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SCCF Conservation Notes: A year of policy progress to celebrate

By Staff | Dec 23, 2009

2009 may go down in history for the number of water quality policy initiatives active in a single year. As the year comes to a close, it’s time to take inventory to celebrate the successes and prepare for the continued efforts to effect positive and meaningful change for our natural resources.

We appreciate the support and involvement of our members, supporters and partners in our advocacy efforts that have yielded positive results and progress that would not be realized without our collective, vocal representation of west coast and south Florida interests throughout the state.

To help celebrate the progress you have been a part of, here is a brief update of a number of the highlights we are proud to have made a difference in.

Designated Uses

Our latest success! Since 2006, SCCF has been fighting Florida’s water quality agency, the Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) on a proposed change to the designated use criteria.

This Clean Water Act standard requires all state waters be designated at their highest attainable use such as drinking water, shellfish harvesting or recreation and that associated fishable/swimmable standards be protected.

DEP proposed to create additional lower water quality classifications that would be fishable but unswimmable and unfishable/unswimmable. Just last week, the agency announced it is dropping the proposed changes in favor of tweaking the current system to achieve the functionality it sought.

This change, the position we advocated for, is a great victory (and relief) in protecting water quality. In the last of the public meetings to be held the first week of January, we will press for reinstating a provision that could actually increase protection of the state’s most pristine and unique waters such as coral reefs, springs and aquatic preserves. See our Web site for the latest revisions and our letters of opposition. Consider attending the public meeting in Tampa on Jan. 7 and/or write a letter to DEP.

Caloosahatchee Basin Reservation

Our longest running effort rewarded! In response to growth and growing water demands in our Caloosahatchee watershed, we have been pressing the South Florida Water Management District since 2001 to allocate a water supply for the river and estuary. This will put the natural resource on an even playing field with permitted water users such as utilities and agriculture.

We are pleased to report that the effort is paying off as the Governing Board at their December meeting committed to begin the process for setting aside a demand for the natural system called a reservation of water. Now our efforts will focus on keeping the process on track to get the reservation established.

C-43 Reservoir CERP Project

On the radar! The C43 West Basin Reservoir has been identified as a critical storage solution to address both excess and minimum water flows for the Caloosahatchee. Ten years in the planning, it is now set to be a top priority for the federal Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 2010 authorization that is required to qualify for federal construction funding. In 2010, we will need your help in pressing Congress to pass and fund WRDA.

Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule

Caloosahatchee needs getting attention! SCCF has been working as part of a technical advisory group to update the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS 2008) decision matrix, used by the Corps of Engineers and SFWMD to make decisions about when and how much water is released from the lake. This is critically important to the Caloosahatchee because existing protocols have not provided the flexibility to limit high water releases or assure minimum water flows.

Our active participation and advocacy for Caloosahatchee issues has raised the visibility of the Caloosahatchee dilemma and gained support of Governing Board members to support adequate and protective flows for the Caloosahatchee. The committee recommendations will go to the Governing Board in the next few months.

Numeric Nutrient Criteria

Feds to set Florida water quality standards! The Federal EPA has committed to establish maximum allowable pollutant levels – numeric limits – for phosphorus and nitrogen that would apply to all Florida lakes and rivers by Jan. 14, 2010. Estuary and coastal water limits will be set by January 2011.

DEP has been working on this for 10 years. SCCF will continue to remain closely involved to be sure standards are informed by science.

Caloosahatchee Estuary BMAP

Improving water quality! Since the Caloosahatchee estuary is impaired it has a numeric nutrient criteria which was established under the TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) process that SCCF worked on for the past two years.

Now in Phase II we begin to make changes to actually improve water quality through a process called a Basin Management Action Plan or BMAP. This plan addresses the sources of pollution identified in the TMDL.

Initiatives include promoting the implementation of fertilizer limits, septic, package plant and waste water treatment plant ordinances and stormwater standards in municipalities throughout the watershed. The work continues to move us closer to better land management practices that will improve water quality and habitat.

Statewide Stormwater Rule

Coming in 2010! Stormwater is the single major source of pollution in Florida’s waters. This coming year, the state will be issuing new regulations to increase treatment of water before it runs off into the water. Public meetings will provide a chance for public input, so stay tuned.

Everglades Restoration

Projects breaking ground! Three critical projects that will move restoration forward are breaking ground and we have been thrilled to be a part of the celebration that so many have worked so long to achieve.

Bridging Tamiami Trail, Reclaiming Picayune Strand wetlands and restoring flows diverted by the C-111 rocket canal. This month the Tamiami Trail bridge project broke ground with a one-mile bridge over Shark River Slough. This removes a dam that prevented water flow south, which will help provide relief for the Caloosahatchee estuary. January 7 is the groundbreaking for restoration of Picayune Strand to restore wetlands, sheetflow treatment and waterflows into the 10,000 Islands estuary, enhancing habitat as well as freshwater and coastal water quality.

In late January, the C-111 rocket canal project will begin its decompartmentalization effort to undo the devastating effect the canal has had on Florida Bay. For more information on these projects and regular updates, visit our Web site and attend SCCF’s monthly Policy Matters programs.

U.S. Sugar land acquisition moving forward

As the historic purchase of 73,000 acres of U.S. Sugar land makes its way through the Florida Supreme Court, SCCF is working with other environmental groups providing input to the SFWMD on planning the footprint and best methods for moving water south out of the lake. The creation of an additional outlet from the lake is fundamental to reducing damaging excess flows out the Caloosahatchee, which currently receives the greatest volume of unwanted water from this broken water management system.

The second phase of the planning process, which kicked off last week, is expected to extend through July 2011. SCCF is committed to making sure the interests of communities west of the lake, from Moore Haven to Sanibel and Captiva are represented with a strong voice.

2009 Florida Legislative Session

This year’s legislative session was brutal, characterized by little money available, but a few wins were achieved and lines held on other issues.

Our priorities were:

Support and funding of State Trust Funds to support Florida Forever and the U.S. Sugar Corporation land purchase;

Support for Healthy Beaches Bill to protect beaches and water quality from sewage discharges;

Support for a strong statewide fertilizer ordinance. The bill that was passed is centered around an ineffective model ordinance that requires local governments to justify enacting stricter local standards. For example, Sanibel’s current ordinance would not qualify under this legislation. SCCF is working to strengthen the model ordinance..

Support for Florida’s Growth Management Act requiring growth to pay its own way.

Support for mangrove and Florida Springs protection

Opposed a last-minute nearshore oil drilling initiative

Our policy department is pleased to report that our efforts are raising awareness of the issues, reaching new audiences and more individuals are engaging in natural resource policy efforts. In the many meetings we attend, we often now hear others discussing and promoting the needs of the west coast. That is significant to promoting our issues!

We invite you to join us and become partners with SCCF in shaping the future of natural resource conservation for our region. We look forward to continued success in 2010. Thank you for your active participation, interest and support.