3 years ago.  Our investigative team uncovered a little secret in the landscaping business.
"It blows my mind,” said environmental activist and whistle blower Lynae Dehoff.
Dehoff is an industry insider who claimed that dangerous, cancer-causing products were being ground up into mulch and distributed nationwide.
Outdoor lumber, pressure treated with chromium, copper and arsenic (CCA) was her concern.
"This is a hazard,” said Dehoff.  “This has the potential to make humans and animals sick."
CCA had been used for years on decks, docks and fences, even children's playgrounds, because it stands up well against the elements.
But a series of tests in the early 1990s showed the CCA metals were leaching out of wood at levels high enough to cause cancer. 
The federal government got involved, and the CCA treated lumber was supposed to be pulled out of playgrounds across the country.
Dehoff claimed some mulch producers were taking discarded CCA lumber, grinding it up into mulch, covering it with red dye and selling it to consumers.
It's something Dr. Louda is now thinking about.
“There could be a red mulch problem in The Acreage,” Louda said.
He’s taking a hard look at recent soil and water test results from one Western community school.
"The only thing that really jumped out was arsenic, and then the coincidence of some chromium and copper.  It made me start thinking about that old style red mulch…with CCA treated lumber."
According to Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, anything above 2.1 mg/kg of arsenic in soil is unacceptable and should be cleaned up.
Soil test results from Western Pines Middle School found 1.88 mg/kg.
“1.8 and 2.1...those are close?" Louda was asked.
“That’s darn close,” he said.
Louda believes more specific testing should be done on the very top lawyers of soil around Western Pines.
"The thing that points to some sort of contamination in the surface is the fact that at 0-to-2 feet, you have 1.88 mg of arsenic in kg of soil...and at 2-to-4 feet they don't find any!   So to me, that's a flag that something is going on in that surface layer.  Whether it's fill or a history of CCA red mulch or something else, I don’t know,” said Louda.
Some ground water test results from the school also came back with a surprise. According to Louda, arsenic levels found in the ground water were a fraction higher than the state allows.
"Now this is ground water, not drinking water.  The kids get their drinking water from a treatment plant,” Louda said. “But the arsenic level in the ground water was 0.0121 mg/kg where ground water maximum contamination level is supposed to be that says there is some arsenic in the surface aquifer around this school.  Is it the smoking gun for cancer out there? I have no idea, but it does warrant further investigating? Yes."
"Based on the arsenic levels that came back, would you want your child playing in that?” Louda was asked.
"On this soil, if I had children, I'd say no. Skip PE outside,” Louda said.


U.S. Sugar, shareholders agree on $15.9M deal in suit
Associated Press by Brian Skoloff
October 5, 2009
WEST PALM BEACH -- U.S. Sugar Corp. and employee shareholders of the largest U.S. cane sugar producer have agreed on a settlement to a lawsuit that claimed U.S. Sugar's board failed to inform shareholders of two lucrative buyout offers, then rejected the deals.
U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks on Friday granted preliminary approval of the settlement of the suit against the company. He scheduled a January hearing for a final determination.
The federal suit was filed in January 2008 on behalf of more than 4,000 current and former U.S. Sugar employees. They originally sought $150 million.
The preliminary agreement calls for U.S. Sugar to initially pay $8.4 million. If a planned $536 million deal with the state of Florida goes through to buy 73,000 acres of farm land from the company, U.S. Sugar then would pay plaintiffs an additional $7.5 million, according to the preliminary agreement.
U.S. Sugar is a privately held company owned largely by its employees and former employees who had about 38 percent of its shares in 2005, according to the federal class-action lawsuit filed in West Palm Beach.
Employees can only sell their shares back to the company, which had been offering up to $204 per share, the lawsuit said.
But in 2005, U.S. Sugar was offered $575 million to sell the business, or about $293 per share, a deal soundly rejected by its board a year later, according to the lawsuit. The same deal was rejected again in 2007, yet employee shareholders were never told about either offer, the lawsuit said.
U.S. Sugar said in a statement it has admitted no wrongdoing in agreeing to the settlement.
``We are very pleased that this issue is behind us,'' said U.S. Sugar Vice President Robert Coker.
An attorney for the plaintiffs, Curt Miner, expressed satisfaction. ``We think it's a very good settlement,'' Miner said.
The company farms about 160,000 acres around the Everglades and produces about 700,000 tons of sugar annually. It is working on a deal with the state to sell 73,000 acres for Everglades restoration efforts.


Artificial reef programs surge forward despite economy
TCPALM by Ed Killer
October 2, 2009
TROPICAL FARMS — Amongst scores of boats on a back lot at American Custom Yachts, one vessel is undergoing a dramatic makeover.
The tugboat Big Al has been scrubbed, de-rigged and stripped to prepare it for a final resting place — in 180 feet of water about eight miles off the St. Lucie Inlet.
Tuesday, the former work vessel received its new name as part of the makeover. From now on, the 69-foot long tug will be known as Glasrud Reef.
Even in this economic downturn, supporters of artificial reef programs on the Treasure Coast have maintained momentum to enhance offshore underwater habitat. The result has translated into a steady flow of concrete and steel bound for the bottom of the sea.
The goal is to create more places for fish and other marine organisms to live in an effort to produce sustainable fisheries.
Kerry Dillon, a diver and consultant who works locally with artificial reef programs, said that goal is being met with unexpected success.
“Last weekend on the Clifton S. Perry Memorial Reef (in 65 feet of water off Martin County) we counted 52 species of fish — the highest number we ever counted,” Dillon said. “When we do these fish surveys, we hope to get as high as 30 or 35, but never have we even come close to 52.”
Dillon has observed and documented other biological indicators.
In two reef locations, Dillon has taken photos and video of growing young pieces of protected, deepwater Oculina coral.
Last weekend, he saw large schools of yellowtail snapper in 95 feet of water off St. Lucie County — well north of the species’ usual range. Over the past few years, he has seen a ballooning population of genuine red snapper on these structures — south of their normal range.
St. Lucie County deployed four reefs this summer made of various concrete rubble donated by companies that save the cost of hauling these unwanted materials to a landfill. Martin County placed three reefs in late August.
Neither county would have been able to do so without financial support from its fishing, diving and boating community.
“Private donors are stepping in and providing important funding necessary to continue these projects,” said Keith Mille, of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Artificial Reef Program. “None of these programs would survive without funding from all corners such as private, county, state and federal sources.”
Mille said that the FWC receives 75 percent of its funding from federal programs such as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Sport Fish Restoration, with taxes on boat fuel and fishing tackle/equipment a major revenue producer. Other money comes from the Marine Resource Trust Fund, with state fishing license sales the source.
Because of its successes here — and around the state — legislators have not shut down the FWC program even in these budget-cutting times. Still, Mille pointed out that each year money requests are discussed as part of the state budget process.
John Burke of the Martin County Artificial Reef Committee said the growing expense of processing materials and vessels for sinking puts an increasing demand on limited funds.
“It’s expensive to clean a vessel like the Glasrud Reef — more expensive than we anticipated,” said Burke, estimating the prep cost at $40,000, much of which was paid for by developer Ted Glasrud. “We have to be inspected by the Coast Guard, FWC, Department of Environmental Protection, Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers before we can go to sea.
“But it has been gratifying to see the communal effort put forth — like Mr. Glasrud’s contribution — to get these projects done.”


DEP releases final water test results
12 News by John Bachman  
October 2, 2009
The Department Environmental Protection released today results from raw, well water samples taken in the Acreage. The DEP says it found higher than acceptable levels of radium 226 in three home wells, and other above average levels of radioactivity in another home well. But the DEP says, other than that, the water is in the Acreage is safe.
At a Thursday night Football practice at a community park in the Acreage, aside from the talk about tackles and touch downs, parents watching their kids play, are also discussing the latest report from the Florida Department of Environmental protection.
"I think it will put a lot of people to ease that it's not the water," said Juli Davis, a parent.
The D-E-P 's final word on the water is that there is no sign of contamination from man- made products like fertilizer or industrial waste. Samples at 3 wells showed a higher than allowable levels of radium 2-26.
It's naturally occuring, but a known carcinogen. Tests at another home showed higher- than -normal levels of other radioactivity. Still, the D-E-P says regular filtration makes the raw, well water safe to drink. Samples from more than 46 other wells all met Florida groundwater standards. The D-E-P says its part of the investigation is finished.
Today the florida department of health released this statement.
"We are pleased that DEP's report shows no indication of agricultural or industrial contamination in the drinking water supply," said Dr. Lisa Conti from the Division of Environmental Health in the Florida Department of Health.
But there are still dozens of people with cancer living in the Acreage who are still looking for a cause and an answer why so many in the acreage seem to be getting sick.
"It doesn't matter what the scientist say it will neve put the whole scenario to rest until they have the answers that they need," said Suzanne Kovi, a Acreage resident and parent.
But others say these water reports will help them sleep at night.
"Now hopefully people will come back out and you know, the acreage is a great place to live," said Davis.
Even though the DEP's water testing is complete. The State Health Department is still going to take a closer look at the cancer clusters in the Acreage.


How to plant a fall vegetable garden in South Florida
SunSentinel by Jon VanZile
October 2, 2009
It's time to plant your vegetable garden. Here's how to do it like a pro.
A wonderful thing happens every fall in South Florida: The rain and heat of summer finally let up, and the weeks are filled with days of long sunshine, lower temperatures and moderate rainfall.
In other words, it's vegetable season here in South Florida. And that means zucchini and squash, eggplants, leafy greens, peppers of all varieties — and tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes.
According to the University of Florida IFAS Extension, tomatoes are the most important commercial plant in Florida, and the most popular vegetable in home gardens. And for good reason: We can grow great tomatoes. Healthy vines can quickly overpower 8-foot cages, and you'll find yourself overwhelmed with luscious, home-grown fruit.
But there are a few challenges to growing great vegetables in our Mediterranean winters, so if you're thinking of doing tomatoes and vegetables this year, you'll probably start by getting dirty.
The dirt on South Florida
Soil chemistry can be a little complicated, but getting it right is half the battle for good vegetables.
Margie Pikarsky, owner and operator of Bee Heaven Farm in Redland, doesn't like to say that South Florida has "poor" soil — just different.
"It tests as deficient for everything," Pikarsky says.
Native South Florida soil is derived from limestone, which means it's very alkaline, or has a pH greater than seven. Tomatoes and most vegetables don't like alkaline soil, and even worse, the high alkalinity makes it harder for plants to get nutrients.
All this is a fancy way of saying you have a choice to make: Either grow your vegetables in big containers, or improve the native soil before you plant.
"I would recommend raised beds or container gardening," says Maria Marchegiani, master gardener coordinator in Plantation and a coordinator for schoolyard gardens. "In our schoolyard gardens, we use 4-by-4 beds that are 3 feet tall and fill them with ordinary potting mix that we get in big bags."
If this sounds like too much work, you can add organic matter directly to the soil. Simply dig a decent-sized hole and mix soil amendments straight into the ground.
At Bee Heaven, which is a certified organic farm, farmers work plenty of compost into the soil before planting tomatoes and vegetables. Other growers use sphagnum peat moss, worm castings, composted cow manure or just a bag or two of potted soil mix from the garden center. A good rule of thumb is to add at least 50 percent organic material before you plant.
This extra step will naturally lower the pH of the soil because most organic material is slightly acidic, add in valuable nutrients and even reduce the risk of nematodes (see sidebar).
Planting, feeding tomatoes
Once the beds are ready, you can plant anytime from mid-October through December.
Of all the veggies, tomatoes will require the most prep work. The most popular tomatoes are indeterminate, which means they're large vines that will need to be staked up on some kind of supporting framework. You can use trellises, concrete reinforcing wire or simply poles strung with wire.
When planting young tomato vines, it's a good idea to remove a few of the lower leaves and sink the vine deep into the soil. New roots will emerge from along the vine, resulting in a tougher, healthier plant. After planting, spread mulch over the soil and water gently to soak the surrounding soil.
While they're growing, tomatoes appreciate an even hand with watering. Too much or too little water, and the fruit will be destroyed. This might mean watering every other morning, or whatever is in accordance with local  Water restrictions. Just be consistent.
Never water tomatoes from above. They should always be watered at ground level to prevent fungus.
Once they're growing, there are probably as many approaches to feeding tomato plants as there are people growing tomatoes. Organic gardeners like Pikarsky use certified organic fertilizers like composted chicken or turkey manure.
"Organic tomatoes are juicier and have better flavor," Pikarsky says. "And they're softer. A ripe tomato should be soft, not hard and unyielding."
Still other growers use granular or liquid fertilizers (both organic and non-organic) or fertilizer spikes. Some follow elaborate recipes involving fish emulsions, bone meal, blood meal, powdered milk (for calcium) or Epsom salts (for magnesium).
Whatever you do, there are a few simple principles for feeding tomatoes and other vegetables. For non-leafy veggies like tomatoes and peppers, only use a higher nitrogen fertilizer early in their growth cycle (if at all). This will encourage strong leaf production and healthy vines. However, once the plant begins to flower and set fruit or vegetables, switch to a higher phosphorous fertilizer to encourage strong fruit and vegetable production.
Finally, be watchful for pests, including caterpillars, beetles and other beasties. In many cases, these pests can be treated by simply picking them off the plants by hand and destroying them. If a more serious infestation of caterpillars strikes, use Bt, which is sold as Dipel or Thuricide, according to label directions.
When it comes to harvest, pick your veggies just before peak ripeness — or risk sharing with unwelcome guests.
 "Pick them just before they finish turning red or black or yellow or whatever ripe color," Pikarsky said. "Finish ripening them inside. Otherwise, not just the bugs but the birds will attack them."


Ag commissioner wants to intervene in EPA suit
The Associated Press
October 1, 2009
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson wants to challenge a legal settlement involving the Environmental Protection Agency that could impose costly nutrient standards for state water bodies.
Bronson said Thursday he wants to intervene in a proposed settlement between the federal agency and a Florida environmental group. The settlement would result in nutrient standards he says would cost the state billions.
Bronson said they would dramatically exceed anything in any other state. He described them as arbitrary and unreasonable.
EarthJustice lawyer David Guest called Bronson's action "shameful" because he's using tax dollars to work for polluters who are poisoning the state's waters.
The South Florida Water Management District has already filed a challenge.


Environmental pioneer to talk about Everglades at Graham Center
University of Florida News
October 1, 2009
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Fall 2009 Samuel Proctor Florida History Lecture Series continues Oct. 8 with a lecture by Joe Browder, an environmental consultant and former conservation director of Friends of the Earth.
Browder will present “Everglades Visions, Revisions, and History,” at 7 p.m. in the Pugh Hall Ocora. It is free and open to the public. Tickets are not required.
Browder began his career in environmental activism and policy as an officer in the Audubon Society’s chapter in Miami in the 1960s. From there he served in national offices with the Friends and the Earth and the League of Conservation Voters before serving in President Jimmy Carter’s administration from 1977 through 1980. Since 1981, he has served as a consultant on national and global environmental and water management policies. He is a principal in Dunlap and Browder, an environmental consulting firm in Washington, DC.
“Joe Browder emerged from the grassroots in the early 1960s to help save South Florida’s most precious natural wonders from unrestrained forces of growth,” said Jack Davis, associate professor of history at UF. “He served as a principal figure in campaigns to establish Biscayne National Monument, win a federal mandate to prevent water diversion away from the dying Everglades National Park, stop the construction of the biggest airport in the world in the heart of the Everglades, and create Big Cypress National Preserve.”
The lecture is the second in this semester’s series on “Florida’s Environmental Politics.” The series is sponsored by the Graham Center and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program.
The lecture series is made possible by generous donations from the Proctor family and alumni members of the Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity.
The Graham Center provides students with opportunities to train for future leadership positions, meet policymakers and take courses in critical thinking, language learning and studies of world cultures.


EPA cites West Palm Beach over sewage
Palm Beach Post by PAUL QUINLAN
October 1, 2009
WEST PALM BEACH — The city's sewage treatment plant has pumped untold millions of gallons of poorly treated wastewater onto wetlands adjacent to wells used to supplement the city's drinking water supply.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has cited the city with 117 pollution violations and in July won a court order that assessed the city $144,798 in fines, The Palm Beach Post learned from regulatory data this week.
Although regulators and city officials say there is no immediate danger to city residents, the city is working with environmental authorities to shore up management and testing procedures at the plant, which routinely failed to report water quality data from late 2006 through 2008.
The numerous violations finally prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to take further action in January, resulting in a July state administrative court order that required the city to correct the plant's deficiencies and pay $500 for each of the 117 pollution violations, $2,600 for each of the 25 times it failed to submit water quality test results for the water it pumps onto the wetlands, and other penalties.
The treated wastewater often failed tests for color, odor and pollutants ranging from nitrogen and phosphorus - which can damage wetlands ecology - to fecal coliform, a bacteria found in human waste.
Even the most recent water quality tests, taken in July, exceeded regulatory limits, government data shows. Cyanide showed up in more than 21/2 times the amount allowed. Meanwhile, the plant continues to omit test results for a variety of toxic chemicals - including mercury, PCBs, heptachlor and toxaphene - because the city's lab cannot accurately measure whether those substances show up in higher limits than allowed.
Officials insist there is no danger to human health, since the wastewater treated at the East Central Regional Water Reclamation Facility, off Roebuck Road, does not feed directly into the city's drinking water system. Instead, the wastewater is used to top off wetlands that are drawn down when the city activates emergency pumps next door that are used to supplement the city's water supply.
"We don't see any human health or environmental concerns with what we've seen in the data," said Lisa Self, the environmental officer with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection assigned to help the city correct the plant's operations.
What's more, water quality tests taken at the drinking water plant show all chemicals to be within acceptable limits, said Eduardo Balbis, the assistant city administrator who oversees utilities.
"It takes several years for any of that water to migrate into the well field," Balbis said. "It really, really is a non-issue."
But others say Florida's sandy soils and porous geology can make that migration easy. The treated wastewater percolates down into the groundwater that the city periodically taps, using wells located just next door. Those wells were used more often during the past two years, as the region suffered through one of its worst droughts on record.
"Surface water can permeate down into the groundwater very quickly through sandy soil," said Mike Donehoo, an environmental engineer and longtime compliance officer with the Environmental Protection Agency. "We have a joke about Florida that says the difference between surface water and groundwater is about 5 minutes."
The Department of Environmental Protection says it's impossible to know what water quality issues went unreported during the more than two years that the city failed to submit reports, saying that it would take too much time and money to go back and review the sampling.
"We could do it if we had to, but it would be an enormous burden on the taxpayers," Self said.
The troubles stretch all the way back to the day the city first began operating a new addition to its wastewater treatment system. The system is designed to clean up to 10 million of the 64 million gallons per day that the plant is capable of handling so that the water that receives the extra cleaning can be discharged to the wetlands.
"We have had challenges with this system ever since it was completed," Balbis said. "We've been working really hard trying to get this system running efficiently and effectively."
Rather than pay the fine, the city has opted to invest one-and-a-half times the fine amount, about $211,000, into system improvements.
The city never addressed the fine, the judge's order or the violations publicly until questioned by a reporter. Asked why, city spokesman Chase Scott said: "The mayor just recently became aware of the situation via the consent order."
City Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell said she did not recall being made aware of the issue and criticized Frankel for not raising it to the commission.
"There's a tendency for this administration to always look for political cover," Mitchell said. "Mistakes happen. Bad things happen. But you own up to it. And then you get it fixed."


Land Protection Incentives initiative could provide 2,452 acres for Everglades restoration
TCPALM By George Andreassi
October 1, 2009
HOBE SOUND — Martin County’s controversial Land Protection Incentives initiative has its first taker.
The owner of a 3,902-acre agricultural tract at the intersection of Kanner Highway and Bridge Road wants to set aside 2,452 acres for the Everglades restoration program in exchange for permission to cluster 725 houses on the other 1,450 acres.
The houses would sell for $250,000 each, making the proposed subdivision worth more than $181 million upon completion, county records show.
The proposal St. Lucie Partners of Stuart submitted Wednesday to Martin County is the first to incorporate the Land Protection Incentives initiative, which took center stage in the county’s growth debate in 2007.
The hotly contested initiative enables agricultural land owners to cluster houses on part of their property in exchange for the preservation of the rest of the land.
The goal was to preserve environmentally sensitive land, particularly tracts needed for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan that the public could not otherwise afford to buy.
The Land Protection Incentives initiative provides an alternative to 20-acre ranchettes, which had been the only type of residential development allowed on more than 100,000 acres of agricultural land in Western Martin County. The County Commission has approved several 20-acre ranchette subdivisions in the past 10 years.
 “These 20-acre lot development projects have fragmented critical native habitat and compromised the integrity of natural systems,” said Morris Crady, a land planner representing St. Lucie Partners, in his application letter to the county.
In exchange for being permitted to develop 725 homes on 1,450 acres along Kanner Highway and Bridge Road, St. Lucie Partners has proposed preserving the 2,452 acres south of the proposed subdivision, county records show.
 “A large portion of the site has not been significantly impacted by agricultural activities and maintains a mosaic of relatively undisturbed native wetlands and upland habitats,” Crady said. “The property provides a critical link to surrounding environmentally sensitive areas and acquired public land.”
A perpetual conservation easement dedicated to Martin County, the South Florida Water Management District and the Treasured Lands Foundation would be placed on the 2,452 acres set aside for preservation, county records show.
The land use of the property would be changed to Institutional Public Conservation from Agricultural if the County Commission approved the proposed change to the county’s growth plan.
St. Lucie Partners would also establish an endowment to pay for the management of the preserved land as well as public access, county records show.
The land use of the other 1,450 acres would be changed to Rural Density, which allows one house per two acres, from Agricultural, which allows one house per 20 acres, county records show.
Part of the land is being used for cattle grazing pastures, tree farming and related nursery operations, county records show.
In a related proposal submitted to Martin County on Wednesday afternoon, the owner of a 3,081-acre agricultural tract south of Bridge Road and east of Interstate 95 has proposed donating 500 acres for an addition to Jonathan Dickinson State Park in exchange for permission to develop 516 five-acre ranchettes on the remaining 2,581 acres, county records show.
The deal would require the land use of the 2,581 acres to be changed to Agricultural Ranchette, which allows one house per five acres, from Agricultural, which allows one house per 20 acres.
The ranchettes in the Conopus Sound subdivision would sell for $250,000 each, county records show. That means the project would be worth $129 million upon completion.
The land that is preserved would be donated to Martin County and expected to become part of the adjacent state park, county records show. It would also help restore a tributary to the Loxahatchee River.
 “It is an important component of the Kitching Creek Restoration Project and has been targeted for acquisition as part of the Florida Forever Program and Martin County’s Conservation Lands Linkage Program,” Crady said.


Progress at last on Everglades clean-up
Miami Herald, Editorial
October 1, 2009
OUR OPINION: Everglades clean-up looking more positive than ever
The gridlock that has stalled Everglades restoration for so long may finally be easing. A wise appointment by the Obama White House and the first real infusion of federal money since Congress approved the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) in 2000 are combining with state efforts to move things forward.
The long delays have been the fault of never-ending internecine squabbles between state and federal agencies responsible for the clean up and constant legal challenges by the numerous Everglades stakeholders.
It's been frustrating enough to make us wish for one of those White House ``czars'' with enough power to crack the whip and make everybody behave.
What the Obama administration did instead was to name Terrence ``Rock'' Salt deputy assistant secretary of the Army to oversee the Corps of Engineers. Mr. Salt is an 18-year veteran of Everglades restoration efforts, first with the Corps and then with the Interior Department.
Mr. Salt may not have a whip, but he has the confidence of the White House and enough federal money -- about a half-billion dollars -- to jump-start the U.S. government's share of clean-up work.
This week, the Corps finally awarded the contract to elevate a mile of Tamiami Trail to a company based in Sunrise. The project, which has been in the works for 20 years, is a linchpin of CERP that will begin to restore much needed water to the parched southern reaches of the Glades.
The Tamiami contract came on the heels of last month's agreement between state and federal officials that ended a long-running dispute over splitting the rising costs of restoration, now estimated at $22 billion. The Obama administration broke the logjam by agreeing to spend more for land needed for restoration. This will trigger progress on 68 projects to restore sheet flow to the River of Grass.
The goals of restoration are to clean up the water and then put it where it's needed most to restore the ecology while preventing flooding of agricultural and residential areas. No small feat.
The federal money will pay for moving the water while preventing unwanted flooding. The state must clean up that water. And that means moving more aggressively to stem polluted runoff coming from Central Florida.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports a continuing build-up of phosphorus in Lake Okeechobee from agricultural and suburban runoff north of the lake. According to the EPA, an average of 572 tons of phosphorus flows into the lake each year. That's four times the amount the state has targeted to reduce by 2015.
Sugar growers south of the lake have been arguing that they're not the main pollution culprits any more since agreeing to reduce phosphorus runoff. They want farmers and communities north of the lake to be subjected to the same clean-up terms.
To that end, the South Florida Water Management District is working with farmers and cattle ranchers to cut fertilizer use and runoff in the northern counties it oversees. The district is building a 2,700-acre treatment area to clean farm runoff before it enters the lake, like the filtering marshes used by Big Sugar.
Much more needs to be done, though, especially to reduce suburban runoff from the growing Orlando area. There is also the looming threat of even more development as citrus growers convert groves struck by disease into subdivisions. The district needs to work very closely with local governments on the lake's north side to better control growth to limit future pollution sources.
Still, between smart moves by the White House and continued commitment from state agencies, Everglades cleanup is looking more positive than ever before. The key is to keep the momentum going long enough to give all the stakeholders reasons to cooperate for the long haul.


Report: Climate change poses risk to Florida’s National Parks
South Florida Business Journal By Paul Brinkmann
October 1, 2009
Florida’s three national parks – which help drive tourism dollars to the state – are among the 25 parks most at risk from climate change, according to a report from Natural Resources Defense Council.
The report, released Thursday, documents that climate disruption is the greatest threat ever to America's national parks. It identifies 25 national parks most at risk for impacts of climate change. It also includes 32 recommendations of specific actions the U.S. National Park Service can take to protect national parks and their resources, and calls for national action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The report contains a gloomy outlook for Dry Tortugas, Everglades and Biscayne national parks, noting that all three could be lost to rising seas, “representing the first-ever losses of entire national parks.”
A 2006 analysis for the National Parks Conservation Association found that Biscayne National Park alone accounted for $19 million in annual recreational benefits, providing a park benefit-to-cost ratio of more than 5-to-1, and $24 million in annual visitor spending, supporting 425 local jobs, not including park staff.
Dry Tortugas National Park is in danger of being the first national park to be completely lost. The park, 70 miles west of Key West and reachable only by boat or seaplane, it is made up of seven islands – all of which are mostly less than three feet above sea level, which puts them at risk of being submerged by rising sea levels.
Everglades National Park has the largest expanse of land vulnerable to sea-level rise in the national park system. The highest spot in the park is only 11 feet above sea level. Most of the park would be inundated by a rise of only 23 inches in sea level. Virtually all of it would be submerged if the sea was to rise six feet, including the largest freshwater sawgrass prairie in North America, the largest protected mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere, the most significant breeding and feeding grounds for tropical wading birds in the country, and the habitat for a wide variety of endangered species.
Biscayne National Park is similarly at risk of being submerged. The average elevation of its land is about two feet above the sea, and 90 percent of the park’s land is less than five feet high. Freshwater ecosystems in Biscayne and Big Cypress National Preserve could be irrevocably changed by recurring intrusions of salt water.


Shovels Ready to Break Down the "Asphalt Dam" and Restore Everglades Water
News Service Florida By Gary
October 1, 2009
South Florida taxpayers already on the hook for millions in Everglades restoration may end up paying for some work that is not being done. That’s because a contractor whose project was cancelled to make way for the purchase of 73,000 acres from U.S. Sugar Corp. is crying foul. Worse for regional water managers, Kansas-based Black & Veatch is filing suit in West Palm Beach asking for at least $2.4 million for revenue not received when the retention pond project the company was working on got cancelled to pay for the $536 million U.S. Sugar deal. South Florida Water Management officials have been pretty tight-lipped about the suit, but said Wednesday the complaint didn’t hold water. “The South Florida Water Management District has met and exceeded all its financial obligations to Black & Veatch under the mutual contract both parties agreed upon,” district spokesman Gabe Margasak said.


Tribe opposing Everglades road work
Herald By Kate Spinner
October 1, 2009
Miccosukee deem the Trail bridge a bad idea
A controversial project to raise a portion of Tamiami Trail in the Everglades is expected to begin in about four weeks, despite a lawsuit seeking to stop it.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this week awarded Kiewit Southern Co. of Sunrise a contract to build a one-mile bridge in Tamiami Trail to allow water to flow into the eastern Everglades National Park.
The $81 million job, to be completed by 2013, includes reinforcing and raising 9.7 miles of the road. The projected cost is less than half earlier estimates, said Corps spokeswoman Nanciann Regalado.
Money for the project was awarded in a federal stimulus bill meant to create jobs.
But a lawsuit filed by the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, which opposes the bridge, still seeks to stop the work.
The Miccosukee contend that the bridge is a waste of scarce Everglades restoration money because it cannot return healthy flows to Everglades National Park alone.
Higher flows to the eastern section of the park put neighborhoods in west Miami-Dade County at risk for flooding, said Dexter Lehtinen, the tribe's attorney.
Without water management measures that have yet to be planned, water will still back up north of the road, Lehtinen said, flooding Miccosukee land used for traditional living, education and ceremony.
The tribe halted the project late last year, when a judge issued an injunction, calling it "an environmental bridge to nowhere." But language in the stimulus bill overrode the judge's authority and the National Environmental Policy Act.
The tribe has appealed the judge's June decision to dismiss the case because the legislation made it moot.
The road work stems from a congressional mandate 20 years ago to move more water into Everglades National Park, which frequently burns in the dry season.
Gov. Charlie Crist, state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole and Everglades Foundation CEO Kirk Fordham praised project's renewed momentum.
"The sooner we can allow a greater volume of water flowing into Everglades National Park, the quicker we'll see progress in saving this spectacular natural resource," Fordham said in a prepared statement.


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