Toilet To Tap Bill May Not Affect This Part of Florida

Legislators are considering bills that will allow treated sewage to be used more widely, including as a source of drinking water.

However, it doesn’t look as though drinking water in this part of Florida will come from other sources.

That’s because the treated sewage in DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, Polk and Sumter is already being used for other purposes, primarily irrigation and power plant cooling water.

In other parts of the state, the change will be more dramatic.

In south Florida counties, where sewage is still discharged into the Atlantic Ocean. That practice is supposed to end in 2025.

Elsewhere, inland surface discharges that haven’t already been diverted will have to end and utilities will have to pursue reclaimed water infrastructure.

According to a legislative staff analysis there are approximately 2,000 domestic sewer plants in Florida and 476 already have some kind of system for using what is now referred to as reclaimed water.

The big challenge will be how to afford the conversion costs. Some state funding will be available, but some of the cost will likely have to be incorporated in rate structures just as well-run utilities already set aside funds for repairs and replacement costs.

Polk Commission Oks Peace River Restoration Study

County commissioners agreed today to spend $106,271 to hire a consultant to conduct a study to determine the feasibility of restoration projects along the section of the Peace River in Polk County.

A final report on the study is scheduled to be completed by November.

The study, which will be undertaken by Kisinger Camp & Associates, will look at habitat, soils, wildlife, water quality and other features along the river. The 154-square-mile study area has been heavily impacted by urban development, phosphate mining and farming operations over the past 150 years

This is the first of three proposed study phases.

Subsequent phases will involve further analyses of top-ranked restoration projects and the design and permitting of any restoration projects that are selected.

The effort will involve examining potential expansion of recreational opportunities along this scenic waterway.

Three public boat ramps and a riverside boardwalk park already exist. Efforts are under way to establish wayfinding markers to encourage paddling on this section of the river.


Taxpayers On Hook For Piney Point Fix

The slow-motion phosphate wastewater spill occurring at the old Piney Point fertilizer plant in Palmetto will only be solved by removing the source.

I wrote yesterday that the Florida Legislature has a role here since the private company that the state shuttled the problem off to in 2006 seems financially incapable—that’s the official story anyway—and as it turns out an effort had been under way even before the latest chapter of this decades-long saga opened.

A $6 million appropriation request was submitted in early March by State Rep. William Robinson to secure state matching funds—Manatee County will contribute $6 million, too—to come up with a plan to close the gypsum stack and to do something with the hundreds of millions of gallons of polluted water in the complex’s ponds other than dumping it into Tampa Bay to prevent a sewage tsunami.

One option may be deep-well injection, perhaps similar to what has occurred with other acidic wastewater at other industrial facilities in the region. That will certainly raise the cost, but there are few alternatives for dealing with that much polluted water.

As it stands, the amount of water being released on an emergency basis—about 31.5 million gallons a day–totals as much as some of the larger recorded phosphate spills to occur in Florida over the past 50 years.

Despite Gov. Ron DeSantis’ pledge to make HRK Holdings, the current stack owner, responsible, experience has shown that corporations are so well compartmentalized that there are few assets to pursue compared to the cost of the fix. Current and future taxpayers will be footing the bill.

This the latest instance in which the state had to step in to clean up the mess at a gypsum stack after a private company—actually the same private company—declared bankruptcy and bailed.

That involved the Mulberry Phosphates stack that was the source of a catastrophic acidic water spill during a rainstorm in 1997 that killed almost all plant and animal life in the Alafia River between Mulberry and Riverview.

The current releases will not have quite as dramatic an effect, but it certainly isn’t good news for the bay’s health, The damage will continue for who knows how long. I’ve seen no estimate on just how long the pollution of algae-growing phosphorous and nitrogen releases will continue.

If legislators approve the appropriation request and the polluted water is drained from the pond, the stack then has to be capped with impermeable material to prevent additional water buildup, though the typical estimate for all of the water already in the gypsum could take decades to drain away and would have to be collected and threated and taken somewhere.

The current residents’ grandchildren will probably be paying part of the cleanup costs.

This incident also highlights the recent effort to place more federal regulatory oversight of these waste piles because of their potential effects on the health and safety of residents in surrounding communities.

The Piney Point stack, which sits at the edge of a bay and a busy state major highway and near rural homes and county jail is a good example of why better regulations to prevent catastrophes make sense.



Piney Point Saga Exposes Lax State Regulation

The Piney Point gypsum stack probably should have been closed years ago.

The fact that, unlike many of the other Florida waste stacks, it is near the Gulf of Mexico, a major state highway and a number of residences and public facilities, is kind of a no-brainer.

Gov. Ron DeSantis inherited this debacle from previous administrations who, like him to some extent, generally had a permissive attitude toward environmental regulation and made the calculation that fixing the problem would be more expensive than the state budget could sustain, perhaps.

In 2006 they turned the problem over to the private sector after the previous private sector owner declared bankruptcy and left the state holding the bag.

It is now 15 years later. The Florida Legislature is in session.

It will be interesting to see whether either Gov. DeSantis or legislators take the initiative to figure out a path to solve this environmental fiasco once and for all.

There has been so much effort to restore our rivers and bays to let things revert to the bald old days.


Gopher Tortoise ESA Listing Back In Court


Federal protection of the gopher tortoise, a keystone species of upland habitats in Florida and elsewhere in the Southeast, has been on hold for decades.

The Center for Biological Diversity has announced it is suing to force federal officials to proceed with efforts to list this species under the Endangered Species Act.

Gopher tortoises live in burrows. Those burrows not only shelter them from fire and weather extremes, but also shelter hundreds of other species ranging from declining species of snakes such as Eastern indigo and Eastern diamondback rattlesnake to small mammals and a variety of insects.

The lawsuit also seeks to resume consideration of listing the Monarch butterfly, whose migratory populations in much of the country—including the Florida Panhandle—have been declining because of pesticide use and changing management practices on farmland and road rights of way.

The suit was filed against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Department of the Interior in federal court in Washington D.C.


End The Month With A Park Hike

If you needed an excuse to get outdoors in the opening days of spiring, Tuesday’s the day you’ve been waiting for.

It is National Take A Walk In A Park Day.

You can take a long hike or a short hike, an urban hike or a wilderness hike, a solo trek or a group outing.

There are plenty of parks of all types in this region.

Make this an adventure and go to a park you’ve never visited before or haven’t visited in a long time so you can see what’s new.

Pay attention to what’s going around you as you walk. Wildflowers are blooming. Birds are singing and soaring, Butterflies and other pollinators are flying.

Have fun.


Proposed Impact Fee Curbs Latest Growth Management Setback

Growth management in Florida was once a national model.

Local governments were required to develop detailed plans on how they planned to handle growth, how they planned to map land uses and how they planned to pay for it.

Unfortunately, the landmark 1985 legislation has been weakened and is gradually taking us back to the days when new development was allowed anywhere, any time.

The agency in charge of overseeing growth plans is now powerless to crack down on overly permissive local government planning decisions in rare instances when they actually have something substantive to say, thanks to legislation has whittled away at earlier growth-management regulations. Legislators have also practically eliminated what kinds of megadevelopments that are classified as developments of regional impact. The list goes on.

A time-honored, though sometimes controversial way to make growth pay its way was to impose impact fees so that local officials would have the money to build schools and parks, widen roads and do other work that a growing population needs and often demands.

This year the Florida Legislature is trying to weaken this fiscally responsible approach to growth management via SB 750 and HB 337.

Most of the legislation’s provisions contain provisions that’s actually already required, such as that there has to be some logical connection between the amount of impact fees local governments charge and what it costs to keep up with the demand growth places on public infrastructure and that the money collected has to be properly accounted for.

What is new is a provision that limits how governments can spend the money that introduce some inconsistency into the process.

For instance, they can’t use impact fees to buy land for schools or road-widenings, but they can use impact fees to buy land and vehicles for public safety facilities. The staff analysis doesn’t explain the discrepancy.

In addition, the legislation proposes to limit how much impact fees can increase, regardless of the justification, though the two bills differ in what those limits should be.

The result of these restrictions will be either more congested traffic and crowded classrooms or taxpayer subsidies for developers.

Tell your legislators this is a bad idea.