Stay current on fast moving Florida Legislative Bills
Subscribe to Florida Report which features detailed legislative reports and alerts from our lobbyist Dave Cullen. The list is open to members and non-members alike. Click here to subscribe.
News From the Chair
By Whitey Markle
The Suwannee-St Johns Group is, “the largest SC group east of the Mississippi “, possesses 1000 springs, and is approximately the size of Massachusetts. Needless to say, we have a massive chunk of the most environmentally-endowed land, and we have the responsibility of protecting it for future Floridians (and visitors).
We try our best to protect our resources with our more than 2000 volunteer members. We have a plethora of serious activists who devote much of their time and energy in our collective efforts, and we often find ourselves planning, funding, and implementing several major projects at the same time. We are fortunate to have good activists volunteering to make these projects effective and hopefully successful.
Subsequently, we are continuously reaching out to our members (and many nonmembers), seeking their help, and occasionally we reach out to secure funding when it is necessary. Without this voluntary activism and financial help, we would not be able to accomplish our mission as effectively. So let me say that we will indeed be conducting a fundraising campaign in the near future. Last year’s fundraiser (the first one of its kind in my experience with the Sierra Club) was somewhat successful ($1800 net). We are hoping that this year’s fundraiser will be even more successful as we were learning the procedure last year. This type of fundraiser is dependent upon 2 major efforts:
We sincerely hope our members and their acquaintances will join us in our efforts by both contributing good prizes, purchasing lots of tickets, and by helping us promote their sales. We can accomplish a lot more with just a little help from our members and friends.
- We must secure donations of “prizes” for the donations we solicit. The more prizes we acquire, the better the chance of success., and
- Promotion of the fundraiser. Effective promotion reaches a larger potential number of ticket purchasers. All we have t do is get the word out to as many friends as possible.
NORTH FLORIDA WORKING GROUP LAUNCHES 2 GREAT PROJECTS.
I am personally happy to see out North Florida Working Group launch 2 great projects for the near future: Solar Rocks for the Equinox, a day-long day of fun and educational events at the Sierra Club North Florida Headquarters north of High Springs on September 23rd, and a collaborative effort in collaboration with the Citizens Against Phosphate Mining which will be a campaign to educate the public about the phosphate mining proposals in Bradford and Union Counties. This working group is comprised of a bunch of great activists who are well-organized and apparently eager to make this campaign a success. We wish them the best in their efforts.
Stay informed about these projects by checking out the Sierra Club Suwannee-St. Johns Group Facebook page and watch our calendar for upcoming events you may wish to attend.
TRICOUNTY WORKING GROUP LAUNCHES PILOT OUTING(S) FOR HANDICAPPED, FIGHTING TO PROTECT 2 GREAT SPRINGS.
See the Conservation Report for details on our efforts, Lead by the Tricounty Working Group, to convince 2 Water management Districts that proposed Minimum Flows and Levels are too lenient for the Silver and rainbow Springs.
Through the efforts of EXCOM member-at-large Kathryn Taubert, the Tricounty Working group will launch a pilot outings program for handicapped members and friends on the Rainbow River on April 5th. Kathryn was able to solicit a river tour by pontoon boat, donated for the pilot project by Capt. Britt Cottrell’s Rainbow River Water Taxi and entry fee to K.P. Hole courtesy of Marion County. Hopefully this “pilot” excursion will lead to more of the same for our handicapped friends.
By Whitey Markle
RAINBOW RIVER MFL TO BE DECIDED ON MARCH 28
The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) will decide on a proposed Minimum Flow and Level (MFL) at their March 28th meeting in the SWFWMD headquarters in Brooksville. Although the Rainbow River and spring are flowing at over 20% of their historic flow, the SWFWMD staff has recommended reducing that flow by a maximum of 5%.
We staged a massive public protest in a SWFWMD public input meeting in Dunnellon on February 23rd. In the public testimony, not a single person agreed with the staff recommendation. Regardless, the staff recommended approval of the 5% reduction.
Minimum Flows and Levels are (and have been) required by Florida Statute since the 1970’s. The statute says that if an Outstanding Florida Water (OFW), such as the Rainbow and all of our major local waterways, is reduced in flow and level to a point at which “significant harm” is caused to that waterbody, it is illegal. Last year, the Florida legislature passed Senate Bill 552 which mandated (after 45 years) that MFLs be established for all Outstanding Florida Springs immediately. Thus these actions we are seeing now.
We feel that this 5% reduction is, by far, excessive. The Rainbow Spring and River are flowing at more than 20% less than their historic levels. The river is growing algae and Lyngbya ( a massive, snake-looking algae that can grow 6 feet long or more and coats the water surface in warmer weather which is the result of low flow and nutrient pollution), and the once white sand bottoms are now turning black from nutrient pollution. Also, the native submerged Aquatic vegetation is rapidly disappearing due to the oxygen depletion and blockage of sunlight, all the result of silted algae-laden water.
Citing the following report which is SWFWMD’s own “peer reviewed” report.
https://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/projects/mfl/reports/Rainbow_Peer_Rev_Rpt_2016.pdf: “In the absence of key supporting data, the District should consider capping withdrawals at current levels (or with a minimal allowable increase) until the nutrient issues are effectively addressed. In particular, consideration should be given to allow no reduction in flow unless there is a corresponding decrease in loading so that there is no net increase in projected nitrate concentrations. If this cannot be done, the District needs to be explicit as to the water-quality implications of the proposed MFL. Underlying this recommendation is our perception that the system, while still in relatively good shape, is substantially overused to the point that any reduction in flow could impact water quality and should be of concern."
The issue isn’t MFLs per se, but the Rainbow Springs System “allowable” MFL as proposed by SWFWMD.
Their own Peer Reviewed Report (at link above), which they publicly stated SUPPORTED their 5% MFL did not do that. It’s fraught with warnings and admonitions, which were cited by a number of speakers in attendance last night. Even the SWFWMD staff said they were continuing their studies and that things needed “monitoring.” The consensus of everyone at the meeting (other than SWFWMD) was that the longitudinal studies should be completed BEFORE making decisions that would facilitate the withdrawal of ANY water from the RS system. Dr. Knight wasn’t the only “expert” witness. There were a couple of retired engineers and others familiar with these kinds of studies that spoke of the need to hold off before encouraging withdrawals.
Some leaders are saying that we must have an MFL for the river in order to force the Water Management Districts (WMD’s) to stop issuing Consumptive Use Permits (CUP’s) when the MFL is reached. We agree. But we do not agree that a 5% reduction in flow and level would be correct. We believe that an MFL of 0% would be correct, and we believe the WMD’s have that authority.
Hopefully the SWFWMD Governing Board will see our point of view on March 28th and order a lesser flow reduction than the proposed 5%. The Chassahowitzka River MFL was to be lowered by 9% 5 years ago (by staff recommendation), but we were able to sway the Governing Board our way and we ended up with a 3% reduction. So it can be done.
SILVER RIVER MFL DEBATED IN OCALA.
The St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) held a public workshop to discuss the lowering of the Silver Springs and silver River flow by 6% on March 15 at 4:30 PM at the Ocala Public Library Growth Management meeting room on East Silver Springs Blvd. in Ocala. We staged a protest demonstration at 3:30 PM. And a dozen members spoke in public comment in opposition against the proposed flow reduction. Like the Rainbow, we feel the 6% reduction is illegal.
SJRWMD staff also presented their “recovery” strategy(s) in the presentation. As usual, they talked about more spending on “projects”, and strategies like “recharge” where they inject used water back into the aquifer, “alternative” water sources (our lakes and rivers), Tapping the subfloridan aquifer (full of salts and heavy metals), and water conservation measures (a very vague term; if the “conservation” measures they now employ are continued as they are being implemented now, we will see No improvement in the water quality and quantity in the already-impaired Outstanding Florida Springs. I stated for the record that “conservation” projects and policies that presently exist have not bight and no authority to enforce.
SSJ member Dr. Bob Palmer, member of the Florida Springs Council legislative committee, managed (miraculously) to persuade Senator Farmer (D-Ft. Lauderdale) to introduce some 8 amendments into the senate in the form of Senate Bill 1700. These 8 amendments will improve upon the 2016 Water Bill (SB 552 by retired Senator Charlie Dean) with commonsense provisions to protect Florida’s waters, like:
We were allowed 5 minutes to speak (longer than usual), that allotted time was certainly not enough for me to explain all of the above proposed amendments. Perhaps the SJRWMD Governing Board will listen and act on our testimony.
- Sustainable permitting decisions, proper allocation of water resources, and efficient direction of water supply funding by the WMDs,
- Eliminating redundancies among environmental agencies and unnecessary oversight of WMD’s and improving the consumptive use process,
- Requiring Consumptive Use Permit (CUP) holders to monitor water usage and report that use to the WMDs,
- Giving preference for public funding water supply projects that maximize water conservation, require the reservation of water to restore the minimum flow of water level for an Outstanding Florida Spring (OFS),
- Requiring an estimated allocation of pollutant load reductions for each category of sources within a Priority Focus Area (PFA) of an OFS within two years of the adoption of a Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP), require the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to assemble that data and report it to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP),
- Adding industrial wastewater facilities, new septic tank systems on lots of 1 acre or less within an area for which a septic tank remediation plan is necessary to achieve Total maximum Daily Load (TMDL), and new animal feeding or finishing operations to the list of prohibitive activities within the PFA’s,
- Requiring the creation of improved Best Management Practices (BMPs) if current BMPs are found to be insufficient to meet agricultural pollution reduction goals for OFSs, and
- Requiring FDACS to partner with FDEP to fund conservation easements which include the conversion of less polluting BMPs….on agricultural lands where current operations are inconsistent with springs protection.
SENATOR STEWART FILES NO BEAR HUNTING BILL.
Senator Linda Stewart (D) Orlando, has filed Senate Bill 1304,titled Florida Black Bear Habitat Restoration Act, which proposes several helpful strategies that will protect the bears . It proposes:
This bill is a great step forward for Black Bear protection. Senator Stewart should be applauded for this effort. We will see if it gets out of committee(s). Wish her luck on this one. We do feel, however, that this may be a good way to focus on the problem and perhaps lend some impetus to another bear hunting prohibition. The bill is now in the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee. Senator Rob Bradley represents a large part of our area and is Vice-chair of the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee. We should all call his Tallahassee Office at (850) 487-5005 and urge him to put it on the committee’s agenda and vote YES on it in its entirety.
- A ten year moratorium on Bear hunting,
- Conduct a 5 year study of bear population trend and an analysis of potential impacts of recreational bear hunting,
- Impose controls on Saw Palmetto berry harvesting,
- Impose controls on the sale of Saw Palmetto berries,
- Prohibit the harvesting of Saw Palmetto Berries on state lands designated as bear habitat,
- Provide protection of bear habitat from control burning at critical times.
- Prohibit the sale of timbering rights for certain trees in state forests and parks that contain bear habitat,
- Provide for coordination between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission FWC), FDEP, and FDACS in protecting Black bears and their habitat,
- Provide funding to local governments to provide bear-proof garbage cans,
- Require the state agencies to designate areas of bear habitat and areas of Human-Bear conflict.
SIERRA CLUB, ENVIRONMENT FLORIDA SUE PILGRIMS PRIDE IN FEDERAL COURT.
On March 9th, The Sierra Club and Environment Florida, with the aid of the National Environmental Law Center, held a press conference announcing their filing of a lawsuit in Federal Court in Jacksonville against Pilgrims Pride, one of the world’s biggest poultry producers near Live Oak. The suit argues Pilgrim’s Pride regularly violated pollution standards written into company permits for years, pointing to daily reports compiled by Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection.
SSJ Sierrans and attorneys present the Pilgrims Pride lawsuit to the press in Jacksonville
Florida Times-Union reporter, Steve Patterson said, “Activists said the state hasn’t taken meaningful action despite more than 1,000 days of violations over five years.”
“Here is one of the world’s largest meat companies continually dumping pollution into one of Florida’s most beautiful rivers,” said Jennifer Rubiello, state director of Environment Florida. “If our own state officials won’t step in and protect the Suwannee, then Environment Florida will.”
Runoff water from the plant, where chickens are fed and slaughtered, contains nitrogen from animal feces and a range of chemicals that are part of the plant’s operation. The suit says the nitrogen has helped algae growth in the Suwannee and the chemicals at time exceed levels the permit considers toxic to wildlife in the river.
The pollution violated the federal Clean Water Act, activists said, noting citizens can sue to gain enforcement of environmental laws.
A Pilgrim’s spokesman said the company “takes this allegation seriously,” but didn’t think there was a basis for it.
The reports the suit is based on were from testing that the company conducted and reported to the state, said spokesman Cameron Bruett.
When those reports were made, Bruett said, “Corrective measures were identified and implemented to address concerns. We are unaware of any current conditions that would merit this legal action, however we will review the complaint and respond appropriately.”
The Sierra Club’s Suwannee-St Johns Group plans to join the suit when a 60-day waiting period is finished.
“Pilgrim’s Pride has been polluting that river … for 30 years,” said Whitey Markle, chair of the Sierra Club’s Suwannee-St Johns Group. “The [Florida] Department of Environmental Protection needs to do their job and enforce the rules.”
The Live Oak plant was owned by a different company, Gold Kist, until 2007. The plant is one of Suwannee County’s largest employers, with a workforce that ranged between 1,000 and 1,400 during recent years.
Supporters of the lawsuit said they weren’t trying to harm the company, only protect the river.
“We’re not anti-chicken,” said Garth Brewster, who had traveled about 85 miles from O’Brien, near the Suwannee, to be part of a press conference outside Jacksonville’s federal courthouse. But Brewster said she was worried about river’s health, and wanted to ensure it was safe for people to fish and kayak there.
A Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman, Dee Ann Miller, said the state is working on its third agreement since 2010 for Pilgrim’s Pride to improve its wastewater.
The company paid a $36,000 penalty and met goals included in a deal with the state between 2010 and 2012, Miller said, but hadn’t shown improvements required for another compact covering for 2015 and 2016
The third agreement, which is being developed now, will include “a more robust compliance plan as well as … additional penalties,” Miller said.
This situation reminds me of the Everglades negotiations. We go to court, we win the suit, and over time, the governmental agencies “negotiate” the (expensive) victory away. Go figure.
North Florida Working Group
SSJ North Florida Working Group is up and running with a lot of good energy. We meet once a month, usually the 4th Saturday (but it is not definite), either at the Rum 138 Sierra Club office or in some other location, so keep reading the newsletter and make note of where the meetings are taking place. Sometimes the monthly meetings will be replaced by outings.
By Maryvonne Devenksy
In February, we met at Rum 138 in Ft White and saw the power point presentation created by Kathryn Taubert and Jonathan Brainard, both on the SSJ Excom. Thank you Kathryn and Whitey for doing this presentation for our North Florida Working Group members. The members present were impressed by this presentation and then decided to launch a Solar Expo on September 23rd, 2017 at Rum 138, to promote solar energy in our beautiful sunny Florida…More later on that event.
Then our March Meeting was on Sunday March 12 when we did a cleanup at Chastain Seay Park in Worthington Springs, along the Santa Fe river….We were a small group, some hikers, some kayakers, and we did good, except that the rain cut down our efforts after 45 minutes.
Anyway we had a picnic, sharing goodies, and had a productive meeting. We started to plan the next meeting on Saturday, April 22 – EARTH DAY. That meeting will be at the Sustainable Living Center in Hampton, near Brooker. We would like to invite people from the Bradford county, so it will be open to the public with several speakers focusing on the Phosphate Mine projected in Bradford and Union counties.
At this time, the following speakers are confirmed:
- Dennis Price, Florida Certified Geologist, will go over the process involved with Phosphate Mining.
- Courtney Snyder will go over the history of this project.
- Mark Lyons, fundraising.
- Chris Byrd or another person, with the Alachua County Environment Department.
- Video made by High School students re: Phosphate Mining project.
Please come and invite some of your friends too.
The SSJ North Fla Working group is planning a Solar Expo for September 23rd from 9:00 to 5:00pm, at Rum 138 in Ft White. It sounds far away, but you need to mark your calendars. Named “Solar Rocks With The Equinox”, we already have Dr. Wendell Porter and Ms Jennison Kipp as confirmed speakers, as well as several vendors. We will have food, music, large parking, and you could visit the Rum 138 Sierra Club office on the same premises.
WANT TO VOLUNTEER FOR SUWANNEE St JOHN SIERRA CLUB???
Please contact me at email@example.com if you want to help with tabling these 2 events:
April 8-9 STRAWBERRY FESTIVAL in STARKE
April 8-9 CEDAR KEY ARTS FESTIVAL of course in Cedar Key
We will have a booth at these 2 events and we will sell T-shirts, give information on the Club in general, and on our activities.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 22, WAS “RECLAIMING FLORIDA DAY”in TALLAHASSEE
Several hundred people met from Miami, Jacksonville, North Florida towns, Orlando, etc. We met our elected officials and asked them mostly to
Tri County Working Group
We met on March 21 at the old Rexall Drug Store in Inverness for our monthly meeting. At the meeting, we heard from the chairman of the Withlacoochee River Economic Development Partnership, Nathan Whitt. Nathan was able to share written information and drawings as well as his enthusiasm for doing the new project.
This partnership was formed in the spring of 2015 and involved folks from three counties—Levy, Citrus and Marion and three cities---Inglis, Yankeetown, and Dunnellon for their common interest. They are focusing on the removal of septic tanks from sensitive areas and how to improve or turn around the decline in Lake Rousseau.The project is looking at infrastructure that will build needed wastewater infrastructure, re-open the Inglis lock, as well as build a South Levy County Whitewater recreation park. The group hopes to connect the area of existing state bike trails and work on a North-West Citrus/South Levy County Recreational Area.
They would like their plan to become part of the 2017 Florida Parks Service Master Plan in the state of Florida. The ideas in the plan are supported by the Levy County Visitors Bureau, the Citrus County Visitors and Convention Bureau, the Dunnellon Chamber of Commerce, the Withlacoochee Aquatic Restoration group and the Gulf Area Chamber of Commerce.
Inglis, Yankeetown and Dunnellon have all passed municipal resolutions supporting this project. Nathan is very excited that the project would clean up the water in the Withlacoochee River and Lake Rousseau by draw-downs rather than using harmful herbicides. He feels the re-engineering of the Inglis lock would improve water quality. As a bonus, the whitewater rapids park would generate a $300 to $400 million per year impact in economic growth for an area that needs a boost.
Need a speaker for your group?
The Tri-County Working Group, in conjunction with the Sierra Club Educational Committee, is embarking upon an educational tour, offering a slide show and accompanying discussion to acquaint interested groups in our area with the main environmental issues that Sierra Club is concerned with. The hope is that this education program motivates people to practice both good conservation habits as well as the will to press our government officials to seek more effective solutions. If anyone knows of any type of group, club or home owners association that might be interested, contact Education Chair Jon Brainard…..(407) 491-8158 or firstname.lastname@example.org.