News from the Conservation Chair May 2016

By Whitey Markle  

NITRATES IN THE WATER (repeated Warning)
Dr. Bob Knight, director of the High Springs-based branch of the Florida Springs Institute is again pressing for government action regarding the nitrate pollution problem in our springs and groundwater. He reiterated his conclusions on this matter to the Alachua County Commission on April 17th. He said high nitrate levels in wells in the western county have the potential to cause birth defects, cancer and thyroid problems. “I think the state has failed us on this issue,” Knight said. “It’s failed me on the springs issue, but it’s also failed us on this public health issue.” We have watched the state politicians and bureaucrats take half-hearted and belated measures to address this problem as well as the myriad of related water problems as they have continued to kick the can down the road. The legislature should be ashamed of their water bill in this last session. The government-set limit beyond which nitrate levels are considered damaging to springs is 0.35 milligrams per liter, while the public-health standard is 10 mg/L. The latter standard was based on the level that can cause blue baby syndrome, a potentially fatal blood disorder in infants. Knight said the highest levels of nitrate pollution were in private wells in the Western part of Alachua County and that concentration is due primarily to agricultural fertilizer which is preempted by state laws from local control. The Alachua County Commission voted to send a letter calling on the state to move forward on researching and solving the issue.

The Union County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) voted unanimously to impose a 1 year moratorium on Phosphate mining at their April 18th  Board meeting. It was a happy occasion and at least a one year delay. The meeting was orderly and calm. After the meeting, Merrilee Malwitz-Jipson lead an informal gathering in the Lake Butler pavilion to advise the leaders of the Citizens Against Phosphate Mining in Union/Bradford Counties (See Facebook) on strategies for the next year’s advocacy.  We enjoyed meeting and working with the community leaders and advocates and we will continue to  support them to the best of our ability.

However, the Bradford County story is the opposite of Union County’s:  Near the end of the April 21st Bradford BOCC meeting, an M.D., Ph.D., psychiatrist, author, and C.I.A. hostage negotiator (among many other high-level roles) who lives in Bradford County on Lake Santa Fe advocated for public health as the issue in testifying before the Commission.  He was accosted by the applicant’s son who threatened him. When the doctor threatened him back, he was wrestled to the floor by 2 armed thugs (likely off-duty deputies) and removed to an outer hallway, his wife begging the “escorts” to not harm her husband. Camera phones were recording the whole episode, so the “escorts” were ordered by the applicant to release him and he was ordered to leave the premises. This is the second underhanded episode in Bradford County surrounding the mining issue. 3 weeks ago, one of the Union County advocates against the mining operation application was arrested on phony felony charges by the Bradford County Sheriff. She left town on bond and is incognito at this time. I don’t blame her.  The situation should be investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the State Attorney General, and the Governor.

Phosphate mine applicants assault witness in Bradford County BoCC meeting
SSJ FUNDRAISER NEARS HALFWAY MARK                               
Our fundraiser is nearing the halfway mark for net gain. This is our first attempt at such an endeavor and we have 9 weeks left until ticket sales end. The 4th of July 3-day weekend on the Withlacoochee River will be a great prize for the lucky winner. 100 tickets were on sale at the beginning of the campaign and as of 4/23, 32 had been sold. Your chance of winning is very good.  And check out the tour and food packages. The price is right and your chance of winning is far better than the lottery.  Ticket sales end on June 10, 2016. Winners of the drawing will be announced by email or telephone on or about June 24 and on our website:SSJSIERRA.ORG. Log on to to get your tickets now!

SSJ members Dr. Bob Palmer, Dave Wilson, David Morwitz,  Jon Brainard, and I met with representatives from the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD)on April 18th for a presentation (explanation) of the North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan, the latest configuration of the state’s water scheme in North Florida (the beginning of the “Californication” of Florida). This particular Water Supply Plan is designed and implemented by the SJRWMD and the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD). No SRWMD representatives were present.

The presenters, John Fitzgerald and Scott Laidlaw, were very informative in their presentation. As we progressed through the presentation, we were allowed to ask questions. And ask we did.  Frankly, I believe the presenters were taken by surprise by our knowledge of the issues.  As is normal in such circumstances, they threw out several algebra problems that Joe Public is supposed to analyze and solve at the end of each statement. Also typical is the manner in which the data is presented. For example, when a statement was made regarding future population growth (and subsequent consumptive water usage), we engaged the presenters on exactly what population projections they were referring to: Were they including Plum Creek? The Mormons’ planned megacity in Taylor County? The Villages expansion? (None of these are approved developments).  It turns out that some were included and some not for various reasons. (The Villages Consumptive Use Permit is already granted by SJRWMD and therefore not in the algebraic equation).

 Whitey Markle explains an algebra problem to water officials and guests
Also, a lot of their Projections are based on “modelling”, a festering wound for the Water Management Districts in the past issues like the Basin Management Action Plan deliberations. According to Dr. Bob Palmer, ”Models are often peer-reviewed, perhaps even well, but there’s never a record of a district’s take on the peer-review comments, or on how those comments did or did not result in changes to the model. If they were really confident in the quality of their model, they would embrace the opportunity to have a back-and-forth with a well-versed critic.  This is how good science works, and they should not shirk from the challenge.”

We were asked to make recommendations concerning the modelling process and Dr. Palmer suggested that the District include Todd Kincaid who testified brilliantly in the Adena Springs hearing last summer in Palatka in the (questionable) peer review of the modelling being used.  Of course there was resistance to that suggestion.  Lord forbid we actually get an objective product out of our public servants.

See Chair Maryvonne Devensky’s editorial post on the Sabal Trail Pipeline in her Chair’s column.  Part of our strategy in opposing this potential disaster is asking local governments to request in-depth study of the impacts of the pipeline by the U.S, Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).  In March, Johanna DeGraffenreid of the Gulf Restoration Network sent a letter to the Marion County Board of County Commissioners(BOCC) asking them to send a letter to the Corps requesting a Supplementary Environmental  Impact Study.  On April 19th, I gave a presentation to the Marion BOCC addressing that letter request and pointing out the deficiencies in the existing Environmental Impact Study the Corps and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission have on file (on one map of the proposed pipeline route Citrus County was left off entirely, showing instead Sumter County reaching to the Gulf of Mexico).  Several environmentally sensitive areas were left out of the data entirely.

Several SSJ members and concerned citizens from the Citrus County-Dunnellon area appeared to reinforce my request in public comment.  The commissioners talked of their concern for the environmental impacts surrounding the pipeline, but referred the issue to their staff before making a decision on what action to take. We were told to return to the chambers on May 3rd for further action by the Marion BOCC. Stay tuned.

The bottom line in this issue is the dependency on fossil fuels for energy. Not only is natural gas a finite resource, more so than coal or oil. Fracked natural gas wells might last 10 years each. Not a long life for such dangerous technology, but also expensive and controlled by the government-industry complex. 60% of all federal subsidies still go to research and development of fossil fuel energy, 15%  to nuclear, and a piddling 15% for renewables, solar getting about 6% annually.

Dr. Wendell Porter addressed our general membership in the issue last month and Dr. Stephen Mulkey addressed the Tri-county Working Group a week later regarding climate change (see Jonathan Brainard’s article on Dr. Mulkey). Both presentations eventually ended up concluding that renewables are our ultimate answer to the energy situation – especially solar technology and especially here in the Sunshine State.  Solar is safe to build and install, creates true independence from fossil fuels and corporate control of energy, and, above all, it is environmentally friendly. So we need to push for approval of the referendum that provides incentives to businesses and industry in Florida in August and we need to absolutely defeat the phony solar amendment that the energy interests have pushed through the courts to be on the November ballot.  The handwriting is on the wall. Now the “leaders” have to read it and put aside special interests.