Audubon Florida
The Advocate
This is a big week for wildlife and natural places in the Sunshine State. We need your voice on not one but two open comment periods: one to restore the Ocklawaha River and a second to protect beach-nesting bird species. Meanwhile, during the second Legislative Interim Committee Week elected officials heard presentations on water rules, Florida Forever, red tide, and more.
Prothonotary Warbler sitting on a branch above water. Photo: Gary Robinette/Audubon Photography Awards.
We Need Your Voice! It's Time to Restore the Ocklawaha River
Will Florida reunite the rivers or waste more money on a dam that stands in the way of restoration?

The failed Cross Florida Barge Canal Project left environmental destruction and burdensome infrastructure in its wake. The damming of the Ocklawaha River and creation of the Rodman Reservoir has smothered 20 springs, blocked manatee and fish migration, and destroyed thousands of acres of floodplain forest.

We are at a crossroads. The Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam that blocks the Ocklawaha River is in decline and in need of repair. Now the state has to decide whether to invest millions of taxpayer dollars in repairing and continuing to operate a dam with no purpose or remove it, finally reuniting the Ocklawaha, St. Johns, and Silver Rivers. 

We may never have another opportunity to restore this important ecosystem. We need your voice to tell the St. Johns Water Management District that you support breaching the dam and bringing the river back to its former glory.

Click here to learn more and make your comment before October 22, 2021.
Prothonotary Warbler. Photo: Gary Robinette/Audubon Photography Awards.
Least Terns. Photo: Ethan Slattery/Audubon Photography Awards.
Public Comment Opens for Beach-nesting Bird Guidelines
Florida’s iconic beach-nesting bird species face a suite of threats as they attempt to nest and raise their chicks on the sand. Sea level rise, intense storms, and ongoing development all make life difficult for sea and shorebirds, but Species Conservation Measures and Permitting Guidelines from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will help protect and restore their habitat.

The Guidelines provide information on rule requirements for permitting when harassment and habitat destruction occurs for four state-threatened species: Least Terns, Black Skimmers, American Oystercatchers, and Snowy Plovers. The Guidelines also outline a structure for mitigation if harassment or habitat loss occurs.

At Audubon we applaud the FWC for getting a real valuation of impacts of coastal land use on these declining species, and we need your voice to tell the FWC you support these new guidelines!

Click here to make your public comments by October 17, 2021.
Least Terns. Photo: Ethan Slattery/Audubon Photography Awards.
Brown Pelican landing on a dock, with water and marsh grass in the background. Photo: Mannish Assar/Audubon Photography Awards.
House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee Discusses Coral Reef Disease, Red Tide, and More
The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee chaired by Rep. Josie Tomkow (R-Polk City) met on Wednesday, October 13, 2021.  Presentations focused on the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) efforts on Coral Reef restoration and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) program update on mitigating red tide blooms. 

Coral reefs are the first line of defense for coastal communities against storms and erosion, especially in Southeast Florida, which is home to one-third of all Floridians.  A recent federal study showed that coral reefs provide over $600 million in protection of infrastructure, economy, development, and tourism; in the face of intense storms, that protection value more than doubles to $1.6 billion.

Global and local stressors have affected corals in this area, and the stony coral tissue disease is ravaging the healthy population. Coral disease now spans the entire 350-mile extent of Florida’s reef system. Both DEP and FWC have partnered with universities to support response efforts to restore and protect the coral reef, as mitigating disease will need to occur simultaneously with research. Poor water quality and sedimentation are among the top stressors of these coral systems – proper wastewater management and completing Everglades restoration are among the many actions that will help with the rehabilitation of these reefs and overall coral health.

Additionally, Gil McCrae from FWC gave an overview of the 2021 red tide blooms, as well as the effects of the blooms on coastal communities.  FWC and DEP worked together to provide a response and to assist local governments in clean-up efforts. Red tide wreaks havoc on local communities during huge blooms, which are exacerbated by nutrient pollution from stormwater and wastewater. 

The FWC Center for Red Tide research and Mote Marine Laboratory are working towards a better understanding of this harmful algae and to find more effective ways to mitigate these blooms.

Audubon continues to focus on fighting the causes of our water challenges, not just the symptoms. Improving water quality and expediting Everglades restoration will help make positive strides towards coral restoration and mitigating red tide blooms.
 
Brown Pelican. Photo: Mannish Assar/Audubon Photography Awards.
Painted Bunting sits on a branch with palm fronds in the background. Photo: John Wolaver.
Committees Meet on Florida Forever and Water Rules
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government (Chair, Albritton, R-Bartow) met on October 13, 2021. The committee heard presentations from DEP Secretary Hamilton.  He provided a detailed overview of the Florida Forever Acquisition process, which requires that land acquisition efforts be based on a comprehensive science-based assessment.  Top-ranked projects that meet multiple Florida Forever goals and criteria are given greater consideration for priority ranking. These considerations for ranking include: multiple ecosystem benefits, connectivity, public recreation, and historical resources.  Secretary Hamilton reiterated that assurance of a steady stream of annual funding helps the agency with strategic planning and efficient follow through on acquisitions. 

On October 14, 2021, the House Environment, Agriculture & Flooding Subcommittee chaired by Rep. Buchanan (R-North Port) heard presentations from DEP on the implementation of the Clean Waterways Act as well as on the Onsite Sewage Treatment and Disposal System Permitting program. 

The Clean Waterways Act requires DEP to advance rules for the use of reclaimed water; develop a program for maintenance of wastewater utility infrastructure; update biosolids permitting rules; update stormwater rules to incorporate the most current science; develop more protective rules for septic tank permitting; as well as fast-track approval for the use of new septic systems.  The Act also required the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to update their commodity Best Management Practice (BMP) manuals, report on producer fertilizer use, and inspect each producer for compliance with BMP requirements. 

Of note, DEP reported that FDACS referred a list of 2,772 parcels for non-compliance with the DEP program. DEP has successfully brought more than 62% of the parcels into compliance or into the process of compliance through education and outreach.

The Onsite Sewage Treatment and Disposal Systems (OSTDS) permitting program as required by the Clean Waterways Act was transferred to DEP and these systems will now be permitted as sources of nutrients that could affect our waterways.  There are over 2.4 million septic systems in Florida that provide wastewater treatment to about one third of Floridians. While guidance for permitting and the leadership of this program is now within DEP, county health departments will continue as before with permitting and inspection at the local level. 

Chris Farrell, our Northeast Florida Policy Associate, participates on the OSTDS TAC, which is charged with developing a process for certifying new OSTDS technologies and also for determining environmentally protective rules for OSTDS permitting.

If any of these presentations sound interesting to you, you can often find recordings of House and Senate committee meetings on The Florida Channel online. Grab your popcorn and enjoy some democracy from the comfort of your couch!
Painted Bunting. Photo: John Wolaver.
The head and shoulders of an Anhinga, with water in the background.
Audubon Florida Continues to Advocate for Best Lake Okeechobee Management Plan
Audubon continues to work with stakeholders on updating the Lake Okeechobee schedule, also referred to as the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM).

Since the preferred alternative was announced this summer, the Army Corps of Engineers has continued to optimize their modeling for this schedule which determines when and how much water from Lake Okeechobee goes East, West or South. So far, the Corps' improvements on the preferred alternative would send more water South towards Everglades National Park and Florida Bay where it is desperately needed.  The model also sends both beneficial and harmful water flows to the Caloosahatchee estuary, but minimal harmful discharges to the St. Lucie estuary.

Unfortunately, these improvements will have consequences for the health of Lake Okeechobee itself.  There is no silver bullet to solve the problem of distributed harm from the schedule, and the Corps has a daunting challenge to balance the needs of the estuaries and the lake.

Going forward, Audubon is recommending that the best way to achieve balanced outcomes with the lake schedule is to build in operational flexibility to allow the Army Corps some discretion in mitigating impacts based on real-time environmental conditions or events. We are also advocating for consideration of “recovery modes” for natural resources that have experienced harm as a result of the lake schedule.

Audubon will remain involved in this development of the lake schedule and we anticipate its final publication in the coming month.
Anhinga. Photo: Robert Wilder, Jr./Audubon Photography Awards.
Adult Bald Eagle sits amidst waving Spanish moss. Photo: Valerie Clayton.
EagleWatch Annual Report is Here
EagleWatch is published annually to showcase results from the only consistent, statewide Bald Eagle nest monitoring effort in Florida and provide updates on banding research, new challenges, and results of Audubon’s policy efforts.

The good news is that their population numbers are on the rise!

“The eagles showed us yet again how resilient they are,” said EagleWatch Program Manager Shawnlei Breeding, “carrying on to nest in often less-than-ideal situations and posting productivity numbers that are consistent with a stable population in our state.”

Articles in this issue include:

- Bald Eagle Populations Are On the Rise

- Partnerships are Key to Success for Eagles Nesting on Man-made Structures

- From Rescue to Resight, Two Eagles are Soaring High

- Celebrating the 2021 Bald Eagle Nesting Season at Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland

Click here to read the full report.
Bald Eagle. Photo: Valerie Clayton.
Palm Warbler against a beige background. Photo: Mary Giraulo/Audubon Photography Awards.
Audubon Florida Climate and Energy News Roundup
This week we share news about the future of oil drilling in the Everglades, the Southwest Florida Regional Resiliency Compact, recovery in Mexico Beach three years after Hurricane Michael, billion-dollar disasters, and more!   

Click here to access the full round-up.
Palm Warbler. Photo: Mary Giraulo/Audubon Photography Awards..
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