Water-Related News

Environmental groups ask judge to throw out EPA decision to let Florida oversee wetlands permitting

Seven environmental groups asked a judge Thursday to throw out the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to give the state control of wetlands permitting.

The environmental groups say Florida's application was riddled with errors and the EPA violated the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedures Act when it handed Florida control of wetlands permitting last month.

“There are such unreasonable things in the way EPA has acted in this case that I'd be surprised if any other EPA looking at it would have reached the same conclusion,” said Tania Galloni, managing attorney for Earthjustice’s Florida Office.

Wetlands clean and recharge the state’s water supply and Florida has lost more wetlands than any other state in the country — more than 9 million acres, according to federal estimates. Florida asked the EPA to take over issuing permits for about 11 million remaining acres of wetlands in August and became just the third state in the U.S. to administer the cumbersome process. Michigan took control of its wetlands permitting in 1984 and New Jersey assumed control in 1994.

Florida began seriously considering assuming control in 2005, when state legislators voted to move forward with the plan. But the attempt stalled later that year when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection concluded it would be better off expanding its own program and taking over the federal permitting would bog down the process.

One-third of America’s rivers have changed color since 1984

America’s rivers are changing color — and people are behind many of the shifts, a new study said.

One-third of the tens of thousands of mile-long (two kilometer-long) river segments in the United States have noticeably shifted color in satellite images since 1984. That includes 11,629 miles (18,715 kilometers) that became greener, or went toward the violet end of the color spectrum, according to a study in this week’s journal Geographical Research Letters. Some river segments became more red.

Only about 5% of U.S. river mileage is considered blue — a color often equated with pristine waters by the general public. About two-thirds of American rivers are yellow, which signals they have lots of soil in them.

But 28% of the rivers are green, which often indicates they are choked with algae. And researchers found 2% of U.S. rivers over the years shifted from dominantly yellow to distinctly green.

“If things are becoming more green, that’s a problem,” said study lead author John Gardner, a University of Pittsburgh geology and environmental sciences professor. Although some green tint to rivers can be normal, Gardener said, it often means large algae blooms that cause oxygen loss and can produce toxins.

The chief causes of color changes are farm fertilizer run-off, dams, efforts to fight soil erosion and man-made climate change, which increases water temperature and rain-related run-off, the study authors said.

“We change our rivers a lot. A lot of that has to do with human activity,” said study co-author Tamlin Pavelsky, a professor of global hydrology at the University of North Carolina.

SJRWMD opens new entrance to Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Remember to share the road with cars, cyclists and hikers

MAITLAND — The St. Johns River Water Management District has created interim parking and a new small gate at the entrance of the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive to allow pedestrian and bicycle access to the recreational Loop Trail as Orange County upgrades its Magnolia Park amenities.

The temporary parking area is located on city of Apopka property to the immediate right of the Wildlife Drive entrance at 2850 Lust Road, Apopka. The District reminds drivers, pedestrians and cyclists to always share the road.

Construction of the new Magnolia Park Eco-tourism Center has resulted in the temporary closure of one of several access points to the Loop Trail. Information about the construction can be found here.

Other entrances to the Lake Apopka North Shore are:

  • Green Mountain Scenic Overlook and Trailhead, 20700 County Road 455, Minneola
  • North Shore Trailhead at 24600 County Road 448A, Mount Dora
  • Clay Island Trailhead, 22526 Carolyn Lane, Astatula

The Lake Apopka North Shore levee system not only serves as a separator between Lake Apopka and the North Shore but is also part of the recreational Loop Trail. Following the lake’s edge through the property, the Loop Trail covers more than 20 miles and provides hiking and biking opportunities.

The District recently began construction on its Lake Apopka Duda Property Water Storage Improvement Project, which involves raising internal levee heights and constructing hydraulic improvements, such as sumps, culverts and slide gates. The project will allow additional water to be stored on the property, which will reduce pumped discharges and nutrient loads to Lake Apopka.

During project construction, portions of the Loop Trail on Marsh Rabbit and North-South roads will be closed to public access intermittently as needed Monday–Saturday through July. Detours will be posted.

To learn more about water quality improvement projects at Lake Apopka, visit www.sjrwmd.com/projects/#lake-apopka.

Lakes Apopka and Minneola get new help in battles against algae plagues

The suffering Lake Apopka and the swimmable Lake Minneola bear little resemblance to each other, but they have been provided a fresh course of help recently to fight off their common scourge, harmful algae thriving on water pollution.

Less than 5 miles apart, Lake Minneola next to Clermont and Lake Apopka on the border of Lake and Orange counties are at different stages in their algae battles. The treatments they received in mid-December are promising but unproven.

“We’ve put ourselves on a bit of a new learning curve,” said Dean Dobberfuhl, a state water manager, referring particularly to a project at Lake Apopka.

“With these new infrastructure projects, we do a lot of modeling up front about where to put them, how to operate them and what we think will happen,” Dobberfuhl said. “But the real world often doesn’t work like models.”

Fried asks new EPA head to reconsider wetlands move

State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has asked incoming Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan to reconsider a recent EPA decision that shifted federal permitting authority to Florida for projects that affect wetlands.

Fried released a letter Wednesday that she sent to Regan, who has been tapped by President-elect Joe Biden to lead the EPA. Supporters this month praised the Trump administration’s decision to shift the permitting authority to Florida, saying it would help reduce duplicative state and federal permitting and give Florida more control over such decisions.

Florida is only the third state, joining Michigan and New Jersey, that have received the authority, according to the EPA. But some environmentalists have long opposed the move, arguing it would reduce protections for wetlands.

EPA gives Florida wider authority over wetland development

TALLAHASSEE — The federal government granted Florida’s request for wider authority over wetland development, a move announced Thursday that came under immediate fire by environmentalist who worry that the country’s largest network of wetlands could be at risk of being further degraded.

The announcement by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler was long sought by developers and Republican allies, who argued that the layers of regulatory scrutiny were cumbersome, expensive and unnecessary. Supporters touted the move as a step that would streamline the permitting process when property owners seek to develop wetlands.

During a news conference in Washington, Wheeler said the state had met the high bar necessary to assume the role of handling the permitting process.

“This action allows Florida to effectively evaluate and issue permits under the Clean Water Act to support the health of Florida’s waters, residents and economy,” he said.

“By taking over this permit program, Florida will be able to integrate its dredging and fill permitting with their traditional water quality and monitoring programs,” he said.

At around statehood in 1845, the state had about 20 million acres (8 million hectares) of wetlands. By 1996, Florida had lost nearly half of that because of dredging, draining and filling. The state’s population growth has spawned a boom in development, which has prompted much of that destruction.

Florida accounts for about a fifth of the country’s wetlands and includes the Everglades, among the state’s most important environmental jewels. A massive restoration project costing billions of dollars is currently underway to repair the damage to the Everglades, including the draining of huge swaths of its marshes.

Wetlands serve a key role in the ecosystem, including in helping maintain water quality