Monday, July 1, 2013

Scott and Legislators look the other way as Florida decays

Around the state, communities that have natural freshwater springs flowing in their back yards like Brooksville (Weeki Wachee Springs), Crystal River (Crystal Springs), Dunnellon (Rainbow Springs), Ocala (Silver Springs), Orlando (Wekiva Springs), are becoming alarmed at the continuing deterioration of these extraordinary natural features.
Yet the political leadership of this state, primarily Republicans, has determined that such phenomena are of little importance and that what is more important is allowing the pollution that’s killing these springs to continue under the false guise that regulation kills jobs. 
This terribly misguided hands-off attitude is being purchased by special interests, powerful members of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and others from out of state who have major business investments in Florida.  These are private and corporate interests who stand to lose big if their polluting operations become constrained by regulations that would end or even slow the pollution.
They use Florida’s lax campaign laws that allow back-channel funneling of unlimited political contributions for candidates willing to sacrifice Florida’s future for money to get re-elected and maintain control of its political infrastructure. 
If a review were to be undertaken of where such money comes from and where it winds up, one would likely see how favorable self-serving laws become purchased by these huge payments which can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars from single contributors.  Such a review would also shine a light on how these dollars benefit individual legislators and the powerful lobbyists who nurture them, as well as those who signed the check.  
Unfortunately, Florida’s legislators continue to make tracking big money difficult if not impossible because doing so would not serve their own political interests.
David Guest is Florida Managing Attorney for Earthjustice, a national public interest law firm.  Saying these factions dislike Guest because he has spent a career standing up for natural Florida and fighting those who would despoil it, would be an understatement.  He is relentless, unblinking in the face of enormous power, and moneyed interests know if he gets his teeth into one of their issues it will hurt them.
Here’s what he has written about this matter.  The pollution problem, as he lucidly points out, is not limited to just our unique natural springs but has spread like a terrible disease to all of Florida’s waters – lakes, rivers, springs, and even its coastal waters.
Voters need to open their eyes, move beyond irrational partisan doctrine, and do the right thing for Florida.  The Tallahassee machinery that continues to allow, even foster, this approaching calamity needs to be dismantled.  So much is at risk.
 Here is Guest’s letter:

June 26, 2013
A few miles from Florida's state Capitol, a lake has broken out with toxic algae that causes skin rashes and liver damage in humans and kills wildlife. I wish I could tell you this was an isolated case.
David Guest
The fact is, hundreds of manatees, dolphins, birds, and fish have been washing up dead on both the east and west coasts. Those waters are fouled by sewage, manure, fertilizer, and sewage — pollution that fuels algae outbreaks.
How bad is it? Take a look:
In Southeast Florida's Indian River Lagoon, algae outbreaks are causing what Discovery News calls a "mass murder mystery" — a dead manatee floats up about every two weeks. The tally there since last summer is over 111 manatees, along with more than 46 dead dolphins and 300 pelicans.
In Orlando, the spring-fed Wekiva River is covered by slimy algae and residents are warned to stay away from Lake Harris and Little Lake Harris, which have turned murky brown from another algae outbreak.
There's a persistent algae outbreak off the popular tourist mecca of Sanibel Island, and a water treatment plant on Southwest Florida's Caloosahatchee River that's supposed to serve 30,000 people shut down; the algae makes the water unusable — even dangerous — for drinking.
In Jacksonville, residents are seeing signs that the "Green Monster" massive algae outbreak is coming back on the St. Johns River. The Green Monster covered almost 100 miles of the St Johns with slime in 2005 and 2009, causing public health warnings, fish kills, and turning water pea-soup green.
A scientist doing an aerial survey for manatees along the river recently told the Florida Times-Union that he and his pilot suffered "respiratory distress" just flying 500 feet over the algae outbreak.
We are in this predicament because, to put it plainly, Florida's government is gutting common-sense rules that would help stop algae outbreaks.
Outdated septic tanks cause algae outbreaks, but the Legislature gutted septic tank regulations. Polluter lobbyists drafted the state's rules on sewage and manure pollution, the Scott Administration adopted the weak language and the Legislature approved it. When some lawmakers proposed an amendment for the state to collect reports of skin rashes and health effects from this pollution, the Legislature overwhelmingly voted it down.
Scott's Administration has also fired attorneys and staffers who dared to enforce laws at the state's Department of Environmental Protection. Enforcement cases against polluters have plummeted.
Powerful agricultural corporations – many of them out-of-state - are now polluting Florida waters without consequence. The "rules" around agricultural runoff are particularly galling because they are – really! - on the honor system.
A big polluter like an industrial plant would be fined if it piled up a bunch of toxic stuff that washed into a river. But that's not true for Florida agricultural operations. Florida allows them voluntary goals called "best management practices." All the corporation has to do it say it is implementing a plan to control pollution, and it is exempt from monitoring!
It's as if a big trucking company were allowed to blow through speed traps so long as it submitted a "speed-limit compliance plan" to the Highway Patrol.
Fishermen watching the massive die-offs along the Indian River Lagoon – considered the most diverse estuary in North America - have little hope of help from Florida's leaders. The Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute got the Legislature to approve $2 million this year for a study of the lagoon's water chemistry. Scott vetoed it.
David Guest



  1. Attended DEP public forum at Weeki regarding total maximum daily load (TMDL) for nitrate. DEP set a rather arbitrary (my opinion) TMDL for Weeki head spring of 0.35 mg/L. According to research published by SWFWMD in 2000 and using data collected by USGS,, the nitrate concentration rate of change has closely approximated rate of Hernando County population growth since the 70's. Simply compare census data with SWFWMD report. When I worked at the park in late 80's levels were around 0.2 mg/L and we still had issues. The only living organisms that don't seem to mind nitrate (plant or animal) are nuisance vegetation, manatees, and turtles. When I inquired what current levels are today? They stated a max. of 1.0 mg/L! At least they're going in right direction with 0.35 TMDL. Also FYI... all aquatic frogs have disappeared seemingly overnight from riverine. On any summer night in past, noise of frogs was deafening. All quiet now. Not a peep. Very alarming as frogs are an indicator organism (so I'm told).

    1. It's true about the frogs on the river...we no longer hear their crescendo...not one bleep. After rains, we do hear the little green tree frogs around the yard, but they do not compare to the extemporaneous chorus of big daddy river frogs that competed with one another! I miss them.

  2. Thank you Sonny!
    We here in Dunnellon and Ocala are living the nightmare of watching this degradation first hand. Please continue to speak out on this issue!!

  3. Well said and perfectly correct, Sonny!!!

  4. The onslaught onour environment continues. The FDEP and WMD's (all one now) have instilled a fear within the employees that keeps them quite and controlled, and not just in the permitting positions. They fear the loss of their job, and who wouldn't as the most high ranking,tenured and talented staffs have been run off, so who at any level would think they are safe. To further their agenda, the State now plans on providing bonuses to those that can get permits out the fastest. The only way to do that is not ask any questions, just rubber stamp it. This pits staff against staff. No bonus = underperformance.

    On the issue of Springs, I saw where SWFWMD's "big" Spring initiative was to install real time data scada units within the springs so that the public can monitor flow and other(?) parameters. Why is that deemed to be inovative water management? Who really cares to see what the daily flow is, or other parameters. It's like the air temperature, it is what it is. How about some real water management, like addressing the infiltration of nutrients associated with septic systems within the springshed or the rapid infiltration basins associated with local government waste water plants. The agency heads and board members are fixated on $ and don't have the interest in making hard decisions that will benefit the environment. What to do?

  5. Thankful for this blog. I was just thinking about the deterioration of North Florida waterways this morning and the fact I have not met any European visitors around here in years. A few years ago some friends moved from North Florida to Germany where they now can drink the water from the tap and breath clean air while visiting forests that are cared for by experts. In the 1980s, there were many Europeans who visited these parts. Many Floridians seem to be in a state of detachment from reality. Too busy looking at cell phones and other electronic devices. There is an economic aspect to this, also. The deterioration of North Florida waterways means the decline of property values. Sad times.