Peace River Flow Lags As Rainy Season Begins

Late June is typically the time when the traditional rainy season begins in peninsular Florida, but so far it’s off to a slow start.

The Peace River’s flow in Polk County is running about half the long-term average at Bartow and even less downstream in Fort Meade because of water losses in the river bed caused by historic aquifer overpumping.

Farther downstream, flow at Zolfo Springs in Hardee County is about one-sixth of average flow and flow at Arcadia in DeSoto County, where phosphate mining is proposed near a major tributary, is about one-fourth of normal.

This is relevant as Polk continues to consider tapping a section of the river for future water supplies when the river flow allows.

As climate change continues to affect weather patterns, it is too soon to predict whether that will result in wetter or drier times in this part of the planet, but this is something to watch.

An active hurricane season could change all of this quickly as it did in 2004 when late summer water levels were alarmingly low until they weren’t and river flow surged to near record levels.

Stay tuned.



DeSantis Vetoes Preemption Bill Opposed By Sierra

Gov. Ron DeSantis has vetoed a bill that would have gutted local officials’ ability to regulate businesses in the public interest.

CS/SB 620 would have allowed businesses to sue local governments for any adopted ordinance or charter amendment that the business perceived as having the potential to cause a loss of profit of 15% or more. Businesses could have been awarded up to seven years of projected lost profit, plus attorney’s costs and fees. This legislation would have had a chilling effect on local governments, and severely impacted their ability to respond to local issues.

“Sierra Club Florida congratulates the thousands of people who made calls, wrote emails, and more with us and our partners, said Luigi Guadarrama. Sierra Club Florida’s political director. “This is proof that voters do not want to curtail action on the environment, and the polls agree; policymakers would be keen to pay attention.”

“In Florida, local governments are leading the way in responding to the climate crisis, said Emily Gorman, Sierra Club Florida’s Chapter Director. “Protecting the ability of local governments to respond to local issues is critical to protecting our environment and ensuring our quality of life in the Sunshine State. Sierra Club Florida is thrilled to see this veto.”

This bill is the third of three bills Sierra Club Florida prioritized for veto this year. In addition to SB620, Sierra Club Florida urged Governor DeSantis to veto HB741, an anti-solar bill that would have eliminated tens of thousands of jobs, and SB2508, a bill that would have had broad consequences for conservation efforts in Florida. It would have affected the state’s land-acquisition efforts and given unprecedented water rights to regulated industries.

Gov. DeSantis vetoed both bills.


Florida Environmental Advocate Frank Mann Dead At 80

Although the current generation of political observers may not realize it, there was a time when environmental advocacy was popular in the Florida Legislature.

One of the people who was a leader in that effort was Frank Mann, who served in the Florida House and Senate in the 1970s and 1980s, representing the Fort Myers area. He died this week at 80.

He had a great sense of humor and often used his humor to make serious points about the need to protect Florida’s natural resources.

After he left the Legislature, he served many years on the Lee County Commission, where he continued to advocate for environmental preservation.

He will be missed. Frank Mann, RIP.



Polk Curbside Recycling Will Resume For Now, But Stay Alert For Cutbacks

Depending on where you live in unincorporated Polk County, your recycling cart may have been fuller than normal in recent months after the County Commission cut a deal with one its contractors that wasn’t doing a great job.

That will be over beginning July 1 and weekly curbside recycling collection will resume for now.

But don’t get too comfortable with the arrangement.

By Oct. 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year, things may change.

There was some chatter at a recent commission meeting about the economics of curbside recycling. That involves the fact that it costs more to provide the service than it yields in revenue from the sale of recyclable materials.

Although aluminum cans peaked earlier this year at an unheard-of price of $1 a pound, it is less now, though still more than previous prices because of inflation.

There has been some tentative discussion of returning to using drop-off locations for recycling to reduce costs.

Drop-off locations—including one at the county landfill—were abandoned because they became a magnet for illegal dumping.

The problem is that curbside recycling has the same problem in the absence of any serious attempt to educate the public or enforce guidelines to reduce contamination as recommended in a years-old consultant report the County Commission spent money to fund but the staff pretty much ignored.

What recycling contamination means is that if there is too much stuff—plastic bags, unrecyclable plastic products, household garbage etc. etc. etc.—placed in recycling carts, the whole load goes into the landfill because it is not economically feasible to sort it to pull out truly recyclable materials.

Although some city recycling operations have attempted to address this issue, Polk County has not.

If curbside recycling in unincorporated Polk County goes away, don’t be surprised.

Another thing to watch is whether the County Commission reduces the garbage rate that was quietly increased last year based on a claim that pandemic-related garbage volume increases were putting a strain on the landfill even though it was also increasing landfill revenue.


Could Turnpike Extension Be An Issue In Sumter Elections?

There is some speculation that the question of whether the Sumter County Commission would be willing to take a stand on the Northern Turnpike Extension that could run through portions of the county, the Villages News reports.

The newspaper reported that a number of residents from the Villages and other sections of the county wearing green No Build T-shirts showed up at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting to urge commissioners to take a stand as commissioners in Citrus, Levy and Marion counties have.

So far Sumter County commissioners have refused to take a stand.

Because of the removal of two commissioners from office over criminal charges earlier this year, four of the five seats on the commission will be up for election this year.

The turnpike extension has been a focus of Sierra Club’s No Roads To Ruin campaign because of concerns that the extension will encourage urban sprawl, threaten traditional agricultural lands and conservation lands and has no real justification from a transportation planning standpoint.

Rights of Nature Webinar Coming June 22

Sierra Club’s Water Sentinels Leadership Team will present a webinar titled Rights of Nature in the United States: Theory, Practice and Recent Developments. It will be presented on June 22 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

The “Rights of Nature” movement involves fundamentally rethinking humanity’s relationship with nature, and it is gaining momentum, according to activists.

This issue has been discussed in some parts of Florida, though it has received pushback from the Florida Legislature.

The rights of nature movement is led by activists advocating for ecosystems such as rivers, lakes, and mountains to bear legal rights in the same, or at least a similar, manner as human beings. This movement is striving for a paradigm shift in which nature is placed at the center and humans are connected to it in an interdependent way, rather than a dominant one.

One important set of questions involves how would such a legal system work, and could giving rights to nature help in the legal battle against climate change? A legal perspective and a few case studies will offer some insight, according to webinar organizers.

The webinar’s presenters will discuss the obstacles to securing rights of nature under the current legal system, some lessons learned from other countries on how to deal with those obstacles and how they may or not apply to cases in the United States and how the rights of nature may be a pathway to reform American water law.

To participate, go to Meeting Registration – Zoom .


New Entrance To Marshall Hampton Reserve Advances

As many of you know, a new toll road between State Road 60 and the Polk Parkway is going to take out the current trailhead at Marshall Hampton Reserve and a big chunk of the adjacent oak forest.

That means the nature park needs a new entrance and parking area.

Tuesday the Polk County Commission accepted a quit claim deed from the Southwest Florida Water Management District for 1.3 acres along Thornhill Road that will be used not only for the new entrance, but will allow the county to upgrade the bridge of Lake Lena Run, a stream that flows from Auburndale to Lake Hancock and once carried quite a bit of municipal and industrial waste to the lake.

Ancient Islands Sierra has lobbied Swiftmud and the Florida Department of Transportation’s Turnpike Enterprise to make something like this happen.

FDOT also purchased a large tract of the former Old Florida Plantation site from Swiftmud as part of the road project’s need for right of way, stormwater storage and other aspects of the project called the Central Polk Parkway.