Current News Items (within the last 30 days)
Bill would exempt state review of larger developments in 6 more counties
By Bruce Ritchie
A bill filed in advance of the 2014 legislative session would allow six more counties to avoid review by the state of some growth management decisions, continuing a trend in recent years of increasingly less state oversight.
In 2009, the Legislature passed SB 360 exempting counties designated as "dense urban land areas" from state review for "developments of regional impact." Environmental groups requested a veto but then-Gov. Charlie Crist signed the bill.
For years, developers and some cities and counties supported less review of those larger developments because of the longer timeframe required for approval. Some developers also try to avoid passing thresholds, such as the number of homes in a proposed project, that would trigger state review.
The 2009 legislation exempted those developments of regional impact (DRIs) from state review in counties with populations of 900,000 and at least 1,000 people per square mile of land area, unless the proposed developments were in designated "urban service areas" around cities.
In 2013, 242 cities met the requirement along with eight counties: Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, Pinellas and Seminole.
Continued in The Florida Current...
USDA, EPA Partnership Supports Water Quality Trading To Benefit Environment, Economy
WASHINGTON – The U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have announced an expanded partnership to support water quality trading and other market-based approaches that provide benefits to the environment and economy.
Water quality trading provides a cost-effective approach for regulated entities to comply with EPA Clean Water Act requirements, including water quality-based effluent limits in National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits. Trading would allow regulated entities to purchase and use pollutant reduction credits generated by other sources in a watershed. Cost savings and other economic incentives are key motivators for parties engaged in trading. Water quality trading can also provide additional environmental and economic benefits, such as air quality improvements, enhanced wildlife habitat, carbon capture and storage, and new income and employment opportunities for rural America.
EPA and USDA are working together to implement and coordinate policies and programs that encourage water quality trading. The Department and the Agency will identify opportunities to work collaboratively to help improve water quality trading programs across the country. Cooperative management and technical assistance will improve resource management and public services, and accelerate implementation.
USDA and EPA will:
- Coordinate and enhance communications and outreach to states, agricultural producers, regulated sources, and interested third parties on water quality trading;
- Engage expertise across agencies in the review of grants, loans or technical assistance programs focused on water quality trading;
- Share information on the development of rules and guidance that have the potential to affect water quality trading;
- Collaborate on developing tools and information resources for states and credit generators to guide decision making, reduce costs in program design and implementation, improve environmental performance, and foster consistency and integrity across regional initiatives;
- Co-host a workshop by 2015 to share tools and resources available to assist in stakeholder decision making and opportunities.
The purpose of this policy is to support states, interstate agencies and tribes as they develop and implement water quality trading programs for nutrients, sediments and other pollutants where opportunities exist to achieve water quality improvements at reduced costs.
FWC, U.S. Power Squadrons boost boating safety efforts
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has enjoyed a strong partnership with the U.S. Power Squadrons for years. Recently, the FWC provided inflatable life jacket kits to U.S. Power Squadrons units across the state. The kits will be used by instructors to provide information on inflatable life jacket use and to show students how easy it is to wear a life jacket all of the time while boating.
“Organizations like the Power Squadrons are a critical part of boating safety efforts in Florida and across the country,” said Brian Rehwinkel, FWC Boating Safety Outreach Coordinator. “The instructors with the Power Squadrons are often the first boating safety contact a new boater will encounter, and the information learned in a boating safety class can make a big difference on the water.”
Life jacket kits were purchased through boating safety grants for approved boating safety classroom courses in Florida.
(Photo source: FWC)
Continued on MyFWC.com...
Sarasota Bay Estuary Program now accepting 2014 Bay Partner grant applications
SARASOTA – The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP) is accepting applications for the 2014 Bay Partner Grants Program with a deadline of March 3. The purpose of the annual program is to promote environmental education, community involvement and stewardship to improve the overall quality of Sarasota Bay and its tributaries. Organizations can receive up to $3,000 for projects that benefit Sarasota Bay. SBEP has awarded $232,000 in grants to more than 113 organizations since 2003.
Schools, businesses, non-profit organizations, academic institutions, churches, and civic groups in Sarasota and Manatee counties are eligible. The watershed boundaries are from Anna Maria Sound to the Venice Inlet as well as all of the barrier islands. Some of the prior projects have included wildlife gardens and landscaping featuring Florida native plants, micro-irrigation projects, land contouring to create bioswales, signs that promote Bay-stewardship, and education programs.
Bay Partner Grant applications must be received at the SBEP offices by 4pm on Friday, March 3 to be eligible. Applications can be emailed as a Word document or PDF file to Sara Kane at firstname.lastname@example.org. The website also lists the nine grant projects that were funded for 2013. Inquiries are welcome. Contact information is below.
Learn more about the Bay Partners grant program
SBEP Offers 10 Free Guided Kayak Trips of Sarasota Bay
SARASOTA – The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP) has scheduled 10 free guided kayak excursions on Sarasota Bay from December through April. The first two trips are to Neal Preserve on Saturday, December 7 and Saturday, December 21. Neal Preserve is located in Manatee County. All of the SBEP kayak excursions require online registration (link below).
The SBEP Bay Wise Kayak Tour Program is a fun learning opportunity to discover the plants, animals, habitats, and restoration projects that distinguish Sarasota Bay. Brad Tanner, a professional guide and the School Programs Coordinator for Mote Marine Laboratory, is the kayak tour leader. Brad is also a member of the SBEP Citizens Advisory Committee.
Additional trips are planned for Leffis and Jewfish Key (1/4 and 1/18), Lido Mangrove Tunnels (2/1 and 2/15), Blind Pass (3/1 and 3/15), and Lyons and Blackburn Bay (4/12 and 4/19). Participants are required to bring their own kayak and gear. Outfitters throughout the region rent kayaks and offer demonstrations and beginner classes. The Bay Wise Kayak Tour Program is for experienced kayakers.
The late Jack Taylor, a respected marine biologist and former member of the SBEP Citizens Advisory Committee, launched the kayak tour program in 2007 as part of a SBEP Bay Partners Grant. Jack earned a PhD in Marine Biology from the University of Florida. He was active with many conservation groups throughout the region and some of his poetry is also posted on the SBEP website.
More info, including kayaking gear checklist and registration links
Want to be a SCUBAnaut? Find out more at open house Dec. 9th
SCUBAnauts International™(SNI) is creating a new Tampa chapter and is having an open house to promote the program and attract new participants. The event will be from 6:30 to 8:30 pm in the Channelside Room at the Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa. (map)
The SNI marine science education program (previously SCUBA Scouts USA) was founded by CAPT David Olson in Palm Harbor, Florida, in May of 2001 in an effort to introduce young men and women, ages 12-18, to informal science education through underwater exploration. Due to the scientific rather than recreational nature of SNI, SCUBAnauts soon created their own identity.
SNI has grown considerably in the Tampa Bay area, has received favorable notoriety nationally, and has been very successful in preparing and assisting participating youth through meet leadership opportunities that will ultimately produce our best hope for successful citizens and leaders of tomorrow. The addition of a Tarpon Springs chapter in September 2008 is focused towards exploring the undocumented reefs of the Springs Coast of West Florida. This new information will provide scientsits with baseline data to monitor these reefs. A Key West Chapter was formed in July 2009, which plans to monitor and educate locals about the Florida Key's vital coral reef ecosystems. The Lake Hitchcock Chapter in Western Massachusetts, established in October 2009, is providing unique opportunities to underpriviledged youth in the region and promoting interest in science through SCUBA diving.
SNI looks forward to the challenge of increasing the opportunity for young explorers and leaders of tomorrow. These challenges are met by enlisting new members, recruiting top notch mentors, and continuing to establish new SNI Chapters nationwide and internationally.
The new Tampa chapter will focus on springs resources.
Open House Flyer
Call for Proposals: Restore America's Estuaries Summit
Restore America's Estuaries (RAE) and The Coastal Society (TCS) will co-host a new collaboration to present the first-ever RAE-TCS Summit November 1-5, 2014, in Washington DC. The conference will bring together the coastal restoration and management communities for an integrated discussion to explore issues, solutions and lessons learned in their work.
The Summit theme, "Inspiring Action, Creating Resilience," will explore the many ways in which restoration and management can shape communities and vice versa, identify how to effectively measure and convey these changes and how people and communities can take meaningful action such that they can plan, respond and prosper in the face of challenges.
The Program Committee is seeking proposals to present at the Summit. All proposals are due February 28, 2014. Sponsorship and exhibit opportunities are also available.
More information about the Summit, including downloadable proposal forms
Gulf Coast Vulnerable to Extreme Erosion in Category 1 Hurricanes
New Model to Help Community Plan
Seventy percent of the Gulf of Mexico shoreline is vulnerable to extreme erosion during even the weakest hurricanes, according to a new report by the U.S. Geological Survey released just prior to the start of the 2012 hurricane season.
USGS scientists used state-of-the-art modeling to determine the probabilities of erosion, overwash and inundation during direct hurricane landfall for sandy beaches along the entire U.S. Gulf Coast shoreline.
The research is expected to help emergency managers at local, state and federal levels as they prepare for hurricane events in this and future seasons. Planners will be able to determine how different categories of hurricanes would impact their beaches and surrounding communities, helping them better protect lives and property. The report also includes an interactive map that allows users to focus on different parts of the Gulf Coast shoreline to view how the probability of erosion, caused by waves and storm surge, will vary depending on hurricane intensity.
"The Gulf Coast's beaches provide abundant recreational opportunities, contribute substantially to the local economy, and demand the highest real estate values," said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. "This important research raises awareness on the specific nature of the vulnerability of these beautiful beaches to impacts from even Cat-1 hurricanes so that property damage can be minimized through proper planning."
In a storm, high waves and storm surge can act together to erode beaches and inundate low-lying lands; during hurricane landfall, these changes can sometimes be catastrophic.
"Beaches along the Gulf of Mexico are extremely vulnerable to erosion during hurricanes, in part, because of low elevations along the coast," said Hilary Stockdon, a USGS research oceanographer and lead author of the study. "For example, the average elevation of sand dunes on the west coast of Florida is eight feet. On Florida’s Atlantic coast, the average is 15 feet."
During the landfall of a category-1 storm, where winds are between 75 and 94 miles per hour, overwash is very likely for 70 percent of Gulf Coast beaches. Overwash occurs when waves and storm surge overtop dunes and transport sand landward. Overwash is likely at these locations because of increased water levels at the shoreline. During category-1 hurricane events on the Gulf Coast, wave height and storm surge combine to increase water levels at the shoreline by 14 and a half feet higher than their normal levels.
"People continue to build communities in coastal areas that shift and move with each passing storm," said Stockdon. "This model helps us predict the potential impact of future storms and allows us to identify where the most vulnerable areas are located along the coast."
Additional findings from the report show that during a category-1 storm landfall, 27 percent of sandy beaches along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico are projected to be inundated, which occurs when increased water levels completely submerge beaches and dunes. If category-5 storms occur, where winds are 157 miles per hour or higher, 89 percent of these beaches are likely to be inundated during a direct landfall.
USGS scientists used methodology developed from a decade of USGS research on storm-driven coastal change hazards as the basis for these calculations. Observational data were combined with sophisticated hydrodynamic modeling to predict the coastal changes provided in the report. As new data and storm predictions become available, the report's analysis will be updated to describe how coastal vulnerability may change in the future.
More information, including a link to the full report
Draft Regional Water Supply Plan available for public review
Public Workshop Dec. 12
ORLANDO, Fla., Nov. 26, 2013 — The draft Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI) Regional Water Supply Plan is available for public review and comment at CFWIwater.com. Comments can be provided online or by mail and email. Details are available on the web page. The comment period will close on Jan. 10, 2014.
A public workshop will be held to discuss the draft plan. The workshop will include a presentation and an informal, open-house format. CFWI experts will be available to answer questions and receive input.
Date: Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013
Time: 4–7 p.m., with presentation beginning at 5 p.m.
Location: Clermont Community Center, 620 W. Montrose St., Clermont, FL 34711
The St. Johns River, South Florida and Southwest Florida water management districts are working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and regional utilities to address near- and long-term water supply needs in the central Florida region.
Through the CFWI, the agencies are engaging stakeholders in the development of a Regional Water Supply Plan for the area, which includes Orange, Osceola, Polk, Seminole and southern Lake counties.
The Regional Water Supply Plan will:
• Quantify existing and future water needs
• Ensure protection of water resources and related natural systems
• Identify sustainable water supply options
For more information, please visit
Congressional accord reached on flood insurance rate delay
Flood insurance bipartisan group of legislators from the U.S. House and Senate have reached an agreement to delay flood insurance rate increases for at least four years for millions of homeowners.
The agreement, reached between U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif, author of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, and other congressional leaders, would delay the rate hikes for four years and require FEMA to complete an affordability study before increasing any flood insurance premiums in the future. A companion bill is expected to be filed by U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.
The tentative deal, which still must be voted on in both the House and Senate, was hailed by Gov. Rick Scott and members of Florida's congressional delegation, which urged a delay in the rate increases.
Continued on the Miami Herald Naked Politics blog...
NFWF Announces $15.7 Million for Gulf Restoration Projects in Florida
Projects funded as a part of initial investment of funds derived from settlement of criminal charges against BP and Transocean
WASHINGTON, DC – The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) on Nov. 14th announced the funding of $15.7 million for six Florida projects that address high priority conservation needs. The projects, developed in consultation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and federal resource agencies, are designed to remedy harm or reduce the risk of future harm to natural resources that were affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The moneys are the first disbursements from NFWF’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, created earlier this year as part of the settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice and BP and Transocean to resolve certain criminal charges against both companies in relation to the spill.
The announcement represents the initial obligation of funds from the first disbursements received by the Gulf Fund. Under the allocation formula and other provisions contained in the plea agreements, $356 million will be paid into the Gulf Fund over the next five years for conservation projects in the the state of Florida.
More information about the funded projects
Support urged for dry cleaning contamination sites program that saw sharp budget cuts
By Bruce Ritchie
Some speciality cleanup contractors are asking legislators to restore funding for a Department of Environmental Protection program that helps pay for cleaning up dry cleaner contamination sites.
Dry cleaners typically use a solvent called perchloroethylene to remove stains from garments. Perchloroethylene, which can increase the risk of cancer for those working around the chemical, is considered a hazardous waste and has been found at dry cleaner sites, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Legislature in 1994 established the Dry-cleaning Solvent Cleanup Program at DEP for cleaning up sites and groundwater. The department says 139 sites have been cleaned up. Another 1,284 are eligible under the program with work underway at 192.
Continued in The Florida Current...
Pew/Audubon report: Florida’s coastal birds could face threat to food supply
Already pressured by a steady loss of habitat, many of Florida's imperiled and iconic coastal waterbirds are vulnerable to declines in small fish that are necessary for their survival, according to a report by Audubon Florida and The Pew Charitable Trusts.
"Fins and Feathers: Why little fish are a big deal to Florida's coastal waterbirds" examines the crucial link between birds and the diverse array of small fish that are a critical food source. Declines in the populations of these fish, known alternatively as forage fish, prey fish or bait-fish, could threaten imperiled birds such as Brown Pelicans, Roseate Spoonbills, Black Skimmers and Reddish Egrets, according to the report.
"In Florida, our environment is directly linked to our quality of life and our economy," said Julie Wraithmell, Audubon Florida's Director of Wildlife Conservation. "This report shows how important bait-fish are to Florida's coastal birds, environment, communities and economy. Fisheries policy must consider the ecological and economic vitality that hinges on these smallest of fish."
Few regulations limit the amount of forage fish such as sardines and herring that are hauled out of Florida's coastal waters each year. Fishery managers can help conserve Florida's forage fish and its natural resources by accounting for the needs of predators such as seabirds when setting fishing rules in Florida's coastal waters. Bird conservation efforts historically have focused on other threats such as habitat loss, with less emphasis on ensuring prey abundance and availability. With many birds already pressured by a steady loss of habitat, this report reveals a new and critical conservation gap at a time when leaders can act before it's too late.
Continued on Audubon of Florida's website...
Report: 80,000 acres of coastal wetlands are being lost annually
The United States is losing wetlands in coastal watersheds at a significant rate according to a new report released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The report, "Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watersheds of the Conterminous United States 2004 to 2009", tracked wetland loss on the Pacific, Atlantic, Gulf, and Great Lakes coasts. It concludes that more than 80,000 acres of coastal wetlands are being lost on average each year, an increase from the previous study. EPA initiated a federal Interagency Coastal Wetlands Workgroup in response to the losses identified in the previous report, with the goal of reducing coastal wetland losses. The agencies are collaborating to better understand how wetland trends are affected by land use practices and other factors, and how federal, state, and local programs can better address threats to coastal wetlands.
Information on coastal wetlands and the federal Workgroup can be found at the EPA Coastal Wetlands webpage.
View the full report
SBEP Bay Guardians Win Sea Preservation Award from Keep Sarasota County Beautiful
SARASOTA, FL – The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP) Bay Guardians were honored recently with the annual Sea Preservation Award from Keep Sarasota County Beautiful. The award was presented at a dinner held November 13 at the Venice Community Center. Many other local organizations and individuals were recognized at the special event.
The Bay Guardians is the area’s largest and most active volunteer program focused on Sarasota Bay. The program is managed by SBEP in partnership with Around the Bend Nature Tours. In 2013, the Bay Guardians completed volunteer projects at Jiggs Landing and Perico Preserve in Manatee County and North Water Tower Park and Bay Walk Creek in Sarasota County.
Upcoming 2014 Bay Guardian volunteer projects include an Air Potato Vine removal at Arlington Park on January 25, a native planting along the Braden River at Jiggs Landing February 8, a rain garden planting project at New College of Florida March 15, and a joint volunteer outing with Tampa Bay Estuary Program to plant natives at Perico Preserve April 12. All of the projects take place in the morning followed by a picnic lunch provided by SBEP.
The Bay Guardians are a family-friendly volunteer program 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 Stephanie Hames at email@example.com
Bay Guardians Volunteers
Sewage Sludge: A Pool Of Pathogens
By John Rehill
Waste water treatment plant facilities retrieve millions of gallons a day of toxic water, containing thousands of different chemicals, pathogens and heavy metals. It is all reduced to a thick slurry and in many municipalities that soup is dried and processed into pellets that are then sold or given away to homeowners, landscapers and farmers to use as fertilizer. Could we be disposing our most toxic substances in a way that puts them in our food chain?
Dr. Sydney Bacchus demonstrates how municipalities that dry and reuse sludge are at risk of contaminating their communities with heavy metals and pathogens that are responsible for thousands of premature deaths in the United States every year.
More than just raw sewage makes its way to a waste water treatment plant. The waste water pumped in is put through a process that reduces it to the sludge and then is sent to an on-or-off property location to decompose. The composted product is sometimes put into pellets or bulk and made available for county projects and the private sector to use as a fertilizer replacement.
Continued in The Bradenton Times...
EPA Webcast on Volunteer Monitoring Nov. 19th
Volunteer Monitoring is Focus of Watershed Academy Webcast
The US Environmental Protection Agency will hold a Watershed Academy Webcast on November 19 from 1p.m. to 3 p.m. Eastern on "Re-engaging Your Volunteer Monitoring Organization." This Webcast is designed to help to reinvigorate volunteer water monitoring organizations. The webcast will
- review volunteer monitoring online forums and resources
- provide tips on volunteer recruitment and retention with lessons learned from the Alabama Water Watch 20-year assessment
- explore how the volunteer monitoring community is doing on a national level by looking at trends, successes, and outcomes
Through this interactive event, participants will learn about tools, resources, and strategies to re-engage their volunteer water monitoring program and celebrate our successes across the nation.
Register for the webcast
Sarasota Bay Water Festival to present four panel discussions
SARASOTA – The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP) will host four panel discussions at the 2013 Sarasota Bay Water Festival set for Saturday, November 2 at Ken Thompson Park. SBEP is the Presenting Sponsor and HDR, Inc. is the Host Sponsor for 2013. The panel discussions focus on the protection of local wildlife, the problem of stormwater pollution, environmental education, and the challenges facing Sarasota Bay. |
Noon – Protecting Sarasota Bay Wildlife
Panelists include Jeanne Dubi with Sarasota Audubon, Krystan Wilkinson with Mote Marine Laboratory, Buddy Powell with Sea to Shore Alliance, Suzi Fox with AMI Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, and Jay Leverone with SBEP.
1 p.m. – Reducing Stormwater Pollution
Panelists include Michelle Atkinson with Manatee County Extension, Tom Heitzman with Florida Native Plant Society, Alison Albee with City of Sarasota, and Ray Kaiser with the AMI Eco-Village.
2 p.m. – –Environmental Education & Stewardship
Panelists include Karen Fraley with Around the Bend Nature Tours, Melissa Nell with Manatee County, Rob Wright with Sarasota County, Jennifer Shafer with the Science and Environmental Council of Southwest Florida, and Sara Kane with SBEP.
3 p.m. – Sarasota Bay Past, Present and Future
Panelists include Damon Moore with Manatee County, Bill Burger (local archaeologist), Captain Kathe with Cortez Fishing Village, and Sherri Swanson with HDR, Inc.
The 2013 Sarasota Bay Water Festival is being supported by 44 sponsors, 82 exhibitors and a team of volunteers from Sarasota and Manatee County. Learn more about all the highlights and the various sponsors at the festival website:
New Research on Microscopic Menaces Detailed During Harmful Algae Symposium
By Nadine Slimak
A toxin native to Hawaii shows up in a Washington, D.C.-area man’s home aquarium and makes him sick; another algae produces compounds that are so deadly the toxins (called saxitoxins) are listed as one of 10 weapons of mass destruction banned worldwide; yet another species gets more toxic when it has less food available.
Welcome to the world of harmful algae.
There are thousands of algae species in fresh and marine waters worldwide – they form the basis of the food web and provide an important source of the oxygen that we need to breathe. By far, most of them are harmless or even beneficial. But there are some – about 200 currently known – that can wreak havoc on the communities they affect, making humans sick and causing widespread ecological and economic harm.
Every other year, scientists, resource managers and public health experts who focus on these microscopic menaces come together to share their latest results across research specialties, explore trends and identify new areas of research needs related to harmful algae. This week, the 7th Symposium on Harmful Algae in the U.S. took place in Sarasota. Hosted by Mote Marine Laboratory and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, this national conference drew 215 researchers from 31 states to Florida.
“We were really pleased with the turnout – especially the number of young investigators who attended the conference,” said Leanne Flewelling, research administrator for the Harmful Algal Bloom program at FWC, who organized the conference with Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick, manager of Mote’s Environmental Health Program.
Continued on Mote Marine Laboratory's website...