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New springs bill revised to remove language objectionable to ag groups, home builders

A proposed rewrite of a Senate springs bill filed on Monday would provide $55 million for projects and would revise language that raised concerns with homebuilders and agricultural groups.

SB 1576 is scheduled to be heard Tuesday (Apr. 22nd) by the Senate Committee on Appropriations during an all day meeting in which more than 50 bills are on the agenda.

Springs across the state have become covered with slimy algae as nitrogen in groundwater has increased. Sources of nitrogen include lawn and agricultural fertilizer, stockyards, septic tanks, dirty stormwater runoff and sewage plant discharges.

Environmentalists offered a mixed response to the proposed new bill language. A representative of the Florida Cattlemen's Association said the language was better and that the group is not supporting or opposing the bill because it still is being worked on.

Continued in The Florida Current...


FIU Professors Win Grant For Sea-Level Rise Project

Florida International University is one of twelve colleges in the country to win a grant from the Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education this year. Four FIU journalism professors proposed a project on sea-level rise in South Florida.

Juliet Pinto, Susan Jacobson, Kate MacMillan and Robert Gutsche proposed and are now creating the Sea-Level Rise South Florida project. The goal is to give South Floridians easy access to data on sea-level rise, using a website and an app created by students.

"It's really getting the citizens into the classroom and the students out of the classroom," says Robert Gutsche.

Continued on WLRN.org...


SBEP to Celebrate Arbor Day with Eduational Classes at Twin Lakes Park

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April 21, 2014

Media Contact: Sara Kane
Public Outreach Manager
Sarasota Bay Estuary Program
941-955-8085 / sara@sarasotabay.org

SARASOTA, FL – Sarasota County, UF/IFAS Extension, Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP) and FPL are celebrating Arbor Day 2014 with two free educational events at the Sarasota County Extension office, at Twin Lakes Park, 6700 Clark Road, Sarasota.

“Tree School” will be held 8 am - 12 pm on Friday, April 25. The event will focus on best practices and proper tree care for landscape professionals. Continuing Education Credits (CEUs), International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), and Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) credits will be available to participants.

“Value of Trees and Pruning for Tree Health” will be held 1 - 4 pm, on Saturday, April 26. The event will feature pruning demonstrations and a discussion on how to place the right tree in the right location. Information about coastal trees and the special considerations when managing them is also included. A panel of experts will be on hand to answer questions from participants who will also receive a free pindo palm seedling, while supplies last and donated by FPL.

A commemorative tree planting at the Sarasota County Extension Gardens at Twin Lakes Park will be held following the class on April 26.

Advanced registration is recommended for both classes and can be done online at sarasota.ifas.ufl.edu or by calling 941-861-5000.

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program is dedicated to restoring the area's greatest natural asset—Sarasota Bay. Its unique program strives to improve water quality, increase habitat and enhance the natural resources of the area for use and enjoyment by the public. Sarasota Bay is one of 28 estuaries in the United States that have been named by the U.S. Congress as an "estuary of national significance." Partners include Sarasota County, Manatee County, City of Sarasota, City of Bradenton, Town of Longboat Key, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Southwest Florida Water Management District, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


Sarasota expert helping with dolphin study following BP oil disaster

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By Sara Kennedy

MANATEE – A local researcher is helping to determine whether the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster has damaged the health of dolphins off the Louisiana coast, near where the massive spill originated.

Randall S. Wells, 60, of Siesta Key, is helping with studies comparing the health of animals at Barataria Bay, La., which received heavy and prolonged drenching with oil, and a control group of dolphins at Sarasota Bay, which remains pristine.

Early data paint a pretty gruesome picture, but it is preliminary: Barataria Bay dolphins suffered evidence of severe lung disease, lung masses and adrenal toxicity, according to a study published last year and to which Wells contributed.

Wells, director of the Chicago Zoological Society's Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, based at Mote Marine Laboratory, is aiding federal researchers with health assessments and satellite radio tracking of bottlenose dolphins living in the northern Gulf at Barataria Bay.

Continued in the Bradenton Herald...


Free Webinar on Water Quality

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EPA will be hosting a free webinar on April 23 from 1:00pm- 2:00pm Eastern Time to detail the new enhancements to How's My Waterway, a mobile friendly website that enables users to easily access water quality information for their local lakes, rivers, and streams.

The mobile friendly website has proven popular with the general public and more technical users alike because of its plain-English approach, map and list formats, simple design, and rapid retrieval of local-scale information. The enhanced version includes, among other things, drinking water source protection areas, watershed information, information on local permits that limit pollutant discharges, and National fish habitat partnerships to restore waterways to protect and improve fish habitats.

EPA water scientist Doug Norton, who developed How's My Waterway, will discuss the new enhancements and provide practical examples of how the tool can be used by various audiences. Visit How's My Waterway or register for the webinar here.


Deep well for Piney Point waste called pending 'disaster'

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MANATEE -- Half a billion gallons of contaminated water at the former Piney Point Phosphates property will be pumped thousands of feet underground if a planned Manatee County injection well plan is approved by the state. Critics say the new well will compound the ruinous environmental pollution it is meant to contain. "We're worried about the environmental disaster that's coming," said Alan Jones, a potato, bean, cattle and citrus farmer on Buckeye Road.

The well, in the works since 2012, took heavy criticism at a public meeting Wednesday night as state officials and engineers working for the county defended the project to several dozen Manatee and Hillsborough county residents in county commission chambers. If built, the well would receive toxic water left on Piney Point land after a 2011 leak in a containment area allowed 170 million gallons of wastewater to flow into nearby Bishop Harbor.

Susan McMillan, president of citizens group Protect Our Waters Inc., cataloged a litany of failures at similar wells around the nation. She said one study cataloged 7,000 failures over a three-year period. "I think we have a really good reason to be concerned," she said. The well will be built near the southeast corner of South Dock Street and U.S. 41 in 2015 or 2016, along with two shallow fresh water recharge wells on Port Manatee property. The crowd was less interested in the construction schedule or projected $17.2 million price tag than it was in what might be poured down the deep well and whether it would stay down.

Over the course of two hours, engineers from Englewood, Colo.-based CH2M Hill discussed how the deep well would be built and how it would contain the salty, mucky water on Piney Point land. Critics expressed doubts about safety and questioned the well's ability to keep toxins out of aquifers. No one opposed the recharge wells, which are being built to pump treated wastewater into the county aquifer.

It might be too late for opponents to do anything about the deep well. Joe Haberfeld, an administrator for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection aquifer protection program, said the project is moving ahead. The county applied for permits for the deep well and two recharge wells in November. DEP recently prepared draft permits for the wells and expects to publish an "intent to issue" statement soon, he said.

    If DEP issues permits, Manatee County will build the wells for two purposes:
  • Two wells measuring about 1,100 feet deep will be dug near the northwest corner of Port Manatee property and used to pump up to 15 million gallons of treated wastewater into the aquifer daily from the county North Regional Water Reclamation Facility, which treats wastewater for use in irrigation. During the rainy season, the facility's water surplus will be pumped into the ground to stave off saltwater intrusion caused by overusing the aquifer.

  • "We're growing and we gotta look out for where our disposal options are," said Mike Gore, director of the Manatee County Utilities Department.

  • A deep injection well will be drilled as deep as 3,500 feet to sequester non-hazardous industrial waste water under several hundred feet of rock CH2M Hill engineers say will isolate it from the area's drinking water aquifer.

Pete Larkin, project engineer, said the well would likely pump about 1 million gallons of wastewater into the ground daily into a plastic, steel and concrete well shaft on the way down. At the bottom, it will dump into undrinkably salty groundwater. Over 10 years, he said the contaminated water will spread less than half a mile from the well site. Two monitoring wells will be used to determine whether waste is moving into the drinking water aquifer.

Florida is home to more than 180 deep injection wells, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection website. The state outlawed drilling new deep injection wells for hazardous waste in 1983. However, during a Manatee County Board of Commissioners meeting in March 2013, utilities officials said deep injection wells can still accept waste from power plants, chlorine plants and reverse osmosis operations.

Amy Pilson, spokeswoman for the county utilities department, said Manatee County will foot the entire bill for the wells. The county hopes to recoup well costs from HRK and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The deep well is planned to be built on land owned by HRK Holdings, the company that owns the former Piney Point fertilizer plant. When Mulberry Corp. went bankrupt in 2001 it fell to taxpayers to pay for the estimated $20 million cost of the cleanup of gypsum and 1.2 billion gallons of acidic and nutrient-laden water left stagnant in the stacks. HRK Holdings bought the site in 2006, which was expected to help defray cleanup costs, but HRK went bankrupt, too, leaving the Department of Environmental Protection and taxpayers once again on the hook for tens of millions in containment costs.

Ana Gibbs, DEP external affairs manager, said comments about the wells should be emailed ASAP to Joe Haberfield at joe.haberfeld@dep.state.fl.us, or to his attention at the Department of Environmental Protection, 2600 Blair Stone Road, Tallahassee, FL 32399-2400.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.

For more information about this topic Click here.


Oil company drilling in sanctuary fined $25,000 for violation that could be fracking

The Texas company that stirred controversy by applying to drill for oil in Florida panther habitat was doing more with one of its wells than what its state permit allowed.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection on Friday afternoon revealed that it had fined the Dan A. Hughes Co. $25,000 for violating its permit. The violation involves using a process that sounds like fracking — although the word "fracking" appears nowhere in either Friday's DEP news release or the legal paperwork about the fine from 10 days earlier.

Instead, the 12-page consent order, dated April 8, says DEP officials became concerned about a "workover operation" that the Texas company launched without DEP permission in late December 2013. The well site is on an island surrounded by the National Audubon Society's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a major nesting site for wood storks. DEP officials told Hughes to stop right away.

Determining exactly what the company did is difficult because the DEP censored that part of the order, labeling it "a confidential trade secret."

However, the DEP news release says Hughes "proposed an enhanced extraction procedure that had not previously been used in Florida. The company proposed to inject a dissolving solution at sufficient pressure to achieve some openings in the oil-bearing rock formation that would be propped open with sand in pursuit of enhancing oil production."

That matches the dictionary definition of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking: "the forcing open of fissures in subterranean rocks by introducing liquid at high pressure, especially to extract oil or gas." Florida Petroleum Council executive director David Mica said it may mean Hughes was fracking, or it could mean it used one of several similar procedures.

Fracking has helped the United States vastly expand its production of natural gas by allowing greater access to reserves once considered too difficult to tap. However, scientists have expressed concern that the chemicals used in fracking may pose an environmental threat. Studies of fracking sites in Texas, Pennsylvania and Wyoming found elevated levels of arsenic in the groundwater, and Ohio geologists found a probable connection between fracking and a sudden burst of mild earthquakes.

The DEP's order, which resulted from negotiations with Hughes officials, says the company must provide an "estimate of the total amount of flowback material" from the injection and explain where and how it disposed of it. The types of chemicals used were not named.

The order also says the Texas company must put in four monitoring wells to watch for any pollution spreading beyond its drilling site that might contaminate drinking water wells.

The company also must pay for independent experts to consider "the potential for injected or native fluids to migrate through the deep geological formations or the well casing into surrounding groundwater-bearing zones" —in other words, the aquifer.

DEP officials would say little about the order and did not respond to a reporter's request to interview Ed Garrett, who heads up the oil and gas permit program. Hughes officials did not return repeated calls. Neither did anyone from Collier Resources, which owns the land.

Joe Mule, as president of Preserve Our Paradise, has led protests against a DEP permit allowing Hughes to drill on the edge of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge as well as about 1,000 feet from the nearest occupied home in Naples' Golden Gate Estates neighborhood. He said nobody from the DEP had told him or his neighbors of what the company had done.

Neither the DEP nor Hughes disclosed the violation during a recent hearing on the Golden Gate permit, said Preserve Our Paradise attorney Ralf Brookes.

Florida is not exactly Texas, where oil fields produced 588 million barrels of crude last year. But there are geological formations in the Panhandle and the area west of Lake Okeechobee that produced more than 2 million barrels in 2012.

As of last count there were 156 active wells in Florida, and the oil they pump out provided $700 million in tax revenue for the state. The oldest oil field is in Collier County, where the company that's now Exxon drilled its first well in 1942.

Rising oil prices in recent years have spurred a push to increase drilling in Florida, and Hughes has been in the forefront. Last year the company boasted, "Hughes has been in the business of drilling oil and gas wells for over 50 years and enjoys an exemplary reputation as a domestic and international operator."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Craig Pittman can be reached at craig@tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @craigtimes.


Register now for "Ag Module 2014: Innovation in the Water Space"

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On April 24 and 25, Florida Earth, in partnership with Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD), University of Florida IFAS, Florida Farm Bureau and Crystal Springs Preserve, will host the SWFWMD Edition of the Ag Module Series.

​What: The Ag Module: SWFWMD Edition
When: April 24 & 25, 2014, 8:30 AM to 4 PM each day
Where: Crystal Springs Preserve, Crystal Springs, Florida
Cost: $95 for the first day, $195 for both days

The first day of the two-day forum will be held at beautiful Crystal Springs Preserve just south of Zephyrhills, northeast of Tampa, and will feature speakers addressing agriculture's interaction with water and programs designed to enhance stewardship in this space. The second day will be in the field visiting sites talked about on the first day including a tour of the UF IFAS Gulf Coast Research & Education Center and SMR Farms. For agenda and registration, visit the link below.

Featured Speakers:
• Craig Stanley (UF/IFAS)
• Ernie Cox: Family Lands
• Mac Carraway: SMR Farms
• Eric DeHaven: SWFWMD
• Michelle Hopkins: SWFWMD
• Robert Thomas: Two Rivers Ranch

Draft agenda and online registration


Bay Guardians plant thousands of native plants at Perico Preserve

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Photo: Bay Guardian volunteers included Felicia Burks and her family. Ms. Burks is the Program Manager for NEP, under the EPA.

SARASOTA – The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP) Bay Guardian volunteers planted thousands of Florida-native plants April 12 at Perico Preserve. More than 100 volunteers including boy scouts, girl scouts and a 4H group installed 12,000 plugs of marsh grass that were donated by FWC Redfish Hatchery at Port Manatee. Perico Preserve is located on the west side of Manatee County near Anna Maria Island.

The project was the fourth volunteer outing for the Bay Guardians in 2014. Prior projects were completed at Bowlees Creek Island, Jiggs Landing and Arlington Park.

The Bay Guardians are the largest and most active volunteer program in the region focused on Sarasota Bay. The award-winning program is managed by SBEP in partnership with Around the Bend Nature Tours. New volunteers receive a blue tee shirt featuring the Bay Guardians logo. Each outing features environmental education and a picnic lunch. Join the Bay Guardians for a single project or as an ongoing commitment. Local school, scout and church groups interested in volunteering should contact Sara Kane.

Learn More about Perico Preserve


Plan to inject Piney Point water into aquifer raises concerns

By Eric Ernst

MANATEE COUNTY – A plan to inject water from the Piney Point gypsum stacks into the Floridan aquifer has raised protests not only from environmentalists but also from Manatee County farmers who fear it could contaminate drinking and irrigation wells.

“We've sat and watched it go on for years, the algal blooms in Tampa Bay. Now the latest is they want to pump it down our aquifer. This is where I have to stand up and say, 'This isn't right,'” Alan Jones said Wednesday.

Jones, the owner of Jones Potato Farm, cultivates 3,700 acres of potatoes, green beans and citrus about five miles from the proposed well site at Port Manatee.

At a Florida Department of Environmental Protection permit hearing scheduled for Wednesday evening in Bradenton, officials from DEP and the county are expected to review the plan and try to allay concerns.

In November, Manatee County Utilities applied for two permits. The first, for two Class V wells, has drawn no opposition. It would allow the utility to inject 15 million gallons of treated wastewater into the aquifer each day.

Continued in the Herald Tribune...


Parts of Kingfish Boat Ramp on Anna Maria Island to close 6 weeks for repairs

HOLMES BEACH -- Sections of the Kingfish boat ramp in Holmes Beach will be closed for about six weeks beginning Wednesday, April 23, while crews make repairs following recent damage, according to Manatee County government.

Alan Lai Hipp, environmental program manager with Manatee Parks and Natural Resources, said crews will replace the understructure and decking of the docks at the ramp, a news release states.

"The aging eastern dock section was recently damaged, possibly from an impact by a large vessel or barge. Other sections of the docks are also very aged so the decision was made to update all of them at this time," the release states.

Lai Hipp said Kingfish, 752 Manatee Ave. W., will remain open throughout the six-week project. At times, one or more of the launch lanes will be closed while work is done on the adjacent docks.

The repair work is intended to keep the docks safe and functional until a major renovation project scheduled for the fall of 2015, according to the county.

Continued in the Bradenton Herald...


Three new PSAs from Sarasota County urge watershed protection

Sarasota County has produced three new 30-second public service announcements to educate residents about the importance of watershed protection and how stormwater runoff can negatively affect surface water quality. Watch them here or find them on the Sarasota County Water Atlas website's video gallery.

"Runoff Isn't Cute"

"More Time for Fun"

"Scoop the Poop"


Do you know what to do if you hook a pelican?

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Photo by C. Frank Starmer

Catch fish, not pelicans! With just a little extra attention to your surroundings, you and your pelican friends can both have a great day out on the water.

The brown pelican is now a common sight on the coasts. Pelicans eat smaller fish that are not preferred by recreational fishermen and that are not commercially important. Pelicans are protected by federal and state laws.

A brown pelican’s keen eyesight allows it to spot fish from high in the air. Plunge-diving for fish is their specialty. After surfacing and draining water from its pouch, the pelican swallows its well-deserved catch. Even though pelicans are large birds with broad wingspans, their feathers and hollow bones are very light, exquisitely designed for agile and expert flight.

Entanglement in fishing gear may be their number one enemy, leading to slow death from dehydration and starvation. Bony fish scraps are also a killer, tearing the pouch or lodging in the throat. Feeding pelicans draws them to fishing areas and puts them in danger. Shorebirds, storks, herons, terns and gulls are also casualties. We can all help keep pelicans alive and healthy.

Audubon Florida has produced a handy brochure that gives step-by-step instructions for safely removing a fishing hook from a pelican or other shore bird. Print it out and keep one in your tackle box… Just in case!

"What to do if you hook a pelican" brochure


Register now for STEM Outdoors

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Dates: June 16 through 20, 2014
Time: 8 AM to 4 PM (start times may vary due to field trip locations and travel)
Where: Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center, Alligator Creek Preserve, 10941 Burnt Store Road, Punta Gorda, FL 33955
Cost: $25 (checks to be made out to CHEC)
To register, visit the link below.
Registration deadline: June 6, 2014

Participants will receive:

  • Newly published Aquatic WILD and WET 2.0 Manuals
  • Project Learning Tree EE Manual

For further information: Contact Eileen Tramontana at 941-575-5435

Dress comfortably. Daily bring a bag lunch, snack, and water bottle!

Print-friendly flyer… Invite a friend!

Take a walk on the WILD side with us!

The Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center is offering a fun-filled, 5-day institute for educators that combines field experiences with classroom activities. Participants visit different fresh and salt water, and upland ecosystems to compare and contrast the habitats, fisheries, water, and wildlife under the tutelage of experts. To become truly effective with STEM, educators need to build their skills and learn how to incorporate their learning into classroom activities. This Institute will help you do that.

Participants will be given an opportunity to:

  • Acquire and then use STEM content skills while at the same time providing a real world application of science.
  • Develop an understanding of the complexity of sustainability issues by comparing and contrasting vastly different ecosystems.
  • Produce a plan to deliver active, interdisciplinary, and enriching educational experiences for their students using the outdoors as a key resource.
  • Identify, select, and address appropriate Florida Curriculum Standards in STEM outdoor activity planning.

Instructors are from: Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center, Florida Gulf Coast University, UF Program of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, UF School of Forest Resources and Conservation, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network.

Click here for FAQs and online registration...


Seasonal manatee speed zones in effect statewide

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Now that weather and waters are warming, manatees are disbursing into their popular feeding and loafing areas. To ensure manatee safety, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) law enforcement officers, along with federal and local law enforcement partners, will be increasing patrols in these areas.

This effort coincides with seasonal manatee zones that went into effect April 1 and run through Nov. 15. The speed zones are intended to protect the state’s official marine mammal from collisions with boats.

Warming weather increases boat traffic too, which is why the FWC also reminds operators of boats and personal watercraft to slow down and watch out for manatees in springs, rivers and Atlantic and Gulf waters. The state’s lumbering “sea cows” are leaving the warmer enclaves such as freshwater springs, power plant outflows and canals, where they spent the winter, and migrating into more open waters.

Boaters should pay strict attention to signs that delineate each seasonal manatee protection zone and their boat’s speed. For information on manatee protection zones and maps, go to MyFWC.com/Manatee and select “Protection Zones.” That page contains a link for county maps; select “Click here for maps of these areas.”

In addition to obeying speed regulations, boaters and operators of personal watercraft can avoid collisions with these large marine mammals by:

  • Wearing polarized sunglasses to help spot the creatures in the water.
  • Watching for large, telltale circles on the water’s surface (manatee footprints) indicating the presence of manatees.
  • Looking for a snout just above the surface.
  • Slowing down when the presence of manatees is indicated.

Boaters and others who find sick or injured manatees should report the animal and its location to the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.

For more information about Florida manatees, visit MyFWC.com/Manatee, where you can access the Boaters Guide To Living With Manatees brochure.


Sarasota County & North Port issue RFP seeking operator for Warm Mineral springs

SARASOTA COUNTY – Sarasota County and the city of North Port have begun an international campaign seeking prospective long-term vendors to operate and/or develop Warm Mineral Springs, 12200 San Servando Ave., North Port.

Advertisements seeking proposals for consideration have been placed in both print and online newspapers and trade publications. Prospective bidder requests for further information must be submitted online no later than May 12, 2014, to https://eprocure.scgov.net. Completed bid packages must be submitted online no later than May 23, 2014, to https://eprocure.scgov.net.

The request for solicitation has also been advertised in Sarasota County Procurements new BidSync online system. BidSync allows Sarasota County Procurement to advertise solicitations to a national database of more than 750,000 qualified suppliers and service providers nationwide. For more information contact the Sarasota County Call Center at 941-861-5000 or email Carmen Gomez.

Learn more about Warm Mineral Springs

Contact Information
Sarasota County Call Center
phone: 941-861-5000.

Sarasota County selected by UN to host World Environment Day in North America

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SARASOTA COUNTY – Sarasota County has been selected by the United Nations Environment Programme's Regional Office for North America (UNEP RONA) as the official North American host community for World Environment Day (WED) 2014.

Established in 1972 and celebrated every year in more than 100 countries on June 5, WED is one of the UN's primary vehicles through which it stimulates environmental awareness and action worldwide. The awareness campaign comprises more than a single day of concentrated efforts. WED, which launches on Earth Day, April 22, offers North America a unique opportunity to bridge the gap between two important days on the global environment calendar, and provides the community a six-week period during which they can organize activities and events culminating on June 5.

According to UNEP RONA, Sarasota County was selected because of its positive and proactive environmental track record. The WED theme is Small Island Developing States, and Sarasota, which is itself a coastal community, faces similar environmental challenges as small island nations.

"We are impressed by the number of innovative environmental protection initiatives undertaken by Sarasota County," said UNEP RONA Acting Director Elliot Harris. "The 21st century has been a game changer for the county, and the leadership shown on the sustainability front by its citizens has been exemplary, and we look forward to engaging the support of Sarasota's numerous institutions and other partners in the upcoming WED celebrations."

Sarasota County's long legacy as one of the nation's leading sustainable communities committed to the environment has a balanced approach using education, incentives and policy from government combined with initiatives from citizens and community organizations.

The WED program and events in Sarasota County will be shared and highlighted on the Sarasota County WED webpage at and will give the world a unique opportunity to learn more about the county and its environmental initiatives and programs.

"Sarasota County is a 'lighthouse' community, and we look forward to this opportunity to serve as a guiding light for other coastal communities searching for environmental best practices. Plus, we embrace this worldwide platform as a chance to learn from other communities facing similar environmental concerns," said Sarasota County Commission Chair Charles D. Hines.

One of the county's programs, the Green Business Partnership (GBP), provides technical assistance, certification and marketing support to local businesses and nonprofits of all size in their efforts to improve the sustainability of their operations. To date, about 200 area businesses have achieved the GBP certification, reducing energy, water use and waste generation from the private sector.

Sarasota County was the first county in the country to adopt the American Institute of Architects 2030 Challenge to design and construct new buildings to be carbon neutral by 2030.

Sarasota County has the third highest number of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) projects per capita in Florida. In 2005, Sarasota County was the first county in Florida to make a commitment that all new construction and major renovations would meet green buildings standards. The county followed up that promise by being the first Florida county to have a certified green local government building with the completion of the Twin Lakes Office Complex.

More than a third of Sarasota County's land is under preservation as a result of acquisitions by both county and state agencies. About half the world's population lives within 124 miles of a coastline, according to UN Atlas of the Oceans. Almost 40 percent of the United States' total population lives in coastal shoreline communities like Sarasota County, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) State of the Coast.

"The environment knows no borders," said Tom Harmer, Sarasota County administrator. "And we welcome the world's spotlight on our community. One of our community's goals is to be environmental stewards, and we are steadfast in our commitment. We recognize that our local actions and decisions will have a ripple effect that surpasses our county boundaries."

For more information and about Sarasota County and WED, visit Sarasota County WED webpage or call the Sarasota County Call Center at 941-861-5000. ​

World Environment Day website


Sharks sense prey in surprising ways during pioneering study

By Hayley Rutger, Mote Marine Laboratory

SARASOTA – A team of scientists have unmasked the intricacies of how sharks hunt prey—from the first whiff to the final chomp—in a new study about shark senses that was supported by the National Science Foundation and published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE.

The study, led by scientists from the University of South Florida, Mote Marine Laboratory and Boston University, is the first to show how vision, touch, smell and other senses combine to guide a detailed series of animal behaviors from start to finish. Results show that sharks with different lifestyles may favor different senses, and they can sometimes switch when their preferred senses are blocked. That’s hopeful news for sharks trying to find food in changing and sometimes degraded environments.

Nose plugs were used to block the sense of smell on a blacktip shark in the study.

“This is undoubtedly the most comprehensive multi-sensory study on any shark, skate or ray,” said Philip Motta, a USF biology professor and internationally-recognized shark expert who co-authored this study.

Continued on news.usf.edu...


Senate committee approves estuary reauthorization bill

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Legislation Would Reauthorize Program First Established by Sen. John Chafee

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee today approved the Clean Estuaries Act of 2014, introduced by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), to reauthorize the National Estuary Program (NEP). The legislation, crafted with Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA), was approved with bipartisan support. The program was first established in 1987 by the late Republican Senator John Chafee to protect and restore estuarine habitats threatened by pollution and overdevelopment. Authorization for this important program expired in 2010.

“Estuaries are important for fisheries and wildlife, for tourism and recreation, and they are disappearing,” Whitehouse said. “Estuaries also provide buffers against dangerous winds and storm surges, protecting homes and critical infrastructure in our coastal communities. Protecting and strengthening our estuaries is our defense against these threats, and our way of protecting the economic and social value they provide.”

Although the program expired in 2010, it has continued to receive funding through the congressional appropriations process. Reauthorizing the law, however, provides an opportunity to make needed improvements to the program. Whitehouse’s legislation would maintain the funding authorization for the NEP at $35 million per year while also limiting the amount of the funding that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – which administers the program – can use for overhead. This change will help ensure that more funds are directed straight to the field programs.

Source: News release from Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)


Charlotte Harbor Coastal Awareness Day event promotes community resilience

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The Nature Conservancy in Florida is hosting Charlotte Harbor Coastal Awareness Day on Saturday, April 26 from 10 am – 3 pm at Laishley Park Municipal Marina. This family-friendly event highlights Punta Gorda’s efforts to become a more resilient coastal community. Learn about the Conservancy’s work in Punta Gorda to restore oyster reefs, volunteer to make oyster mats, and meet leaders in the city who are planning ahead for sea level rise.

Coastal Awareness Day highlights the Conservancy’s efforts to develop natural solutions to help coastal communities weather the impacts of storms and prepare for sea level rise in Florida. The Nature Conservancy is collaborating with the Florida DEP-Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves, Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, and the City of Punta Gorda to create oyster reef habitat adjacent to Trabue Harborwalk – and you can help!

Join us on April 26 at Laishley Park Municipal Marina to get your hands dirty and experience first-hand the power of communities working together to return critical oyster reef habitat to Charlotte Harbor. Volunteers will help prepare oyster mats for deployment in Charlotte Harbor and learn how Punta Gorda is leading the way in buffering its coast against storms and sea-level rise.

Charlotte Harbor Coastal Awareness Day is hosted by The Nature Conservancy and the City of Punta Gorda, with support from Florida Weekly and WCGU – Southwest Florida Public Broadcasting. For details, visit www.nature.org/coastalawarenessday.

WHAT: Charlotte Harbor Coastal Awareness Day
WHEN: Saturday, April 26, 2014, 10 am – 3 pm
WHERE: Laishley Park Municipal Marina, 120 Laishley Ct., Punta Gorda, FL 33950

A Family Friendly Event — No RSVP Necessary

Schedule of Activities:
  • Oyster Mat Making: 10 am–3 pm
  • Kid’s Craft Station: 10 am–3 pm
  • Nature Can Help! Panel Discussion hosted by John Davis of WGCU: 11 am–noon
    • Christine Shepard – Director of Science, Gulf of Mexico Program, The Nature Conservancy
    • Laura Geselbracht – Senior Marine Scientist, Florida Chapter, The Nature Conservancy
    • Joan LeBeau – Chief Planner, City of Punta Gorda
    • Lisa Beever – Director, Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program
  • Coastal Resilience 2.0 (There’s an app for that): 1:30 pm–2 pm

Contact Information
Rocio Johnson, Marketing Manager, The Nature Conservancy, rocio_johnson@tnc.org
phone: (305) 432-2440.

Environmentalists fight proposed bill that reduces local control of water resources

By Jessie Van Berkel

TALLAHASSEE — Environmentalists across Florida are on edge as a bill that would reduce local control over environmental protection moves through the state Legislature.

The House bill would limit counties’ ability to enforce regulations on springs, stormwater and wetlands adopted after July 2003, and allow local government officials to change their long-range growth plans with a simple majority vote. Currently, if Sarasota County and other communities change their plans, by increasing density in a certain area, for example, a supermajority — four of the five commissioners — must support the move.

The bill would also allow for decades-long water use permits to be granted to major developments on rural land.

“This bill not only wreaks havoc with the environment, it hits at our ability to have local control,” said Gerry Swormstedt, a conservation chairwoman for the Manatee-Sarasota Group of the Sierra Club.

Continued in the News-Journal Online...


New! Learn about oyster and beach monitoring programs in Sarasota County

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Just added to the Sarasota County Water Atlas are two new features designed to keep the public informed about environmental monitoring efforts by the County to ensure good water quality.

The new Oyster Mapping & Monitoring section of the Atlas has general information about the eastern oyster,Crassotrea virginica—its life cycle, how it affects and is affected by water quality, global threats and restoration efforts—and describes the habitats and locations where oysters may be found in Sarasota County's bays and creeks. The results of two different monitoring efforts are provided: one of these mapped the types and location of oyster habitat, and the other monitored the health of oysters in different locations in the County. The interactive map provided graphically displays these results. The section also has links to research papers and websites with information about oysters and how environmental managers around the world are working to restore their habitat.

Also new is the Beach Action Plan page. It describes the efforts of Sarasota County and its partners (the Sarasota and Manatee County Health Departments, the Town of Longboat Key, the Cities of Sarasota and Venice, and the Englewood Water District) to establish an "Action Plan" to minimize adverse human health impacts from bacteria exposure and avert "No-Swim Advisories" at County beaches. The project produced individual "sanitary surveys" for 16 area beaches that map potential sources of water contamination; project partners monitor these regularly to ensure swimmer safety. You can view the survey maps, read the full "Beach Bacteria Incident Action Plan", see photos of the beaches, and find out about beach amenities on this useful page. Also provided are links to research papers and websites about beach water quality and monitoring.

Learning & Education Tools on the Sarasota County Water Atlas


Federal judge rules Okeechobee pumping illegal

TALLAHASSEE – A federal judge says pumping water from farmlands into public water supplies such as Florida's Lake Okeechobee violates the Clean Water Act.

Environmental groups say Friday's ruling by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas in New York's Southern District was "long overdue."

The nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice first filed its case in 2002 over polluted water from sugar cane and vegetable fields pumped into Lake Okeechobee. Earthjustice argued that the South Florida Water Management District violated federal law by allowing agricultural companies to send polluted water into southern Florida's water supply without decontaminating it first.

The Florida case was bundled with similar claims from several other states and heard in New York federal court.

Environmental groups say stopping pollution at its source is key to fixing South Florida's water problems.

Source: Associated Press


Opinions sought on new Watershed Stewards Academy program

A team of faculty from the University of Florida (UF) is working on the development of a new educational program. They are reaching out to environmental organizations to get input about the level of interest and curriculum content.

The proposed program is called the Watershed Stewards Academy and it will be offered through UF/IFAS Extension. The program will be modeled after many of the other “Master” programs the University of Florida offers (like Master Gardener, Master Naturalist, etc.) with 7 to 12 sessions over a period of time. It will focus on enhancing Floridians’ connection to water; relationships with the watershed in which they live, work and play; and the dynamic interaction of water quality, quantity and their associated policies and regulations. It could include potential action projects and lead to volunteer service in local communities.

The Watershed Stewards Academy team has developed a state-wide needs assessment to aid in the development of this program and they want to hear from you! Your responses to this survey will help them design the program to best meet the needs of potential participants like you. Based on this brief description, they would very much appreciate your time in completing this survey. Approximate survey time: 10 minutes.

Take the survey

Contact Information
Lara Miller, Natural Resources Agent, Pinellas County Extension, lmiller@pinellascounty.org, 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo, FL. 33774
phone: (727) 453-6905.

House, Senate differ sharply over agricultural water spending in their budget proposals

The proposed House and Senate fiscal year 2014-15 budgets are close on several key programs within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services budget but are far apart on the department's water programs.

The House budget would provide $47.7 million for agricultural water policy programs including $34.3 million from general revenue. The Senate budget includes $20.5 million for those programs including $7.1 million from general revenue.

The House water programs proposal provides $24.5 million for agricultural nonpoint source best management practices including $5 million for springs, $3 million for the Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and $1.5 million for the Bessey Creek hybrid wetland treatment system.

The Senate proposal provides $16.5 million for those programs with the only specified spending being $3 million for the Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

In addition, the House provides $9 million for hybrid wetlands treatment projects in the Everglades region and $10 million for Okeechobee restoration and agricultural projects.

Continued in The Florida Current...

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