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March Water News

Spring is in the air, and we are excited to share our latest progress, important legislative updates, and upcoming events with you in this month's newsletter. Our team has been working tirelessly to protect and restore our precious water resources, and we couldn't do it without your support!


We hope you find this month's newsletter informative, inspiring, and engaging. Thank you for being a part of the Clean Water Coalition family and for your continued support in our mission to protect and restore our vital water resources


Dr. Thomas Reinert of Florida Fish and Wildlife at the Emerson Center’s e-series


The Clean Water Coalition recently sponsored an e-series presentation at the Emerson, where important updates on the manatee crisis in Florida were discussed. Since December 2020, the Indian River Lagoon (IRL) has experienced a devastating Unusual Mortality Event (UME) due to manatee starvation, contributing to 1,100 manatee deaths in 2021 and 800 in 2022 statewide.


To address this crisis, a feeding program has been established over the last two years to provide nourishment replacement for the lost seagrass beds, the natural food source for manatees. This winter, more than 400,000 pounds of Florida-grown romaine lettuce were provided to hungry manatees, while minimizing human contact, as they gathered in the warm water released at the FPL Energy Center in Titusville.


Encouragingly, the manatee death rate appears to be returning to a more natural level, likely due to the following factors:

  1. Returning manatees seem more robust and better prepared for over-wintering in the seagrass-depleted northern IRL.

  2. The winter of 2022-23 has been mild, preventing the double whammy of hunger and cold weather from impacting manatees.

  3. The seagrass beds in the nearby Mosquito Lagoon seem to be recovering, which is close to the Titusville Energy Center.

To ensure the long-term stability of manatee health and the overall health of IRL ecosystem, it is crucial to reduce the amount of nutrients and sediments entering the water from land. Improving water quality by eliminating septic systems, sewage overflows, fertilizers, and pesticides entering the water will allow the natural systems, including seagrass beds and manatees, to recover.


 

IRLNEP Annual Report

Check out the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program’s Annual Report for some good info on what’s happening with the lagoon. Click here to download it.



 

Legislative issues


We were pleased to see Governor DeSantis sign Executive Order 23-06, titled "Achieving Even More Now for Florida's Environment" in January. It outlines investments in water quality improvements, commits $3.5 billion over the next four years for the restoration of the Everglades and water resource protection, including water quality and supply. The order also prioritizes the protection of the Indian River Lagoon with a $100 million annual budget for priority projects. Furthermore, it directs the South Florida Water Management District to expedite Everglades restoration projects and continue efforts by the Blue-Green Algae and Harmful Algal Bloom Task Forces.


Unfortunately, the Legislative Session is in full gear and the members seem to have missed the environmental memo from the Governor. So far, there have been a large number of bills introduced both good and bad. Some of the proposed bills benefit only special interest groups. We need the Legislature to live up to the conservation promises the Governor put forward in his executive order. We are optimistic that he will veto any bills that do not meet his expectations in this regard.


Some bills to watch:


The Good:

SB 100/HB 561 Mangrove Replanting and Restoration

Requires the Department of Environmental Protection to adopt rules for mangrove replanting and restoration, addressing erosion, barrier island protection, Everglades restoration, Biscayne Bay revitalization, public awareness, and partnerships for coastal property protection.


SB 928/HB 559 Land Acquisition Funding

This bill would establish a minimum of $350 (or $300) million yearly funding for the Florida Forever program, revive bonding authority, revise the funding formula, increase the share for conservation easements, reduce the share for water management districts, and bar the use of funds for administrative expenses.


SB 172/HB 177 Safe Waterways Act

Would require the Department of Health to adopt and enforce rules for protecting public health in beach waters and public bathing places, issue health advisories, enforce closures, establish signage requirements, and create a public statewide interagency database for reporting fecal indicator bacteria data.


SB 1538/HB 423 Implementation of the Recommendations of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force

Requires inspection of onsite sewage treatment (septic) systems, establishing a 5-year inspection cycle, prioritizing certain areas for conversion, addressing failing systems, and ensuring Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs) meet pollutant reduction targets while considering projected population and agricultural growth.


The Bad:

SB 1240/HB 1197 Land and Water Management

The bill would prevent local governments in Florida from passing laws or policies about water quality, water quantity, pollution control, pollutant discharge prevention or removal, and wetlands. Instead, the state would be responsible for regulating these things. The Department of Environmental Protection would be required to tell the Chief Financial Officer if any local government violates the law, and the state could withhold funds from that government.


SB 1604/HB 439 Land Use and Development Regulations

Redefines urban sprawl, expands the definition of agricultural enclaves, prevents denial of development orders due to insufficient infrastructure, and limits local government discretion in land use and environmental dispute resolution decisions.


SB 1702/HB 1167 Mitigation Credits

Allows the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and water management districts to release mitigation credits to specific banks under certain conditions and expands the use of such credits for projects within or outside the designated mitigation service areas.


SB 856/HB 41 Land Development Initiative and Referendum Processes

Prohibits the use of initiative or referendum processes for development orders or amendments to land development regulations in Florida, clarifying the legislative intent and applying it retroactively to such processes commenced after June 1, 2011.


SB 346/HB 383 Public Construction

Modifies public construction management in Florida, potentially impacting local governments' oversight, contractor compensation, dispute resolution, and expenses, while granting developers more authority and posing financial risks if development applications are not decided within 180 days.


It is important for your representatives in Tallahassee hear your concerns. We may reach to ask that you write your representatives about particular bills on environmental issues.


 

Partner Spotlight: Indian River Land Trust

Indian River Land Trust, in collaboration with FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, and Indian River Mosquito Control District, and with a grant from the Indian River Lagoon Council (National Estuary Program), is experimenting with a new mosquito impoundment management method at Bee Gum Point Preserve, Coastal Oaks Preserve, and Narrows Marsh Preserve. Volunteers helped capture, tag, and track juvenile tarpon and snook using antenna arrays at water exchange culverts. Typically, impoundments are closed during warmer months for mosquito control, but this hinders fish movement when they need to emigrate. Experimental summer culvert openings were implemented to allow fish to move freely to the Lagoon. Study results are pending, but the method shows promise in improving fish populations in the Lagoon.


 

MAKE PLANS TO ATTEND FUTURE EVENTS


April 5 Florida’s Algae Crisis: The Impacts of Excess Nitrogen

Brian Lapointe, FAU Harbor Branch


May 3 The Many Fates of Plastic Debris in the Ocean

Tracy Mincer, FAU Harbor Branch


FWC has a planned Sebastian inlet dive cleanup April 26 and 27th. CWC will have a tent on the North side to help process the trash. For further information check out: https://mrrp.myfwc.com/




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