Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Post-Election Musings & Questions, Mostly About Water

For everyone here in Florida who is disappointed with most of the November 2014 election results:  Our work on behalf of our waters is now more important than ever. I wouldn't be surprised if there aren't attempts to weaken or even nullify Amendment 1. We need to stay strong, remain vigilant, and work together to ensure that doesn't happen. It might seem tempting to give up, but our waters and Mother Earth need more than that from us right now; they need our strongest efforts and our highest talents. If you haven't already done so, please find a way to get involved with the issues that most closely touch your heart. You can and will make a difference! Thanks for considering this.

As a counterpoint to the previous pep talk, I acknowledge that this is the question that's going to keep me awake at night:  When the middle class is gone, the environment is in ruins and the economy collapses for good, will we band together to help each other out or will it be every man for himself?

And of course, there is the water to consider--our sacred springs and the rivers they feed.

NASA just came out with a study that identifies a global groundwater crisis that threatens our food supplies and our security; see:

Florida is not immune to aquifer damage. The Floridan Aquifer that supplies the drinking water for most of North Florida has been falling since the 1930s. One estimate I’ve heard is that the aquifer is dropping about one foot every decade, which doesn’t sound like much until you realize that for every foot the aquifer declines, the layer of saltwater underneath it rises 40 feet. A falling aquifer eventually leads to dry wells, dry springs and rivers, and saltwater intrusion—and our springs and we humans suffer as a result.

One message I’ve gotten from the 2014 mid-term elections is that we cannot be effective water advocates unless we acknowledge and work with the ideas that our water problems are political problems and have broad economic implications.

I think we need to be having some conversations that we’re not having, at least not widely.

Here’s one conversation starter:  How do we create growth and jobs in a way that's sustainable and doesn't wreck our water and our land—the environment that we need to sustain us? That seems to me to be a key question.

Annie Pais and Stewart Thomas developed an interesting model of a creative economy when I worked with them at Florida's Eden. Their idea was to make North Florida a center of ecotourism and creativity as opposed to a sacrifice zone for agriculture and industry. Here's a graphic that puts some of those ideas in tangible form:

Something else to consider is that the people who are requesting and receiving large water use permits believe wholeheartedly that they are entitled to those permits and entitled to do whatever they want with their private property, even if their actions may cause negative consequences (dry wells, dry springs) for their neighbors and our area's natural systems.

Given the almost-godlike reverence with which the concepts of "private property" and "individual rights" are held in our society, is there any hope of balancing those ideas with "responsible land stewardship" and/or "responsible water stewardship" that acknowledges—in the same way we all agree to follow traffic laws—that there are some things we must NOT do in order to avoid catastrophic damage?

And if there is hope of such a balance, how do we inject the idea of "responsible stewardship" into a culture that is initially resistant to that concept?

So often, water conversations end when the idea of "private property" is invoked. It is important to remember, however, that water is not owned—it is not "property." It is permitted. Is the fact that someone owns land an appropriate rationale for allowing water use that may have negative impacts on our natural systems or others' wells? Could Florida's water managers do a better job of making this distinction by invoking the idea of "responsible stewardship"? (Of course, this idea would have to be clearly defined to avoid its being co-opted.)

Could the idea of “responsible stewardship” then become a precursor for recognizing that we should be managing our waters as a public trust, the same way we would manage a financial trust fund for our children?

I encourage you to think about these ideas and, if possible, to create ways to begin a conversation about them with agriculturalists, public utility representatives, industrialists, business people, and elected leaders—because unless we can make those people our allies in the search for solutions to our water problems, we will not find solutions that are acceptable to us or effective for our natural systems.

The photo at the top of this post shows a dry Spirit Pond in Cassadaga, Florida, on Halloween 2014. Here's how the pond looked four years ago, on October 30, 2010:

Sunday, June 29, 2014

How to Save a River and Its Springs: A Primer for Election Year

For Householders

Lose your lawn. A lush, manicured green lawn is not appropriate for Florida’s climate or Florida’s waters; lawns use too much water and require too much fertilizer and pesticides. Quit fertilizing, quit watering, and cancel your lawn chemical service. Replace your lawn with native or Florida-friendly plants.

It’s okay to replace your lawn in stages, but quit fertilizing and watering it now. If your homeowners’ association objects, tell them that Florida-friendly landscaping is part of state law. Florida Statute 373.185 prohibits government entities and homeowners associations from enacting or enforcing any governing document to prevent homeowners from implementing Florida-friendly landscaping (FFL) principles.

Do everything you can to save as much water as you can. Calculate your water footprint, then do some research and decide what changes you can make immediately, in the short term, and in the long term. Remember to account for the foods you eat. Why? Because some foods are very water-intensive to produce (beef is one example). Here’s a good water footprint calculator:

If your diet consists of water-intensive food products, you don’t have to change it immediately. Even small changes, such as having one meat-free day a week, can help.

For Family Farmers

Realize that no one in the water advocacy community wants you to lose your livelihood, especially not if your family has been farming for generations. We simply want to save our springs and rivers. We don’t believe that family farms and clean, abundant water are in opposition to each other. We do believe that we should all be working together because farmers need clean, abundant water too. When we point out problems, realize that we are not attacking you. We’re simply identifying problems and we want to work with you for solutions—not drive you out of business. Let’s work together to get rid of the “us vs. them” mentality.

For Factory Farmers

Do the crops and/or animals you raise require the intensive use of water and fertilizer? Is your farm a polluter? If so, be a good citizen and make responsible land use decisions. Use some of your big bucks to (1) change the crop you’re raising to something such as longleaf pine that is less damaging for our water, or (2) relocate to an area of Florida or the U.S. where the aquifer is confined and your farming practices will not contribute to the destruction of our water supply and our recreational waters.

For Everyone

Get outdoors. Visit nearby lakes, rivers and springs. What do you see?

Learn where your water comes from.

Learn where your water goes when it leaves your house. Do you live in a springshed? Which one? If so, you have extra responsibilities to care for our water.

Realize that there is a finite amount of fresh water in Florida (and on the planet) and that alternative water supply projects such as desalination are expensive and often carry unintended consequences. As a taxpayer, do you really want to foot the bill for such projects if you don’t have to?

Understand that the health of our lakes, rivers and springs reflects the health of the aquifer that supplies our drinking water. If surface waters are damaged, that damage can also affect the aquifer. Our water problems are not just aesthetic issues; they are potential economic and public health problems. Dirty water is bad for business and bad for people. Save the spring, save the river/Save the river, save the aquifer.

Think about how we should be managing our waters. Should we be using them up as fast as we can? Should we be using them as sewers to dispose of our waste? Or should we be managing them conservatively as a public trust, the same way we would manage a financial trust fund for our children?

Conserve water, because that is the fastest and cheapest way to make more water available to lakes, rivers and springs. Remember that “conservation” and “conservative” come from the same root word and that conservation of our natural resources is a conservative value.

Abandon the use of fertilizer and other outdoor chemicals that cause water pollution.

Understand who is responsible and accountable for the conditions of Florida’s waters. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is the agency responsible for water quality. The directors of the water management districts (WMDs) are responsible for water quantity/water use permit decisions.

Realize that whoever is the governor of Florida appoints the head of FDEP and board members of the WMDs.

Remember that there are many powerful and well-financed special interests that have absolutely no interest in Florida’s changing the way it makes its water-related decisions. If there is an “us vs. them” scenario regarding Florida’s waters, it is these special interests arrayed against Florida’s citizens and the people who come from all over the world to enjoy our waters and the “Florida brand.”

Educate yourself.
  • Learn about Florida’s hydrological cycle and how we depend upon rain for our fresh water.
  • Google “Floridan Aquifer.”
  • Find a local water advocacy group; read their website; attend a meeting. What does the group identify as the major water problem in your area? What are they doing about it?
  • Identify your regional water management district and attend a meeting to see how water use decisions are made.
  • Google “Florida Constitution, Article II, section 7.” What does it say?

Understand that at this point in our history, Florida’s water problems are political problems because our elected officials, influenced by powerful special interest groups, can dictate to our water managers whether our water laws should be enforced or ignored.

Get involved in the political process, because that process that now determines the health of our waters.
  • Educate yourself about local and state candidates and where they stand on water issues.
  • Go to candidate forums and ask pointed questions. Examples:  “What did you do in 2014 to improve our waters?” “If you didn’t support the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act, why not?” “If you took no action on this bill because your party leadership told you to wait, why was kowtowing to that leadership more important than standing strong for our waters?” “What specific commitments will you make in 2015 to reverse the damage to our lakes, rivers and springs?”

Remember that our lakes, rivers and springs cannot speak; we must speak for them.

Register to vote.


Repeat all actions.

Never give up.

Friday, June 27, 2014

How to Kill a River and Its Springs: A Textbook Case

Ignore the part of your state’s constitution that mandates preservation and protection of its natural resources.

Wait 42 years before trying to determine how much water the river and springs actually need to stay healthy.

When making decisions about water use permits, use water models that are completely wrong for the environment in which those permits will be issued.

Once permits are issued, don’t include in those permits information about the maximum water use allowed; instead, bury that information in a supplemental document.

Once permits are issued, don’t monitor water use because if you do, then you might have to enforce some rules.

When you finally get around to trying to set minimum flows and levels (MFLs) for the river and the springs, use cherry-picked data to make sure that big water users won’t have to change their behavior. Instead, tell householders to cut back on watering their lawns.

In fact, never tell big permit holders that they are going to have to change how they’re using water. Instead, let them write rule language for you and be glad their lawyers show up in court to help you out when your actions are challenged. You can even let those lawyers run the show in the courtroom!

When landowners want big new water permits even though they admit they only want them so they can sell their land at higher prices, issue those permits anyway. Don’t worry about opening the floodgates for big new water permits. Florida has plenty of water, right? People and permits aren’t the problems; all our rivers need is a little more rain.

Find ways to avoid taking any action to save the river and its springs, even though that silly state mandate to preserve and protect natural resources is still a nagging thought there in the back of your mind.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Fountains of Youth Tarot: Card 0, The Fool—Ponce de Leon

Anybody who would go exploring in Florida dressed like that has got to have a strong foolish streak! But in the tarot, you have to do more than dress funny to get labeled as The Fool.

Despite the nicer and more optimistic portrayals of this card that are often in vogue in New Age circles, The Fool is not about starting off on a new journey or simply being oblivious to your surroundings (although a certain degree of cluelessness is a trademark of this card). No, when The Fool shows up, it’s because somebody is being a jerk or an a**hole, according to my first tarot teacher. The Fool doesn’t even get a numbered card—he’s a zero! If you’re using the tarot as a predictive tool, this card represents foolish ventures. In the reversed or upside-down position, the card indicates someone who is being consciously stupid—throwing caution, and possibly sanity, to the winds.

If you are wise, you don’t dance on the edge of a mountain—as The Fool is classically portrayed—or go looking for magical fountains of youth based on local gossip, which is what legend tells us Ponce de Leon was doing when he landed on Florida’s shores in 1513. But that legend isn’t true.

What Ponce was really looking for was gold and a way to salvage his reputation after being ousted by Christopher Columbus’s son from his post as governor of Puerto Rico. The myth about searching for fountains of youth was tacked on to Ponce de Leon’s biography after the explorer’s death, but the myth stuck and continues to percolate in our collective memory, so much so that Florida’s fountains of youth have provided a pervasive inspiration for artists, writers, and creative types for hundreds of years.

I chose Ponce as The Fool not because his exploration of Florida is steeped in myth, but because he represents what I think is the true foolishness of human existence that will haunt us until we finally give it up—the idea that we humans can control Mother Nature, that She exists only to serve our needs, and that continuing to do business in Florida the way we have for 500 years will never come back to bite us in the butt. That idea, what one friend calls the Myth of the Extractive Economy, is the hallmark not only of Ponce de Leon’s foolishness, but also of our own.

We see this foolishness everywhere—in the elevation of big business and big agriculture to objects of worship by our elected officials, in their continued calls for growth at any cost, and perhaps most of all in the nonstop issuance of water permits by the boards of our water management districts, even as our lakes and springs dry up, algae blooms, and the magnificent Floridan Aquifer shrinks beneath our feet.

The tarot has been described as The Fool’s Journey. Shall we see where this journey leads, here in the land of the Fountains of Youth?

My photo of the statue of Ponce de Leon, above, was taken at the Fountain of Youth attraction in St. Augustine, Florida.

Monday, April 16, 2012


Seven chakras
Seven wonders of the world
Seven pillars of wisdom
Seven naked-eye planets
Seven Sisters (Pleiades)
Seven seas
Seven cities of Cibola
Seven deadly sins
Seven seals
Seven churches
Seven bowls
Seven trumpets
Seven tribes
7 x 7 = 49, the number of days in the bardo between death and rebirth in Tibetan Buddhism
Seven colors
Seventh son of the seventh son (the psychic/healer)
Seven ages of man
Seven days of creation
Seven hills of Rome
Seven lucky gods (Japanese)
Seven sages
Seven-year itch
The Magnificent Seven
Seven dwarves
Seven Against Thebes
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Seven Bridges Road
Seven Samurai
Seven Voyages of Sinbad
Seven-Mile Bridge
Seventh heaven
Seven horcruxes
At our house: Seven yellow feral cats.
In math, does it take seven points to plot a spiral? (I don’t know, I’m guessing)

Seven springs that should be saved: Ichetucknee, Juniper, Manatee, Rainbow, Silver, Wakulla, Wekiva

Clear Springs: Marketing and Loss

This morning I blended a banana, a tablespoon of peanut butter, some strawberries, some blueberries, and a cup of soymilk for a breakfast smoothie. I was rinsing the blueberries at the kitchen sink when I noticed the label on the package: Clear Springs Blueberries out of Bartow, Florida. The graphic shows an exuberant tree and the sun rising over a clear blue stream that flows through the landscape. Nice image, I thought, that conveys clean growing conditions and a healthy product (and my smoothie tasted great!).

Then I started thinking about the many ways that Florida businesses, as well as state agencies like Visit Florida, use the idea of “clear springs” in their marketing efforts. How many developments and shopping centers are named for a river or a spring? How many food products? How many ads throughout the United States and the world tout our pristine waters? Surely the fact that we have the largest number of freshwater springs in the world has been a boon to marketers of all things Florida, dating back to shortly after Ponce de Leon’s landing in 1513—when the myth of the Florida’s fountains of youth took hold in the world’s collective imagination.

Speaking of 1513 and the fountains of youth, next year—2013—is the 500th anniversary of Ponce’s landing, years before the Jamestown colony in Virginia and the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. You can bet your orange blossoms that businesses throughout the State of Florida are going to play up that “fountain of youth” theme all year long.

Florida’s businesses and tourism boards would be crazy not to use our fountains of youth in their advertising, except for the small, troubling fact that most of our fountains—our crystal springs of myth and marketing—may be gone by then.

Freshwater springs used to dot the landscape of the whole state. All the springs in South Florida are now gone; there are thousands if not millions of people who call Florida home who have never seen a spring. Many of the over 900 springs in North Florida are dead or dying at an alarming rate, victims of increased water use and aquifer depletion that correspond to population growth as well as consumptive use permits that are handed out by our water management districts (WMDs) to everyone who wants our water. Our WMDs (weapons of mass destruction?) seem to have no regard for the amount of water that needs to remain in natural systems in order for those systems—and, by extension, the drinking water for most of North Florida’s population—to survive.

This list of dead and dying springs—dead to flow or dying by pollution—is by no means complete: Fenholloway, Hampton, Kissingen, White, Worthington, Marion Blue, Hornsby, Royal, Convict, Suwannee, Buzzard, Sulphur, Health, Gemini, Green, Rock, Pitt, Hunter, Blue Hole, Volusia Blue, Bronson Blue, Rainbow River, Fanning. I’m certain there are more names that could be added.

To add insult to injury, there is now a consumptive use permit pending at the St. Johns River Water Management District for a cattle ranch and slaughterhouse, Adena Springs Ranch (note the “springs” in the title), that would draw as much water as the City of Ocala from the springshed of Silver Springs while adding tons of cow manure, a primary source of nitrates that cause the algae blooms and pollution that is killing our springs. Adena “Springs” Ranch is being sold to Ocala and Marion County as an economic boon that would create about 100 jobs. Yet a 2004 Florida Department of Environmental Protection study showed that Silver Springs, Florida’s original and still premier tourist attraction, is responsible for over 1,060 jobs and over $61 million in annual economic benefits.*

And there are people who think that if the consumptive use permit for Adena Springs Ranch is granted, that will sound the death knell for Silver Springs.

If and when the Adena Springs Ranch permit is issued and Silver Springs is lost, Ocala stands to lose 900 jobs and over $61 million. This tradeoff makes absolutely no sense to anyone but the owner of Adena Springs Ranch—but such are the consequences of a permitting process that fails to take into account the costs of bad decisions about our water. (Case in point: the Everglades, with restoration costs now in the billions of dollars.)

An even more curious thing about Adena Springs Ranch is that site preparation is already underway
before the consumptive use permit for water has been issued! I can only shake my head and file this information away under “things that make me go ‘hmmmmm…’.”

The Florida Constitution, Article II, Section 7(a), reads: “It shall be the policy of the state to conserve and protect its natural resources and scenic beauty. Adequate provision shall be made by law for the abatement of air and water pollution and of excessive and unnecessary noise and for the conservation and protection of natural resources.”

It’s clear to me that the State of Florida is not fulfilling its constitutional obligation to our natural resources. I think it’s past time for us to raise a little hell.

Don’t wait to act until no water flows from your tap. Here are some things you can do right now.

Visit the website of Audubon of Florida, where you can send a message to our governor and the members of the St. Johns River WMD that you want Silver Springs to be saved.

Join and get involved with your local springs working group or springs friends group. Educate yourselves about what is going on with our water. Read Mirage and Blue Revolution by Cynthia Barnett; your local library probably has these books. Use less water and demand the same from agriculture and industry.

Talk to your friends, family members, co-workers, and church groups; get other people involved. Find businesses and agencies that use clean water in their marketing, and ask them to speak out for Florida’s waters. Be persistent; why should businesses stay silent while the very things they use to tout themselves are lost? Visit your local legislators and let them know you care about our water and are troubled to see our springs being lost, because if they don’t hear from you, they assume you’re okay with the status quo. We need a massive public outcry to turn this situation around. Remember that our springs can’t speak; we have to speak for them.

And finally—pray, because we need a miracle.

*Information from Dr. Robert Knight of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Bear

If I get behind one more logging truck or big pickup and can’t see far enough ahead to pass, I think I’ll scream. The speed limit through Georgia is only 55, and I’m on a two-lane highway through pecan groves and cotton fields, rows of peanuts and planted pines, crossing bridges over rivers and creeks, headed to the writing workshop. I gun the red Prius up to 80 mph to pass the big white Ford F350 in front of me with the large black tarp slung across the bed.

As I get closer, my focus shifts and I notice what looks like a mammoth, black, hairy human foot dangling off the passenger’s side of the truck. “What the heck!” I mutter, doing a double take as my car’s speed increases and I draw even with the truck bed.

It’s not a tarp I’m seeing. It’s a huge, hairy, black body, the head—with red mouth agape—hanging off the driver’s side. A bear. Dead. With a large bullet hole open and angry, a jagged ruby wound in the creature’s huge chest.

“Oh, shit!” I exclaim to myself. “Damn!” I grip the steering wheel harder and feel the muscles in my shoulders freeze up. I suck in my breath and work to keep my focus on the road as I pass the truck and its inert cargo while a great silent wail, a tsunami of hot energy, moves up from below my belly and out the top of my head.

I remember the mantra of Chenrezig, the great pearlescent bodhisattva who, unblinking, views the sufferings of sentient beings throughout the worlds—and I begin to chant his mantra that relieves those sufferings, OM MANI PADME HUNG, OM MANI PADME HUNG.

I wonder how the bear died. Was he roaming alone through what he thought was safe forage, looking for berries or honey? Did he feel the wind through the pines, the wind ruffling his thick fur? What were his bear thoughts in the final moments of his life, before the rifle blasted that hole through his heart? Was he aware, in those last seconds, that something had gone awry in his world? Did he feel a giant stabbing pain when the bullet tore away his flesh and scattered his life force, or he did drop all of a sudden to the ground there in the middle of the forest, with the berries ripening and the bees humming and the wind making its wild music in the pines with autumn coming in? What was the last thing he saw? What strange bear image counted as his last thought?

I’m in Georgia, I remembered. Bear hunting is probably legal here.

I feel like I’ve been shot through the heart.

I wrote this piece at a workshop where we were asked to convey an emotion by describing our sense impressions. Do you know which emotion I'm describing here?