Kevin Spear reports for the Orlando Sentinel – “The Orlando Utilities Commission’s recently enacted rate hike of 15 percent will still leave its water way cheaper than dirt… While construction dirt costs about a half-penny per pound, the charge for OUC water amounts to hundredth of a penny per pound. But when it comes to a natural resource that performs the double duty of supporting population growth and sustaining springs, wetlands, rivers and lakes, cheap water can also mean costly environmental trouble, critics say, pointing out that utilities get their water for free… Central Florida cities and counties already pump so aggressively from the Floridan Aquifer, which does not replenish itself quickly enough with rainwater, that spring systems such as that of the Wekiva River are suffering… Utilities are doing so, said University of Florida professor Sanford Berg, with the public having too little understanding of the value of water… ‘If we overuse water today, we do impose costs on future generations,’ Berg said… Bob Knight, director of the Florida Springs Institute, has called on the state to impose an aquifer-protection fee to encourage ‘the wise use of water.’” Read Orlando rate hike leaves water cheaper than dirt
Robert Knight writes for The Gainesville Sun – “After three years and roughly $3 million in state funding, UF has once again concluded that Silver Springs is experiencing excessive flow reductions and nitrate pollution… The Florida Springs Task Force formed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in 1999 called for a cap on groundwater pumping and limits on nitrogen loading from urban and agricultural fertilizers and septic tanks. The Silver Springs 50-year retrospective study… 14 years ago, found that depleted flow and elevated nitrate levels were causing significant and increasing ecological harm at Silver Springs. Multiple studies at Silver and Florida’s other major springs by the Florida Springs Institute have further documented the widespread loss of spring health and outlined the steps needed for their recovery. The specific actions that must be taken to save Florida’s springs have been described repeatedly but apparently cannot see the light of day in Florida’s political climate. After decades of credible evaluations of the problems ravaging Silver Springs, the St. Johns River Water Management district decided to reinvent the wheel by conducting another study, spending millions of dollars and losing three more years of possible springs recovery time… Tragically, this tactic gave the district governing board the time and cover they needed to pass a highly flawed minimum flow rule and issue another groundwater pumping permit to Sleepy Creek that will result in further harmful flow reductions at Silver Springs… Continuing to issue groundwater withdrawal permits and allowing more septic tanks is counter-productive to preserving Florida’s springs. Without vocal outrage from voters, our leaders will continue to put business-as-usual over the best interests of the public.” Read Silver Springs study delayed restorative action
Jenny Staletovich reports for the Miami Herald – “The grasshopper sparrow, a tiny Florida prairie bird perched on the verge of extinction for the last decade, may have encountered a final, unconquerable foe: an invasive new disease quickly killing off its young. The disease has spread so rapidly that wildlife managers now fear another endangered sparrow, the Cape Sable seaside sparrow in the Everglades, could also be at risk if numbers fall any lower… Another threat is also at play: money. The Service has so far spent $1 million on conservation efforts, including a captive breeding program, aided by private donations… ‘[B]udget uncertainties’ remain. And with nesting season starting in May, time may be running out… The Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida has… set up an emergency fund, which… has so far raised $12,000… Eight species of prairie or seaside sparrows once darted across Florida’s rolling marshes and dry prairies… [T]heir biggest threat turned out to be development… Two birds, the Smyrna and dusky seaside sparrow, vanished by 1987… Two others are in decline. And two, the grasshopper and Cape Sable, now face what wildlife managers call the extinction vortex – an unstoppable downward spiral reached when populations drop to such low numbers that threats like disease and shrinking habitat become mutually reinforcing… The good news is intestinal parasites in birds are highly treatable… Once the strain is identified, biologists may be able to find a way to immunize the birds and stimulate their natural immunity.” Read Rare Florida sparrow could vanish this year and more birds could be at risk
Kate Stein reports for WGCU – “Everglades National Park is a World Heritage site, and it’s under siege from drought, invasive species and sea-level rise… The Everglades… [is] listed (as a World Heritage Site) for these massive subtropical wetlands and coastal marine ecosystems, and it’s also listed because of the fact that it’s this vast, nearly flat seabed that was submerged in the last ice age… It’s a critical habitat for a number of species, a number of which are endangered or threatened, like the Florida panther, the snail kite, alligator, the manatee. It’s also a major corridor for migratory birds… [I]t’s a massive set of natural lungs for the planet. You know, the functioning of these systems is critical to clean water, recycling air, recycling nutrients, sucking in carbon – all of those things that we know our natural systems have continued to do and are now under pressure and struggling to do…. [T]hese areas… [are] fundamental to the functioning of the planet.” Read Everglades Critical: Why a UN-Linked Group Gave Florida’s World Heritage Site a Dire Designation
George Bennett reports for my Palm Beach Post – “Chris King, the Winter Park businessman seeking the 2018 Democratic nomination for Florida governor, scored some points with Everglades advocates by being the only gubernatorial hopeful to attend the recent Everglades Coalition Conference… King impressed attendees by appearing ‘sharp’ on the issues, said Kimberly Mitchell, the former West Palm Beach city commissioner who is executive director of the Everglades Trust… King has pledged not to accept campaign contributions from the sugar industry… ‘This isn’t about demonizing one industry – everyone has a right to advocate for their interests. But special interest groups have enough advocates in Tallahassee. I’m going to be a governor who puts the people, environment, and economy of Florida ahead of these special interests…’ King said.” Read Who was the only candidate for governor at Everglades Coalition conference?
Josh Siegel reports for The Washington Post – “Sen. Bill Nelson… said he is blocking the confirmation of three Interior Department nominees until Secretary Ryan Zinke formally removes Florida from the Trump administration’s massive offshore oil and natural gas drilling plan… Nelson, his office said in a press release, will maintain a ‘hold’ on the three Interior Department nominees until Zinke formally updates the five-year drilling plan and replaces it with a new draft proposal that preserve the current moratorium on drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico beyond 2022 and ‘fully protects all of Florida’s coasts from the threat of both offshore drilling and seismic testing.’” Read Sen. Bill Nelson to block Interior nominees until Ryan Zinke confirms vow to prevent drilling off Florida’s shores
Teresa Stepzinski reports for the Florida Times Union – “Hurricane Irma ripped up trees, smashed docks, wrenched boats from moorings and swept refrigerators and stoves out of homes – dumping it all into Northeast Florida waters. Four months later, contractors… continue plucking the debris from the St. Johns River… as well as the region’s other major waterways… Smith (a marine biologist and University of North Florida associate professor of biology) said tree fall… is a natural feature of rivers and tributaries such as Black Creek. Removing tree fall from navigable waterways is important for public safety… But [it] also can alter – possibly for he worse- the ecosystem… Tree fall provides good habitat and shelter for multiple fish species…, is a source of slowly released nutrients and impacts sediment dynamics, which controls the physical habitat of river ecosystems, she said. Smith expects the debris will include a lot of building materials such as pressed wood products that ultimately could leach toxins into the water… Smith said hopefully, the concentrations of those pollutants will be too small to harm the ecosystem. The sooner that debris is removed, the better… The Coast Guard said vessels are being removed on a priority basis according to the potential environmental impact and location in navigable waters.” Read Hurricane Irma debris still clogs Northeast Florida waters
Juliet Eilperin reports for The Washington Post – “More than three-quarters of the members of a federally chartered board advising the National Park Service have quit out of frustration that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had refused to meet with them or convene a single meeting last year. The resignation of 10 out of 12 National Park System Advisory Board members leaves the federal government without a functioning body to designate national historic or natural landmarks… In at least two instances, Zinke has disbanded existing advisory bodies – the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council and the Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science. He replaced the first one with the Hunting and Shooting Sports Conservation Council… It will place a heavier emphases on sport shooting while promoting hunters’ and fishermen’s access to public lands… Members (of the National Park System Advisory Board)… were surprised to not be consulted on Interior’s recent decisions to increase visitor fees and reverse a ban on plastic water bottles in the park system. The decision to reverse climate change directives and other policies drove the decision to resign, [Board Chairman Knowles] said.” Read Nearly all members of National Park Service advisory panel resign in frustration
From Our Readers
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Upcoming Environmental Events
January 20, 9:00 am – Participate in the annual Newnan’s Lake Cleanup in Gainesville. Volunteers will meet at Earl P. Powers Park (5910 SE Hawthorne Rd) on the southwest edge of the lake. Current Problems will provide cleanup supplies such as bags, grabbers, gloves, nets, and scales. There will be snacks and drinks for volunteers. For more information, contact Megan Black at firstname.lastname@example.org.
January 30-31 – Participate in the Reclaiming Florida’s Future for All Advocacy Day in Tallahassee. Citizens will gather together to support climate action and land conservation funding. They will receive free advocacy training and may receive free lodging. For more information, click here.
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