Unless Farming Methods Change Radically, Florida’s Springs and Rivers Are Doomed


See the original article with photos here in the Gainesville Sun.  It will appear in the hard copy Sunday, August 22, 2021.

Unless farming methods change radically, Florida’s springs and rivers are doomed

Jim Tatum Guest columnist
August 19, 2021
Many people are unaware that the water protective agencies in the state of Florida, which include the governor, the Department of Environmental Protection and the five water management districts, are deliberately allowing our springs and rivers to die.

Even though protection is required by law, the above agencies are not carrying out their responsibilities and evidence indicates that they have no workable plan to restore our waters.

We see many references to green algae, red tide, the Everglades and, lately, references to manatee deaths. What is not as apparent but is equally critical is the consistent decline of flow in springs and rivers and the increasing pollution caused mainly by agricultural and septic tanks coupled with out-of-control excessive pumping of groundwater. Our springs collectively have lost around 32% of their historic average flows and gained nitrates several times over historic amounts.

More from Jim Tatum:

Piping water to replenish aquifer at Ichetucknee Springs is absurd idea

State fails to protect, then pays to restore springs

New roads being pushed at worst possible time

Our agencies are fully aware of the causes but do not have the will to address them. Instead of exerting their authority to reduce pumping and fertilizers, they spend billions of taxpayer dollars on searching for alternative water supplies.

Some efforts are good, such as installing sewage systems and wastewater projects, but others are ridiculous, such as water transfers. Most of these are simply costly treatments but not cures.

The reason they don’t attack the sources is because they are afraid to offend the polluters. Statewide, agriculture is the source of over 70% of nitrates, with septics at 12%. In the Suwannee River basin agriculture contributes 92% and septics 3%.

DEP and water management district employees must walk the fine line of appearing to be saving our springs but without offending the polluters. One ploy is to tout the huge sums of money they are spending on research projects and “studies” to save bits of water here and there. Gov. Ron DeSantis has appointed a sham green algae task force to get expert recommendations which he summarily allowed to be ignored.

The supposed protections devised by the state are largely useless: Minimum Flows and Levels (MFLs), Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) and Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs) are really plans disguised to allow more water and fertilizer for polluters.

The DEP admits that the BMAPs will not meet their goals even if followed to the letter. The MFLs are set using models that can be tweaked to give the desired result to allow more pumping.

Water districts have been accused by competent independent water scientists of deliberately ignoring extant available data and using a model instead so they could reach the needed numbers. In recent years MFLs for the Silver and Rainbow rivers were revised and reset in order to accommodate agricultural enterprises wanting to pump more groundwater. \

Other supposed protections are designations such as Outstanding Florida Waterway, Primary Focus Area, Water Resource Caution Area, but these are simply words on paper which imply protection but do little to impede issuance of pumping permits.

Any grade school student can see that our current path is simply unsustainable. Farmers are essential and they must not be put out of business but farming methods must change radically. It is imperative that we emphasize less water-demanding crops, pump less and eliminate excessive amounts of fertilizer.

In the last 10 years our state spent $1.1 billion on our springs and rivers but has not come close to restoring even one. If those funds had been assigned to the inevitable transition to sustainable agriculture, we would be one large step down the road to restoring our springs and rivers.

Jim Tatum is historian for Our Santa Fe River of Fort White.


Santa Fe River Preserve Adds 133 Acres

Santa Fe River

OSFR is pleased to celebrate with Alachua Conservation Trust this added protection for the Santa Fe River. This is important to keep the river intact and protect it from development and more pumping.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
[email protected]
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back
© Jim Tatum


Tucked against the northern portion of Alachua County and fronting the Santa Fe River, Santa Fe River Preserve now totals 1,067 acres of conservation land. The initial negotiations for the first tract of the Preserve started in 2008. Acquisitions were completed in multiple phases over the last decade kicking off in 2012. By the time the public opening was held in November 2017, ACT and Alachua County had acquired 934 acres and protected more than 6 miles along the river. This preserve serves as an anchor for ACT’s work along the Santa Fe River corridor. 
Recently, an incredible opportunity to expand this regional treasure by 133 acres came to ACT. The land, located in Bradford County, stretches the Santa Fe River Preserve north across the river, and most importantly, conserves another 1.3 miles of riverfront. This further protects the upper Santa Fe River and establishes a portion of the preserve on the New River – a key tributary to the Santa Fe River. 
Along the river frontage of this property there are uncommon trees such as water elm and river birch, as well as a profusion of flowering shrubs including wild azalea. It is home to several endemic species that have disappeared or declined elsewhere.
With funding support from the U.S. Endowment Healthy Watersheds Consortium, a very generous private foundation, private donor loan, and individual donors like you, ACT secured the funds needed to close on this key property in May – safeguarding water resources for several counties in North Central Florida.

Water Sells for More Than Crops–

Extreme drought conditions, USA. Photo public domain


Florida needs only to look at California to see its future, although our water policy-makers see only dollar signs when they attempt to look at the future.  And on top of this water crisis, we have BlueTriton née Nestle hoggishly and illegally taking way more water than allowed.

Read the complete article with photos here in the New York Times.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
[email protected]
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum


It’s Some of America’s Richest Farmland. But What Is It Without Water?

A California farmer decides it makes better business sense to sell his water than to grow rice. An almond farmer considers uprooting his trees to put up solar panels. Drought is transforming the state, with broad consequences for the food supply.

ORDBEND, Calif. — In America’s fruit and nut basket, water is now the most precious crop of all.

It explains why, amid a historic drought parching much of the American West, a grower of premium sushi rice has concluded that it makes better business sense to sell the water he would have used to grow rice than to actually grow rice. Or why a melon farmer has left a third of his fields fallow. Or why a large landholder farther south is thinking of planting a solar array on his fields rather than the thirsty almonds that delivered steady profit for years.

“You want to sit there and say, ‘We want to monetize the water?’ No, we don’t,” said Seth Fiack, a rice grower here in Ordbend, on the banks of the Sacramento River, who this year sowed virtually no rice and instead sold his unused water for desperate farmers farther south. “It’s not what we prefer to do, but it’s what we kind of need to, have to.”

These are among the signs of a huge transformation up and down California’s Central Valley, the country’s most lucrative agricultural belt, as it confronts both an exceptional drought and the consequences of years of pumping far too much water out of its aquifers. Across the state, reservoir levels are dropping and electric grids are at risk if hydroelectric dams don’t get enough water to produce power.

Climate change is supercharging the scarcity. Rising temperatures dry out the soil, which in turn can worsen heat waves. This week, temperatures in parts of California and the Pacific Northwest have been shattering records.
By 2040, the San Joaquin Valley is projected to lose at least 535,000 acres of agricultural production. That’s more than a tenth of the area farmed.

And if the drought perseveres and no new water can be found, nearly double that amount of land is projected to go idle, with potentially dire consequences for the nation’s food supply. California’s $50 billion agricultural sector supplies two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts and more than a third of America’s vegetables — the tomatoes, pistachios, grapes and strawberries that line grocery store shelves from coast to coast.

Glimpses of that future are evident now. Vast stretches of land are fallow because there’s no water. New calculations are being made about what crops to grow, how much, where. Millions of dollars are being spent on replenishing the aquifer that has been depleted for so long.

California’s fertile Central Valley begins in the north, where the water begins. In normal times, winter rain and spring snowmelt swell the Sacramento River, nourishing one of the country’s most important rice belts. On an average year, growers around the Sacramento River produce 500,000 acres of sticky, medium-grain rice vital to sushi. Some 40 percent is exported to Asia.

But these are not normal times. There’s less snowpack, and, this year, much less water in the reservoirs and rivers that ultimately irrigate fields, provide spawning places for fish and supply drinking water for 39 million Californians.

That crisis presents rice farmers in the Sacramento Valley, which forms the northern part of the Central Valley, with a tricky choice: Should they plant rice with what water they have, or save themselves the toil and stress and sell their water instead?

Mr. Fiack, a second-generation rice farmer, chose to sell almost all of it.

His one 30-acre field of rice glistens green in the June sunshine, guzzling water that pours out of a wide-mouthed spigot. His remaining 500 acres are bare and brown. What water he would have used to grow rice he has signed away for sale to growers of thirsty crops hundreds of miles south, where water is even more scarce.

At $575 per acre-foot (a volume of water one acre in size, one foot deep) the revenue compares favorably to what he would have made growing rice — without the headaches. It makes “economic sense,” Mr. Fiack said flatly.

Rice is far less lucrative than, say, almonds and walnuts, which is why Mr. Fiack’s fields are surrounded by nut trees and even he is dabbling in walnuts. But rice farmers are uniquely advantaged. Because their lands have been in production for so long, they tend to have first dibs on water that comes out of the Sacramento River, before it is channeled through canals and tunnels down south.

Also, unlike the owners of fruit and nut trees, whose investments would wither in a few weeks without water, rice farmers can leave a field fallow for a year, even two. In the era of climate change, when water can be unreliable, that flexibility is an asset. Rice water transfers have been an important part of California’s drought coping strategy.

This year, rice farmers in the Sacramento Valley will produce around 20 percent less rice.

Not everyone is enthusiastic about that.

Kim Gallagher, a third-generation rice farmer, left fallow only 15 percent of her fields. She worries about the effect on the rice mills and crop-duster pilots who live off rice farming, not to mention the birds that come to winter in the flooded fields. “These are trade-offs every farmer has to make, what they can fallow and what they can’t,” she said. “Everyone has a different number.”

Fritz Durst, a fourth-generation rice farmer, worries that California rice buyers would come to see his region as an unreliable supplier.

He, too, hedged his bets. He is growing rice on about 60 percent of his 527 acres, which enables him to sell the Sacramento River water he would have used on the rest.

But there’s a long-term risk, as he sees it, in selling too much water, too often. You also have people here who are concerned that we’re setting a dangerous precedent,” he said. “If we start allowing our water to go south of the Delta, those people are going to say, ‘Well, you don’t need that water. It’s ours now….’”

History Shaped by Water

The hot, dry San Joaquin Valley became cotton farms at the turn of the 20th century, at the time with water flowing from the north through fields of alfalfa and then strawberries and grapes. Almonds took over as prices soared. And with more demands on the surface water flowing through the river — to maintain river flows, for instance, or flush seawater out of the California Delta — farmers turned increasingly to the water under their land.

It provides 40 percent of the water for California agriculture in a normal year, and far more in dry years. In parts of the state, chiefly in the San Joaquin Valley, at the southern end of the Central Valley, more groundwater is taken out than nature can replenish.

Now, for the first time, under the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, growers in some parts of the San Joaquin Valley face restrictions on how much water they can pump. That is set to transform the landscape. If you can’t pump as much water from under the ground, you simply can’t farm as much land in the San Joaquin Valley.

There’s just no way around that,” said Eric Limas, the son of farmers who now manages one of the most depleted irrigated districts, called Pixley, a checkerboard of almond orchards and dairies. “The numbers just don’t add up.”

So thoroughly have aquifers been depleted that farmers are now investing millions of dollars to put water back into the ground. They’re buying land that can absorb the rains. They’re creating ponds and ditches, carving up the landscape, again, to restore the groundwater squandered for so long.

“That is the single biggest water system adaptation we can do — getting more water into the ground,” said Ellen Hanak, director of the water policy center at the Public Policy Institute of California.

Meanwhile, towns in the Central Valley are beginning to run out of municipal water, including Teviston, just south of Mr. Limas’s office, where town officials have been delivering bottled water to 1,200 residents for nearly two weeks.

Stuart Woolf embodies the changing landscape of the San Joaquin Valley.

Mr. Woolf took over his father’s farm, headquartered in Huron, in 1986, retired most of the cotton his dad grew, switched to tomatoes, bought a factory that turns his tomatoes into tomato paste for ketchup. His operations expanded across 25,000 acres. Its highest value crop: almonds.

Mr. Woolf now sees the next change coming. The rice water from the north won’t come when he needs it. The groundwater restrictions will soon limit his ability to pump.

He has ripped out 400 acres of almonds. He’s not sure he will replant them anytime soon. In the coming years, he estimates he will stop growing on 30 to 40 percent of his land.

He has left one field bare to serve as a pond to recharge the aquifer, bought land in the north, where the water is, close to Mr. Fiack’s rice fields. Now, he is considering replacing some of his crops with another source of revenue altogether: a solar farm, from which he can harvest energy to sell back to the grid.

“Look, I’m a farmer in California. The tools we had to manage drought are getting limited,” he said. “I’ve got to fallow a lot of my ranch.”

Somini Sengupta is an international climate correspondent. She has also covered the Middle East, West Africa and South Asia for The Times and received the 2003 George Polk Award for her work in Congo, Liberia and other conflict zones.

Wall Street Is Thirsting for Your Water —

New York Stock Exchange. Photo Creative Commons, Wikipedia.

This article does not mention One Rock’s partner, Metropoulos & Company, nor have we seen the arrangement they have for sharing the old Nestle Waters North America holdings.  At any rate this article shows that more and more the fate of our water may be decided by lawyers and judges.

And we might add that  Florida is as an innocent toddler in light of our coming water scarcity, conflicts and wars.

Read the complete article here in WhoWhatWhy.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
[email protected]
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum


In 1865, the final year of the American Civil War, a man named David Noble Smith started collecting water from a spring located near a peculiar rock formation resembling an arrowhead in California’s San Bernardino mountains. At the time, this was a few days’ horseback ride from a dusty and obscure place called Los Angeles.

By drawing water from Strawberry Creek before any other white person, Smith staked a claim to owning the water, in the same way other white settlers seized rights to mine in the mountains or farm and ranch in the flatlands: simply by showing up.

Though he was dead by the late 1880s, Smith’s legacy in 2021 is more consequential than legendary Old West robber barons like Leland Stanford. Instead of trifles like railroads and a university, Smith invested in a resource that is invaluable. You just might be drinking “his” water out of a plastic bottle as you read this story. That’s because the water from Smith’s 1865 claim is now sold under  the brand Arrowhead, named for the odd rock face visible from downtown San Bernardino. And the rights to that claim — bought, swapped, sold, and resold for the next 156 years — are now part of the investment portfolio of a New York City private equity firm called One Rock Capital Partners.

While water in the West becomes scarcer and droughts more frequent and more severe — thanks in part to changing weather patterns and rising temperatures triggered by carbon emissions — Wall Street views water as an “asset class,” a commodity like stocks, bonds, and real-estate that can generate enormous returns for shareholders, even in severe droughts. Or maybe, especially in water shortages.

Institutional investors like One Rock are snapping up water rights just like others are snapping up rental properties to lease back to Americans at a profit, as the Wall Street Journal reported in April and as a viral Twitter thread outlined earlier this month. Both can be seen as examples of “rentier capitalism,” in which the owner of a commodity can charge more for delivering the same service if there is less supply.

The implications are staggering. Human life requires clean water. But water is also an excellent investment that, under current market conditions and legal controls, could be monopolized. And existing government controls over crucial human needs like water, which still run on the same creaky framework David Noble Smith used to claim the water in Strawberry Creek, can’t do much about it.

The “key issue,” according to Richard Frank, a water rights expert and law professor at the University of California, Davis, where he directs the California Environmental Law and Policy Center, is a question of ideology: “Whose water is it?”

“Private equity firms are seeing water markets as an opportunity to make money, and the people who would like to commoditize and treat water as a private commodity to buy and sell really don’t care about a healthy potable water supply for people.”

In California, the state Constitution declares that  water “belongs” to all citizens, and the 1914 Water Commission Act grants the state the authority to regulate access for the “public good.” But fierce legal challenges curtailed the Water Commission’s power to curtail pre-1914 water claims like Smith’s. So, private enterprise just pays the government nominal fees to draw that water, based on the antiquated 19th-century legal frameworks that white settlers used to claim property across the frontier.

In One Rock’s case, it pays the US Forest Service $2,100 a year to draw the water from Strawberry Creek using a network of tunnels and boreholes. As legal basis for this claim, the company presented a trove of ancient documents, including Smith’s 1865 claim. That fee was imposed in 2018. Before that, One Rock’s predecessor, Nestle SA, tapped Strawberry Creek for less than $600 a year — and for 26 years used a permit that had expired in 1988.

Irrigation districts that supply California’s agriculture industry and municipal water districts, and provide drinking water and electricity to San Francisco and Los Angeles, all rely on a patchwork of staked-out claims like Smith’s.

All this “gets to the heart of one of the most difficult and unresolved California water problems: the water rights system we have is antiquated: designed and implemented a century ago for a world that no longer exists,” said Peter Gleick, the director emeritus of the Pacific Institute, an Oakland, CA-based water policy think tank.

Despite the increasing frequency and severity of droughts and the demands of a state with nearly 40 million people, there has not been a push to reform or reassert public control over water resources, or for the federal government to take over management from states. This is partly because private entities with existing water rights, like One Rock, are sure to mount lengthy and costly legal battles and demand compensation under a takings clause claim. They’ll also stick Americans who might have no water or dirty water coming out of the tap with a ballooning bill for the clean water they own, which Nestle SA did in Flint, MI. “It’s very scary,” Frank said. “This commoditization of water, how I phrase it, is very concerning.

“Private equity firms are seeing water markets as an opportunity to make money, and the people who would like to commoditize and treat water as a private commodity to buy and sell really don’t care about a healthy potable water supply for people,” he added. “That’s the next big looming issue in the American West, in my opinion.”


In February, One Rock agreed to pay $4.3 billion to acquire the North American bottled water operations of Nestle SA, then-owner of Smith’s water rights, plus a host of others, including Poland Spring and Deer Park. In a tacit nod to Nestle’s status as a toxic brand, One Rock renamed its water division Blue Triton, a reference to the Greek god that “reflects the Company’s role as a guardian of sustainable resources and a provider of fresh water,” One Rock said in a press release.

Last year — the fourth driest year in California since 1877, when record-keeping began, and the first year of the second severe multi-year drought in the state in less than a decade — Nestle drew 58 million gallons from Strawberry Creek, a tributary of the Santa Ana River that provides the drinking water for 750,000 people downstream.

In April, following a five-year investigation, regulators at the California State Water Resources Control Board, issued a cease and desist order. The agency believed One Rock/Blue Triton/Nestle was entitled to no more than 2.4 million gallons; in its rebuttal, the company claimed authority to 88 million gallons.

The dispute will now head to a future, not-as-yet scheduled, Board hearing — and a major test of the government’s power to regulate water. The board could vote to curtail One Rock’s water rights. If that happens, a major lawsuit is surely imminent. All this is complicated by the fact that some federal courts have taken a water-as-private-property point of view pushed by big agriculture and the lawmakers who represent them, Frank said. Ultimately, a Supreme Court with a conservative majority could adjudicate who owns California’s water….

The vision of a future in which a titan of capital like Amazon owns the country’s water rights and leases it back to Americans for profit isn’t dystopian hyperbole. It is possible, and it is legal — and it is in its first stages.

“As long as private companies can extract and mine public water for a minimal fee, while turning it into a costly private commodity to sell back to us, we will see more and more privatization, commodification, and commercialization of water,” Gleick said. “That’s a dangerous prospect given our severe water challenges in the western US.”

Support for Local, Small Farms Announced

Although agriculture is responsible for most of the pollution in the Suwannee and Santa Fe rivers, we must support farms and ranches.  What is necessary for sustainability is that much less fertilizer and water be used.  This must happen whatever it takes – different crops, smaller yields, assistance from the state- whatever it takes.

A good first step is for our agencies and decision-makers to face the fact that continuing the present course is impossible.  That is a big first step for some who are not accustomed to thinking ahead.

Thanks to OSFR board member David Vaina for submitting this article.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
[email protected]
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum

Title:  Support for local, small farms announced

The just-released “2021-2022 Springs Funding Report”  published by the Florida Springs Council draws attention once again on the devastating impact that nitrogen loading continues to have on our springs’ water quality.

That impact is transferred to the Santa Fe River,  As the Florida Springs Institute notes,  “nitrate nitrogen concentrations in individual Santa Fe River springs have increased between 1,000 and 80,000 percent, and by an average of 2,600 percent in the Lower Santa Fe River” over the last seventy years.  As much as 85% of that nitrogen pollution in Florida’s Springs is a result of agricultural practices and the nitrogen overloads in the spring flows overwhelmingly account for the nitrogen problems in the Santa Fe River.

Of course, there are many variables at play when we analyze the Florida springs’ and Santa Fe River’s quality issues but agriculture–and its intensive use of nitrogen fertilizer-is a critical one.  There are, correspondingly, many solutions to excessive nitrogen loads including regulating nonpoint sources of pollution as well as point sources.  This week, one very modest solution was announced by Alachua County’s Office of Resilience, Climate Change, and Sustainability.  A small amount of grant monies will be made available to small farmers and ranchers in the County to support their operations.  Here in Alachua County, there are a number of small certified organic and sustainable farms who may be using less nitrogen fertilizer, and we should encourage any ways to support them.   Small farms are also critical to our local economy and most are very transparent about their agricultural practices and are willing to discuss them at one of the many wonderful farmers’ markets in Alachua County.





Proliferation of Pumping Permits Produces Preposterous Pipeline Proposal



The Santa Fe River is endangered by over-pumping of water from the Floridan Aquifer. Credit: Florida Department of Environmental Regulation


Well, the Suwannee River Water Management District has received another verbal barrage of humiliating insults for their actions which we have already described as science fiction (“More Idiocy At SRWMD.”) And well-deserved these insults are.

Thanks to Craig Pittman, that  master of alliteration, and the Florida Phoenix.

Human greed is the motive of  legislators, government officials and perhaps some judges who accept money or favors from (or who are influenced by) lobbyists so their masters can get  richer.  This puts a few decent human beings in a difficult position of being made to do the impossible:

…[Dr. Amy] Brown said, one of their goals is to continue “meeting demand” while reviving the river. To me that sounds like “We’re going to continue walking down the middle of the railroad track while trying not to get run over by the train that’s barreling straight at us.”

Indeed, instead of resigning and finding work where they don’t have to live a sham, they  sit around and concoct crazy schemes like “proposing patently ridiculous “solutions” that move water around for no reason.” To Pittman’s statement we would add “no good reason,” because there is a reason and it is to portray a false image to the public indicating that they are actually fixing our water problems, which they themselves have caused and continue to cause.

The public must learn the facts that our springs and rivers are being killed off by those in charge of protecting them.   The hard data are there and they show facts, not theories put out by models which can be miss-used  and tweaked to give the result one wants.

Education is paramount.

Read the original article here in the Florida Phoenix.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
[email protected]
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum

Proliferation of pumping permits produces preposterous pipeline proposal

By Craig Pittman – June 17, 2021

I hope you are sitting down. I have some startling news. I have learned that Florida people do not have a great reputation for using the sense that God gave us.

Shocking, isn’t it? Do you need some smelling salts?

Apparently, our Florida men and Florida women are known nationwide for doing crazy stuff like tossing an alligator through a drive-through window, or snorting cremation ashes thinking they’re drugs, or getting into a road rage incident that ends with us running over ourselves. Who knew?

However, it is not true that our official state motto is “Hold my beer,” “Where are my pants?” or “What is WRONG with people?” (although it probably should be that last one).

I mention this because I heard about a crazy thing that a Florida government agency is considering. What makes it even wackier is that it’s supposed to fix a problem the agency itself created.

The late Marjory Stoneman
Douglas. Credit: Abigail B.
Wright of Miranda Productions,
Inc.; Wikimedia Commons.

This concerns an area of North Florida that’s chock full of major and minor springs, many of them owned by the taxpayers as part of the state park system. The springs burst forth from the freshwater aquifer deep beneath our feet, spurting upward to become what Marjory Stoneman Douglas called “bowls of liquid light.” Frequently those springs fuel the currents coursing through the region’s rivers.

As first reported by Politico last week, the Suwannee River Water Management District is considering “spending hundreds of millions of dollars to pipe Suwannee River water to nearby Ichetucknee Springs State Park to restore the aquifer that feeds the springs.”

Building the Suwannee-to-Ichetucknee pipeline — a big one, 6 feet in diameter — is one option the district’s staff presented to the agency’s governing board “for restoring flows in the Santa Fe River near Fort White,” the story noted.

Yes, you read that right: The agency is considering piping water taken from one spring-fed river to bolster the flow of another spring-fed river less than 20 miles away.

This is a little like withdrawing $100 from the ATM and then walking into the bank to deposit it back in your account. You’re not likely to show a big profit from that transaction.

The Santa Fe River. Credit: DEP

In the Politico story, Robert Knight, executive director of the Florida Springs Institute and a scientist with nearly 40 years of experience studying the state’s springs, used a highly technical term to describe this government proposal: “Totally crazy.”

When I talked to him about it this week, Knight reiterated that carefully considered statement and added, “They are so far outside the range of reality, it’s just disgusting.”

Why, you may ask, would a government agency run by a board of gubernatorial appointees want to spend an estimated $200 million to $500 million dollars of the taxpayers’ money building a system to ship large quantities of water from one river to another?

Because the Santa Fe has lost so much of its natural flow that it’s below the standard the Suwannee River water agency set seven years ago for what’s healthy. If a river could be thirsty, this one would qualify.

“But wait,” you say, “Suwannee River Water Management District — that name rings a bell as loud as Big Ben! Wasn’t that agency in the news just recently?”

“Why yes,” I reply, and then I compliment you on your excellent memory. It sometimes seems that Florida is run by a gang of destructive amnesiacs who keep repeating the same mistakes over and over, so remembering something like that is impressive. Good job, you!

What you’re recalling is a controversial vote the water management board took a mere four months ago. Despite vocal opposition, the board gave unanimous approval to a new permit for a company called Seven Springs Water.

The permit allows Seven Springs to pump 984,000 gallons a day out of the aquifer and sell it to Nestlé to bottle. Except for ponying up for the cost of the permit, neither Seven Springs nor Nestlé will pay the state a dime for sucking up all that water and selling it.

The 984,000 gallons-a-day permit the agency’s board approved provides a big increase from the 265,000 gallons a day that Seven Springs had been pumping for years.

Some of the people who opposed that permit warned the water agency’s board members about how pumping too much water from the aquifer was already hurting the flow of rivers nearby and this would make the problem worse. But the board gave it the green light anyway.

Now that same agency is trying to figure out how to cope with the lower flow of the rivers. Hmmmm, it’s almost like there’s some sort of a connection there. I wonder what it could be.

To pursue this question, I talked to Amy Brown, the water supply chief at the Suwannee River Water Management District. I asked her why the flow in the Santa Fe had dropped to such an alarming point. She said it was “due to the pumping in that basin.”

I asked how the pumping had caused this problem.

“The withdrawals are greater than what it can sustain,” she said.

But wait, I said, isn’t your agency — which employs a bunch of hydrology experts — in charge of issuing the permits for all those water withdrawals? How, then, did we get into such a crisis?

“That’s not something I am comfortable speaking to,” she told me.

The last time I heard a government official employ a phrase like that, it meant, “My bosses screwed up, but I can’t say that out loud.” I leave it to you, dear reader, to draw your own conclusions.

No to the Dr. No option

As you might guess, there are practical problems with the pipeline proposal (try saying that three times real fast).

One is that the agency would only take water from the Suwannee during times when it’s at flood stage. That means the agency’s super-expensive aquifer-boosting pipeline would be used only occasionally, which hardly seems like a wise use of money.

Another is that the river water — which has been turned a light brown by decaying vegetation, unlike the gin-clear aquifer — is likely to require treatment before it goes into the aquifer. Brown acknowledged the agency would probably need to remove nitrate pollution, bacteria, and other things you wouldn’t want to show up in your drinking water supply. So there’s another expense on top of the pipeline itself.

Brown told me that this pipeline proposal is just one of the ideas they’re looking into this summer, explaining, “At this point, it’s just a concept.”

Another concept they pitched to their board involves paying tree farms a yet-unknown amount of money to grow fewer trees, so more rain would seep into the aquifer and not be sucked up by tree roots. That sounds totally practical, doesn’t it?

What about, I said, simply rejecting permit requests? Alas, the “Dr. No” option appears to be off the table.

Regulatory changes, she told me, “are still being worked out.” They might include issuing permits for shorter periods than 20 years or requiring anyone who wants to pump, say, 100,000 gallons a day out of the aquifer to find a way to offset that water loss.

I didn’t hear the words “reject permits” in there anywhere. Instead, Brown said, one of their goals is to continue “meeting demand” while reviving the river. To me that sounds like “We’re going to continue walking down the middle of the railroad track while trying not to get run over by the train that’s barreling straight at us.”

Ain’t doing a thing for the springs

Our aquifer’s contents do not stretch to infinity. They have limits, and if we haven’t already crossed them, then we’re closing in.

In 2009, the Florida Geological Survey published a report that analyzed data collected from the springs from 1991 to 2003. The report documented the clear decline of these once-glorious water sources — the drop in flows from overpumping of the aquifer, along with a rise in pollution that fueled algae blooms.

But there was one thing in that report that was a real surprise.

“The most unexpected conclusion,” Jonathan Arthur, the state’s chief geologist, told me in 2014, “was the saline indicators increasing in the springs.”

The Santa Fe River. Credit: DEP

Florida’s freshwater aquifer is not the only liquid sloshing around underground. It floats on what remains of an ancient saltwater sea. For centuries, that sea was held in check by the massive lens of fresh water above it.

But the more million-gallon-a-day permits the water agencies issue, the less pressure remains to hold that saltwater in place. It starts moving upward, replacing the fresh water. The report pointed out that saltwater rising like that “can adversely affect the long-term sustainability of Florida’s water resource.” That’s an understatement of epic proportions.

Arthur told me back then that he hoped to get funding for a follow-up report using more current data. It would likely show the salt intrusion, lost flows, and increased pollution all getting worse.

That funding never showed up, so there’s never been a second report, Knight told me. Meanwhile the state continues approving water-use permits with all the restraint of a dentist handing out Halloween candy to trick-or-treating future patients.

Not only is Florida issuing permits to pump out so much fresh water that it’s letting the salty stuff in, but it’s basing the permitting decisions on bad science. The calculations of what the aquifer can handle are grounded (pardon the pun) in a computer model showing how fast water moves around.

But the model assumes that everything beneath our feet is sand and gravel. That assumption is wrong.

Florida geology around the springs consists of a limestone formation known as karst, which contains so many big holes it resembles a giant slab of Swiss cheese. (It doesn’t taste as good, though.)

Water moves faster through karst than it does through sand and gravel, which means every permit that’s based on the flawed computer model contains incorrect calculations about the impact of the pumping.

Hydrologists pointed out this flaw to the water agencies as far back as 2007, “but they’re still using the exact same type of model,” Knight said. If the people in charge used a more accurate model, they might have to stop handing out so many water permits. You wouldn’t want that, would you?

The good news is the state is spending millions of your dollars to try to repair its declining springs. The bad news, according to Ryan Smart of the Florida Springs Council, is that the state is spending a lot of that money on things that — to paraphrase Duke Ellington — don’t do a thing for the springs, so they don’t mean a thing.

When I asked Smart, the council’s executive director, for examples of this, he rattled off several. My favorite one calls for spending $1.8 million to build a new water storage tank for the city of Newberry “to increase capacity.”

How do you increase capacity? By pumping even more water out of the ground.

At the rate we’re going, Smart said, “it’s going to take 263 years to meet the state’s water quality goals.” I fear we don’t have that long.

To sum up: Our government has allowed too much water to be pumped from the ground, basing bad permitting decisions on faulty computer models. As a result, our rivers and springs are drying up and our aquifer is turning salty. To combat this, we’re spending taxpayer money on things that don’t fix the problem and proposing patently ridiculous “solutions” that move water around for no reason.

Gee, I wonder how Florida ever got that national reputation for idiotic, self-destructive behavior. Now, if someone will hold my beer, I’ll go find my pants.

Donation of Land Adds Protection to Santa Fe River


During these times when water bottling factories and phosphate mines threaten our river, and when our own DEP is allowing the slow death our our springs and rivers, it is refreshing to see steps being taken NOT to kill our river but preserve it.

Our thanks to the generous Lundgrens for helping preserve portions of our upper Santa Fe River.

Thanks also to OSFR members Kristin Rubin, David Vaina and Mike Roth for links.

Read the complete article here at Alachua County.us News.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
[email protected]
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum

Donation of Land Adds Protection to Santa Fe River

Published on 5/14/2021
>Last updated: 5/14/2021 11:45 AM
Alachua County has received a major donation of land on the Santa Fe River from Dr. Dale A. and Helen C. Lundgren. The property will be managed under the Alachua County Forever program and will add permanent protection to the Santa Fe River.

>The 236-acre Lundgren property was a joint gift by the Lundgrens to Alachua County, Alachua Conservation Trust (ACT), and Conservation Florida, two local land trusts. ACT and Conservation Florida were granted a conservation easement over the property before ownership was transferred to the County. The donors requested this arrangement to ensure that their beloved property would remain undeveloped, further protecting their conservation legacy.

>The property lies in the Upper Santa Fe River basin, about five miles northwest of Waldo. It has almost a mile of frontage on the Santa Fe River and includes the Moccasin Branch, a pristine tributary of the river. There are a variety of natural communities in good to excellent condition, including sandhill, floodplain forest, and dome swamp.

The property will provide numerous environmental benefits, including protecting water quality, storing floodwaters, and providing wildlife habitat. It will be managed as a preserve by the Office of Land Conservation and Management under the Alachua County Forever program. Development of public access and recreational amenities is anticipated once the management planning process is complete.

Re-inventing Minimum Flows and Levels–

All photos courtesy of Don Coble, Managing Editor Clay Today


We recently posted about the Black Creek water transfer project (“Utilities challenge strategy to raise Keystone Heights lake levels; costs questioned.”) where we stated that the utilities were protesting for the wrong reasons.

The protest should  be not about money but about trying to solve an over-pumping problem by taking water away from somewhere else and moving it to where it can be pumped out again when Jacksonville decides it needs more water to bring in more homes and developments.

Along those same lines, it is truly amazing to see how a Florida water management district, in this case the St Johns River Water Management District, can solve the water problems by magically decreeing a brand new, made-to-order set of Minimum Flows and Levels.  We see that among the water districts, the MFLs seem intricately attached to industry’s needs at the moment.  When industry demands more water, the districts obligingly find ways that the rivers can yield more water, or they invent ways to tweak a model so that they can amend the MFLs.  Another trick is that they can ignore hard data on hand and use a model to make a guess that helps them reach the end they seek.

This latest miracle took place when “the district’s board voted unanimously to protect lakes Brooklyn and Geneva from “significant harm due to groundwater pumping.”

If the cause is too much groundwater pumping then the solution is less pumping.  But that solution would cost someone money and it would demand political will and backbone and result in lawsuits and raise all kinds of problems that Florida’s leaders are not yet ready to face.

OSFR thanks Don Coble, Managing Editor of Clay Today for permission to use his photos.

Read the complete article here in Clay Today.
>Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
[email protected]
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum

SJRWMD votes to push ahead with Black Creek Project

Utility companies vow to fight revised minimum flow levels, cost overruns


By Don Coble [email protected]
KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – The St. Johns River Water Management District’s governing board wasn’t threatened or swayed by a challenge from three North Florida utility companies Tuesday morning when it approved amended minimum flow levels (MFLs) for two habitually dry lakes in the southwest corner of Clay County.

A week after the North Florida Utility Coordinating Group requested a hearing in front of an administrative law judge to challenge changes to MLFs, the district’s board voted unanimously to protect lakes Brooklyn and Geneva from “significant harm due to groundwater pumping that turned large swatches of the lakes into a dry, crusty wasteland.

In the process, the board also reaffirmed its commitment to the Black Creek Water Resource Development Project which eventually will send water from the Black Creek to Lake Brooklyn. The project will include a 17-mile pipeline that eventually will pump 10 million gallons of water a day into Lake Brooklyn – and raise the water level there by almost 10 feet.

“On most parts Brooklyn you need a dune buggy, not a boat,” said district board chairman Douglas Burnett. “The water is so low.”

Carolyn Duke, who’s lived in Keystone Heights for nearly 41 years, said there’s only been water in Lake Brooklyn near her house just three times since 2005. “It’s dry and growing grass now,” she said.

Another resident said the shoreline on Lake Geneva has receded by more than 200 feet in the past few years. Docks that once hovered over a lake now look like second-story treehouses.

Lakes Brooklyn and Geneva are sandhill lakes within the upper Etonia Creek chain of lakes. Minimum levels for both systems were originally adopted in January 1996 based upon the best available information at the time.

The St. Johns River Water Management District said a new study that “included a rigorous review of potential metrics, along with additional data collection and analyses, that has resulted in the most appropriate recommended minimum levels for lakes Brooklyn and Geneva. MFLs represent the limit at which further withdrawals would be significantly harmful to the water resources or ecology of an area.

The board heard from more than 30 residents, many wearing red shirts to support the Save Our Lakes organization, at the district’s headquarters in Palatka. Many made passionate, sometimes angry, pleas to complete the Black Creek Project.

Former State Senator and SJRWMD vice chairman Rob Bradley wasn’t happy NFUCG lumped the MLF revision with the Black Creek Project into the same argument.

“Those are two separate issues,” he said. “They [utilities] don’t have to participate in the Black Creek Project, but they do have to participate in repairing the damage at these lakes. Because Keystone Heights is a recharge area, it has born the brunt of development. We want the utilities who draw the most from this aquifer to participate in its recovery.

“[Tuesday] was an important step in establishing MFLs for the Keystone Heights region. Mission accomplished.”

Dwindling water levels have been years in the making
>Lake levels have dropped to alarmingly-low, if not barren, levels for years. A combination of limestone ground that allows water to seep into the aquifer, a lack of significant rain and a lack of policies to replenish repleted withdrawals are the primary reasons the once-flourishing lakes have become prairies of rotting fish and patchy grassland.

One Keystone Heights resident summed up the passion of the group with his brief comment: “We not only need to pass the Black Creek Project; we need to speed it up!”

When the board agreed to amend the MFL levels, the meeting was interrupted by cheers and clapping.

According to the SJRWMD, the reevaluated minimum levels will be used as a basis for imposing limitations on groundwater and surface water withdrawals in the District’s consumptive use permitting process and for reviewing proposed surface water management systems in the environmental resource permitting process.

Environmental values may include the habitat needed for native plant and animal species, as well as the many human uses of water such as navigation, recreation and aesthetics.

MFLs are one tool used for setting limits on groundwater and surface water withdrawals. Establishing MFLs is an important component of the District’s work of planning for adequate water supplies for today and for future generations while also protecting water resources within the District.

Three of the eight utility companies that make up the NFUCG – JEA, Clay Utilities Authority and Gainesville Regional Utilities – want an administrative hearing because they said they have to pay a significant part of the bill to complete the Black Creek Project. SJRWMD already got nearly $50 million from state and local funds for the $81 million project, but it’s well short of a $15 million filtering system to remove the natural dark tannins and nutrients produced by decaying vegetation in Black Creek that was added to the project last year. Although the utility group, which has a combined 1.2 million customers, gets its water from the aquafer that’s anchored by lakes in Keystone Heights, it doesn’t want to be responsible for a what it feels in an unfair portion of the difference.

The other members of the utility group include: City of Atlantic Beach, City of Neptune Beach, Town of Orange Park, City of Jacksonville Beach and St. Johns County.

“The utilities, their duty is to make sure there is reliable water available today and going into the future,” said Nicolas Porter, an attorney with de la Parte & Gilbert, which represents NFUCG. “Part of that is understanding what the impacts are going to be of regulations and how that is going to affect our customers, how that’s going to affect our planning.

“As you know, we have significant concerns about the MFLs that stem from a couple things. We have some technical concerns about the way the MFLs are derived. We also have some concerns what the implications are for the MFLs in terms of planning and costs, those things that I’ve mentioned. These are all public agencies. It’s important for us to understand what the costs are so we can plan.

“I know our previous comments have been entered into the record already, we do not want to engage in litigation. We don’t want to waste money of taxpayers, or anybody else fighting about these things. We understand the Black Creek Project is something the district is working on. The utility group thinks it’s a good project. It’s a project that, hopefully, will address the concerns of the people that are here today and everybody in the region.

“I want to make it clear: the utility group members are more than willing to pay their fair share of participating in the Black Creek Project. We don’t want to delay. We think this can be a win-win.”

Burnett was quick to respond.

“I’m glad you’re planning. We are, too,” he said. “Statue drives our planning. That’s how we got to the point we are. I understand your position. I also understand your customers may have to pay a little bit more. It’s not a lot – a few cents a month.”

Clay Utilities’ bill for the Black Creek Project is $8.7 million

Clay County Utilities Authority said it was asked to pay $8.7 million for the Black Creek Project, while JEA was asked to chip in nearly $14 million, CCUA public relations officer Celeste Goldberg said.

CCUA released the following statement shortly after Tuesday’s meeting:

“St. Johns River Water Management District is a valued partner in these endeavors. Based on SJRWMD studies, the Black Creek Water Resource Development Project is the only effective way to address the water demand impacts described in the MFLs. At this moment, we have not reached an agreement with the SJRWMD regarding the equitable allocation of responsibility to address the impacts for four public water suppliers. To protect the legal rights of our customers in the various rule processes underway, CCUA along with neighboring utilities filed legal petitions because an agreement with the SJRWMD could not be negotiated within required time periods. We are continuing to work toward a solution that represents our customers’ interests as well as advances the Black Creek Project to address the environmental issues with the Keystone Heights Lakes.”

Board members were presented with three Lower Cost Regulatory Alternatives by the NFUCG. The first calls for setting the minimum water levels for both lakes using the levels equivalent to the minimum infrequent high level and excluding the four most restrictive environmental metrics used by the district to determine the minimum levels. The second sets the minimum levels for the lakes including three of the four most restrictive environmental metrics used by the district, but using a 1957 baseline pumping condition instead of the “no pumping” baseline condition used in the proposed rules. The third creates a new recovery rule that would obligate the district to fully fund a water resource development project to offset all existing and projected impacts from all consumptive uses of water through 2045.

Bradley was incensed by the first option, especially since it would allow Lake Brooklyn to deteriorate into a grassy wetland instead of a lake….

Both DeSantis & Frazer a waste of time and taxpayer money

What we see here is another disappointment in our struggle to conserve Florida’s fast-depleting water resources.  We also see further evidence of what we already know, that DeSantis is nothing but hot air and smoke when it comes to fixing those water problems.

Frazer actually had some good advice from some of his task force members, who saw the sources of pollution and wanted to fix them instead of putting on more Band-Aids and window dressing.

But for whatever their reasons,  Frazer did not support and DeSantis blocked those fixes.  And  both wasted taxpayer money big time.

This is a sad story and so typical of politics and Florida and is Florida politics incarnate.

Accountability we do not have in our state leaders.

Thank goodness we have Craig Pittman in Florida.

Read the complete article here in Florida Phoenix.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
[email protected]
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum

FL’s first chief science officer talks about the job — and the controversy

Last week, I had coffee with a scientist named Tom Frazer. I was trying to nudge him to say some things about his former boss, but he was choosing his words verrrrry carefully.

We sat at a sidewalk table in downtown St. Petersburg, both of us fully vaccinated but still maintaining our social distance, because that’s what science says is safe. Frazer is all about following what science says.

Frazer is a tall, sandy-haired white man with a dark mustache and goatee. He looks more like the San Diego surfer dude he used to be than the academic he is now. He’s dean of the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida but, before that job, he served as Florida’s very first chief science officer.

We met to discuss his tenure working for Gov. Ron DeSantis, who had created the position Frazer held for — well, we’ll get to that complicated question in a minute.

Tom Frazer. Credit: USF

This was Frazer’s first long interview after leaving the job, but don’t get your hopes up. He spilled neither his coffee nor any secrets from inside the DeSantis administration. If you were hoping for juicy anecdotes about the governor rattling a pair of steel ball bearings in his hand while ranting about strawberries, I’m sorry.

Instead, we talked about what Frazer did and how people reacted to that. While Frazer consulted with several state agencies on everything from climate change to saving endangered corals, his primary job was chairing a task force charged with figuring out how to stop the repeated blooms of blue-green toxic algae in Lake Okeechobee.

The five-member panel was packed with people who knew as much or more about Florida’s water quality woes as Frazer himself.

“There’s a ton of expertise in the state of Florida and we drew upon that expertise,” he told me.

Their focus was on identifying sources of the nutrient pollution that fuels the algae and suggesting ways to stop them. The task force put out a “consensus statement” with recommendations. That statement then became the basis for a piece of legislation last year that lawmakers dubbed the Clean Waterways Act.

They did not put quotes around “clean” but they probably should have. The version that passed — which was supported by agriculture and development interests — turned out to be so watered down (ha ha, puns are funny!) that environmental groups urged the governor to veto the bill and start over. Instead, he signed it.

While legislators were still considering it, Frazer told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that the watered-down bill was “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 environmental groups that opposed the bill were aghast. Frazer’s endorsement seemed at best disingenuous and at worst a deliberate attempt to mislead.

“His principal legacy is greenwashing the governor and Legislature while they refused to take even the minimum steps of fixing the algae problem,” said Ryan Smart of the Florida Springs Council.

Frazer now says he expressed himself poorly.

“In hindsight, I should have said ‘most comprehensive,’ instead of ‘most progressive,” he told me. “Sometimes you make the wrong word choice.”

Nevertheless, he does not apologize for backing such a badly flawed bill.

“The alternative was no action,” he insisted. In that there was a bill at all “there was progress, and there will continue to be progress.”

But will there? When a legislator filed a bill this year that would have actually implemented some of the task force recommendations, Frazer did not endorse it, despite pleas from environmental groups.

“That’s not my job,” he told me. He wasn’t hired to lobby for bills but to talk about science, he said, despite his advocacy for a bill the previous year.

Frazer wasn’t alone. No other scientists from the task force endorsed the bill that would have implemented their recommendations. And the governor didn’t exactly run to the top of the 22-story Capitol with a bullhorn to proclaim his support. As a result, the bill never went anywhere — and, once again, we’re facing blooms of toxic blue-green algae in Lake Okeechobee.

I asked Frazer if he felt frustrated about the compromises required to get the Legislature to pass any bill regarding water pollution when that might be seen as restricting agriculture and other industries.

“I try not to comment that,” he told me.

I feel like that non-answer was kind of an answer, don’t you?

Shhh, don’t talk about it

Because Frazer was so reticent, let me tell you a story involving him that I think encapsulates a lot of what’s been going since DeSantis took office in January 2019.

As a candidate, DeSantis promised to create the posts of chief science officer and chief resilience officer. One would advise state agencies on the proper scientific approach to environmental problems. The other would oversee the state’s efforts to adapt to climate change — a subject that former Gov. Rick Scott always treated as if someone had just suggested setting fire to his Navy cap.

In April 2019, DeSantis announced he was appointing Frazer “to coordinate and prioritize scientific data, research, monitoring, and analysis needs to ensure alignment with current and emerging environmental concerns most pressing to Floridians.” Frazer would continue to hold his $176,775-a-year position at the University of Florida while also occupying the newly created $148,000-a-year science officer post.

Then, in August 2019, DeSantis named Julia Nesheiwat as the chief resilience officer. Unlike Frazer, who holds a Ph.D. in biological sciences, Nesheiwat had zero background in the subject she would oversee.

Nevertheless, Nesherwat traveled the state interviewing local officials and wrote a report about what she found. In February 2020 she quit, just six months after she started, to take a job in national security.

Despite requests from the press, the governor’s office refused to make her report public until April 2020. I don’t think the reason for the delay was because they were embarrassed at how complimentary she’d been.

On the contrary, Nesherwat wrote that Florida’s climate efforts were disjointed, local governments were feeling overwhelmed trying to deal with it on their own, and the state needed to take the lead.

Did DeSantis immediately leap to appoint a successor who would take the report and run with it? He did not. Instead, DEP secretary Noah Valenstein would fill in. More than a year later, Valenstein remains the fill-in resiliency officer, meaning no one is working on the issue full-time — if at all.

And what about the chief science officer? Frazer’s last Blue-Green Algae Task Force meeting adjourned in November, with no further meetings scheduled. What was he doing to earn that big salary?

Rumors began flying even before that, in August 2020, that Frazer had followed Nesherwat out the door. He had just landed the USF job and was also chairing the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, so the idea that he was still working that third job seemed improbable. I tried to track down what was going on, but nobody would confirm anything.

Months passed. Then, on March 12, DeSantis’ office announced that Frazer had accepted an appointment to the state’s Environmental Regulatory Commission, noting that he had “previously … served as the state of Florida’s first chief science officer.” The past tense strongly indicated that he’d quit as science officer — but still there was no announcement.

Cris Costello, a longtime organizer with the Sierra Club in Florida, says she called half a dozen state officials trying to find out if Frazer was still the science officer but couldn’t get a straight answer.

“I couldn’t even get them to tell me if he was still an employee of the state,” she said.

At last, on March 30, “at a press conference … praising an Everglades restoration project, Gov. Ron DeSantis made an unrelated surprise announcement: Florida’s first-ever chief science officer, Thomas K. ‘Tom’ Frazer, had left the post,” the Florida Phoenix reported.

“How long the post had been vacant was unclear. DeSantis said only that Frazer had gone to work as a professor and dean at the University of South Florida, and that the new chief science officer is Mark Rains, which also was a surprise at the news conference. Rains, too, is a professor at USF.”

During our coffee confab, I asked Frazer exactly when he left the job of chief science officer, which was under the DEP. He replied, “I’d rather let the agency answer that.”

But the agency never would. After I badgered him about it, Frazer told me his official last day as chief science officer was March 12. When he took the USF post, he said, he’d worked with DEP officials “to transition out of that job,” staying on until he’d been replaced.

So why wouldn’t the DeSantis administration just tell the public that? Why treat Frazer’s departure the way the members of Fight Club treated talking about Fight Club?

For the same reason, I think, that the DeSantis administration sat on Nesheiwat’s report for months. There’s a general arrogance toward the people they’re supposed to serve, a sense that the voters don’t deserve to know how their money is being spent and a hostility toward reporters who dare to ask about such things.

This, after all, is the governor who boasted about opening bars, restaurants, and schools despite the pandemic while keeping the Governor’s Mansion closed to the public — even though it’s owned by the taxpayers.

I checked my impression with Steve Bousquet, a South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist who’s been covering Tallahassee for three decades. He told me that DeSantis is the most secretive of the six governors he’s covered.

“He conceals his daily schedule and he’s openly hostile to the media … because it plays well with the base,” Bousquet said. He added that DeSantis is the only governor he’s ever seen refuse to take questions at a press conference.

Perhaps one reason for the secrecy: DeSantis seems to sing a different tune in private from what he says in public. The governor who touted science and climate resilience for Florida apparently doesn’t really think those things are important.

Last December, Politico got hold of a tape of a speech he made behind closed doors to a pro-development business group, Associated Industries of Florida. In the speech, he scoffed at science and predicted the Biden administration would squander its political capital pursuing “crazy stuff” — including climate change, which he said was not a major issue.

It sure is a major issue here in Florida, though — a state that’s flatter than Kansas and surrounded on three sides by rising seas.

Growing state, growing pollution problems

Frazer’s departure has left environmental activists disappointed about what he was able to accomplish.

Good ideas came out of the task force he led, “but many of us were frustrated about the lack of follow-through,” said Eve Samples, executive director of the Friends of the Everglades.

She plans to watch his successor carefully: “If he’s hamstrung, then we’ll know that this position was designed to be hamstrung.”.

Frazer, as we drank our coffee, said he never felt constrained — but he also recognized that scientific solutions may not be acceptable to politicians.

“I always felt free to share the science,” he said. “I realize that all decisions, all policies, are not developed entirely based on science.”

As we talked, he said something that struck me as the one of the best explanations I’d heard about why Florida’s water pollution and toxic algae problems have become so dire lately: Uncontrolled development that overwhelms sewer and wastewater systems built decades before.

“Florida continues to increase its population size,” Frazer said. “With that come changes. We have to be able to plan accordingly for that growth. Otherwise, we’ll never get ahead of the problem.”

Gee, if only some scientist could convince the governor to do something about that.


Craig Pittman

Craig Pittman is a native Floridian. In 30 years at the Tampa Bay Times, he won numerous state and national awards for his environmental reporting. He is the author of five books, including the New York Times bestseller Oh, Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country, which won a gold medal from the Florida Book Awards. His latest, published in 2020, is Cat Tale: The Wild, Weird Battle to Save the Florida Panther. The Florida Heritage Book Festival recently named him a Florida Literary Legend. Craig is co-host of the “Welcome to Florida” podcast. He lives in St. Petersburg with his wife and children.

Stephanie Murphy Calls on FWS to Investigate Rising Number of Manatee Deaths —



If what the experts say is true, that the manatees are starving to death because our water districts have given our water away to business and industry instead of taking care of it as the law requires, then…..

Then words do not suffice.  Then it is way past time to make some fundamental adjustments.

Then when will it stop?  When will the people throw out those who allow this?

Maybe when they have killed the last manatee.

Read the entire article here at Florida Daily.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
[email protected]
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum

Stephanie Murphy Calls on FWS to Investigate Rising Number of Manatee Deaths



U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., sent a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) requesting the federal agency investigate the sharp increase in Florida manatee deaths in the Indian River Lagoon and other Florida waterways.

Between January 1 and February 26 of this year, the state recorded 403 manatee deaths, about triple the normal level. According to recent reports, manatees may be starving due to a decline in seagrass, their primary food source.

“The spike in manatee deaths is of great concern to many Floridians,” said Murphy last week. “I’ve asked federal government experts to swiftly examine what is occurring, if human actions are contributing, and to take any and all appropriate actions to help address the problem.”

In her letter to FWS, Murphy asked the agency to determine whether these manatee deaths constitute a Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Event (UME). Under federal law, a UME is defined as “a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response.”

The Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events developed seven criteria, any one of which can constitute a UME. If a UME is designated, it authorizes a federal investigation designed to minimize deaths, to determine the cause of the event, to determine the effect of the event on the population, and to identify the role of environmental parameters in the event.

In her letter to FWS, Murphy asked the agency to respond to a series of questions, including whether a UME was designated or was under consideration; what steps FWS or other federal agencies could take to mitigate the severity of this event; what role non-profit conservation groups could play to mitigate the severity of this event; what actions FWS or other federal agencies could take to address water quality problems in the Indian River Lagoon, which may cause a decline in manatees’ food source; and what resources were being dedicated to monitor and manage manatee populations in the southeast United States.

The West Indian Manatee is one of Florida’s environmental keystone species. The population in the southeastern United States was as small as 1,300 in the early 1990s and has grown to 6,500 due to conservation efforts. For information on Florida manatee mortality rates, click here.

The full text of Murphy’s letter to FWS is below.

Dear Principal Deputy Director Williams:

In light of recent reports suggesting a sharp spike in deaths among West Indian Manatees in Florida’s waterways, including in the Indian River Lagoon, I write to respectfully request that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) investigate this matter to determine if this event qualifies as a Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Event (UME).

As you know, pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, a UME is defined as “a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response.” The Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events has developed seven criteria, any one of which can constitute a UME. They include a temporal change in morbidity or mortality, especially among species that are threatened or endangered. If a UME is designated, it authorizes a federal investigation designed to minimize deaths, determine the cause of the event, determine the effect of the event on the population, and to identify the role of environmental parameters in the event.

The West Indian Manatee is one of Florida’s environmental keystone species. The population in the southeastern United States was as small as 1,300 in the early 1990s and has grown to 6,500 due to conservation efforts. According to data from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), there were 403 manatee deaths in Florida between January 1, 2021 and February 26, 2021, over 30 percent of which occurred in the Indian River Lagoon. This is in stark contrast to the 637 manatee deaths that occurred in all of 2020 and the five-year average of 578 annual deaths that occurred between 2016 and 2020. Reports indicate that many manatees may be starving due to a decline in seagrass, their primary food source.

In light of the foregoing, I request that you please provide answers to the following questions:

    • Has the Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events recently declared an UME or is a declaration under consideration in connection with this event?
    • Whether or not a UME is declared, what steps can be taken by FWS or other federal agencies to mitigate the severity of this event?
    • What role can non-profit conservation groups play to mitigate the severity of this event?
    • What actions can FWS or other federal agencies take to address water quality problems in the Indian River Lagoon, which scientists believe may be causing the decline of the West Indian Manatee food source?
    • What resources are being dedicated and what initiatives are being conducted, if any, to monitor and manage manatee populations in the southeast United States?
    • When will FWS conduct the next West Indian Manatee 5-year review?

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Fla. failing to save springs from decline — a deliberate and premeditated policy

 Santa Fe River, Columbia Co. Photo by Jim Tatum


This editorial is truth and fact:  our state is deliberately and consistently allowing the death of our springs and rivers, and they are doing it to promote business and industry.

We have strong and adequate laws to protect our waters, but the state cheats by juggling figures, leaving out data which does not help their case, or they simply ignore the written statue.  This is done in the DEP and in the water districts.

Good water scientists in the water districts have been fired when they objected to the bad science they were expected to use.

Two main causes of the death are  over-pumping and excess fertilizer.  The state is not ready to curtail either because our leaders are controlled by lobbyists.

Reliable, accountable sources lately have also questioned  whether some of our administrative law judges may be politically influenced to follow state policy, since some of their rulings defy logic.

Since it is legal to bribe our lawmakers in Tallahassee, the problem seems insurmountable.  We have a few ethical leaders in the Legislature, but way too few.

Read the entire article in the Gainesville Sun.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
[email protected]
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum


Fla. failing to save springs from decline

The Gainesville Sun Editorial Board USA TODAY NETWORK

The decline of Florida’s natural springs is obvious to see, through both the eye test and scientific data showing that many springs have experienced decreasing flows and increasing pollution.

Yet the deck is stacked against those seeking to stop, or even slow down, the groundwater withdrawals and nutrient pollution causing the problem.

In two recent cases, the efforts of groups advocating for springs were rejected by administrative law judges. The decisions give state regulators another excuse to do the bare minimum under laws intended to protect springs and the groundwater providing their flow as well as the state’s drinking water supply.

The first case involved a permit allowing nearly 1 million gallons of groundwater per day to be withdrawn for Nestle’s water-bottling plant near High Springs. The Suwannee River Water Management District initially recommended denying the permit to Seven Springs Water Co., which pays just a $115 one-time permit fee to the state and gets paid an undisclosed amount by Nestle for the water.

After an appeal, however, an administrative law judge ruled in January that Seven Springs met legal requirements to withdraw groundwater that would otherwise flow through the springs system at Ginnie Springs into the Santa Fe River. On Tuesday, the Suwannee district’s governing board approved the permit as board members suggested they were worried about losing another costly legal challenge.

A second case provided more evidence of the uphill battle faced by those defending Florida’s environment. A coalition of springs advocates filed a legal challenge over state Basin Management Action Plans that are supposed to reduce pollution in springs, but are so weak that they just allow more nutrient-fueled algae growth and loss of biodiversity.

The springs systems in the challenge included Ichetucknee Springs and others flowing to the Sante [sic] Fe; Manatee, Fanning and other springs flowing into the Suwannee River; and Silver and Rainbow springs in Marion County. Springs advocates found that plans for the springs failed to meet the state’s own requirements, used questionable science and wouldn’t restore them, but an administrative judge rejected their arguments.

The judge ruled that the state’s ‘only requirement was to fill in the blanks, regardless of whether or not what they wrote was credible or backed by science,’ Florida Springs Council Executive Director Ryan Smart told the Orlando Sentinel.

The decline of springs has been well-documented. A recent report on the Santa Fe River from the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, for example, found its flow has been significantly decreasing while pollution it in has been significantly increasing due to these problems in the springs that largely feed it.

Other springs are similarly suffering due to groundwater pollution from agricultural operations, septic tanks and other sources at the same time excessive groundwater withdrawals are choking their flow. State agencies such as the water management districts and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection are allowing it to happen, with taxpayers footing the bill for the restoration projects needed as a result….

Hillsborough County achieves Platinum LEED certification, first in Florida third in nation


City of Tampa and Hillsborough River entering Tampa Bay. Photo by Jim Tatum

No this is not the Santa Fe River nor even is it Alachua County, but the City Tampa and Hillsborough County have the leadership required to merit this designation, third in the nation and a model for the rest of Florida.

This is not something new, as we must commend our leadership also for restoring the waters of Tampa Bay to a purity equal to around 70 years ago.  Unfortunately, Pinellas County bordering the bay on the west seems bent on polluting it again with its unwarranted and unnecessary sewage spillages.  Not all but way too many of these “accidents” are the result of incompetent oversight of employees and contractors.

Kudos also to Kelly Hayes who, by the way, was not born and raised in the waters of  Tampa Bay, but on dry land in the City of Tampa.

Read the complete article here in Florida Politics.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
[email protected]
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum


Hillsborough County achieves Platinum LEED certification, first in Florida

Hillsborough is also only the third county in the U.S. to receive the certification.

on December 28, 20

Hillsborough County became the first county government in Florida to achieve the Platinum LEED for Cities and Communities certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

The certification recognizes work by the county to safeguard the environment and enhance the quality of life for residents, businesses and visitors.

The Platinum designation is the highest rating that can be obtained in the LEED Cities and Communities program, and Hillsborough is only the third county in the U.S. to reach it.

LEED is the world’s most widely-used green building rating system. The Cities and Communities certification looks at a wide range of areas.

The certification process judges how well applicants integrate sustainability into all aspects of the community, including environmental stewardship, fiscal responsibility and overall community prosperity. The review considered areas such as energy and water conservation, land use, solid waste management, community heritage preservation, cultural and recreational opportunities, social services, partnerships, equitability and innovative projects.
Hillsborough County’s application included five years of data and information provided with the support of county departments and community groups.

The county has worked to implement an array of sustainability initiatives, which helped it achieve this certification. Those include:

— Reducing energy use and costs by operating a chiller plant that makes ice to help cool buildings, adding solar to county facilities and using LED lighting in buildings, parking lots, sports fields and all traffic signals. Neighborhood and corridor street lighting are transitioning to LED.

— The Resource Recovery Facility converts burnable waste into electricity, which generates power for several county facilities and about 35,000 homes. Reclaimed water is also used at the facility, and metals are salvaged.
— Hillsborough County’s wastewater treatment achieves a higher water quality than over 90% of the wastewater plants across the U.S.

— Continued fleet transition to electric and alternative-fuel. Seven electric vehicle charging stations are available to the public at county facilities.

— A county-sponsored Solar Energy Loan Fund, which offers low-cost loan and project assistance to residents for energy efficiency upgrades and other sustainable home improvements. So far, the program has provided $1.6 million in loans.

The LEED certification process was also a catalyst for the county to begin developing a Community Sustainability Action Plan.

Written By

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected]