Tuesday, February 18, 2020

We need your help to fix the "Clean Waterways Act"- SB 712. Immediate Action Needed!

Following a decade of rapid water quality deterioration, Florida waters need strong, enforceable water quality regulations now. We can no longer afford to kick the can down the road or implement half-measures with little to no chance of success.

Despite being named the “Clean Waterways Act” Senate Bill 712 as currently written, will not adequately protect and restore Florida’s water resources, further endangering our environment, economy, and public health.

Last year, Senator Debbie Mayfield, the sponsor of SB 712, promised clean water advocates she would “fix the bill” during a Committee Hearing on the 2019 “Clean Waterways Act.” There is still time for Senator Mayfield to keep her promise to “fix the bill,” but we need your help.
SB 712 is scheduled for its final Committee Hearing on Thursday, February 20th. This is our best opportunity to have our voices heard and FIX SB 712.
Please contact the Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee!
Two weeks ago, Waterkeepers Florida, Sierra Club Florida, and the Florida Springs Council respectfully submitted amendments to fix SB 712 that are common sense, practical approaches to ensure that it  realizes our collective goal of protecting and restoring Florida’s springs, rivers, lakes, coasts, wetlands, and estuaries.
About the Amendments:

A Total Maximum Daily Load is the amount of pollution an impaired water body can receive and still be able to recover to health. For most Florida waters, pollution inputs must be much less than they are now in order to restore the water body. That should be the goal of SB 712.

We have offered a suite of amendments to accomplish this goal:

  • Ensure that Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs) include projects and programs that are capable of achieving all the pollution reductions needed to meet the Total Maximum Daily Load and account for future growth in pollution.  

  • Require each major pollution source (agriculture, septic tanks, etc.) to actually meet pollution reductions necessary to achieve water quality goals.

  • Require an agricultural remediation plan, including advanced best management practices (BMPs) and land acquisition, in areas where agriculture is a significant pollution source.

  • Require that all agricultural BMPs or water quality monitoring begin within two years of the adoption or update of a BMAP.

  • Strengthen protections for Priority Focus Areas of impaired Outstanding Florida Springs by prohibiting major new pollution sources. 

  • Increase and require penalties for violations of water quality regulations.

  • Include a deadline for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) to turn over collected fertilizer data. 

  • Remove all language from the bill that promotes sprawl as it calls for septic to sewer conversion in undeveloped areas.  

  • Eliminate the land application of biosolids in environmentally sensitive areas and bolster regulations state-wide to ensure they do not contribute to water quality degradation.  

SB 712 is scheduled for its final Committee Hearing on Thursday, February 20th. This is our best opportunity to be heard and FIX SB 712.

Please call the members of the Senate Appropriations Committee -- their contact information is below. Call their Tallahassee office and ask them to support the amendments to FIX SB 712. If you are unable to call, please send an email asking the same (sample email below).
Phone Number
FL Sen. Rob Bradley (R-FL-005) Chair
(850) 487-5005
FL Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-FL-010) V. Ch.
(850) 487-5010
FL Sen. Aaron Bean (R-FL-004)
(850) 487-5004
FL Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-FL-027)
(850) 487-5027
FL Sen. Lauren Book (D-FL-032)
(850) 487-5032
FL Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-FL-024)
(850) 487-5024
FL Sen. Anitere Flores (R-FL-039)
(850) 487-5039
FL Sen. George Gainer (R-FL-002)
(850) 487-5002
FL Leader Audrey Gibson (D-FL-006)
(850) 487-5006
FL Sen. Travis Hutson (R-FL-007)
(850) 487-5007
FL Sen. Tom Lee (R-FL-020)
(850) 487-5020
FL Sen. Debbie Mayfield (R-FL-017)
(850) 487-5017
FL Leader Bill Montford (D-FL-003)
(850) 487-5003
FL Leader Kathleen Passidomo (R-FL-028)
(850) 487-5028
FL Sen. Bobby Powell (D-FL-030)
(850) 487-5030
FL Sen. Darryl Rouson (D-FL-019)
(850) 487-5019
FL Sen. David Simmons (R-FL-009)
(850) 487-5009
FL Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-FL-022)
(850) 487-5022
FL Sen. Linda Stewart (D-FL-013)
(850) 487-5013
FL Sen. Perry Thurston (D-FL-033)
(850) 487-5033

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

PRESS RELEASE: In response to FL Chief Science Officer, letter sets record straight on flawed “Clean Waterways Act”

February 12, 2020
Contacts:  Lisa Rinaman, St. Johns Riverkeeper, rowerinaman@gmail.com, 904-509-3260
Ryan Smart, Florida Springs Council, smarts421@gmail.com, 561-358-7191
David Cullen, Sierra Club, cullenasea@aol.com, 941-323-2404


Letter sets record straight on flawed “Clean Waterways Act”

TALLAHASSEE—Florida Springs Council, Florida Waterkeepers, and Sierra Club today responded to remarks by Florida’s Chief Science Officer, Thomas K. Frazer, Ph.D., regarding Senator Mayfield’s Senate Bill 712 (SB 712).  The three organizations sent a twelve-page letter to Dr. Frazer, copied to Senator Mayfield, Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection Noah Valenstein, Governor Ron DeSantis, and members of the Blue-Green Algae and HAB-Red Tide Task Forces detailing multiple failures of the bill to meaningfully address Florida’s water pollution crisis.. The letter exposes the flaws in statutory language and agency policy serving polluters and the failure of SB 712 to correct those defects with the result that the Clean Waterways Act will not achieve water quality goals and calls on Dr. Frazer to reconsider his public remarks.

The letter starts with:

Dr. Frazer:

We write to you today regarding the following quote, as reported in the Herald-Tribune on February 4, 2020. “Frazer called SB 712 ‘One of the most environmentally progressive pieces of legislation that we’ve seen in over a decade. As a scientist that’s pretty rewarding to me.’”

The Florida Springs Council, Sierra Club Florida, and Waterkeepers Florida are concerned about the accuracy of this statement. As Florida’s first Chief Science Officer, it is essential that your statements to the public reflect the best understanding of environmental policy, especially when your credentials as a scientist are being used to bolster such remarks. Floridians must have faith that their Chief Science Officer is above politics and partisanship. Otherwise, we risk sacrificing the credibility of the important position with which you have been entrusted.

Our goal is to illustrate two issues of vital importance to Florida’s waters in the hope that you will correct the public record. First, the provisions in SB 712 are not capable of achieving the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) water quality goals for the vast majority of Florida’s impaired waters. Second, within just the last year, not to mention decade, we have seen many pieces of legislation that are objectively more “environmentally progressive” than SB 712.”

The letter includes an explanation of why SB 712 is designed to fail, highlighting fundamental flaws in Florida’s Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) program and the reliance on unverified and ineffective best management practices to address agricultural nutrient pollution. As the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently admitted in a court filing “the record reflects that it is not unreasonable to question the utility of existing agricultural BMPs [Best Management Practices] as a means to achieve TMDL compliance in the spring basins.”

“SB 712 attempts to address the single greatest threat to Florida’s waters by inspections of practices that are already proven to fail, research projects that may or may not be funded from year to year, and requiring state agencies to cooperate (which they should have been doing all along). It is the policy equivalent of slapping a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. It may not hurt, but it won’t really help. Without taking immediate and consequential action to address agricultural pollution, it is a very real possibility that the state will spend millions, or even billions, of taxpayer dollars on water quality projects without any significant benefit to water quality in many basins.” 

The three water quality advocacy organizations, representing concerned citizens from the Panhandle to Florida Bay, conclude the letter with:

While SB 712 may be well-intentioned, it is a deeply flawed piece of legislation, based on a broken Basin Management Action Plan program, which largely ignores the dominant source of pollution in many watersheds. It falls far short of the standard set by SB 1758 as filed last year and is less protective than the BMAPs for Outstanding Florida Springs which have already been shown to fail.

Dr. Frazer, we greatly appreciate your taking the time to consider this letter and the supporting documentation, which will be shared with the press. We would be happy to meet with you in the future for an in-depth discussion of Florida water policy. In the meantime, we await your public response to the concerns raised in this letter.” 

On Monday, February 3, the Florida Springs Council, Florida Waterkeepers, and Sierra Club sent a letter to Senator Mayfield and other legislators asking for 18 amendments to SB 712 that would address the most serious flaws in the bill.  Attachments to today’s letter to the Chief Science Officer included a copy of the February 3 letter and amendments, a side-by-side comparison of the 2020 “Clean Waterways Act” SB712 and the 2019 “Clean Waterways Act” SB 1758, and the Proposed Recommended Orders filed by DEP and Florida Springs Council members, respectively, from the recent administrative challenge of Outstanding Florida Springs BMAPs.


Friday, February 7, 2020

PRESS RELEASE: Sierra Club sues to stop the Ridge Road Extension through the Serenova Preserve in Pasco County

For Immediate Release
February7, 2020                                     
Contacts:  Heidi Mehaffey, Esq., heidi@hartsell-law.com, (954) 778-1052
Tim Martin, timothymartin@suncoastsierra.org, (727) 251-9979


JACKSONVILLE FL – The Sierra Club filed suit on February 6 to challenge the permit recently given by the US Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) to Pasco County for the Ridge Road Extension.  The suit was brought under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act, pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act.  The suit is the next step in a twenty-year fight to protect the Serenova Preserve.

The Sierra Club also filed an Emergency Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and/or
Preliminary Injunction in order to stay the Section 404 Permit that has recently allowed construction to begin.

Heidi Mehaffey, Esq., the attorney representing the Sierra Club, stated:  “The permit was approved in violation of a number of federal statutes and regulations, all extant to prevent this kind of environmental damage.  ACOE failed to adequately look at direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts on the environment contrary to the National Environmental Policy Act and  neglected to choose the Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative (LEDPA) under the Clean Water Act, while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service relied on outdated surveys, 7 years outdated to be exact, for determining the impact on endangered and threatened species and wetland habitats when there was no effort to collect reliable and present day data in complete contradiction to the spirit of these environmental laws.  We also filed an emergency motion for an injunction to halt construction at the site, which began last week – we have eye-witness reports that they are removing gopher tortoises as we speak.”

Tim Martin, Sierra Club Florida Conservation Chair stated:  After the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) permit decision was announced on the Friday before Christmas, Save Our Serenova Coalition activists worked day and night over the holiday season to fight the permit. We are dedicating significant resources to stopping the destruction of the Serenova Preserve. Contrary to what county officials are claiming, there will not be traffic through the Serenova in nine months. There should never be traffic inside a nature preserve."

Conservation Biologist Reed F. Noss, Ph. D., whose review of the decisional documents lead to an expert report supporting the Sierra Club’s arguments that the project will be environmentally detrimental said:  I find the Corps’ decision to issue the permit indefensible. This project, if implemented, will cause severe impacts and irreparable harm to one of the most biologically significant natural areas in west-central Florida. It would likely preclude regional recovery, and perhaps cause regional extinction, of some species listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, as well as leading to the decline of other native species (many of them already rare) and compromising the ecological functions of the wetland and upland ecosystems of the Serenova Tract.

Martin added, The Serenova case has likely already influenced national policy.  In justifying their rationale for streamlining the Army Corps' permitting process, the Trump administration recently cited that some roads are taking over ten years to permit. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, wrote an open letter to Trump calling for him to intervene in the Serenova case, which may be the longest running permitting application in history, thanks to the local activists who have worked diligently for twenty years to protect this precious land.”  


Facebook:   Save Our Serenova 

Related event:  Sunday, February 9, 2020:  Gopher tortoise vigil

Hashtag:  #SaveSerenova

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

PRESS RELEASE: New coalition for water quality? Not even close!

For Immediate Release

February 4, 2020

Contacts: Cris Costello, cris.costello@sierraclub.org, 941-914-0421
 Turf and agrichemical industries fail to hide behind “green” name

SARASOTA – From 2007 through 2014, the turf and agrichemical industries tried to get the state legislature to preempt local control of urban fertilizer.  They are back at it again under the guise of the “green” sounding moniker “Floridians for Water Quality Protection,” a new coalition announced today by representatives from Massey Services, Environmental & Turf Services, Inc., and Mac Carraway, the former president of a large turf farm and well-known opponent of strong urban fertilizer regulation
Cris Costello, Sierra Club Organizing Manager:

“The backbone of water quality protection in Florida over the past 13 years has been the ability for local governments to regulate sources of pollution in their own backyards. Because watersheds are different, it has made every sense to take a watershed-by-watershed approach to fully consider the unique needs and circumstances of each community.  Since 2007, thirteen counties and nearly ninety municipalities have adopted what the 63 organizations of Everglades Coalition and many other organizations like the Florida Springs Council, Save the Manatee Club and Waterkeepers Florida, consider to be strong, protective urban fertilizer ordinances.  The major, and in many cases, sole purpose of the above organizations is to protect and restore water quality.

What we call “strong” urban fertilizer ordinances include provisions for:  Strict (no exemption) rainy season Nitrogen (N) and Phosphorus (P) application bans, and limits on the rates, content and location of Nitrogen and Phosphorus application during the other months of the year.

The science behind the state’s many strong ordinances is voluminous.  Each and every county that has adopted a strong ordinance since 2007, and especially since 2009, has a public record of all of the science it used to determine the viability of a strong ordinance in their respective watershed.  In 2009 Florida Statute (403.9337) mandated that each ordinance stronger than the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) Model ordinance be “science-based, and economically and technically feasible” – since that date ordinances covering 11 counties, and in most cases all of their respective municipalities, have been adopted and implemented.  

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) has never challenged the science behind any of the existing ordinances.  In fact, in December 2014 FDACS updated the labeling requirements for DIY bags of turf fertilizer in the state to include the following language:  “Check with your county or city government to determine if there are local regulations for fertilizer use.” 

The natural resource staff at the local government level, those who have drafted and implemented these strong ordinances, do nothing but fight for the best protection of their local waterways.  To claim that the strong ordinances “appear to have been designed by people who don’t care about protecting Florida’s water quality” is outrageous.  Mr. Stuart Z. Cohen, Ph.D., CGWP, president of Environmental & Turf Services, Inc. should stay in Maryland.

The fertilizer industry’s response has been positive.  In 2015 Scotts® announced their new summer-safe, no N-no P, turf product.  It is an example of the positive response received by many urban fertilizer manufacturers since the first summer rainy season bans were adopted in 2007, especially those manufacturers based in Florida.  Pinellas County keeps a long running list of strong ordinance compliant products.

Lawns are healthier with less nitrogen.  Many homeowners, homeowner associations, and lawn maintenance professionals have found that the decrease in application of N has led to less pest and fungus damage, and therefore less turf replacement and less need for pesticide and fungicide treatments. 

Is it not apparent why this group of turf growers and agrichemical industry representatives is going after strong urban fertilizer management?  Too much N means more turf sales, more pesticide sales, more fungicide sales, and more N sales.  For this group to claim that it is interested in water quality when they are all about ending strong urban fertilizer regulation is not only disingenuous but is ridiculous.  Naming itself “Floridians for Water Quality Protection” does not mask the fact that it is an industry group that wants an end to the regulation of a source of pollution that fuels harmful algae blooms.  This group must assume that the legislature will take this farce of a coalition as a reason to tie the hands of local governments from protecting their residents’ public health and their waterfront-based economies from the loss of tourism jobs and property values.

Questions to ask and get answers to: 
  • What businesses/organizations make up this new coalition?
  • Is urban fertilizer preemption their only focus?  
  • They use the Indian River Lagoon as an example of a regional approach that has worked.  Would this group then promote the same 4-month rainy season blackout period for N and P application that now covers the Indian River Lagoon region for all of the state?

Note, Mac Carraway and EREF are the same industry players that have filed a legal challenge against the City of Naples’ re-established rainy season blackout period ordinance which closely mirrors the ordinance provisions now protecting the Indian River Lagoon.

In conclusion, strict rainy season ban ordinances have been in effect in Florida for nearly 13 years and have become a set of well-established and accepted practices through which local governments can address and reduce pollution borne by local stormwater runoff.  The only way to argue against such success is to throw around falsehoods and hide behind a “green” name.”


Sierra Club Florida Participates in Rise Above Plastics Day at the State Capitol

Over 70 Environmental organizations, businesses, students, outdoor recreation organizations and advocates from across Florida gathered in Tallahassee to call for an end to plastic pollution. Rise Above Plastics Day is dedicated to raising awareness of plastic pollution, ending state interference in local efforts to reduce single use plastics, and the importance of healthy beaches and coasts.

The Surfrider Foundation, Sierra Club Florida, Florida Plastics-Free Initiative, Oceana, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Environment Florida, Florida Keys Environmental Coalition, Greenpeace, Student PIRG, and other ocean and recreation organizations hosted a day of exhibits and tabling in the State Capitol Rotunda. The group gathered on the front steps of the Historic Capitol for a press conference with the infamous Greenpeace Trash Monster– a massive 15 foot monster made of plastic trash.

Over 50 legislators were met by these volunteers who advocated for bills that call for an end to plastic pollution, such as SB 182/ HB 6043, which would repeal the preemption of local laws regarding the use or sale of polystyrene. The group advocated for action this year, asking the legislature to put prudent regulations in place or simply allow local control of the issue for the welfare of Florida’s ecology and economy. Similar bills call for a review and update to the Department of Environment’s Retail Bags Report and adoption of those suggested regulations of auxiliary containers, or disposable plastic bags used by consumers. If these regulations are not adopted the bill calls for the preemption to be lifted so local governments can act to protect marine resources on their own.

Tourism and the commercial and recreational fishing industry are such an important part of Florida's economy, Rise Above Plastics Day calls for a state with approximately 1,350 miles of coastline to lead the nation in action on reducing and eventually eliminating single use plastics. Instead Florida lags behind the nation in reducing waste.

Deborah Foote, Sierra Club Florida's Government Affairs and Political Director, kicked off the press conference stating that “the effort to reduce single use plastics requires a multi-pronged approach. Local governments must be free of state interference to do what is best for their community. The State also must be a leader, especially given that we cannot recycle our way out of this problem. And finally, corporations and businesses need to be good citizens and take steps to reduce their use of single use plastics. The health of our environment and our citizenry depends on it.”

The press conference keynote speakers were Representative Grieco and Eskamani the co-sponsors of HB 6043.

Holly Parker Curry, Surfrider Foundation Florida Policy Manager, concluded the press conference sharing that “plastic pollution damages our environment, our economy, and our quality of life. For a decade the Florida Legislature has stopped local governments from regulating single-use plastic bags, without ever seriously considering state-wide regulation. Florida has more coastline than any other state in the contiguous U.S. When it comes to clean water and healthy beaches, we must let our local communities lead.”