FCC News Brief - August 27, 2018

Read Plan in the works to clean up Florida’s polluted springs - “ Blue Spring State Park is filled with people ready to swim in the crisp 72-degree spring waters. But the truth about several Florida springs is daunting. ‘If we don't make sure that we stop this right now, we're going to find that we're going to be drinking out of our own toilet,’  said State Sen. David Simmons. Simmons represents Southwest Volusia County and co-authored the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act, which was introduced in 2016. ‘Because of testing and measurement, we know that we need to reduce the amount of nitrates that are in these springs, and of course in the aquifer that feeds the springs,’ Simmons said. Simmons said several springs around Central Florida are in trouble, including Blue Springs, DeLeon Springs and Gemini Springs. For example, he said about 61,653 pounds of nitrogen are being dumped into Blue Springs per year, fueling algae growth, thanks to septic tanks, fertilizer and wastewater treatment facilities. The Department of Environmental Protection has a Basin Management Action Plan, that over the next 20 years, will reduce the amount of nitrates. The plan includes remediating waste water treatment plants, septic tanks and creating an ordinance on the use of fertilizer...However, not everyone believes the plan will work. ‘Do I think it will help? Yes. The question is, how much will it help?’ said Dan Hilliard, president of the Florida Springs Council, Inc. Hilliard said there are concerns about the quantity and quality of data collected. Some organizations, including Save the Manatee Club, challenged the plan and are pushing for an extension. ‘It's a first tentative step in the right direction. Will it be successful? I'm not optimistic about that. There's an appearance that policy, departmental policy doesn't necessarily reflect the spirit of legislation and imposed requirements for these BMAPS,’ he said. But, Simmons believes this plan will prove itself and said officials will check on the progress every five years. ‘These are going to take time and effort and money in order to accomplish these but at least we have a plan,’ he said. The DEP released the statement below about the BMAPs, which were signed on June 29. They remain pending until certain administrative actions are resolved…” Loren Korn reports for Click Orlando.


Read New algae bloom bill introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson - “U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson introduced a new bill Thursday that would require a federal algae response department to develop a plan to reduce and control harmful algal blooms in southern Florida communities. According to a release from Rubio's office, the bill would require the Interagency Task Force on Harmful Algal Blooms to assess the blooms and create an action plan responding to them including: 1) Addressing if there is a need to increase water quality monitors. 2) Developing a timeline and adjusting federal budgets for deploying any new monitors. 3) Identifying requirements for developing and verifying of algae bloom predictive models. 4) Proposing the creation of an early warning system for alerting local communities to the blooms' risks to human health. ‘Congress has a chance to bring much needed relief to communities impacted by harmful algae outbreaks in Florida,’ said Rubio, a Republican. ‘By directing this existing, federal Task Force to assess the situation in southern Florida, this bill will focus federal resources on understanding both our blue-green algae and red tide problems and on developing an Action Plan with the state to solve these challenges once and for all. I urge my colleagues to act quickly and pass this bill.’ Nelson, a Democrat, weighed in on the bill on Twitter: ‘Partnering with Sen. Rubio on a bill to require a coordinated scientific strategy to address toxic algae in South Florida and the Everglades. This is a crisis that requires reaching across the partisan aisle to solve.…” Ali Schmitz reports for the Treasure Coast Newspapers.  

Read Loss of aquatic vegetation means ‘the lake is hurting- “High water levels are hurting Lake Okeechobee’s ecological balance. Water Resources Director Terrie Bates explained the issue at the July 12 meeting of the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board. She said it is due to the lasting effects of Hurricane Irma, which churned the waters of the Big O and dumped enough rain to push the lake level up to 17.2 feet as the watershed to the north drained into the lake...The wet-season rains came too soon. Phosphorus levels, although they have come down, are still significantly higher than they normally are at this time of the year, she said. The lake has really been hampered three years in a row by very high stages, Ms. Bates explained. The loss of aquatic habitat, both from the storm surge that ripped vegetation out of the lake and from the high water levels, means there are fewer plants in the water column to uptake the phosphorus. The aquatic vegetation also provides critical habitat for fish and wildlife. ‘The lake is certainly hurting,’ she said. In 2009, the lake had about 46,000 acres of submerged vegetation. In 2015, Lake O had 33,345 acres of submerged vegetation, she said. After Hurricane Irma, it had 11,609 acres. The loss of the plant communities means loss of habitat for fish and wildlife, he said.Dr. Gray explained that the flood control system was designed in the 1940s. Even then, officials knew it had to be a balancing act between flood control and water storage, he said. If you overuse the flood control system, you will have water shortages, he said. The system needs to be fixed to prevent the extreme high lake levels, which result in harmful releases to the estuaries east and west, and the extreme lows, which mean water shortages for farmers and urban areas. The way to fix this is with water storage north, south, east and west of Lake Okeechobee, he said...” Katrina Elsken reports for the Glades County Democrat.

Read How the environment has become a key factor in Florida’s elections - “It was less than a month ago, in early August, that Southwest Florida fishing guide Nick Fischer told Good Morning America that a putrid combination of blue-green algae and a red tide in the region had him feeling anxious about the impacts the ecological disaster would have on his business. ‘It’s economically affecting all of us, you can’t fish here and they [tourists] just want to get their families out of here and leave the area,’ Fischer said. ‘This is what I do every day for a living, that’s how I, we provide for our families and I don’t know what to do.’ For Fischer, and a state that touts tourism as being the number one economic industry -- making up to 23 percent of the state’s sales tax revenue, supporting more than 1.4 million jobs and creating a local value up to $45 billion -- losing those vital customers has Floridians wondering if it’s time to approach environmental policy differently. It’s all happening as the midterm elections are heating up in the Sunshine State and Floridians say they have one thing on their mind: how to protect their environment and their economy. As Florida reckons with two algae phenomena, one being the blue-green nutrient-rich algae in Lake Okeechobee, and the other being the naturally occurring red tide in the Gulf Coast shores, experts say Florida has never seen anything like what’s being experienced this summer. With a number of policy and funding rollbacks from current elected officials running for office, they don’t know when it will get better. ‘The bloom may have naturally occurred, but naturally it might not have gotten as intense as it is now if didn’t have those nutrients from human sources that fueled the growth,’ said Karl Havens, director of the Florida Sea Grant College Program and a professor at the University of Florida IFAS. According to a Politifact and Tampa Bay Times report, in 2011 Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration cut $700 million in water management funding, about 40 percent of the state’s water management district's budget. Since 2012, the state’s water management district budget increased by about $300 million, making the overall budget cuts closer to $400 million since 2011...At the federal level, Nelson and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio are urging their colleagues to schedule a vote and approve the 2018 Water Resources Development Act that amongst other environmental policies, would include building a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. Experts say a reservoir would reduce nutrient-rich discharge into Southwest Florida waterways. For some voters, all this election year action on behalf of their current elected officials might be too late. Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, says these environmental and economic concerns should go hand in hand for Florida leaders. ‘These are important concerns that state leaders, particularly elected officials have to tend to,’ Calabro said. ‘A good quality environment is absolutely essential and conducive to a sustainable economic growth and diversification...” Lissette Rodriguez reports for ABC News.

Read Pollution in Central Florida reaches Everglades through system of streams lakes - “Most people think of South Florida when they talk about the Florida Everglades, but the stream leading into the Everglades begins in Central Florida. Shingle Creek, near Conroy Road, is one of the starting bases that streams through neighboring lakes and eventually makes its way to the Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. Sam Haught, with Wild Florida, not only works along Shingle Creek, but enjoys its serenity. ‘What appears to be just a dirt ditch up here in Orlando turns into the Everglades,’ Haught said. ‘You get past these developed areas and it feels like a different planet. It really feels like you're in the heart of the Everglades down south and you would never know it's heavily bordered by tourists and heavy residential areas.’ To drivers, Shingle Creek may look like a small watering hole, but its depth goes far beyond. The rainwater that fills the creek filters downstream and meets up with West Lake Tohopekaliga, and then goes through a channel to Lake Cypress. Eventually those waters filter into the Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. When asked if he's ever afraid of contamination, Haught said it's always in the back of his mind...” Vanessa Araiza reports for Click Orlando.

Read Alligator attacks are on the rise in Florida. Thank humans, scientist says - “ As Felicitie Gillette entered the waters of Lake Hernando early Wednesday, there was no way for her to know she’d soon become the latest statistic in an alarming and exceptionally Floridian trend — alligator attacks. The American alligator, one of the Sunshine State’s most ubiquitous reptiles, wasn’t always so. At one point, they were hunted to near extinction and placed on the endangered species list until it was taken off in 1987. Since then, scientists say, gator attacks have been on the rise in Florida. Humans may be to blame...As population and development has increased in Florida, scientists say, so too have alligator attacks. University of North Florida researchers, studying interaction between humans and alligators, presented their findings to the Ecological Society of America earlier this month. Of the many factors they studied, including temperature and rain, they found that humans were the only logical thing to blame for conflicts. ‘Using simple pairwise linear regression, we found that only human population size was a reliable predictor of alligator attack rates in Florida during the period 1988-2016,’ Morgan Golden-Ebanks and Adam E. Rosenblatt wrote in the study. ‘As a result, management of human-alligator conflict should focus on limiting human-alligator interactions and preventing the further development of areas used by alligators.’ … ‘We’re stepping up our actions when it comes to gators because, of course, public safety is paramount,’ FWC spokeswoman Karen Parker said. ‘If you’ve got a body of water in Florida, there’s a good chance there’s an alligator in it.’... Daniel Figueroa IV reports for the Tampa Bay Times

Read Red tide: Florida powerless to stem killer algae bloom- “ Sanibel Island, a place of turquoise beaches on the Florida Gulf Coast, looks desolate these days. The palm trees, the summer houses and the colours of the tropics promise a perfect vacation, but the illusion disappears just when you reach the shore. There, the breeze brings a penetrating stench of rotten fish and the water, which is usually crystal blue, now has a copper brown colour. Dozens of dead fish float in the surf. ‘When the concentration of red tide is high it kills everything,’ says Dr Rick Bartleson, research scientist at The Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation Marine Laboratory (SCCF). The ‘red tide’ Mr Bartleson refers to is a toxic microscopic alga, Karenia brevis, which every year comes naturally to the Gulf of Mexico. ‘This red tide has been off the charts,’ says Dr Bartleson, who has been studying the phenomenon for several years. It has lasted much longer and spread much more than usual. This season the toxic algae began in October 2017 and has since expanded by about 150 miles (240km) on Florida's west coast...Since November 2017, the red tide has taken a toll on the marine life around this extremely diverse paradise.  At least 29 manatees are confirmed to have died due to the toxin by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Seventy-four more deaths are being investigated. The FWC has documented 588 stranded sea turtles and attributes 318 of them to the red tide...It is not possible to predict exactly when it will disappear, because the red tide presence depends on factors such as sunlight, the amount of nutrients and the salinity of the water, as well as the speed and direction of the wind and sea currents. Combating seaweed is not easy either. It is not enough to eliminate the organism; you also have to remove the toxin from the water. The FWC is clear about this: ‘Presently, there is no practical and acceptable way to control or kill red tide blooms.’ Under that scenario, for Mr Bartleson at least part of the solution seems obvious. ‘We can't control the currents, we can't control the winds,’ he says. ‘The only thing you can do is reduce nutrients [released to the water].’ Daniel Medina, a captain who rents his boat for tourists who come to fish in Fort Myers, says that in recent days he has lost several trips because people are simply not coming. ‘I've been in the area for just under 10 years,’ he says. ‘This is the worst case [of red tide] I've seen.’ ‘People come down here for the water - that's what makes Florida so great. If we don't have that, what do we have?” Carlos Serrano reports for the BBC.

Read Third species of algae, fueled by decomposing fish, is found blooming in Southwest Florida- “There's a third type of algae lurking in local waters.  The good news is that it's not toxic. The bad news is that it can impact marine life and put off an unpleasant odor. "We’ve been seeing this really bright green species called Oscillatoria, and it seems to be prevalent based on the availability of new nutrients from decomposing fish," said Rick Bartleson, a water quality scientist for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. You read that right: one type of algae, red tide, has caused massive fish kills in Southwest Florida since October, and now the dead fish are fueling a completely different species of algae. ‘If it’s floating upside down it’s brown and if you flop it over its green,’ Bartleson said. ‘We don’t know of any toxin (associated with this species).’ The algae can look like paint sprayed on a beach, or even appear as large brown chunks of floating organic material. It seems to be blooming in between the other two algae blooms, which have plagued this area since June.  The red tide bloom has dumped millions of pounds of fish on Lee County beaches and shorelines this month, and hundreds of sea turtles have died in Southwest Florida over the past three months. A blue-green algae bloom started on Lake Okeechobee in early June and quickly spread to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers. Both the red tide and the blue-green algae in the river are toxic...Bartleson said this new type of algae can be harmful though not toxic to the ecosystem because it keeps light from reaching seagrasses and causes oxygen levels to shrink. Whenever you have something growing over the sea grasses it’s shading the seagrasses and blocking water and carbon dioxide exchange in the grasses,’ Bartleson said. ‘When it accumulates along the shoreline it impacts everything because the oxygen gets sucked out of the water…” Chad Gillis reports for the Fort Myers News-Press

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Upcoming Environmental Events    

September 24, 7:00-9:00 pm - Water Voices Program: Clear Choices for Clean Water: The Ichetucknee Alliance resumes its popular Water Voices speaker series this fall with a program designed to inspire people to take action to solve the problems that plague the Ichetucknee River and its associated springs. This free event will feature a talk by Dr. Robert L. Knight, Executive Director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute (FSI), and the premiere of three new videos, Ichetucknee:  Yesterday – Today – Tomorrow, edited by award-winning documentary filmmaker Eric Flagg. Knight will also describe FSI’s newest project, a Blue Water Audit, as well as his idea for an Aquifer Protection Fee. See this press release for more information. High Springs New Century Woman’s Club, 23674 U.S. Highway 27, High Springs, FL 32643.

October 2, 6:30-8:30 pm - Water Voices Program: Clear Choices for Clean Water: The Ichetucknee Alliance resumes its popular Water Voices speaker series this fall with a program designed to inspire people to take action to solve the problems that plague the Ichetucknee River and its associated springs. This free event will feature a talk by Dr. Robert L. Knight, Executive Director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute (FSI), and the premiere of three new videos, Ichetucknee:  Yesterday – Today – Tomorrow, edited by award-winning documentary filmmaker Eric Flagg. Knight will also describe FSI’s newest project, a Blue Water Audit, as well as his idea for an Aquifer Protection Fee. See this press release for more information.  Columbia County Public Library – Main, 308 NW Columbia Ave., Lake City, FL  32055

November 1-4 - The Florida Springs Restoration Summit - 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.

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