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June 3, 2023 Weekly Newsletter


This year, we have not seen many victories from the legislature; however, if there was a single commendable bill passed, it was HB 1379. This new law against water pollution, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis this week, represents a significant step forward. It introduces regulations against septic tanks in certain areas and imposes strict limits on water pollutants. Lawmakers from both sides agreed on this one, understanding that a genuine plan for our environment cannot be a quick fix.


The law targets pollutants that can trigger algae blooms and fish kills. It establishes a protection program for the Indian River Lagoon, allocates $100 million per year towards land acquisition for conservation, and more.


This law is about protecting Florida’s environment and consequently ensuring a healthy economy. However, there is monumental work ahead to establish milestones, monitor progress, and establish accountability. More funding will be required but this bill is a victory to be celebrated.


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By Dr. John Trefry


The Ocean Research & Conservation Association (ORCA) continues to expand its database for contaminants in fish as part of their “One Health Fish Monitoring project (OHFM)”. Data are being collected for a variety of toxicants in fish living in the Indian River Lagoon and contributing waters such as Lake Okeechobee. Citizen Scientists play a key role in the project by collecting, processing, and analyzing fish samples. Concentrations of mercury and other chemicals in fish are presented in the context of serving sizes of fish fillets and consumption guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The project also is gathering data on the abundance of microplastics in fish. A map with study areas and current results can be accessed at this link.


For additional information, see this story about the project which appeared in the Sebastian Daily on June 24, 2022.


The work of the ORCA and other groups shows the value of detailed research in understanding and solving environmental issues. Citizen scientists contribute to this by helping gather important data about contaminants in fish and microplastics. Understanding these problems is the first step towards fixing them. With every bit of data, we're better equipped to make changes that can lead to a healthier planet. It's not always a quick fix, but it's a start towards a more sustainable future.


 

Nonprofit News

Speaking of our friends at ORCA, these are particularly exciting times as they have finally started the renovations on their new headquarters in Vero Beach. They have faced some cost surprises along the way, including the need for a new roof to have the building insured, which requires an additional $300,000 in funding. Despite being without a headquarters for almost 2 years, ORCA has managed to keep their programs active, utilizing their Center for Citizen Science in Vero Beach for laboratory and office space, and working remotely when necessary. They have seen substantial growth in their Citizen Science Programs, with hundreds of active citizen scientists monitoring environmental conditions, identifying pollution sources, and participating in shoreline mitigation efforts. Their Kilroy Water Quality Monitoring network has expanded and upgraded with new technology, and they continue to engage in educational outreach initiatives. Once they have their new headquarters, the possibilities for their work will be even greater. Read more information here.


 

News Impacting Indian River County

More than 400 apartments come online on Route 60 (Vero News) - Two major upscale apartment complexes, The Griffon and Aspire Vero Beach, are being built simultaneously along State Road 60 in Vero Beach, Florida, offering a total of 473 units ranging from 1 to 3 bedrooms and rents between $1,800 and $4,000 per month, catering to the housing needs of professionals such as traveling nurses, doctors, and teachers.


FPL’s apology for poor tree-pruning work not cutting it (Vero News) - Florida Power & Light (FPL) faced backlash from residents after a poorly executed tree-trimming job along North A1A, with FPL offering to replace damaged trees with alternative species, but residents of a condominium complex named Robles del Mar, which means "Sea Oaks" in Spanish, rejected the proposal as they want to maintain the character of their grounds with their oaks.


Vero Beach gradually making progress on Three Corners; How much longer until it's reality? (TC Palm) - The redevelopment project known as Three Corners in Vero Beach, which could include a hotel, marina, shops, restaurants, and public space, is slowly progressing with the city working on zoning changes and conducting a traffic-impact study, aiming to solicit developer proposals by mid-August and complete the project by summer 2028.


Brightline planning 110 mph test runs in June (Vero News) - Brightline, the high-speed rail service, conducted 110 mph test runs in northern Indian River County and announced a delay in the anticipated rollout of passenger service between Orlando and Miami until at least September 1, with tickets now available for purchase for the three-and-a-half-hour journey.


Miles-long trains are blocking first responders when every minute counts (Washington Post, long form) - Long trains blocking road crossings across the United States are impeding first responders and causing delays during emergencies, raising concerns about public safety and prompting calls for tougher regulation of railway companies that are running longer trains to save costs and increase efficiency. Residents in communities such as Leggett, Texas, have experienced tragic consequences, including the death of a baby, due to blocked crossings, while federal regulators have urged railroads to address safety risks associated with obstructed access to emergency services.


What’s the state’s game plan for the next toxic algae crisis? (Vote Water) - The article discusses the importance of early detection and warnings for toxic blue-green algae blooms in Florida's estuaries, highlighting the need for state agencies to be prepared and able to quickly identify toxins and alert the public, as well as the current efforts and challenges in implementing a comprehensive monitoring and warning system.


DeSantis signs Florida's controversial growth bill (WJCT News) - Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed a controversial growth bill that will make it more difficult to limit sprawling development in the state, while supporters claim it will reduce frivolous lawsuits, prompting concerns about the potential financial burden on citizens challenging comprehensive plan changes that conflict with their communities' plans.


Florida Oceanographic Society June Newsletter - All life on Earth depends on the oceans, and our oceans depend on each and every one of us. Find out what the Florida Oceanographic Society has going on in June.


 

Why Captains for Clean Water, a grass-roots community, had no choice but to step up for the waters they love. And why they haven't looked back since. Captains For Clean Water back in 2016 out of necessity—they realized that advancing Everglades restoration was the only option we had if they wanted to save the treasured waters that our lifestyles and livelihoods depended on. Now, their community of clean-water warriors has turned into a movement, a turning of the tide to restore, protect, and preserve the waters and wild places we call home. Check out this video.


 

New water quality standards, money for land preservation signed into law (Florida Politics) - Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed a new law that prohibits new septic tanks in environmentally sensitive areas and sets lower standards for pollutants in state waterways, aiming to combat water pollution and protect land and water resources, with measures including increased water quality monitoring, funding for land acquisition, and expanded eligibility for wastewater grants. Reas this article for more info on the bill discussed in the newsletter intro.


Florida fishing: Tarpon season is underway; Snook are strictly catch & release (TC Palm) - The snook harvest season has ended along Florida's Atlantic coast, transitioning to catch and release until September 1, while anglers can focus on fishing for dolphin, snapper, and tarpon; other fishing regulations and season dates are also provided for various species in the state.


Deep Well Injection Raises Environmental Concerns (Green Matters) - Deep well injection, a common method for disposing of liquid waste from various industries, including oil, natural gas, and wastewater treatment, is raising environmental concerns due to potential risks such as earthquakes and well failures that could contaminate groundwater.


Florida Lake Warning Issued Over Large Algae Bloom (Newsweek) - Health officials in Florida have issued a warning after detecting a harmful algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee, the state's largest freshwater lake, advising residents to avoid drinking water from the lake and to refrain from swimming or engaging in water activities in areas affected by the algae.


Seaweed piles in Florida may contain flesh-eating bacteria (Fox News) - Scientists have found that seaweed piles, specifically Sargassum, on Florida's coasts may contain Vibrio bacteria, including Vibrio vulnificus, which can cause severe infections, including necrotizing fasciitis, and can be potentially deadly to humans, especially those with open wounds or compromised immune systems.


Breaking bad habits: What we learned from Ian and Nicole as we head into the 2023 hurricane season (Orlando Sentinel) - Experts are urging people to focus on storm hazards like storm surge warnings, rainfall flooding, and tornadoes rather than fixating on the cone, spaghetti models, and the storm's category, as Hurricanes Ian and Nicole demonstrated the limitations of relying on traditional hurricane tracking methods during the 2022 hurricane season in Florida.


Survey: 20% of Floridians make no prep for hurricane season, despite last year’s destruction (Orlando Sentinel) - A survey by AAA reveals that 20% of Floridians make no preparations for hurricane season, and 24% ignore evacuation warnings, with reasons for not evacuating ranging from wanting to stay to protect property to not having a safe option for their pets, despite the fact that the hazards of storms such as storm surge, rainfall flooding, and wind account for 90% of the fatalities in hurricanes and tropical storms.


Lake O starts wet season near 14 feet (South Central Florida Life) - Lake Okeechobee in Florida is starting the wet season at a higher level of 13.87 feet, which is more than a foot above the optimal range, making it unlikely for new submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) to germinate and increasing the risk of harmful freshwater releases to coastal estuaries in the event of a hurricane due to limited capacity in the lake to hold water.


 

The people have the inherent political power pursuant to Article I, Section 1 of the Florida Constitution to create the fundamental right to clean and healthy waters. The passage of the amendment will declare this a fundamental right, which is indefeasible.



 

Other News

Coastal Town Brings Mass Litigation—and an ‘Existential Threat’—to Chemical Giants (The Wall Street Journal) - Stuart, a coastal town in Florida, is at the center of a major environmental legal battle involving over 4,000 lawsuits against corporate giant 3M and other companies over the contamination of drinking water with chemicals known as PFAS, with hundreds of municipalities and states seeking to recover costs of water filtration and alleging personal injuries; the trial is set to begin on June 5 in federal court in Charleston, South Carolina.


Whales and offshore wind can coexist — if we give them space (The Hill) - To mitigate the impacts of climate change, offshore wind development is seen as a promising solution, but it must be carefully planned and executed to avoid harm to endangered species such as North Atlantic right whales, emphasizing the need for a conservation buffer zone to protect their foraging areas.


Venice authorities discover why canal turned fluorescent green (Yahoo News) - The mysterious fluorescent green color in Venice's Grand Canal was caused by the non-toxic chemical fluorescein, commonly used in underwater construction, and authorities believe it was intentionally released in large volumes, prompting an investigation into potential motives.


Maine bans use of sewage sludge on farms to reduce risk of PFAS poisoning (The Guardian) - Maine has become the first state to ban the use of PFAS-contaminated sewage sludge as fertilizer, while most other states are only beginning to address the issue and some are even increasing the amount of sludge spread on farms, despite the widespread contamination and damage caused to livelihoods; however, Maine and Michigan are actively testing sludge and farms for PFAS and finding contamination to be prevalent.


 


 

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