Conservation Report

By Whitey Markle

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) will decide on a proposed Minimum Flow and Level (MFL) at their March 28th meeting in the SWFWMD headquarters in Brooksville. Although the Rainbow River and spring are flowing at over 20% of their historic flow, the SWFWMD staff has recommended reducing that flow by a maximum of 5%.

We staged a massive public protest in a SWFWMD public input meeting in Dunnellon on February 23rd. In the public testimony, not a single person agreed with the staff recommendation.  Regardless, the staff recommended approval of the 5% reduction.

Minimum Flows and Levels are (and have been) required by Florida Statute since the 1970’s. The statute says that if an Outstanding Florida Water (OFW), such as the Rainbow and all of our major local waterways, is reduced in flow and level to a point at which “significant harm” is caused to that waterbody, it is illegal. Last year, the Florida legislature passed Senate Bill 552 which mandated (after 45 years) that MFLs  be established for all Outstanding Florida Springs immediately. Thus these actions we are seeing now.

We feel that this 5% reduction is, by far, excessive. The Rainbow Spring and River are flowing at more than 20% less than their historic levels.   The river is growing algae and Lyngbya ( a massive, snake-looking algae that can grow 6 feet long or more and coats the water surface in warmer weather which is the result of low flow and nutrient pollution), and the once white sand bottoms are now turning black from nutrient pollution. Also, the native submerged Aquatic vegetation is rapidly disappearing due to the oxygen depletion and blockage of sunlight, all the result of silted algae-laden water.

Citing the following report which is SWFWMD’s own “peer reviewed” report. “In the absence of key supporting data, the District should consider capping withdrawals at current levels (or with a minimal allowable increase) until the nutrient issues are effectively addressed. In particular, consideration should be given to allow no reduction in flow unless there is a corresponding decrease in loading so that there is no net increase in projected nitrate concentrations. If this cannot be done, the District needs to be explicit as to the water-quality implications of the proposed MFL. Underlying this recommendation is our perception that the system, while still in relatively good shape, is substantially overused to the point that any reduction in flow could impact water quality and should be of concern.”

The issue isn’t MFLs per se, but the Rainbow Springs System “allowable” MFL as proposed by SWFWMD.

Their own Peer Reviewed Report (at link above), which they publicly stated SUPPORTED their 5% MFL did not do that. It’s fraught with warnings and admonitions, which were cited by a number of speakers in attendance last night. Even the SWFWMD staff said they were continuing their studies and that things needed “monitoring.” The consensus of everyone at the meeting (other than SWFWMD) was that the longitudinal studies should be completed BEFORE making decisions that would facilitate the withdrawal of ANY water from the RS system. Dr. Knight wasn’t the only “expert” witness. There were a couple of retired engineers and others familiar with these kinds of studies that spoke of the need to hold off before encouraging withdrawals.

Some leaders are saying that we must have an MFL for the river in order to force the Water Management Districts (WMD’s) to stop issuing Consumptive Use Permits (CUP’s) when the MFL is reached. We agree.  But we do not agree that a 5% reduction in flow and level would be correct. We believe that an MFL of 0% would be correct, and we believe the WMD’s have that authority.
Hopefully the SWFWMD Governing Board will see our point of view on March 28th and order a lesser flow reduction than the proposed 5%.  The Chassahowitzka River MFL was to be lowered by 9% 5 years ago (by staff recommendation), but we were able to sway the Governing Board our way and we ended up with a 3% reduction. So it can be done.

The St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) held a public workshop to discuss the lowering of the Silver Springs and silver River flow by 6% on March 15 at 4:30 PM at the Ocala Public Library Growth Management meeting room on East Silver Springs Blvd. in Ocala. We staged a protest demonstration at 3:30 PM. And a dozen members spoke in public comment in opposition against the proposed flow  reduction. Like the Rainbow, we feel the 6% reduction is illegal.

SJRWMD staff also presented  their “recovery” strategy(s) in the presentation. As usual, they talked about more spending on “projects”, and strategies like “recharge” where they inject used water back into the aquifer, “alternative” water sources (our lakes and rivers), Tapping the subfloridan aquifer (full of salts and heavy metals), and water conservation measures (a very vague term; if the “conservation” measures they now employ are continued as they are being implemented now, we will see No improvement  in the water quality and quantity in the already-impaired Outstanding Florida Springs. I stated for the record that “conservation” projects and policies that presently exist have not bight and no  authority to enforce.

SSJ member Dr. Bob Palmer, member of the Florida Springs Council legislative committee, managed (miraculously) to persuade Senator Farmer (D-Ft. Lauderdale) to introduce some 8 amendments into the senate in the form of Senate Bill 1700. These 8 amendments will improve upon the 2016 Water Bill (SB 552 by retired Senator Charlie Dean) with commonsense provisions to protect Florida’s waters, like:

  • Sustainable permitting decisions, proper allocation of water resources, and efficient direction of water supply funding by the WMDs,
  • Eliminating redundancies among environmental agencies and unnecessary oversight of WMD’s and improving the consumptive use process,
  • Requiring Consumptive Use Permit (CUP) holders to monitor water usage and report that use to the WMDs,
  •  Giving preference for public funding water supply projects that maximize water conservation, require the reservation of water to restore the minimum flow of water level for an Outstanding Florida Spring (OFS),
  • Requiring an estimated allocation of pollutant load reductions for each category of sources within a Priority Focus Area (PFA) of an OFS within two years of the adoption of a Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP), require the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to assemble that data and report it to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP),
  • Adding industrial wastewater facilities, new septic tank systems on lots of 1 acre or less within an area for which a septic tank remediation plan is necessary to achieve Total maximum Daily Load (TMDL), and new animal feeding or finishing operations to the list of prohibitive activities within the PFA’s,
  • Requiring the creation of improved Best Management Practices (BMPs) if current BMPs are found to be insufficient to meet agricultural pollution reduction goals for OFSs, and
  • Requiring FDACS to partner with FDEP to fund conservation easements which include the conversion of less polluting BMPs….on agricultural lands where current operations are inconsistent with springs protection.

We were allowed 5 minutes to speak (longer than usual), that allotted time was certainly not enough for me to explain all of the above proposed amendments. Perhaps the SJRWMD Governing Board will listen and act on our testimony.

Senator Linda Stewart (D) Orlando, has filed Senate Bill 1304,titled Florida Black Bear Habitat Restoration Act, which proposes several helpful strategies that will protect the bears . It proposes:

  • A ten year moratorium on Bear hunting,
  • Conduct a 5 year study of bear population trend and an analysis of potential impacts of  recreational bear hunting,
  • Impose controls on Saw Palmetto berry harvesting,
  • Impose controls on the sale of Saw Palmetto berries,
  • Prohibit the harvesting of Saw Palmetto Berries on state lands designated as bear habitat,
  • Provide protection of bear habitat from control burning at critical times.
  • Prohibit the sale of timbering rights for certain trees in state forests and parks that contain bear habitat,
  • Provide for coordination between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission FWC), FDEP, and FDACS in protecting Black bears and their habitat,
  • Provide funding to local governments to provide bear-proof garbage cans,
  • Require the state agencies to designate areas of bear habitat and areas of Human-Bear conflict.

This bill is a great step forward for Black Bear protection. Senator Stewart should be applauded for this effort. We will see if it gets out of committee(s). Wish her luck on this one. We do feel, however, that this may be a good way to focus on the problem and perhaps lend some impetus to another bear hunting prohibition. The bill is now in the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee. Senator Rob Bradley represents a large part of our area and is Vice-chair of the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee. We should all call his Tallahassee Office at (850) 487-5005 and urge him to put it on the committee’s agenda and vote YES on it in its entirety.

On March 9th, The Sierra Club and Environment Florida, with the aid of the National Environmental Law Center, held a press conference announcing their filing of a lawsuit in Federal Court in Jacksonville against Pilgrims Pride, one of the world’s biggest poultry producers near Live Oak.  The suit argues Pilgrim’s Pride regularly violated pollution standards written into company permits for years, pointing to daily reports compiled by Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection.

SSJ Sierrans and attorneys present the Pilgrims Pride lawsuit to the press in Jacksonville

Florida Times-Union reporter, Steve Patterson said, “Activists said the state hasn’t taken meaningful action despite more than 1,000 days of violations over five years.”

“Here is one of the world’s largest meat companies continually dumping pollution into one of Florida’s most beautiful rivers,” said Jennifer Rubiello, state director of Environment Florida. “If our own state officials won’t step in and protect the Suwannee, then Environment Florida will.”

Runoff water from the plant, where chickens are fed and slaughtered, contains nitrogen from animal feces and a range of chemicals that are part of the plant’s operation. The suit says the nitrogen has helped algae growth in the Suwannee and the chemicals at time exceed levels the permit considers toxic to wildlife in the river.

The pollution violated the federal Clean Water Act, activists said, noting citizens can sue to gain enforcement of environmental laws.

A Pilgrim’s spokesman said the company “takes this allegation seriously,” but didn’t think there was a basis for it.

The reports the suit is based on were from testing that the company conducted and reported to the state, said spokesman Cameron Bruett.

When those reports were made, Bruett said, “Corrective measures were identified and implemented to address concerns. We are unaware of any current conditions that would merit this legal action, however we will review the complaint and respond appropriately.”

The Sierra Club’s Suwannee-St Johns Group plans to join the suit when a 60-day waiting period is finished.

“Pilgrim’s Pride has been polluting that river … for 30 years,” said Whitey Markle, chair of the Sierra Club’s Suwannee-St Johns Group. “The [Florida] Department of Environmental Protection needs to do their job and enforce the rules.”
The Live Oak plant was owned by a different company, Gold Kist, until 2007. The plant is one of Suwannee County’s largest employers, with a workforce that ranged between 1,000 and 1,400 during recent years.

Supporters of the lawsuit said they weren’t trying to harm the company, only protect the river.

“We’re not anti-chicken,” said Garth Brewster, who had traveled about 85 miles from O’Brien, near the Suwannee, to be part of a press conference outside Jacksonville’s federal courthouse. But Brewster said she was worried about river’s health, and wanted to ensure it was safe for people to fish and kayak there.
A Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman, Dee Ann Miller, said the state is working on its third agreement since 2010 for Pilgrim’s Pride to improve its wastewater.


The company paid a $36,000 penalty and met goals included in a deal with the state between 2010 and 2012, Miller said, but hadn’t shown improvements required for another compact covering for 2015 and 2016
The third agreement, which is being developed now, will include “a more robust compliance plan as well as … additional penalties,” Miller said.

This situation reminds me of the Everglades negotiations. We go to court, we win the suit, and over time, the governmental agencies “negotiate” the (expensive) victory away. Go figure.

The Sierra Club is nothing more than a collective of White, out-of-touch boomers flailing about like fish out of water trying to remain relevant by making failed attempts at addressing equity and social justice by using tokenism and inherently racist and disrespectful language and strategies that in-fact do the opposite of their goals by marginalizing and discriminating against BIPOC. Separating actual people of color into “white-passing” groups is just one of many examples where Sierra Clubs White leaders have failed to grasp their own problems and instead project their White-centric view onto minorities instead of expressing anything resembling empathy and a willing to listen.