Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Letter to FL Senators, Representatives and Governor Scott: A Call to Action for the State of Florida

Clean Water Action • Conservancy of Southwest Florida • Ding Darling Wildlife Society • Friends of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge • Florida Native Plant Society • Florida Oceanographic Society • Last Stand • Martin County Conservation Alliance • Reef Relief • Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation • Sierra Club • Sierra Club Florida • Sierra Club Loxahatchee Group • Florida Wildlife Federation  

October 22, 2013


Senate Office Building
404 S. Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001

RE:  Protecting Our Rivers: A Call to Action for the State of Florida

Dear Florida Senator,

We are facing a crisis. Billions of gallons of polluted water are being discharged out of Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. This polluted water threatens human health, kills fish and wildlife, triggers toxic algal blooms, and is devastating to local economies that depend on a healthy estuary.

Due to the current water management operations, the residents and businesses along the St. Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon, and Caloosahatchee River are suffering greatly, and have been for many years as a result of policy decisions that seek to insulate interests in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) from any adverse impacts that are the result of natural flooding and the loss of natural wetlands.

We recognize and appreciate the actions of Gov. Rick Scott to invest $40 million to accelerate construction of critical storm water treatment structures as part of the C-44 reservoir project along the St. Lucie River, and $90 million to fast track the next 2.6 miles of Tamiami Trail bridging.  However, there are no quick and easy solutions. The devastating discharges will continue until Everglades restoration is fully implemented.  We must be vigilant about implementing long-term solutions, and we call on the state of Florida and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take actions today to minimize the immediate harmful impacts of these discharges in a manner that reflects the principle of shared adversity.

1.     SHORT TERM steps
Given the current state of our water management system that has fundamentally altered our environment, we cannot ultimately solve this problem through short-term fixes.  However, there are a number of steps the state and federal governments can take to reduce the discharges and the resulting economic, environmental and social damage.

State AND LOCAL Actions Needed:

·         Identify and secure, through purchase or cooperative agreement, lands throughout the greater Everglades ecosystem on which water can be stored to reduce flooding and minimize damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the coastal estuaries. 

·         The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) and the South Florida Water Management District (“SFWMD”) provide operational flexibility in the Kissimmee basin and upper chain of lakes   to hold water higher in lakes earlier in the season to store additional water in the headwaters of the greater Everglades ecosystem. 

·         Require the inspection and repair of septic tanks to protect public health and to prevent algae blooms.  Provide support and incentives for septic-to-sewer projects.

·         Support strict rainy-season bans on the application of nitrogen and phosphorus urban fertilizers like those recently adopted by Martin and Indian River Counties.  Fertilizer-laden stormwater runoff feeds the toxic and nuisance algae that kill manatees, dolphins, shorebirds, fish and the sea grass that is necessary to support marine fisheries. 

o   Coastal and upstream counties and municipalities in the region should adopt similar strict rainy-season bans immediately.  
o   The Legislature should halt its efforts to preempt local government control of urban fertilizer management.

2.     Long-Term Solutions
The only real solution for protecting our rivers and the economies that they generate is ecosystem restoration.

State Actions Needed:

·      Accelerate the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, including the following CERP projects:

o   Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Lands Acquisition: Work with US Sugar and other willing sellers in the EAA to acquire lands to restore a flow path south of Lake Okeechobee sufficient to store, cleanse and convey at least 1.5 million acre-feet of water.

o   CEPP:  The South Florida Water Management District and the Corps must meet the December 31st deadline to finalize plans for the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP). CEPP, in conjunction with bridging Tamiami Trail, is the key next step to divert and clean Lake Okeechobee discharges away from the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie, and restore freshwater flows into the central Everglades. If we miss this deadline, we may need to wait years for federal authorization.

o   C-43: This reservoir along the Caloosahatchee, designed to store up to 170,000 acre-feet of water, will intercept local runoff and hold it for dry season flows utilizing lands already purchased by the South Florida Water Management District. Governor Scott and State legislators must urge Congress to pass the Water Resources Development Act, which will authorize various restoration projects.

o   C-44: Construction of 3,400 acres of storage and 6,300 acres of Stormwater Treatment Areas (to clean polluted water) is already underway.  The state and federal governments must work to complete this project as soon as possible.

·         Governor Scott must support the use of federal funding from the RESTORE Act to help finance the immediate construction of C-43 (Caloosahatchee) Reservoir and the Tamiami Trail 2.6-mile bridge, which is included in the Department of Interior’s “Next Steps” project benefiting Everglades National Park.

·      Increase state funding for restoration and associated initiatives.  A surplus of state funds is available.  We are in crisis today - the time for investment is now.

o Fund Florida Forever:  The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and South Florida Water Management District are reliant upon Florida Forever to purchase additional lands for water storage and treatment throughout the Everglades ecosystem.  Florida Forever acquisitions offer an excellent opportunity to both preserve natural Everglades habitats and retain water in wetlands.  There are proposals on the Florida Forever list benefiting Lake Okeechobee and the estuaries include Blue Head Ranch, Panther Glades, Adams Ranch, Fisheating Creek Ecosystem, Estero Bay, and Holeyland and Rotenberger Wildlife Management Areas.

o Fund implementation of the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Plan, the Caloosahatchee River Watershed Protection Plan and the St. Lucie River Watershed Protection Plan which emphasize the need for water storage and treatment on private and public lands, associated construction projects, and improved Best Management Practices to reduce nutrient-laden farm runoff.

·      Support and direct the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to resume and finalize development of updated statewide stormwater regulation for new development and to implement in a timely manner to ensure all new developments remove at least 80% of both the Total Nitrogen and Total Phosphorus they generate.

·      Direct the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to set measurable, enforceable nutrient pollution limits for all of Florida's waters to stop pollution at its source.

·      Direct the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to create a statewide database to track and address wildlife and public health impacts from harmful algae.


Sincerely,


Clean Water Action
Kathy Aterno, Florida Director

Conservancy of Southwest Florida
Jennifer Hecker, Director of Natural Resource Policy

Ding Darling Wildlife Society
John McCabe, President

Friends of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
Elinor Williams, President

Florida Native Plant Society
Joan Bausch, Everglades Coalition Delegate

Florida Oceanographic Society
Mark D. Perry, Executive Director

Florida Wildlife Federation
Manley K. Fuller, President

Last Stand
Mark Songer, Vice President and Treasurer

Martin County Conservation Alliance
Tom Bausch, Board of Directors Member

Reef Relief
Mill McCleary, Executive Program Director

Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation
Rae Ann Wessel, Natural Resource Policy Director

Sierra Club
Frank Jackalone, Senior Organizing Manager

Sierra Club Florida
Debbie Matthews, Chapter Chair

Sierra Club Loxahatchee Group
Drew Martin, Conservation Chair


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