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.