FCC News Brief - October 19, 2018

Read After hurricane, fate of sea turtle nests uncertain on Florida coast - “When Hurricane Michael struck Florida’s Panhandle, it swept away nests of threatened baby loggerhead sea turtles hatching along its sandy beaches, already damaged by previous storms and erosion. Scalloped sand has replaced dunes that have been washed away in Alligator Point, one of the most prolific areas for sea turtle nests in Franklin County and the state. “Our dunes were about 8 feet (2.44 meters) high and they’re all gone,” said Allan Feifer, 61, a Franklin County emergency management official, who lives in Bald Point, which was battered by 11.5-foot (3.50-meter) storm surge. Almost all Gulfside Beaches in Franklin County, along Florida’s “forgotten coast” of the Panhandle are dotted with sea turtle nests from May through October. “All of this is sea turtle nesting area,” said Deb Washburn, 62, a retiree and resident of Carrabelle, a seaside town of 2,700. “All of our lights are out at night,” she said. Baby sea turtle hatchlings typically use the light of the horizon to help guide them to the water. Artificial lighting from beach homes can turn them away from the water. As a result, the town has specially programmed streetlights that turn on only when cars are passing by, limiting artificial lights in the area. Loggerheads, a federally protected species, are the most common type of sea turtle living in Florida. The U.S. Southeast has a majority of the nesting grounds for loggerheads, said Catherine Eastman, Sea Turtle Program Manager at the University of Florida’s Whitney Marine Laboratory Sea Turtle Hospital. The state also has a smattering of Atlantic green sea turtles… The barrier island beaches in the Apalachicola area support some of the densest concentrations of nesting loggerhead sea turtles in northwest Florida, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). There were only seven nests left on St. George Island in Franklin County as of last week and “unless they hatched before today, they didn’t survive,” St. George Island Volunteer Turtlers said in a Facebook post last week. The beaches of Franklin County have been monitored for sea turtle nesting activity since 1979, when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) implemented a statewide monitoring program, the Florida DEP said on its website. After a significant increase in the number of turtles hatching and crawling to the ocean between 1990 and 1999, there has been a drop off, it said…” Devika Krishna Kumar reports for Reuters.

Read Prevent red tide? Start with more wetlands, experts say - “Three Democratic federal lawmakers will work toward increasing water quality monitoring in the Gulf of Mexico and creating more wetlands to clean water flowing into the Gulf and other waterways. U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson crafted a preliminary action plan Wednesday after meeting with local scientists and business leaders about the ongoing impacts of red tide. “Even though the tourism numbers have been up … boy, this could really set us back unless we work together to address the red tide,” Castor said during a roundtable discussion in St. Petersburg on Wednesday. Three scientists with varying areas of expertise all agreed: Red tide is a naturally occurring environmental phenomenon, but large blooms are likely fueled by warmer Gulf temperatures as the result of climate change and, possibly, by nutrient runoff from agriculture. Jacqueline Dixon, Dean of the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science, compared red tide to naturally-occurring bacteria in the human body. She explained red tide naturally grows at the bottom of the Gulf. It’s a plant, she said, and when you feed plants nutrients, they grow. The explanation lends to the argument among critics of Gov. Rick Scott that environmental deregulation under his administration has increased the likelihood of a harmful red tide algal bloom. William Mitsch, director of the Everglades Wetland Research Park, said that may be the case, but scientists have yet to find steadfast evidence proving that it is the culprit. Further, he said even if it is a culprit, it’s not the only one. Climate change is increasing water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico. That paired with increased rain and nutrient runoff from Florida agriculture creates “a toxic brew” ripe for red tide development. ‘Can we change the temp of the Gulf of Mexico? Probably not,’ Mitsch said. But he said Florida legislators and federal officials can take steps to mitigate red tide occurrences by better regulating nutrient pollution and creating new wetlands that serve as a filter for water before it reaches the Gulf. Mitsch recommends adding 100,000 acres of wetlands south of Lake Okeechobee. He said it’s crucial that water flow be directed south – its natural course – rather than east and west to the Gulf and Atlantic shorelines…” Janelle Irwin Taylor reports for Florida Politics.

Read With hurricanes and toxic algae, Florida candidates can’t ignore the environment - “It's been a year of environmental discontent in Florida. On the Gulf Coast, a toxic red tide algae burned beachgoers eyes and lungs and killed manatees by the dozens. In Lake Okeechobee and on the Atlantic Coast, slimy, rancid blooms of toxic blue-green algae prompted health warnings to stay out of the water. Sunny-day flooding in South Florida during king tides brought reminders of climate change and sea-level rise. Then a powerful hurricane fueled by the overly warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico exploded from almost nothing to Category 4 strength in just three days, devastating communities in the Panhandle. The environment is rarely a decisive issue for voters, but Florida is different, especially this year. Both major party candidates for governor are courting the environment vote after eight years under Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who has been getting a lot of the blame for the water pollution and has been criticized for ignoring climate science in a state with a lot to lose from global warming. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democrat who is trying to become Florida's first African-American governor, and former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, the Republican who has tied himself to President Donald Trump, both have strong environmental messages in their campaigns. Environment and economy are tightly connected in Florida Hundreds of miles of sandy beaches are like magnets to the more than 100 million visitors annually. Freshwater lakes and springs draw crowds and dollars. And then there is the Everglades—a vast wilderness of sawgrass marshes, mangroves and hardwood forests right at sea level. ‘Part of what makes Florida unique is that we are so heavily a tourism-driven economy,’ said Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation Voters, an environmental group that focuses on politics and has endorsed Gillum. ‘It's a beautiful place to live,’ she said. ‘We all sort of know if we mess this up we are shooting ourselves in the foot.’ Florida's growing population is also highly susceptible to the effects of climate change, including extreme heat, drought, more potent hurricanes and worsening coastal flooding as sea level rises, said Andrea Dutton, a University of Florida geologist and climate scientist. It's not too soon for Floridians to be asking how they want that to play out in the next several decades, she said. Politicians seeking to be governor of Florida normally come to understand how much the environment means to Floridians at some point and recognize that most residents don't want offshore drilling, toxic algae or a trashed Everglades, said Cynthia Barnett, a Florida author and environmental fellow at the University of Florida's Bob Graham Center for Public Service…” James Bruggers writes for Inside Climate News.

Read Florida’s red tide: Long-term problem with no short-term fix - “Florida, a state that depends on water-fresh, estuarine and marine- for its economy and cultural identity more than most other states is in a dire situation of its own making. Decades of water and natural-resource mismanagement, recently accelerated, are coming home to roost. The current focus is on the red tide, classified as a harmful algal bloom, occurring along the Gulf Coast. But this crisis is not an outlier; it is part of the new normal. Either ongoing or in recent years, there have been harmful algal blooms in the Caloosahatchee River, St. Lucie River, St. Johns River, Florida Bay and the Indian River Lagoon. Indeed, at some point in the last few years much of Florida’s estuarine waters have been impacted by harmful algal blooms… Similar crises are occurring throughout Florida. Because Everglades restoration has stalled, not enough freshwater flows from Lake Okeechobee into the Everglades and then into Florida Bay. In 2016, this lack of freshwater caused algae blooms, fish kills, and an extensive seagrass die-off in Florida Bay. The water not flowing into the Everglades is instead being discharged into the St. Lucie River and Caloosahatchee River, where it has caused an harmful algal bloom so toxic that human contact is dangerous. The common theme for these crises is mismanagement of Florida’s water resources. The first problem is the alteration of freshwater flows into coastal waters. The watershed of the Caloosahatchee River once was limited to southwest Florida. It now drains Lake Okeechobee’s watershed, which stretches to Orlando. And the Everglades and Florida Bay are nearly entirely cut off from the freshwater flows they used to receive. A similar scenario plays out at smaller scales for Florida’s other coastal waterways. The second problem is that far too many nutrients are entering freshwater lakes, streams and rivers, which then empty into coastal waters. These nutrients come from Florida’s phosphate-mining industry, outdated sewage infrastructure, extensive use of residential septic systems, and agricultural and stormwater runoff. These nutrient sources not only contaminate the surface waters, but also the aquifers – the amount of nutrients in Florida’s groundwater are far too high. These groundwaters then seep into coastal waters through Florida’s limestone base. And we haven’t even addressed the dramatic and ongoing loss and degradation of coastal habitat…” Aaron Adams reports for the Orlando Sentinel

Read Water storage plan awaits Trump’s pen - “Suspense over the fate of a water-resources bill stalled in the U.S. Congress ended Oct. 10 when the Senate voted, 99-1, to send the bill to President Donald Trump. The Water Resources Development Act of 2018 includes approval of the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir, a key step to improve freshwater flows to Florida Bay and the Everglades. President Trump apparently will sign the bill. In advance of the Senate vote, he tweeted: “Congress must follow through on the Government’s plan on the Everglades Reservoir.” “This is a victory by the people of Florida who put their collective feet down and said, ‘Enough!’,” said Erik Eikenberg, chief executive of the nonprofit Everglades Foundation. “By the tens of thousands, they made their voices heard from Tallahassee to Washington, D.C., demanding action, finally, on the 18-year-old plan to store, clean and send Lake Okeechobee water south to the Everglades and the Florida Keys,” he said. The reservoir is expected to cost from $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion, with funding split between Florida and the federal government. Construction is projected to take up to a decade to create the 10,500-acre reservoir, 23 feet deep, and a 6,500-acre marsh to remove problematic nutrients from water before it is sent south. Overall costs for the reservoir and related projects, which also should help reduce harmful water discharges into mainland Florida coastal estuaries, have been estimated at up to $3.1 billion. Florida Keys conservationists and sportfishing groups have been calling for Everglades restoration for more than two decades as an essential move to reverse declining water quality in Florida Bay, both for environmental and economic reasons in the “Sportfishing Capital of the World.” Massive seagrass die-offs in the 1980s and in 2015 were linked to a drastically reduced freshwater flow that caused salinity in the historically brackish bay to spike. Dead seagrass then fed blue-green algae blooms that harmed marine life. “The recurring toxic algae blooms in South Florida and the 2015 seagrass die-off in Florida Bay tell us our watershed is sick,” said Celeste De Palma, Audubon Florida’s director of Everglades policy. “Implementing Everglades restoration projects like the EAA reservoir is the antidote the ecosystem needs.” “Now we urge the president to sign the bill so we can get in line for the appropriations we need from the federal government. Florida has done its part,” Friedman said. “This reservoir is particularly important right now to help mitigate the toxic algae crisis that’s sweeping the state, but it’s also critical for our broader Everglades restoration effort,” Florida U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said in a statement after the vote…” Kevin Wadlow reports for  the Florida Keys News.

Read Stormwater fee passes first council hurdle - “Town officials estimate that there are an estimated $15.2 million worth of stormwater pipe that needs to be replaced to help lessen or prevent the kind of flooding experienced from Hurricane Irma last year. While it’s be impossible to handle all of the needs now, Orange Park is one step closer to implementing a Stormwater Management Utility and associated fee that will tackle the problem by providing a dedicated stormwater maintenance team. During a special meeting held in June earlier this year, Orange Park Town Council was presented with four different options to pay for stormwater maintenance. One of these options was the creation of a stormwater utility fee. While the council did not need to make a vote during that meeting, they did come to a consensus that a utility and fee was the route they intended to take. First estimates showed it would cost homeowners less than $10 a month. “For the average home, which I believe is 3,700 square feet of impervious area, you would be $7 a month [per monthly utility bill],” Town Manager Sarah Campbell said during the meeting. Because homeowners will be paying more in the end, Mayor Gary Meeks made a promise that if the council could find a way to save homeowners money elsewhere, they would ensure that happens. During the Sept. 18 council meeting, that happened when the town voted 5-0 to reduce the millage rate for fiscal year 2018-19 to the rolled back rate of 5.9212...The review identified 129,000 linear feet of stormwater pipe that will cost $15.2 million to replace and 1,165 stormwater structures that will cost $5.1 million to replace, though not all of this needs to be replaced immediately. It also identified six waterway sites that have what were determined to be high priority maintenance issues, eight sites with medium priority issues and another eight with low priority issues. “The assessment was conducted and has identified the amount of maintenance we need to be doing on an annual basis, and frankly the amount of capital replacement on your assets that you will need to be doing on an annual basis, is really eye-opening,” Campbell said. The stormwater utility fee will pay for a stormwater maintenance team that includes three dedicated employees who will work to maintain and improve pipes and waterways in Orange Park, as well as begin the necessary replacements of structures and pipes as needed. “There is certainly a plan, a very robust plan, a plan we’ve never had before,” Campbell said. The $7 a month fee will bring in an estimated $408,000 per year…” Wesley LeBlanc writes for Clay Today.


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Upcoming Environmental Events:

October 12-November 16 - Save our Springs & Rivers Academy (Volusia County)- Want to become a Blue Spring advocate and help spread the word about solutions to water pollution? Attend this FREE adult education courses that includes classroom and field trip experiences, guest speakers, hands-on, feet-wet learning to provide the ultimate citizen engagement experience. Those participating in the six-week course will gain valuable knowledge and will pledge to educate others on behalf of Volusia Blue Spring. For more information or to register, visit www.greenvolusia.org or call 386-736-5927. View course dates and locations here.

October 20, 10:00am-4:00pm - Miami Waterkeeper’s 4th Annual Bay Day (Coconut Grove): Join the Miami Waterkeeper’s annual ‘Bay Day’, celebrating Biscayne Bay at Shake-A-Leg in Coconut Grove. Tickets for this family-friendly event include: Lunch from SALT waterfront restaurant, 2 Veza Sur Brewing beers, kayaking, boat rides, sailing, arts & crafts, music, yoga, native plant and book sales, visits to Shake-A-Leg’s eco-island, and more! For tickets and more information, click here.

October 20-21 – Into the Springs Music Festival (Alachua):  Join the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute for its second annual Into the Springs Music Festival at Deep Spring Farm. Enjoy a weekend full of live music, camping, organic farming workshops, yoga, and community in support of Florida springs! To learn more and purchase tickets, visit https://floridaspringsinstitute.org/event/intothesprings/. Funding for this event was provided in part by Visit Gainesville/Alachua County. Address: Deep Springs Farm,  16419 W County Rd 1491, Alachua, FL 32615.

October 26, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. - Water Symposium: The State of our Water (DeLand): The Volusia Water Alliance hosts a series of short presentations on the water problems we face and possible solutions by leaders and experts, focused on Volusia County and applicable statewide. This free event features keynote speaker Dr. Jason Evans, Faculty Director of the Institute for Water & Environmental Resilience, Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Studies at Stetson University, and Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Environmental Management. His topic is "Reclaiming the Future: Science, Engagement, and Hope in Our State of Watery Peril.” Seating is limited; please register online at VolusiaWater.org. Optional catered lunch from DeLand Natural Market (wrap, chips, water, and a brownie) is available for $12 with registration. Visit VolusiaWater.org for more information. Sponsorships are available. Wayne G. Sanborn Activity Center - 815 S. Alabama Ave., DeLand, FL 32724

November 1, 12:00 noon to 1:30 p.m. -- FREE Sustainable Landscaping Principles and Practices Webinar:  This free webinar will explore best practices, trends and market opportunities for sustainable landscaping in the State of Florida. Sustainable Landscaping is a set of landscaping principles and practices which minimize environmental degradation and make more efficient use of energy, water and other natural resources. This course will review the latest research and present current best practices for designing, building and maintaining sustainable landscapes. Project case studies will be used to discuss a framework for how to promote sustainable landscaping on large scale commercial projects working with multiple stakeholders through conceptual planning through implementation and long-term maintenance. The instructors are Pierce Jones, Ph.D., the University of Florida Extension Program Leader for Energy Programs, and Timothee Sallin, president of Cherrylake, an integrated landscape company.  This event has been approved for credits for planners, Certified Floodplain Manger and Florida Environmental Health Professionals and are being sought for Florida attorneys and others.  Register at www.1000friendsofflorida.org/webinar.

November 1-4 - The Florida Springs Restoration Summit (Ocala) - Join the Florida Springs Council in Ocala to learn from state leaders and experts on how we can make meaningful springs restoration a reality. The Florida Springs Restoration Summit brings together scientists, academics, advocates, reporters, policy makers, and other citizens to discuss the status of springs health and steps needed for meaningful springs restoration and long-term protection. The cost to attend the Springs Summit is kept low to encourage participation by members of the public and nonprofit organizations. To learn more about the 2018 Springs Restoration Summit and register, see the Summit website.

November 17 - 9:00am-4:00pm - Highlands County Master Gardeners Festival (Sebring) - Join the Highlands County Master Gardeners for the inaugural Garden Festival. Kicked off at 9:00am by Shannon Reed singing the National Anthem, there will be live music, vendors, food, a kids zone, and plant classes. Where: Bert J Harris Agricultural Civic Center in Sebring: 4509 George Blvd.

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