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Senate president says five-year land-buying work plan needed

Wed, Dec 17, 2014

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By BRUCE RITCHIE
FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

Sen. President Andy Gardiner said Thursday that a five-year planning process for land purchases and water projects may be a good idea following voter approval last month of Amendment 1.

The amendment provides one-third of revenue from an excise tax on real estate to water and land conservation. Amendment 1 was approved by 75 percent of voters statewide.

Senate President Andy Gardiner met with reporters.

Senate President Andy Gardiner meeting with reporters.

This week, fiscal analysts estimated the tax would generate $1.9 billion in the coming fiscal year, meaning that nearly $704 million could be earmarked for conservation. The Revenue Estimating Conference said legislative action is required.

Amendment 1 already has generated debate about whether voters wanted to buy land with the money as opposed to spending to improve sewage treatment.

Meanwhile, supporters of greenways are asking that 10 percent of Amendment 1 revenue go towards a statewide trail network that could cost $2.6 billion.

“I would imagine everybody’s got a carve-out they’re going to want,” Gardiner, R-Orlando, said Thursday.

He said the Senate is reviewing the state budget to determine what spending now qualifies under Amendment 1.

“We’re already spending more than what the 33 percent (Amendment 1) would force you to do,” Gardiner said.

And he said he expects Amendment 1 to be the focus of Senate committee meetings in January.

“It’s important we hear from the supporters of Amendment 1,” Gardiner told reporters. “What did they anticipate when they drafted it? If you had 10 attorneys in a room, you’d get 10 different opinions on what you could do with Amendment 1.”

As a former Senate transportation committee chairman, Gardiner said the five-year work programs used in transportation planning may be a good idea for land acquisition and water projects.

“It allows local communities to plan,” he said. “It gives you some flexibility that if there is some land that needs to be acquired, you could do it in a partnership. Because everybody knows what that five-year plan is.”

Now, legislators decide funding for water projects while the Florida Department of Environmental Protection awards funding for springs improvement. The state’s land acquisition priority list and work plan is approved by the governor and Cabinet.

(This story was revised Dec. 29 to reflect the estimated revenue from Amendment 1 for fiscal 2015-16 rather than the current fiscal year. Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy, forward or reproduce without permission, which can be received from bruceBritchie@gmail.com.)

Georgia governor creates water wars office while Florida names outspoken environmental chief

Fri, Dec 12, 2014

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By BRUCE RITCHIE
FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announced Thursday he is establishing a new office to coordinate the state’s efforts on two fronts in water wars with Alabama and Florida.

Also on Thursday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott named Jon Steverson, the outspoken executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District, to lead the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

12-12-14 ACT ACF map via ARC

Map courtesy of the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Georgia has been fighting its neighboring states in federal court since 1990 over water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system. In November, the U. S. Supreme Court appointed Maine lawyer Robert I. Lancaster to oversee a lawsuit filed by Florida in 2013 requesting that the court divide the water among the states.

And Georgia has been battling Alabama over water from the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river system, which does not flow through Florida. On Nov. 7, Georgia sued the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers over a proposed water plan for Lake Allatoona, a reservoir on a tributary of the Coosa River.

Deal announced Thursday that he was appointing Jud Turner, director of the Environmental Protection Division, to head a new office for interagency coordination and management of water resources. Turner has been division director since 2012 and previously served as executive counsel to Gov. Sonny Perdue before he left office in 2011.

Deal said Turner will work closely with Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens and that John Allen, of the law firm Kazmarek, Mowrey, Cloud & Laseter LLP, will join the office as deputy director. He said the work is “incredibly important to the well-being of our state’s people and its economy.”

12-12-14 Nathan Deal

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal. Photo courtesy of the Georgia Governor’s Office.

Florida’s lawsuit “has placed significant new demands on state agencies involved in these matters,” Deal said. “Add to this the renewed litigation against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over additional water supply from Lake Allatoona, and the workload requires the state to take additional steps to assure we have the right staff in place.”

There was no response to a request for comment from Scott’s office or the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Steverson has been an outspoken critic of Georgia’s water use while telling U. S. senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio of Florida in 2013 that protection of the Apalachicola River is a “big deal.”

Jon Steverson. Photo courtesy of the Northwest Florida Water Management District.

Jon Steverson. Photo courtesy of the Northwest Florida Water Management District.

“The people of Georgia can do a little bit less with their water,” Steverson said during an 2013 hearing in Apalachicola before an audience of seafood workers.

“If their water is low up there,” he added, “it means they can’t drive their favorite jet ski into their favorite little cove and they can’t tie up their boat to the dock. Here, it means these guys can’t make a living.”

Steverson replaces Herschel T. Vinyard Jr., who resigned Dec. 1 as expected following Scott’s first term.

In response to the Georgia governor’s announcement, Dan Tonsmeire of Apalachicola Riverkeeper said, “I hope Florida will match them man to man with a full court press.”

Laura Hartt, staff scientists and water policy director of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper environmental group in Georgia, said the move was not surprising.

In Georgia, environmental groups have criticized Deal’s proposals to build new dams and reservoirs. Hartt said Lake Lanier, the federal reservoir on the Chattahoochee River that has been the focus of the fight between Florida and Georgia, remains the most cost-effective and sustainable water supply for which there is no substitute for the Atlanta region.

“Therefore, we hope that (Georgia) will focus its efforts to resolve the tri-state controversy on implementation of additional water conservation measures in order to demonstrate good stewardship to our downstream neighbors, rather than focusing on new, expensive, and unsustainable water supply projects that could take decades to build,” she said.

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

Vinyard announces he’s leaving DEP, interim replacement named

Wed, Nov 26, 2014

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DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. discusses water issues during a forum earlier this year with Rep. Steve Crisafulli and attorney David Childs, who represents utilities. Photo by Bruce Ritchie

DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. discusses water issues during a forum earlier this year with Rep. Steve Crisafulli and attorney David Childs, who represents utilities. Photo by Bruce Ritchie

By BRUCE RITCHIE
FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. told Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday that he is leaving the department on Dec. 1.

Vinyard, who has lived in Tallahassee while commuting to his Jacksonville home on weekends since being appointed in 2011, was expected to leave following Scott’s re-election on Nov. 4. The governor named DEP Deputy Secretary Clifford Wilson as interim secretary.

DEP and Gov. Rick Scott faced criticism from environmentalists during Vinyard’s tenure, although the department has been at odds with some environmental groups for many years.

In his resignation letter, Vinyard congratulated Scott on his re-election and praised the governor’s “solutions-based leadership style.” Vinyard was a Jacksonville ship-building executive who served on Scott’s transition committee in 2010.

Possible replacements for Vinyard include Wilson, DEP General Counsel Matt Leipold and Jon Steverson, who Scott appointed as executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District in 2012.

Vinyard told Scott that during his four years at DEP, the department had improved Everglades water quality while ending a legal dispute with the federal government and also had adopted the most comprehensive nutrient reduction program in the country. Most environmentalists support the Everglades agreement but some groups still say the nutrient program includes too many loopholes for polluters.

Vinyard also told Scott the state had invested more on springs than any other administration in history. But Politifact Florida has rated similar claims by Scott about environmental spending as false.

And Vinyard said the state had expanded opportunities for visitors to Florida’s state parks and trails. But he didn’t mention failed proposals during the past four years to build RV campgrounds in parks or to sell state land to buy new land.

Scott cut $700 million from the budgets of Florida’s five water management districts beginning in 2011. Conservation land-buying also has slowed as Scott requested less than the annual $300 million that the Florida Forever program had received from 1990 until 2008.

In 2013, Christopher T. Byrd said he and other attorneys were forced out of the department for enforcing pollution laws, a claim that DEP officials denied.

Also in 2013, the department lost a challenge to a wetlands mitigation bank permit at Highlands Ranch in Clay County after a judge sided with DEP employee Connie Bersok, who recommended against the permit and was briefly suspended from her job.

DEP in 2013 issued a series of responses to news stories and editorials with criticism that portrayed the department as being run by industry.

“DEP is going to continue focusing on science, the facts and the data that we developed,” Vinyard said in response to the criticism during a 2013 interview.

Vinyard also said he wants to see the nutrient pollution rules, which environmentalists opposed, go into effect as soon as possible. A federal judge earlier this year sided with the state and U. S. Environmental Protection Agency in support of the rules.

“I live near the St. Johns River in Jacksonville,” Vinyard said in 2013. “That’s where my family recreates. So water quality is a personal issue for me.”

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

Supreme Court appoints special master in GA v. FL water dispute

Fri, Nov 21, 2014

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11-21-14 LancasterThe U. S. Supreme Court has appointed Maine lawyer Robert I. Lancaster to oversee a water dispute between Florida and Georgia.

The Supreme Court earlier this month gave Florida permission to sue Georgia over water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system. Florida Gov. Rick Scott blames Georgia for lack of freshwater flow that harms Apalachicola Bay and the seafood industry there while Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said Florida refused his offer to settle the 24-year-old dispute.

Florida and Georgia have denied requests to review the offer and response under a 2010 confidentiality order for mediation issued by U. S. District Judge Paul Magnuson.

As special master, Lancaster has authority to direct proceedings, summon witnesses and issue subpoenas. The states will pay for Lancaster and his staff to oversee the case along with associated travel costs, according to the Supreme Court order issued Wednesday.

Lancaster, 84 and a 1955 graduate of Harvard Law School, previously served as special master in three other Supreme Court cases including a dispute between Maryland and Virginia over water flow in the Potomac River.

Lancaster also served as independent counsel by appointment of the DC Circuit to investigate allegations against then Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman, according to the Pierce Atwood LLP web site. Lancaster also served as trial counsel for the United States in a dispute with Canada and argued before the International Court of Justice at the Hague.

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

“Thirsty City” traces history of Atlanta’s water crisis and fight with Florida

Fri, Nov 21, 2014

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By BRUCE RITCHIE
FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

Atlanta created its own legal mess over water because in 1950, then-Mayor William B. Hartsfield refused to spend a little more than $1 million to help pay for Lake Lanier, writes Skye Borden in “Thirsty City: Politics, Greed and the Making of Atlanta’s Water Crisis.”

11-3-14 Thirsty City cover

“Thirsty City: Politics, Greed and the Making of Atlanta’s Water Crisis,” by Skye Borden, SUNY Press.

Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been locked in a legal fight since 1990 over water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system. Georgia and Alabama want water for cities, recreation and hydropower while Florida wants water for its seafood industry in Apalachicola Bay.

In 2013, Florida Gov. Rick Scott accused Georgia of wasting water and asked the U. S. Supreme Court to divide water among the states. The Supreme Court in October agreed to take up the case.

I’ve been covering the issue for 15 years. And now I’m working on my own book about Apalachicola oysters and competing uses of water along the river system in the three states.

“Thirsty City” (SUNY Press, $75) helps me by explaining how Atlanta came to be the sprawling metropolis dependent on a relatively small stream — the Chatthoochee River — to provide drinking water and carry away pollution.

Borden, a lawyer in Alabama who works as a research and policy consultant with a specialty in water pollution and wetland mitigation, calls Atlanta “an accidental city.”

While other cities often are located near major water sources such as rivers or lakes, Borden explains that Atlanta in 1838 was simply located at the end of the railroad tracks that sliced through the region’s dense woods.

“In light of how much the city has grown, it is amazing to think about just how arbitrarily the city was located and created,” she writes.

From the start, Atlanta’s tiny streams barely were able to provide enough water for cooking and drinking, with little left over for firefighting or any other use, Borden writes.

As Atlanta grew after the Civil War, garbage along with raw sewage flushed from homes polluted streams and the city’s first reservoir on the South River. The city built its first pumping station along the Chattahoochee River in 1893, providing developers and industry access to cheap water that Borden says would fuel the city’s booming growth.

But by 1940, the city was drawing more water from the Chattahoochee than was available in the entire river during the area’s worst recorded drought. The city had doubled its rate of water usage in just 20 years and was likely to do so again in the coming decades.

In the late 1930s, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers investigated creating a navigation channel and system of reservoirs along the Chattahoochee River but concluded it wasn’t feasible upstream from Columbus, Ga. to Atlanta. But Atlanta’s Mayor Hartsfield and local business leaders continued to push for Lake Lanier, the big federal reservoir north of Atlanta.

But the city didn’t want to chip in just $1 million to help build the project. Instead, the reservoir was authorized in federal law only for flood control, navigation and hydropower. That refusal, Borden writes, became the crux of the legal dispute that still was being played out in 2012.

That’s when the U. S. Supreme Court refused to hear Florida’s request to reconsider an appeals court decision siding with Atlanta.

In 2009, U. S. District Judge Paul A. Magnuson ruled that Georgia cities were not authorized to take water from Lake Lanier because the reservoir and dam were not built for water supply. He gave states three years to work out a water-sharing agreement.

But the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that Georgia was entitled to the water under the Water Supply Act of 1958.

11-3-14 Skye Borden

Skye Borden

With that portion of the legal dispute having been settled in 2012, Borden argues, as have many others, that Atlanta should follow the lead of Seattle and Boston and “grow smart instead of simply growing big.”

To me, that’s good advice for any city, whether it is surrounded by desert or rainforest. But it’s also vague as to what growing smart means or how it would solve Atlanta’s water problems or the interstate water dispute.

If growing big means not installing lawns and golf courses that use water, then OK — I understand: That kind of conservation helps avoid crises during droughts and leaves more water for downstream users.

But if “growing smart” means a continued population increase, then presumably those new residents still would need close to the same amount of water used for showers and washing cars. And if those people aren’t living in Atlanta but are living somewhere else in the ACF basin, aren’t they still using the same water?

Sure, water conservation and planning is the crux of the issue, but that isn’t what “Thirsty City” is about. I’m going to try to address it in a chapter about lasting solutions in my book.

Borden also questions Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s plans to build more dams to meet the state’s future water needs.

“Throughout the city’s history, Atlanta’s politicians have suffered under the delusion that somewhere, somehow, an inexhaustible regional water supply can be achieved,” Borden writes. “But such a supply does not exist.”

And she concludes that Atlanta is a “nearly unshakable force, bulldozing its way outward in an ever-expanding ring of impact.”

“The thirsty city continues to churn forward, while never looking back,” she said.

Perhaps. But I don’t think Atlanta is the bad actor that many Florida politicians make it out to be.

“Thirsty City” points out that bad planning and unrealistic views about water led to Atlanta’s water crisis. Such planning was typical of the era and cities across the country are having to deal with inefficient, aging water systems.

Atlanta is metropolitan area of 4.5 million people whose decisions about water use affect the Florida Panhandle. People in Georgia and Florida alike continue to focus too much on water storage and not enough on water conservation.

If there is hope for the people living along Apalachicola River and Apalachicola Bay as well as the fish and wildlife there, then Atlanta must look back and learn from its past.

And it must plan for a better future that is more sustainable, perhaps a future without new dams on streams and rivers.

And that goes for cities in Florida cities as well — and the rest of the nation.

(Photos courtesy of Skye Borden and SUNY Press. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com.) 

 

Scott, conservation lands amendment win in Florida election

Tue, Nov 4, 2014

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By BRUCE RITCHIE
FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

A Florida election with environmental overtones saw Gov. Rick Scott re-elected Tuesday over Democrat Charlie Crist and a state constitutional amendment for conservation passing by a wide margin.

Eckerd College Professor David Hastings, left, was among the scientists meeting with Gov. Rick Scott, right, and aide Noah Valenstein. Photo by Bruce Ritchie.

Eckerd College Professor David Hastings, left, was among the scientists meeting in August with Gov. Rick Scott, right, and aide Noah Valenstein. Photo by Bruce Ritchie.

Scott, who won election in 2010 with tea party backing and vetoed conservation lands spending in his first year of office, led by a 49 to 47 percent margin over Crist with nearly 5.9 million votes counted in the race.

During the campaign, Scott emphasized his role in creating jobs and his $880 million Everglades cleanup plan that won federal approval in 2012. Scott also said Crist was all talk and no action on the environment.

Crist said Scott had shown no leadership on renewable energy and accused him of ignoring climate change and the threat of rising seas even after Scott met with scientists to discuss the issue. Sierra Club Florida backed the former Republican governor turned Democrat.

“Florida is on a mission,” Scott told supporters late Tuesday. “The mission is to keep growing and become the very best place in the world to get a job and live the American dream.”

After speaking with Scott late Tuesday, Crist told supporters they must continue working to expand Medicaid coverage, improve education and protect the environment.

CONSERVATION LANDS

Amendment 1, which would designate one-third of revenue from an excise tax on real estate transactions towards conservation lands and environmental restoration, received 75 percent of the vote with support from a wide array of environmental groups. The amendment would provide $19 billion for conservation over 20 years, according to state analysts, although supporters estimate the amount at $10 billion.

“Floridians overwhelmingly voted yes on Amendment 1, clearly showing that Florida voters understand the importance of water and land conservation to our state’s environment and to its economy,” Will Abberger, chairman of the political committee backing the amendment, said in a statement.

PANHANDLE CONGRESSIONAL RACE

In the race for Congressional District 2, which extends from Tallahassee to Panama City in the Florida panhandle, Democrat Gwen Graham defeated Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, by less than 1 percent of the vote, 125,132 votes to 122,939.

“I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to stand before you as the newly-elected first congresswoman of the second Congressional District,” Graham told supporters in Tallahassee.

She and Southerland were divided on issues including support for Florida’s federal lawsuit against Georgia over water flowing into the Apalachicola River. Southerland supported the lawsuit filed by Scott a year ago.

During a campaign stop along the river in August, Graham said she would work with the Alabama and Georgia congressional delegations and there should be less finger-pointing among the states. A month later, Graham said Florida was being “cheated” out of water by Georgia and she blamed Southerland for not supporting a proposal to give legal rights to downstream water users.

Gwen Graham paddles a canoe with her father, former U. S. Sen. Bob Graham, in Franklin County.

Gwen Graham in August paddled a canoe with her father, former U. S. Sen. Bob Graham, in Franklin County.

Southerland accused her of flip-flopping on her support of the lawsuit. But Graham said she had been consistent in arguing that the lawsuit was not the best approach.

The group Ocean Champions targeted Southerland as “Ocean Enemy #1” and aired television advertisements against him in Panama City. Southerland said coastal communities were suffering from flawed fisheries management and he was seeking a common sense approach on the issue.

Southerland also sponsored legislation to counter what he called a federal Environmental Protection Agency “overreach” on wetlands regulation. The EPA said it is seeking to clarify its jurisdiction over wetlands permitting.

OTHER STATEWIDE RACES

Also Tuesday, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam won re-election easily. He has argued for a broader state approach to dealing with water issues, and the Legislature moved the Florida energy office to his department in 2011.

Attorney General Pam Bondi won re-election as well over Democrat George Sheldon. He criticized Bondi earlier this year for joining a lawsuit challenging a federal water cleanup plan supported by states around the Chesapeake Bay.

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

US Supreme Court accepts Florida’s water lawsuit

Mon, Nov 3, 2014

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By BRUCE RITCHIE
FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

The U. S. Supreme Court on Monday allowed Florida’s lawsuit against Georgia over water use to move forward, at least long enough for Georgia to file a response.

The Apalachicola River as seen from Alum Bluff in Liberty County.

The Apalachicola River as seen from Alum Bluff in Liberty County.

Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been battling in federal court over water from the Apalachiciola-Chattahoochee Flint River system. A year ago, Florida Gov. Rick Scott asked the Supreme Court to step in and decide on a water allocation among the states.

Florida said Georgia’s water use had harmed the environment and economy of the Apalachicola River region in Florida. Georgia responded that Florida was seeking to bypass the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is updating its manuals for operating its Chattahoochee River dams that control water flowing into Florida.

The Supreme Court on Monday granted Florida’s motion to file a complaint and provided Georgia with 30 days to answer. There was no comment by the court on issues raised in briefs filed by the two states and the U. S. solicitor general.

Scott on Monday called the decision a “major victory” for Florida.

“For 20 years, Florida has tried to work with Georgia, and families have continued to see their fisheries suffer from the lack of water,” he said in a news release. “The Supreme Court takes up so few cases, and their willingness to hear Florida’s demonstrates the merits of our case before the Court. We are fighting for the future of this region, and we won’t quit until these resources are restored.”

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said, “Georgia has delayed long enough, and this lawsuit is essential to protect Florida from the environmental and economic harms caused by Georgia’s overconsumption of water.”

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said the Supreme Court decision was not unexpected.

Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. wrote in a brief filed in September that Florida’s claim falls within the court’s jurisdiction but he also said it is premature because of the Corps of Engineers manual update. Verrilli also said the court should tell Florida to file its claim after the update or accept the claim but delay the case until after the update.

Deal said he was encouraged the solicitor general felt that Florida’s action was premature.

“The Corps must continue on the ACF manual update and not get bogged down by Florida’s litigation,” Deal said in a statement. “The Corps’ lawyers have emphasized the need to proceed in their filings to the court, and we will take every necessary steps to ensure that the Corps is able to do its job.”

Representatives of Apalachicola Riverkeeper and the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association say the Florida lawsuit has stifled the flow of information from Florida officials related to the bay and river system. A federal fisheries disaster was declared last year for Apalachicola bay oysters because of lack of fresh water, which increases oyster predators in the bay.

“The fact is the litigation is going to take so long and it is going to prevent so many good things from happening in the bay,” said Dan Tonsmeire of the Apalachicola Riverkeeper group.

(Editors note: This report is part of a continuing coverage focus and long-term reporting project on water issues affecting Alabama, Florida and Georgia. Photo and story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy, publish or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com).

Seafood industry raises concerns about Florida inaction as Georgia groups knock water policies there

Thu, Oct 23, 2014

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BY BRUCE RITCHIE

FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

Apalachicola Bay seafood industry representatives said this week they’re concerned by a lack of action by Florida to protect oysters there while Georgia environmental groups critized their state for policies that the groups say are increasing tensions in the tri-state water wars.

10-23-14 ACF dams

Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been fighting in federal court since 1990 over water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system. On Oct. 1, 2013, Florida claimed that Georgia was wasting water and asked the U. S. Supreme Court to allocate water among the states.

Alabama and Georgia want water for cities and industry while Florida wants water to maintain the Apalachicola river ecology and the seafood industry around Apalachicola Bay.

Last year, the U. S. Department of Commerce declared a fishery disaster for Apalachicola Bay oysters for what Florida officials initially blamed on lack of fresh water flowing from Georgia and overfishing.

On Sept. 24, the Apalachicola Bay Oyster Dealers Association and the Seafood Management Assistance Resource and Recovery Team (SMARRT) sent separate letters to state officials asking them to close the bay to oyster harvesting for the rest of 2014 to allow smaller oysters to grow and avoid overfishing.

This week, Shannon Hartsfield, president of the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association, said state officials had responded that they are not taking action.

“I will be honest with you, the damage has been done at Cat Point,” Hartsfield said Monday during a meeting in Apalachicola, referring to a key winter oyster harvesting area.

“I think it was a big mistake by them not to close it,” responded Tommy Ward, president of the Apalachicola Bay Oyster Dealers Association. “Like you said, the damage is done and is being done every day they leave it open.”

An oysterman harvests oysters from Apalachicola Bay in December 2013.

An oysterman harvests oysters from Apalachicola Bay in December 2013.

But state wildlife officials who regulate oyster harvesting said they are increasing enforcement of regulations to reduce harvesting undersized oysters, but need more time to evaluate other options.

“Our thought process was it’s a pretty drastic thing to tell people they can’t make a living number one,” Jim Estes of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission told the SMARRT group meeting on Monday.

“I think you will see, if you haven’t yet, you will be seeing a lot more law enforcement presence on the bay,” Estes said. “That is one attempt to go do that. That doesn’t mean the bay won’t be closed sooner or later.”

The Franklin County Seafood Workers Association hasn’t taken a position on closing the bay, Hartsfield said. An association meeting on the topic on Sept. 19 turned into a shouting match as some oystermen objected to the idea of closing the bay.

On Wednesday, the Georgia Water Coalition released its third annual “Dirty Dozen” report on threats to Georgia waterways. They said statewide issues affecting the Chattahoochee River and the Floridan Aquifer also affect water flowing to Florida.

The statewide policies include a water supply program initiated by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal that has included $196 million for dams and reservoirs around the state, including some on the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers.

“That only aggravates this two-decade long water war,” Joe Cook of the Coosa River Basin Initiative in Georgia told reporters. “What Georgia should do is we should put a moratorium on funding any new reservoirs until we find out how much water we can reasonably take from the big federal reservoirs.”

Those reservoirs are Lake Lanier, the big federal reservoir on the Chattahoochee River north of Atlanta, and Lake Allatoona upstream of the Coosa River, which flows into Alabama but not into Florida.

Another “Dirty Dozen” issue affecting Florida is a proposal in Baker County in Southwest Georgia to store water from the Floridan Aquifer to use it to supplement Flint River flow during droughts, said Gordon Rogers of the Flint Riverkeeper group.

And the proposed Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline across Southwest Georgia and North Florida also could affect groundwater and rivers flowing into Florida, said John Quarterman of the WWALS Watershed Coalition.

A spokeswoman for Deal, the Georgia governor, called the report a “slanted political attack” coming two weeks before the election in Georgia. She said one of the proposed reservoirs, the Glades Reservoir on a tributary of the Chattahoochee River in Hall County, “is important for augmenting the flow of the entire basin.”

“(Governor) Deal’s water program will provide for Georgians’ water needs — which are critical to families and to economic development — for more than half a century,” spokeswoman Sasha Dlugolenski said. “It’s a tremendous investment in our future.”

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

Graham denies Southerland accusation of river flip-flop

Tue, Sep 30, 2014

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BY BRUCE RITCHIE

FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

8-13-14 Southerland mug

Southerland

U. S. Rep. Steve Southerland is accusing Democratic challenger Gwen Graham of flip-flopping on the issue of the Apalachicola River but Graham denies there has been any shift in her stance.

A year ago, Florida Gov. Rick Scott filed a lawsuit against Georgia asking the U. S. Supreme Court to divide water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system between the states and Alabama. Florida claims Georgia’s water use is harming oysters in Apalachicola bay and families that depend on the seafood industry for jobs.

During a campaign stop along the river in August, Graham said she would work with the Alabama and Georgia congressional delegations and there should be less finger-pointing among the states. She also said she would work closer with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages four reservoirs along the Chattahoochee River and partially controls water flowing to Florida.

But a statement issued by Graham last week said Florida was being “cheated” for water by Georgia. She criticized the U. S. Solicitor General for telling the Supreme Court in a filing earlier this month that the case isn’t ready for action while the Corps of Engineers is working to update its water control plan in 2015.

“With prospects of canceling the oyster season altogether this year, the Obama Administration should withdraw this request and allow the Supreme Court hearing to move forward without delay,” Graham said.

“Though I hope the lawsuit is successful, the people of Franklin County are running out of time,” she said.

Southerland, R-Panama City, slammed Graham on Monday for allegedly flip-flopping on the issue.

“She’s argued for months that Florida’s lawsuit was not ‘in the best interest’ of Apalachicola Bay and only flipped her position in the election’s closing weeks,” Southerland said in a statement. “We can’t trust someone in Congress who will argue both sides of an issue as important as this.”

“Georgia is working nonstop to steal our water,” Southerland said, “and I’m fighting tooth and nail to stop them.”

8-1-14 Graham

Graham

Graham told Floridaenvironments.com on Tuesday that there has been no flip-flop.

“I have been consistent,” she said. “The lawsuit was not the best approach.”

“I don’t think lawsuits in general are a way to resolve issues. Now that the lawsuit has been filed, of course, I hope it is successful. I don’t think the people of Franklin County have the time to wait on yet another lawsuit.”

She said she would focus on working with the Corps of Engineers to gain downstream users of the Apalachicola River legal rights to their water.

Last year, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal called the Florida lawsuit a “frivilous waste of time and money” and said Florida had refused to respond to Georgia’s settlement proposal.

Both Florida and Georgia have refused to release proposal details or documents because of a 2010 court order requested by the states providing confidentiality for mediation. A Scott spokesman said recently that there are no talks among the states.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is considering closing Apalachicola Bay to oyster harvesting after severely restricting the amount that can be harvested. Last week, the Apalachicola Bay Oyster Dealers Association and the Seafood Management Assistance Resource and Recovery Team, consisting of seafood dealers and workers, agreed to ask for a closure of the bay until the summer if assistance can be provided to seafood workers.

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

Fla. ag commissioner says he would support possible move to close Apalachicola Bay oyster harvest

Fri, Sep 19, 2014

Comments Off on Fla. ag commissioner says he would support possible move to close Apalachicola Bay oyster harvest

By BRUCE RITCHIE

FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Friday offered support for state wildlife officials as they whether decide to close Apalachicola Bay to oyster harvesting.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been fighting in federal court over water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system since 1990. Last Oct. 1, Florida asked the U. S. Supreme Court to step in because the state said Georgia’s water use was reducing flow needed for oysters and hurting the bay’s seafood industry.

Last week, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director Nick Wiley said the bay may have to be closed because the lack of oysters “is worse — worse than ever.” On Sept. 1, the commission sharply reduced the daily oyster harvest as seafood workers warned that overfishing still could occur.

Also Friday, Franklin County seafood workers met in Apalachicola and angrily voiced opposition to closing the bay, according to WCTV in Tallahassee. Shannon Hartsfield, president of the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association, said he was resigning — but he later said the action was premature.

Asked whether he would support the commission if it orders a closure, Putnam said the agency has some of the best biologists in the state and would not consider such a move lightly.

“If that is the conclusion they come to, then all of us across state government need to be prepared to move in and assist those families who will be devastated if that is the conclusion they come to,” Putnam said.

He made the comments to reporters while at a Lowe’s store promoting a sales tax holiday weekend on energy and water-saving devices.

Earlier this month, the fish and wildlife commission reduced the amount of oysters that can be harvested commercially this winter from 20 bags daily to five. Each bag holds 10 gallons of oysters in their shells.

The East Hole harvesting area will remain closed and some areas where shells recently were placed on the bottom also will be closed once they are identified, state wildlife officials said.

At a meeting of seafood workers and dealers in Apalachicola on Aug. 28, Hartsfield warned that oyster harvesting will become concentrated at Cat Point, one of the last remaining harvesting areas.

“I agree with doing something, but I think we’re going to destroy Cat Point,” Hartsfield said.

An oysterman harvests oysters from Apalachicola Bay in December 2013.

An oysterman harvests oysters from Apalachicola Bay in December 2013.

Last week, Wiley told a commission meeting in Central Florida that his agency was closely monitoring the harvest.

“But it’s very likely we’re going to have to entertain a complete closure of the Apalachciola oyster harvest,” he said. “We want to take that very carefully and only do that if everybody feels like that’s what we have to do.”

Earlier this week, Florida and federal scientists said there had been normal flows in the river system during the past month and that salinity levels in Apalachicola Bay were around normal. Conditions overall are improved compared to 2012, when Florida officials said continued drought and upstream water use had caused the oyster population to collapse.

On Friday, Putnam told reporters that the bay needs sustained freshwater flows, not just surges of fresh water from big rain storms. Until there are sustained flows, he said the bay may need to be closed so the oyster population can recover.

“Our folks, their (wildlife commission) biologists, a whole host of some of the brightest minds in the country from aquaculture are working on this,” Putnam said. “But it’s a race against the clock to save the livelihoods of those folks in Franklin County.”

The University of Florida Oyster Recovery Team on Oct. 1 will hold a listening session in  Apalachicola on the situation. A follow-up meeting will be scheduled for presentations on the status of oysters, a bay management plan being developed by the state and other issues including funding to support oyster recovery.

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