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The 46,000 acre Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve is one of Jacksonville’s natural gems. The preserve is a compilation of natural, cultural and historic connections that have occurred over the last 6,000 years.

The preserve includes Kingsley Plantation, Fort George and the Fort Caroline area, and is operated by the National Park Service. Over the years, people have changed the natural systems, from altering wetlands to constructing docks, establishing a plantation or the building of Timucuan shell mounds.

On Friday, January 20, 2012 the Timucuan Science Symposium will examine the interaction between humans and the environment. The symposium will take place at the historic Ribault Club on Fort George Island.

The symposium will provide an opportunity to network with researchers, National Park Service employees and local residents interested in the nature and culture of the Timucuan Preserve. Scientists who are currently working on research projects will share their stories, and connect with potential partners.

Scholars and graduate students are invited to submit proposals for posters or presentations at the symposium. Proposals can cover cultural, historical, natural or scientific subjects and are due by November 15, 2011.

Whether as a researcher or an interested observer, the Timucuan Science Symposium should be on your “don’t miss” list.

I was surprised last month while attending the Florida Water Resources Conference. While finishing dessert at the Awards Luncheon, I heard my name called. It seems I was elected to be a member of the Florida Select Society of Sanitary Sludge Shovelers.

Though it sounds funny–and the initiation consists of saying “Florida Select Society of Sanitary Sludge Shovelers” three times fast until the audience approves with applause–it really is quite an honor. The award’s purpose is to recognize water and wastewater industry professionals for outstanding, meritorious service above and beyond the call of duty. I’m in some good company with many long-time, well-respected water environment folks. People that I’ve admired for many years.

I now have a silver shovel pin–if I’m caught without it, I have to buy all the drinks!

But seriously, it’s wonderful to be recognized, and a member of a select group of environmental stewards.

Yellowtail snapper

Yellowtail snapper

Coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse environments in the world. Reefs provide millions of people with food, tourist dollars, and new medications. And in many instances, they protect coastlines from storm damage.

But reefs are very vulnerable. The corals, plants, fish and invertebrates of the reef systems are easily damaged by pollution, anchor dragging, and ship groundings such as that of the Clipper Lasco. This 645-foot cargo ship left a 20 X 100 foot gash in the reef off Ft. Lauderdale’s coast.

What I learned from my current client, Live Rock, Inc. is that reefs can be restored. It doesn’t happen overnight, but live rock–base rock cultured in Aquaculture or Mariculture sites to promote biological growth–can be transplanted to damaged reefs. Live corals can also be transplanted in some cases.

While not the ultimate solution to damaged reefs (which would be to prevent damage in the first place), it’s encouraging to know that it’s possible to rehabilitate these invaluable ecosystems. Thanks to the scientists and divers like Gary Levine for finding ways to keep our reefs alive.

 We have the beginnings of a Water War between Central and Northeast Florida.

With an ever-increasing population, Seminole County in Central Florida will not have enough groundwater by 2013, according to the St. Johns River Water Management District. The proposed solution–take surface water from the St. Johns River.

The Water Management District studied the request to determine if minimum flows and levels would be met, and determined that up to 262 million gallons per day could be removed without harming the river.  The St. Johns Riverkeeper, City of Jacksonville, and others filed for administrative hearing.

As a result, a multi-year, $2 million study is underway to determine the cumulative effect of water withdrawals on the St. Johns and Oklawaha Rivers. Fifty scientists with national standing in seven work groups will analyze every aspect of the withdrawals. The work groups include hydraulic modeling, biochemical, nutrients, aquatic insects and crustaceans, aquatic plants, fish and wetlands.

I recently attended a 2-day symposium on the project to date. Phase I of the project is complete, including excellent modeling calibration results. Some interesting findings to date:

  • Average daily flow through the St. Johns River is 5.2 billion gallons per day, with the highest weekly average daily flow at 36.6 billion gallons and the lowest at negative 882 million. That’s right–the river has a backward flow during certain periods.
  •  At the maximum proposed withdrawal rates, the greatest change in the river’s level would be 1.4 inches.
  • At the maximum propsed water level, the salinity change would be 0.7 parts per thousand.

Those impacts might not sound impressive, but the scientists are now embarking on Phase II of the project and how withdrawals will affect the ecosystem in greater detail.

More information is on the St. Johns River Water Management District’s website. Should be interesting!  Surface Water Withdrawals–Get the Facts.

Rainfall from Tropical Storm Fay on August 24, 2008
Rainfall from Tropical Storm Fay on August 24, 2008 Hal Pierce, SSAI/NASA GSFC

Tropical Storm Fay has finally left northeast Florida, heading for the Florida panhandle and on to Alabama and Mississippi–and we were happy to see her go.

As part of my job as Utility Director for a small city, Fay meant extra hours preparing for and responding to problems caused by the storm.

Most people know about the extra hours electrical companies work to get power back up. And those guys are amazing. 

 But it takes a lot of effort from water and wastewater operators and technicians to make sure people have safe water to drink. And to prevent wastewater overflows from contaminating drainage ditches and streams. On top of that, we make sure the wastewater treatment plants keep working to remove contaminants before effluent flows to the river or other receiving stream.
 
With widespread power outages, our water and sewer treatment plants were running under generator power. The larger lift stations (pumping stations that send wastewater to the treatment plant) have generators also–but the small pump stations do not.
 
That means we have to haul portable pumps or generators around town to prevent sewer overflows. And operators still have to work the treatment plants, run laboratory tests, open and close valves and monitor processes in tropical storm conditions.
One of our lift station generators tripped off for some unknown reason during the storm. It could have been from the intermittent power or a power surge. Fortunately our SCADA (electronic monitoring system) was working at the time, so we were able to catch the problem quickly and get the generator running again.
Even so, about 500 gallons of raw sewage overflowed from the lift station into the lagoon. Unfortunate, but not preventable. The generator is well maintained, and tested weekly, but every possible problem can’t be prevented. Of course, we reported the spill to the Department of Environmental Protection as required.
That’s why I take issue with some of the environmental activists who insist on zero tolerance for wastewater spills. None of us want to put sewage into lakes, rivers or oceans, especially those in the business of protecting the environment–but it’s not a perfect world. Equipment fails and backups don’t come on. Tropical storms and hurricanes wreak havoc on instrumentation and electrical equipment. Homeowners and businesses dump things down the drain that they shouldn’t.
The best possible effort is made to protect our environment, but sometimes it’s just not enough.
 
Despite the flooding rains and high winds our city came through the storm just fine, with a lot of dedication and elbow grease from the guys in the field. But we’re all ready for some sunshine in the Sunshine State.

There’s an invasion underway in Florida.  Deadly lionfish have invaded the Atlantic Ocean. Below is a photo from the USDA website, taken by Paula Whitfield, NOAA, Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research.

Lionfish about 40 miles off the North Carolina coast

Lionfish about 40 miles off the North Carolina coast

They’re natives of the Pacific Ocean, where they have natural predators to keep their numbers at bay. In the Atlantic, with no enemies, the lionfish population is exploding. Not only do they eat Florida’s natural reef fish and harm the local ecosystem, they can injure or even kill people swimming or diving in the Atlantic Ocean. A lionfish’s sting is extremely painful and serious, and there’s no anti-venom.

So how did the lionfish get all the way to Florida?

They’re beautiful fish–and people want them in their aquariums. But when they get too big, they’re often dumped right in the ocean or local estruaries. 

Banning the sale of these lovely-but-deadly invasives is one way to help. 

After all, that’s how many invasive species get their start. People bring plants or animals from other locations without realizing the potential consequences.

Funny how even the the most noble of actions can have devastating consequences. 

The $1.75 billion sale of 187,000 acres of U.S. Sugar’s land to the State of Florida to restore the Everglades may seem wonderful to some environmentalists. But to the 6,500 residents of Clewiston, Florida, news of the sale did not bring cheers.

That’s because U.S. Sugar is a critical component of Clewiston’s economy.  The company employs 1700 people, and makes up about 25% of the tax base. 

Approximately 300 farmers, residents and business owners recently packed Clewiston’s John Boy Auditorium for an emergency meeting, during which officials voted to hire an attorney and begin an economic impact study. 

I have mixed feelings about this deal. We do need to preserve the Everglades. But must we put an end to towns like Clewiston to do so? Farmers are sometimes made out to be “the enemy” of the environment, but I don’t agree with that. If anything, they’re more connected to the environment than the rest of us.

I also have a problem with the “surprise announcement” Governor Crist made about the sale. In Florida, we’re supposed to have government in the sunshine. How was it possible for the State to conduct negotiations with U.S. Sugar–especially negotiations for an amount like $1.75 billion of taxpayer dollars–with so much secrecy?

Some of the folks in Clewiston feel like they’ve been thrown under the bus.  Understandably, I’d say.

Last week, Florida’s Governor, Charlie Christ, unveiled a strategy to provide the missing link to restoring Florida’s River of Grass. A plan for a $1.75 billion purchase of U.S. Sugar Corporation’s property – up to 187,000 acres of agricultural land that can be used to re-establish the connection between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades with a system of managed storage and treatment. 

Today, the South Florida Water Management District took the next step towards one of the largest environmental land purchases in Florida’s history by ratifying the “Statement of Principles” that was signed with U.S. Sugar Corporation.  This allows the detailed and confidential purchase negotiations to begin.

As proposed, U.S. Sugar will have the right to continue farming the land for the next 6 years.

The acquisition of the property will reduce harmful freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee to Florida’s coastal rivers and estuaries while reducing phosphorus and improving water quality entering the Everglades.

As always, there are trade-offs with the deal. Some important water storage projects along the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers will be delayed.  And the residents of Palm Beach County will lose $5.4 million in property taxes when U.S. Sugar’s property goes to the State–at a time when revenues are already taking a hit due to tax reform and a drop in tourism. 

 

I just returned from the Florida Water Resources Conference in Tampa.

Important water issues abound.  Everything from droughts and water shortages–to microconstituents–to nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus in the waterways–to sea water desalinization.

One of the first sessions I attended contested the theory that Florida is running out of fresh water.  Computer models predict declining levels in Florida’s underground aquifers.  But some of the actual data shows that water levels have stabilized.

Many Florida cities have water restrictions in place–and reclaimed water is used in many areas for both residential and agricultural irrigation.  So it makes sense that we might not be in as bad of shape as the models predict.

Regulatory agencies allocate water to users based on computer models, more so than current data.  After all, they are responsible for making sure we have water years into the future, not just today.  But are they “crying wolf?”  Or protecting us from ourselves?

Northeast Florida’s St. Johns River is listed as #6 in the America’s Most Endangered Rivers Report 2008. 

American Rivers‘™ annual report highlights U.S. rivers facing critical junctures–decisions that could determine their future–within the year.  Rivers on the list aren’t necessarily polluted, but can be threatened by development or other potential dangers.

The St. Johns River was listed because the thirsty and rapidly-growing Central Florida area wants to tap into the river and use it as a drinking water supply source.  Seminole County already has a permit application that was recommended for approval by the St. Johns River Water Management District to use about 5 million gallons per day from the river to supply the Yankee Lake Regional Water Facility.  Withdrawals totaling up to 155 million gallons per day are planned for the Central Florida region. 

Concerns about changing the salinity and increasing pollutant concentrations put the St. Johns on the endangered list.  America’s Rivers™ recommends action–and their suggestion is to contact the St. Johns River Water Management District and encourage them to deny permits for using the St. Johns River as a potable water source. 

The St. Johns River Water Management District has decided to conduct a more detailed study on the effects of removing water from the river.  In the meantime, the District is preparing even more stringent rules to promote water conservation. 

The St. Johns Riverkeeper submitted the nomination in the hopes that an endangered designation would attract the attention of Florida’s Governor Charlie Crist

Using rivers and other surface waters for drinking water supply is nothing new.  The EPA notes that most of the large cities in the United States get their drinking water from surface water sources. 

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