Water-Related News

The fate of Florida's wetlands could be decided behind closed doors, groups say

Environmental and activist groups are criticizing the state for drafting in secrecy the details of a new permitting process to build in Florida’s wetlands.

In a letter Monday addressed to Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein, environmental groups Audubon Florida and 1000 Friends of Florida alongside the League of Women Voters called for a more transparent process in DEP’s workshopping of an application that would give the state almost exclusive discretion in doling out permits to build in wetlands.

Currently, there are two systems in place to authorize building in Florida’s wetlands. Developers can request a permit through the state, or they can go through the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Over the years, the state’s permitting process has been streamlined, whereas the EPA’s system has remained slow. Some have described it as redundant.

HB 7043, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in March, gives DEP permission to draft an application to the EPA to allow the state to authorize federal permits, so long as they don’t breach Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act, which approves on a case-by-case basis development — known as “dredge and fill” activities — in wetlands.

DEP is rapidly drafting the application and taking public comment as is standard during accompanying rule-making workshops. It’s held three workshops around the state already, along with an online webinar. An estimated 300 Floridians have weighed in on rule-making, according to DEP, and the agency recently extended its public comment period by two weeks.

But the signatories of the Monday letter fear that a great bulk of the details of the application are being drafted outside of the sunshine.

Trump's move to redefine water rule threatens wetlands banks

GAINESVILLE — A private firm is making big money selling promises about some gator-infested Florida swampland.

The Panther Island Mitigation Bank isn't another land boondoggle, but part of a federal system designed to restore wetlands across the United States. Panther Island's owners preserved one of the nation's last stands of virgin bald cypress, 4 square miles (10 square kilometers) on the western edge of the Everglades where they cleared away invasive plants and welcomed back wood storks, otters and other native flora and fauna.

Banks like this sell "wetlands mitigation credits" to developers for up to $300,000 apiece, offsetting the destruction of marshes by construction projects elsewhere. It's a billion-dollar industry that has slowed the loss of U.S. wetlands, half of which are already gone.

This uniquely American mix of conservation and capitalism has been supported by every president since George H.W. Bush pledged a goal of "no net loss" of wetlands, growing a market for mitigation credits from about 40 banks in the early 1990s to nearly 1,500 today. Investors include Chevron and Wall Street firms, working alongside the Audubon Society and other environmental groups.

Now the market is at risk.

Administrator Scott Pruitt's Environmental Protection Agency has completed a proposal for implementing President Donald Trump's executive order to replace the Waters of the United States rule, or WOTUS, with a much more limited definition of what constitutes a protected federal waterway.

Study: Anatartica's ice is rapidly melting, threatening coastal communities worldwide

OSLO – An accelerating thaw of Antarctica has pushed up world sea levels by almost a centimeter since the early 1990s in a risk for coasts from Pacific islands to Florida, an international team of scientists said on Thursday.

Antarctica has enough ice to raise seas by 190 feet if it ever all melted, dwarfing frozen stores in places from Greenland to the Himalayas and making its future the biggest uncertainty in understanding global warming and ocean levels.

The frozen continent lost almost 3 trillion tons of ice between 1992 and 2017, the 84 scientists said in what they called the most complete overview of Antarctic ice to date.

The thaw, tracked by satellite data and other measurements, contributed 0.3 inches to sea level rise since 1992, they wrote in the journal Nature.

And the ice losses quickened to 219 billion tons a year since 2012, from 76 billion previously. "The sharp increase … is a big surprise," professor Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds and a leader of the report, told Reuters.

Die-off of freshwater turtles prompts FWC to investigate

The die-off began five months ago. Freshwater turtles began turning up dead along the St. Johns River in January. Now about 100 dead or dying turtles have been found in water bodies in Orange, Seminole and Putnam counties. A few reports have come in from other locations, such as Trout Lake near Eustis in Lake County. Examinations of the turtles and tests of their tissues have, at this point, failed to pinpoint a cause of death, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. There were no obvious signs of injury. Now the commission has officially opened an investigation, in collaboration with the University of Florida, and is asking the public for help. Anyone who finds a dead turtle should contact the agency’s Fish Kill hotline at toll-free 1-800-636-0511 or submit an online report at MyFWC.com/FishKill.

Rainfall and water level update from LCWA

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By Anna Ely

May was an unusually wet month. The Villa City gauge near Groveland has recorded nearly 12 inches during May and the gauge near CR 48 and SR 27 near Okahumpka has recorded about 9.5 inches during May. The rainfall associated with the subtropical activity over the past few weeks has kept the lake levels up.

As of this morning Lake Minnehaha, the reference lake for the Clermont Chain, is at 96.72 ft. MSL, slightly below the middle of the regulatory range. The regulatory range is from 96.0 ft. to 97.50 ft. The lake is about 1.5 ft. higher than it was at this same time last year. The combined flow from Big and Little Creeks into Lake Louisa is 17 cfs (cubic ft. per second) or 7,754 gpm (gallons per minute). As a comparison, in October 2017 after Hurricane Irma, the combine flow from Big and Little Creeks was 659 cfs or 289,960 gpm. The Cherry Lake Dam was opened to release 100 cfs on May 23, 2018 and the lake levels are watched several times during the day. The flow would be adjusted based on the lake stages change and the forecasted rainfall.

For the Harris Chain of Lakes, Lake Apopka is currently at 65.94 ft. which is 0.29 ft. (about 3.5 inches) above the regulatory level of 65.65 ft. Flow from Lake Apopka through the Nutrient Reduction Facility (NuRF) is at 280 cfs as May 19th. The middle lakes (Beauclair, Carlton, Dora, Eustis and Harris) are currently at 62.23ft., slightly above the regulatory level of 62.04 ft. Flow from the middles lakes through the Burrell lock and dam is at 541 cfs. For Lake Griffin, the lake is currently at 58.08 ft. slightly above the regulatory level of 58.04 ft. Flow from Lake Griffin through the Moss Bluff lock and dam is at 936 cfs.

This late spring heavy rainfall at the beginning of the rainy season is unusual and saturated ground from the rainfall during May could mean more runoff into the lakes and the potential for localized flooding. We will be watching the lake levels closely and respond as necessary as the summer rainy season and the tropical storm season kicks in.

Clermont set to complete Victory Pointe project this summer

The Lake County Water Authority is a partner in the project, along with FDEP, EPA, and SJRWMD.

The City of Clermont is making plans for a grand opening of Victory Pointe this summer. The $9.5-million stormwater project and urban, passive park, is critical to the success of the City’s award-winning Master Plan aimed at revitalizing the downtown and waterfront.

Nearly a year ago, on June 14, 2017, the City began construction on Victory Pointe. The 10- acre site will be the first major project completed from the Downtown-Waterfront Master Plan approved in 2015. The innovative park will combine recreational elements, such as trails and a performance area, with an extensive stormwater facility. The stormwater facility will enhance drainage downtown and improve the quality of water entering Lake Minneola, a State of Florida-designated “Impaired Water.”

City officials say the project will likely be finished in late June with a grand opening slated on Friday, July 27, 2018.

$20,000 available to teachers looking for innovative ways to educate students

District’s Blue School Grant Program now accepting applications through Sept. 7

PALATKA – Now entering the third year of its Blue School Grant Program, the St. Johns River Water Management District plans to offer up to $20,000 in grants for education projects that enhance student knowledge of Florida’s water resources through hands-on learning. The application period runs May 21–Sept. 7, giving teachers all summer to prepare their project proposals for the 2018–2019 grants.

“Blue School Grants are a great way for the district to partner with our local schools and support student development in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields,” said St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle. “We have funded nearly 20 education projects in the last two funding cycles, and I’m excited to see what the next round of applications will bring.”

Up to $2,000 per teacher per school will be awarded to middle and high school teachers to enhance student knowledge of Florida’s water resources. Public and charter school teachers within the district’s boundaries are eligible to apply.

Grants may be awarded in four areas: water quality field studies, water conservation garden projects, water conservation community/school awareness campaigns or freshwater resources educational programs.

Examples of successful grant applications include:

  • Water quality comparison of stormwater ponds on campus
  • Micro-irrigation installation in school garden
  • Field trip to organic and conventional farms
  • Seagrass restoration project
  • Water conservation awareness posters and video

Teachers receiving grants will be notified after Oct. 1, 2018.

Information about criteria and deadlines and the online application can be found at www.sjrwmd.com/education/blue-school.