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Audubon Florida
The Advocate
This week, Everglades restoration took a major stride forward when the South Florida Water Management District selected a contractor for the Storm Water Treatment Area component of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir. Sea level rise and resilience continued to be themes of legislative committee meetings, but should be prioritized with land conservation, not at the expense of Florida Forever.
Anhinga. Photo: Deborah Bifulco / Great Backyard Bird Count.
Everglades Health Takes One Step Forward and One Step Back
The South Florida Water Management District Governing Board took another step closer to Everglades restoration with the award of a $175 million contract to build the Storm Water Treatment Area (STA) component of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir project.  The 6,500-acre STA is a man-made wetland that will complement the 10,500-acre EAA Reservoir by removing pollutants to meet water quality standards before sending it south.  The EAA Reservoir is a critical component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) that will increase freshwater flows to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay while reducing harmful discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.  The STA is scheduled to be completed sometime in 2023.

Unfortunately, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) also gave non-source point dischargers a free pass by adopting new “Works of the District” regulations with no nutrient reduction provisions at its most recent Governing Board meeting. 

Following a year-long rule-making process, the SFWMD updated section 40E-61 of the Florida Administrative Code and eliminated the requirement for landowners who discharge into SFWMD-controlled waters to obtain a permit and meet water quality standards. 

Under the new regulations, landowners who should be, but are not enrolled in the best management program administered by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services are now only required to submit a water quality monitoring plan. 

Audubon’s science and policy team submitted extensive written comments, participated in public workshops, and lobbied Governing Board members to adopt a set of regulations that would hold landowners accountable for nutrient laden runoff and improve water quality. 
Anhinga. Photo: Deborah Bifulco / Great Backyard Bird Count.
Brown Pelican. Photo: Richard Higgins/Audubon Photography Awards.
Committee Meeting Underscores Importance of Resilience Planning
This week the House State Affairs Committee listened to presentations about flooding and sea level rise in Florida, and the current and future resilience planning that is needed to meet this threat. 

- Secretary Noah Valenstein, head of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the state's interim chief resilience officer, discussed Florida’s Sea Level Rise Impact Projection (SLIP) study, which requires state-financed construction in coastal areas to undergo assessments that determine how they will be impacted by sea level rise.  He emphasized that sea level rise is one climate change impact among many that Florida faces; others include intensified storms, wave action, storm surge, nuisance flooding, and habitat squeeze (as habitats like seagrass beds or marsh get caught between rising seas and development or other geographical barriers).

Secretary Valenstein underscored that resilience is a lens through which all planning and decisions must be made.

- Jennifer Jurado, Ph.D., Chief Resilience Officer for Broward County, discussed Broward County’s progress on resilience planning. She updated the committee on the Southeast Florida Climate Compact’s newest unified sea level rise projection, a series of Future Conditions Maps that take into account groundwater elevation, updated elevation requirements for sea walls and tidal barriers, updated flood maps, and a county-wide resilient infrastructure and redevelopment plan. Importantly, she stressed that robust resilience planning is necessary to be able to demonstrate that Broward County is a good place for investment and that all of Florida needs to be able to illustrate to investors that there is a plan to mitigate future climate impacts.

The Southeast Florida Climate Compact has collaborated with the business community and recently published a report, “The Business Case for Resilience,” that demonstrates the significant return on structural level and infrastructural resilience investments. Dr. Jurado stressed the need for additional technical and financial support from the state and from the federal government to meet their goals.

- Randy Deshazo, Director of Planning and Research at the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, offered key takeaways from a soon-to-be-published study, “Taking Stock.” The study illustrates the economic impact of climate change in the Tampa Bay Region under a high emissions scenario (including $6.6 billion worth of property that will be 100% inundated by 2060, and a regional GDP loss of -1.3%). Deshazo also shared local planning efforts to address transportation and housing resilience, such as the Resilience & Energy Assessment of Communities and Housing (REACH Assessment), to help local governments plan for vulnerability in low income communities. Finally, he discussed the regional action plan currently in development by the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition.
Brown Pelican. Photo: Richard Higgins/Audubon Photography Awards.
Osprey. Photo: Ben Knoot/Audubon Photography Awards.
Land Conservation Budget Needs a Bump
House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee met on Wednesday, February 9, to hear presentations by the Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein on the Governor’s Environmental Budget. 

The Governor’s $96.6 billion budget includes $4.3 billion for environmental programs, including $625 million for Everglades and Water (click here for more information).  However, recommended funding for the state’s premier land buying program is $50 million, far short of the $100 million appropriated last year.

The Governor’s budget creates the “Resilient Florida” program to meet the challenges of rising sea levels, intensified storms, and local flooding, providing $1 billion over four years to the program to address coastal flooding and other climate-change impacts. The state will use revenues from the state documentary stamp tax (subject to legislative approval) to pay for the debt service on $1 billion in bonds for projects that address the impacts of climate change.

Secretary Valenstein defended Governor DeSantis’ decision not to ask to issue bonds for the Florida Forever land-conservation program, adding that he has been directed to show the value in the Florida Forever program.  Land Protection programs such as Florida Forever and Rural and Family Lands are important tools in meeting the threat of climate change and warrant similar priority to the Governor’s resiliency proposal. According to DEP, the state is close to spending $76 million in Florida Forever acquisitions, totaling 34,000 acres. In 2019, the state spent close to $61 million to acquire 27,000 acres.
Osprey. Photo: Ben Knoot/Audubon Photography Awards.
Great Egret. Photo: Mary Lundeberg.
Audubon Congratulates St. Johns County on Restarting Their Land Acquisition and Management Program
In January, the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners voted to restart their Land Acquisition and Management Program (LAMP) with annual funding of $500,000 per year.

Audubon Florida and St. Johns County Audubon were part of an environmental coalition working to restore this program. The LAMP helps St. Johns County leverage local funds with state dollars to secure and preserve critical environmental, historical, and recreational resources. During its previous run, the LAMP helped acquire Alpine Groves River Park, Vaill Point Park, and several other properties that not only conserve wildlife and historical resources, but are important locations for recreation and community events.

"Simply put, the LAMP is a smart way to identify and fund unique conservation and recreational opportunities that benefit the residents of St. Johns County and our ever-important tourism industry," Chris Farrell, Audubon Florida Northeast Policy Associate, wrote in his letter of support, "Timely renewal of the LAMP will ensure no opportunities are lost and that St. Johns County will be well-positioned to take advantage of state cost-share programs."
Great Egret. Photo: Mary Lundeberg.
Burmese python. Photo: Pixabay.
We Need Your Voice As The FWC Updates Invasive Species Rules
Florida’s subtropical climate may be beautiful, but our mild temperatures also place Florida at great risk from non-native species. 

Pythons, iguanas, tegus – all were introduced to Florida through the pet trade and have established populations that continue to decimate our native wildlife. When non-native species spread across our natural ecosystems, agricultural lands, and built areas, they cost taxpayers and private landowners millions of dollars in damages and management efforts each year.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is considering rules to strengthen protections related to several reptile species that have established breeding populations and are causing harm or have great potential to do so. Burmese pythons, for example, eat dozens of bird species, including the imperiled Wood Stork and Snowy Egret.

Additionally, they prey upon eggs and nestlings in wading bird colonies.

Some members of the reptile importation and breeding industry have been very vocal in opposing new regulations. We need the FWC to hear from Floridians like you, who don’t want this risky practice to endanger our native species and leave taxpayers on the hook for recurring eradication expenses.

Click here to submit your comments in support of the new rules, including the addition of these invasive species to the prohibited list.

Comments are due by February 19, 2021.
Burmese python. Photo: Pixabay.
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