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Science

Environmental Roundup, April 23, 2021

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Courtesy FWC Flickr, Creative Commons
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A pine barrens tree frog. The Earth--and Florida--is a magical home for all of us.

We are all connected by the environment we share. The Earth is our home. This is the space where we share the environmental stories that caught our attention this week, in Florida and beyond.

This week saw Earth Day celebrations around the world. Governor Ron DeSantis marked Earth Day with the announcement that the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board has unanimously approved an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intended to keep the Army Corps on track with federal construction of the long-stalled Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir in Palm Beach County.

The reservoir project will include water storage and wetlands with vegetation that can filter and cleanse water from Lake Okeechobee. The plan aims to mitigate discharges of nutrient-laden water from Lake Okeechobee in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers, which can feed harmful algal blooms in the rivers and downstream estuaries.

The Army Corps announced, Thursday, that releases of Lake Okeechobee water down the Caloosahatchee River from the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam in Alva will double from the current 1,000 cubic feet per second to 2,000 cfs beginning Saturday, April 24. The move is intended to reduce water levels in Lake Okeechobee just ahead of the summer rainy season.

The Florida Department of Health in Lee County issued a health alert, this week, for upper portions of the Caloosahatchee River estuary due to reports of blue-green algae toxins in and around the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam in Alva.

The health alert notes that when blue-green algae blooms are visible, people should avoid contact with the water. Ingestion can cause gastrointestinal problems. The health alert also notes that children and pets are particularly vulnerable.

The state Department of Environmental Protection reports, the agency is closely monitoring and testing water samples in the area and will continue to respond to any new reports.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried marked Earth Day by hosting a virtual Mayors Climate Forum along with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman to discuss local approaches to addressing climate change. Other participants, including Sarasota Mayor Hagen Brody and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti are part of Climate Mayors, which is a bipartisan coalition of 470 U.S. mayors in 48 states working to demonstrate climate leadership.

Commissioner Fried also spoke at an Earth Day demonstration in downtown Sarasota in response to the recent environmental disaster at the Piney Point phosphate mining site in Manatee County that led to more than 200 million gallons of wastewater from a phosphate processing pond being pumped into Tampa Bay and which had earlier caused the evacuation of hundreds of nearby homes and the temporary closure of U.S. 41.

Governor DeSantis and Republican state legislative leaders have hinted at using federal stimulus funds from the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan to clean up and permanently close the Piney Point site, which is expected to cost $200 million. At Thursday’s demonstration in Sarasota, Fried was critical of efforts to clean up the site with taxpayer dollars instead of holding the property owner, HRK Holdings, accountable. She also said Florida lawmakers aren’t doing enough to prevent a future disaster.

Manatee County Commissioners have approved construction of a deep injection well to dispose of the remaining wastewater at the Piney Point site, but that’s raising concerns among nearby residents who rely on well water. WUSF-FM’s Steve Newborn has that story here.

On a recent episode of WLRN-FM’s program Sundial, host Luis Hernandez discussed how many other waterways in the state could be at risk with environmental journalists Craig Pittman and Jenny Staletovich. You can hear that conversation here.

The Florida Department of Agriculture has denied AgLogic's permits for Aldicarb. The known neurotoxin was the subject of much concern. Nathan Donley of the Center for Biological Diversity called the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services move a “stunning turn of events.” The non-profit is currently suing the EPA for approving of the highly toxic chemical in the first place.

WJCT Public Media's ADAPT environmental reporting initiative hosted a discussion on using parks and green space to combat climate change. Watch the forum here.

If you watched the news this week, you may have noticed that the Biden administration is seeking to shine up the nation's “tarnished reputation with new climate change pledges,” as Reuters reports. Activists demonstrated that the pledges don’t go far enough by dumping wheelbarrows of cow manure in front of the White House, calling the administration’s plans, “b*ll sh*t.”

This week Vox published an interesting list of what they’ve learned since Earth Day last year.

Perhaps you’ve shifted to skipping the straw or using biodegradable straws. Environmental Health News reports that, unfortunately, “‘Forever chemicals’ coat the outer layers of biodegradable straws: More evidence that harmful PFAS chemicals are sneaking into some "green" and "compostable" products.”

North of Florida, Deanna Miller Berry was running for mayor of Denmark, SC, when she learned about the degree of toxicity in her town’s water. Now she’s working with women across the country to insure clean water for all. Read more in The Guardian.

The New York Times has a moving piece on the big problems with the Southeast’s wood fuel pellet industry, which, for the communities impacted, is seen as an “environmental catastrophe” more than a touted “job creator.” The long read can be viewed here.

This week’s consumer alert: The Paint Stripper Methylene Chloride Caused More Deaths Than EPA Identified. The Hill reports that while commercial sale of the product was banned in 2019, it hasn’t been completely banned.

Catch up on red tide and all of our environmental coverage at wgcunews.org and be sure to subscribe to our monthly environmental newsletter, Green Flash.

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Courtesy National Shell Museum
Rolling Water by Marie Laforge on display through April 30 at the National Shell Museum

Do & Learn

  • The National Shell Museum has a virtual lecture series on water, which complements its H2O art exhibition, on display through April 30.
  • Climate.gov has several lessons on all things climate, often meant for grades 9-12. They are useful for adults as well and could certainly be used as a family educational session.
  • The Coastal & Heartland National Estuary Partnership is hosting a free event via zoom on May 6 to “share knowledge and mobilize the collaboration needed to build more resilient communities in our region. Learn more and register for the day-long event here.
  • If you know a young person who would be interested in hunting, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a mentored youth hunting program. Visit MyFWC.com/YHPF for details.
  • Another FWC effort, the Florida Youth Conservation Center Network offers camp programs with numerous activities focused on the theme of conservation-centered recreation. Learn more by visiting FYCCN.org.
  • Get certified as a Florida Friendly Fishing Guide. Scholarships are available.

Want to influence your local environment? There’s probably a public meeting for that.

Immokalee Redevelopment Plan Focus Groups - The Immokalee Community Redevelopment Agency will be holding several Focus Group meetings to seek input on updating the Immokalee Community Redevelopment Plan. These will be remote hybrid meetings and will be held at 6 p.m. at the CareerSource SWFL, 750 South 5th Street, Immokalee, Florida.

Economic Development/Community Facilities - Tuesday, April 27, 2021, 6 p.m.

Ecotourism & Agrotourism/Drainage & Lake Trafford - Thursday, May 6, 2021, 6 p.m.

If you would like to participate remotely, contact Monica Acosta via email at Monica.Acosta@colliercountyfl.gov

For more information, call (239) 867-0025.

Check out Collier County’s public calendar here.

Charlotte County has several committee vacancies to fill and many have something to do with the environment. Learn more at https://www.charlottecountyfl.gov/news/charlotte-county-committee-vacancies.stml

South Florida Water Management District's Upcoming Meetings:

The public is welcome to attend several upcoming public meetings, often virtually. See the SFWMD Meeting Calendar for dates, times, and agendas.

U.S. Department of Agriculture to Host Public Listening Session on April 28-30, 2021:

USDA is requesting public input from interested parties to help create a new Rural Renewable Energy Pilot Program. To ensure a diverse group of voices are heard, USDA is seeking written comments and will host a public listening session on April 22, 2021. The stakeholder listening session will be held virtually on Thursday, April 22, 2021, 2 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. Anyone can RSVP to participate online by clicking here.

U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Standards Board Spring Meetings will be held online:

  • Wednesday, April 28, Noon - 5 pm
  • Thursday, April 29, Noon - 5 pm
  • Friday, April 30, Noon - 5 pm

Learn more including how to attend, here.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will meet virtually May 12-13 beginning at 9 a.m. each day. Advanced comments should be submitted no later than 5 pm on Friday, May 7. Learn more at FWC’s website.

Got an environment story or tip to share? Email Valerie Vande Panne at Vvandepanne@wgcu.org.