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Strong El Nino could bring winter rains to southeast

Tue, Jul 21, 2015

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Florida state climatologist David Zierden.

Florida state climatologist David Zierden.

By BRUCE RITCHIE
FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

The strong El Nino now underway is expected to bring heavy rains to the southeast in the upcoming winter but some drier weeks until then, Florida state climatologist David Zierden said Tuesday.

El Nino refers to a climate pattern associated with high air pressure in the western Pacific Ocean and low pressure in the eastern Pacific. In the Atlantic Ocean, the pattern also is associated with fewer tropical storms.

During a webinar to discuss drought assessments for the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint rivers in the southeast, Zierden explained that forecasters believe the current El Nino could become the strongest in recorded history.

“El Nino is coming on like gangbusters,” Zierden said, “and is looking like it’s going to be one of the major event of the century right now.”

He said very warm water is aligned along the equator from the South American coast to the western Pacific Ocean. Water temperatures there are 4 degrees Celsius above normal.

7-14-15 SE drought statusMany row crops along the rivers in Alabama, Florida and Georgia are in a critical period for growth in the next two to three weeks and are in need of water, Zierden said.

But El Nino frequently brings a drier weather patterns. And portions of the basin are drying out — “but nothing too drastic at this time,” he said.

Without rain in the next few weeks, the pressure on farmers to irrigate their crops will increase, Zierden said.

While the region usually can expect five to six inches of rain per month in July, that normally drops to three to five inches in August.

While Southeast Florida is in a severe drought, there is limited drought in Alabama and Georgia and very little in the Florida Panhandle.

In the past, heavy water demand has contributed to upper stretches of the Flint River near Atlanta going dry along with the Spring Creek tributary.

Zierden did not address stream and river flows. Other speakers said groundwater and stream flows were normal with flows declining as usual during the summer.

A decline in the Apalachicola River to below normal flow is slightly favored even without factoring in the El Nino, said Jeff Dobur of the Southeast River Forecast Center at the National Weather Service.

And Zierden noted that NOAA had forecast a 70 percent chance of six to 11 named tropical storms or hurricanes, which he said is far fewer than average.

El Nino creates unfavorable winds in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea for hurricanes and tropical storms, Zierden said, and that’s proving true this time.

“It is really a hostile environment out there for hurricane formation right now,” he said.

John Christy, Alabama state climatologist and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, said surface water temperatures showing record warming from El Nino were puzzling when most of the atmospheric temperatures were not as high.

He also said there was an 85 percent chance of above normal rain in the southeast from El Nino.

“In climate forecasting, it’s just through the roof,” he said.

Zierden agreed the El Nino forecast was strong, saying any summer response to El Nino is more uncertain and inconsistent. But in the winter, and with this strong El Nino, the forecast is more certain.

“I’ve heard these El Ninos events called a forecast of opportunity,” Zierden said. “It’s kind of a rare opportunity to make one of the best, most accurate and strongest forecasts that you can.”

(Story and copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com.)

E. O. Wilson says death of M. C. Davis a “huge loss” for conservation

Mon, Jul 13, 2015

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By BRUCE RITCHIE
FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

M. C. Davis, a Walton County developer who became a world-renowned conservationist, died on Saturday of lung cancer. He was 70.

Harvard biologist Edward Wilson, left, and owner of the Nokuse Plantation property, M.C. Davis, listen to John Dindo, the director of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, during a tour of the conservation area in Bruce, Fla. on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2008.

Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson, left, and M. C. Davis, owner of the Nokuse Plantation, listen to John Dindo, the director of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, during a tour of Nokuse in 2008.

Davis purchased 50,000 acres in South Walton County to create a massive environmental restoration project he called Nokuse Plantation (pronounced No-GO-see). He also built the E. O. Wilson Biophilia Center there in honor of Harvard biology professor Edward O. Wilson.

Wilson, a two-time Pultizer Prize winner who in 2008 said he was “blown away” by Davis’ conservation efforts, called his death “a huge loss for the conservation movement in Florida and nationally.”

“M. C. (Davis) was a brilliant innovator who constructed conservation initiatives — big ones — on his own and pursued them increasingly to completion,” Wilson told Floridaenvironments.com on Monday.

“In conceiving and constructing and guiding the Wilson Biophilia Center, he brought an entirely new concept to natural history conservation and direction in the southeastern united states He was around the nation for many of us,” Wilson said. “I can testify personally … he was a creator of ideas, a constant stimulation to thought and action, and it is not too much to say an irreplaceable force of nature.”

Davis and Nokuse Plantation in 2008 were featured in “Wildlands Philanthropy: The Great American Tradition.” The 322-page coffee table book describes the likes of John D. Rockefeller Jr., who contributed to the creation of Acadia, Grand Tetons and Smoky Mountain national parks, and the Mellons, who helped conserve more than 2 million acres in Alaska.

Davis, a land-speculator turned “nature nut,” didn’t think he could rank among the titans of conservation who would be featured in the book. Yet, he saw himself in it when copies were sent to him.

“When you see the quality of our neighbors it’s really a humbling experience,” Davis told Florida’s Acquisition and Restoration Council in 2009.

The state and federal governments in 2004 purchased a conservation easement on 16,751 acres for $17.2 million.

In 2013, Florida and the federal government purchased another conservation easement on 20,800 acres for about $12.5 million, with most coming from the state Florida Forever program. Davis discounted the property by $7 million, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

“The money derived from it, as always, I’m recycling it back into nature,” Davis told the ARC Council in 2009. “I’m not making any money. I’m delighted to make a bargain sale. I think this is probably the biggest bang for the buck.”

The Air Force supported the purchases because they prevented development under the flight patterns of the fighter aircraft at nearby Eglin Air Force Base. Environmentalists said Davis provided a shining example of environmental stewardship in the region.

“He was not only a great American, but a truly monumental person who put his own personal fortune into fulfilling his conservation ethic,” Richard Hilsenbeck of The Nature Conservancy said Monday. “He helped conserve numerous and diverse species of wildlife and helped foster a better quality of life for all Floridians.”

Earlier this year, Davis faced opposition from south Walton County residents when he won approval for a Hampton Inn, the first chain hotel along trendy the coastal 30-A Highway. The Walton County Commission denied the project in April, according to The Walton Sun.

Davis previously said he made his money on land deals before hearing a Defenders of Wildlife lecture in the mid-1990s on black bears in Florida.

“I went from being a total right-wing capitalist to a tree-hugger in 90 days,” Davis said.

Davis paid for construction of the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center to teach Walton County students about the local wildlife and ecology. He said it’s an opportunity to expose the public and youth to the nature that previous generations grew up with.

“How are you going to love something and how are going to save it?” he said. “You are not going to save it unless you love it. And you are not going to love it unless you are exposed to it.”

(Photo by Rob Davis, used with permission. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com.)

Northwest Florida could get $21 million for springs protection

Thu, Jul 9, 2015

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By BRUCE RITCHIE
FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

MIDWAY — The Northwest Florida Water Management District is in line to receive more than $10 million in springs protection funding from the state budget and could get as much as $21.5 million, the district’s governing board was told Thursday.

Wakulla Springs State Park. Photo by Bruce Ritchie.

Wakulla Springs State Park. Photo by Bruce Ritchie.

The eight possible springs projects include $6.4 million for 1,077 acres next to Wakulla Springs State Park and $4.7 million for 1,743 acres next to Blue Spring in Jackson County. The district did not identify the specific properties that could be purchased.

The Northwest Florida Water Management District board on Thursday approved a tentative fiscal year 2015-16 budget of $59.5 million, which would be $5.9 million more than this year’s budget. Public hearings will be held in September on the proposed budget.

The board also adopted the “rollback” property tax rate of 3.7 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The rollback rate adjusts for increases in property values to produce the same revenue as the previous year.

Last year’s budget was $53.6 million. The district was set to consider a $37.9 million budget for fiscal year 2015-16 but the board added $21.5 million for the possible springs projects as requested by staff.

The Legislature in June appropriated $45 million for springs protection in the 2014-15 state budget, said Brett Cyphers, the district’s executive director.

The $11.2 million for land acquisitions near Wakulla and Blue springs is uncertain and depends on the district negotiating deals on the land, Cyphers said. The tentative budget, he said, could be reduced before the public hearings if deals are not reached.

The remaining $10.3 million for six projects is more certain, Cyphers said.

Two of the projects would protect Blue Spring in Jackson County and three in Leon and Wakulla counties would protect Wakulla Springs.

Four of the six projects would involve extending sewer lines or connecting homes on septic tanks to sewer sysems. The fifth project would implement an agricultural cost-sharing program in Jackson County to reduce water use and nitrogen pollution.

The sixth would purchase three acres in Bay County to protect 300 feet along Econfina Creek.

The Sept. 10 public hearing will be held at 5:05 p.m. at the district headquarters near Midway. The Sept. 24 hearing will be held at 5:05 p.m. (Central Time) at a location in Panama City to be announced.

(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com.)

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