Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Green Monster Returns

The following photos were all taken by Dr. Gerry Pinto, a research scientist with JU's Marine Science Research Institute. Thanks Gerry for allowing us to post these unbelievable aerial photos.

North of the mouth of Cunningham Creek in the St. Johns:

San Marco:

South of the Buckman Bridge:

The Bolles School dock:

Remember that these algae blooms are a symptom of a sick river. Our St. Johns is polluted with too many nutrients (Nitrogen and Phosphorus) from wastewater, fertilizers, and stormwater runoff. The algae blooms can be harmful to aquatic vegetation and wildlife and sometimes even to human health.

More to come on this developing story.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Yankee Lake Ends with Little Fanfare-Decision Later

I apologize for leaving you hanging last week.

After the hearing ended Thursday, I drove home and intended to post that night. Unfortunately, I felt a cold coming on and just didn’t feel well. Planned to post Friday, but I was laid up in bed Friday and Saturday. Rested yesterday, and I am back at the office today.

Today, I will try and wrap up the hearing—well, up to this point anyway. As you will learn, the ending remains to be written.

Last Thursday, the hearing ended, but not before Seminole County and the SJRWMD both presented rebuttal witnesses. I believe our attorneys did a good job of rebuffing this testimony. And that was it’ no closing arguments or statements. After three weeks it all ends rather quietly.

The parties agreed that the proposed recommended order, or PRO, will be filed by December 8th. A PRO is a legal document that each side submits to the judge, in effect, to state how they believed the hearing went down, i.e., based upon the evidence and testimony, how the judge should rule. (NOTE: this is my take; I’m not an attorney).

For SJRK, we believe our case proved that the withdrawals would cause harm to the St. Johns, would negatively impact our members’ use and enjoyment of the river, and Seminole County could meet its reuse needs WITHOUT removing water from the St. Johns.

The judge will review the PROs, exhibits, testimony and make his decision. At this time, I don’t have a timetable for the ruling. So, we all just need to sit tight and continue our opposition to the misguided withdrawals. Believe me there are many other communities and utilities watching the Yankee Lake case. The threats to the river will not end with this one ruling, regardless of the outcome.

I’ve been asked what we have gained by this struggle.

First, SJRK’s mission is to stand and defend the St. Johns from those who seek to harm it. I can honestly say we have done the very best we could to do just that. Thanks to the community’s support, both emotional and financial, we presented a compelling case against the withdrawal of water from, the St. Johns.

We exposed how little thought the SJRWMD put toward the Yankee Lake permit decision. One of the most remarkable pieces of testimony came from the SRJWMD staff person who drafted the Yankee Lake permit. He testified that he did the cumulative impact analysis for this permit in his head. Unbelievable.

During the course of the hearing, the SJRWMD finally admitted something SJRK has been saying for 18 months. Removing water from the river WILL increase the potential for algae blooms AND increase the length of time blooms exist in the river. As I mentioned in previous blogs, had SJRK NOT challenged the Yankee Lake Permit, no additional science would have been completed by the SJRWMD and the Yankee Lake permit would be fait acompli.

Our next challenge is to continue to monitor and question the science that is now being completed as part of the reanalysis.

So, that’s it-- my last blog on the administrative hearing. Hope it kept you up to date and informed you about this important, no historic, happening.

I’ll end with some exciting news about a new program SJRK has developed. It’s called My St. Johns River, and it is an education and awareness campaign to facilitate personal connections with the St. Johns and to provide you with tools to “get to know” your river.

The goal of the My St. Johns River campaign is to foster a greater sense of awareness, appreciation and understanding of the river and to ultimately provide inspiration and opportunities for you to get out and experience your St. Johns firsthand.

Check it out at WWW.mystjohnsriver.com

Thanks for everything.

For the River,
Your St. Johns Riverkeeper

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hearing Ended Today--Our Case Recap

I apologize for the delay in blogging. Yesterday, I spent all day at the hearing, and then had to drive back to Jacksonville for a fund raising event. Thanks to Helen Lane for hosting a gathering at her beautiful house on the St. Johns. It was nice to spend some time on the river, especially after spending almost three weeks in a stark, government building.

Well, today was the last day. SJRK rested its case yesterday. Our witnesses did well. We presented Dr. John Wolschlager from Arizona State University who testified that he believed Seminole County had used incorrect numbers in developing their reuse water supply plan. Basically, John, and others believe there is no need for Seminole to remove water from the St. Johns to augment their reuse water needs. Water conservation can produce the water the county needs for reuse and protect the river.

Understand this, Seminole County’s obsession with removing water from the rivers has never been about augmenting reuse—they want to take water from the river for profit. They do not give a damn about the St. Johns River; the river provides them a cheap source of water. The structure they propose to build will be able to remove 10 times their predicted needs of 5.5 MGD. It’s simple, they want sell water; the 5.5 MGD permit is a scam.

By the way, Seminole officials have criticized north Florida communities for not having meaningful water conservation plans like the ones they have in place. FACT (from testimony): Southwest(?) Seminole County’s per capita water use is 217 GPD --almost 40% larger than per capita average water use in the SJRWMD. Can you say hypocrite?

Our next witness was Dr. Quinton White. You make remember Dr. White was one of the first experts who challenged the SJRWMD’s plan to take water from the St. Johns River. Quint has been studying the river for over 30 years, and testified eloquently about the current impaired state of the river, and additional risks from water withdrawal.

Next up was Dr. Mark Luther, a marine biologist from the faculty of the University of South Florida. Dr. Luther testified that the model used to predict salinity changes caused by the proposed withdrawals have been underestimated because of dynamic salinity stratification occurs n the lower St. Johns River. He testified that removing even small amounts of freshwater from the river could cause significant salinity changes far upstream.

Our final witness was Robin Lewis a wetland ecologist. Robin testified about the impairment of the River and specific ecosystems. He presented evidence that flow to the river have been declining for decades. He stated flow from the Ocklawaha River, the River’s largest tributary, has declined by almost 50%. He also testified about impacts to the River’s Ell Grass beds from increasing salinities. Robin believes the salinity studies are "fatally flawed"

Speaking of declining flows in the river. When SJRK first challenged the SJRWMD's dangerous idea of removing freshwater from the St. Johns, they noted that 12 million gallons per day (MGD) has been removed from the river for decades, and the river has not shown harm. Later, the SJRWMD noted that, lo and behold, they determined that 29 MGD) was being removed from the St Johns. Shortly after that admission, District staff estimated over 30 MGD was being removed from the river.

During the hearing, District staff TESTIFIED they now estimate almost 60 MGD is being removed from the St. Johns every day. Why does this matter?

When the SJRWMD determined how much water could be removed for the river safely, i.e., the MFLs, the 60 MGD removal was never considered. The only reason the district bothered to compute this data was for the purposes of this hearing.

In fact, more science about water withdrawals has been generated by this hearing and the public’s outcry for an objective analysis than before the SJRWMD recommended approval of the Yankee Lake Permit!

One thing is evident. Our challenge of this permit has clearly shown the District did not fully consider the full environmental impacts of this permit and did not have sufficient information on which to base a permit decision. Need evidence to support my conclusion?

Last week the District staff person who drafted the Yankee Lake permit testified that he did the cumulative impact analysis, i.e., the deliberation on all the environmental impacts AND potential environmental impacts of the proposed Yankee Lake river withdrawals on the health of the St. Johns River, IN HIS HEAD.

Think about that. One of the most controversial decisions facing the SJRWMD in decades, and one of the more important analyses involving this permit was not written down. A staff person did it in his head. Incredible.

And the SJRWMD asks why the public has lost trust in the agency?

More Later. I'll wrap up the last day's action, tomorrow.

Thanks for your support. It means a great deal.

Looking forward to sleeping in my own bed, I remain,

Neil A. Armingeon
Your St. Johns Riverkeeper

Monday, October 13, 2008

Positive Happenings at the Hearing

Happy Monday,

Hello from the SJRK Office. It's good to be home for a couple of days. The Hearing starts again on Wednesday. The hearing will END by this Friday; the judge is adamant about that, and he runs the show.

Yesterday, I mentioned that I felt the momentum in the case has shifted toward the end of last week. I just wanted to follow-up on that thought with some detail.

Most of the week was spent listening to SJRWMD staff testify how they reached the decision to recommend approval for the Yankee Lake Project to remove 5.5 MGD from the St. Johns River (project can exceed 11 MGD). There was much discussion about modelling, technical analysis, salinity changes, etc., etc.

Wednesday afternoon the SJRWMD staff person who DRAFTED the Yankee Lake Permit testified under oath that he did the cumulative impact analysis in "his head". There was nothing put on paper.

My testimony went fine. Seminole County's attorney tried to impeach me with an out of context statement from my first deposition, and the judge stopped him and ended the question. After that, the attorney's seemed to lose steam. SJRWMD's 4 attorney's had no questions!

The final witness for the SJRWMD was very telling. After stating water withdrawals will not have any impact on algae blooms, the SJRWMD did a 180 and announced withdrawals WOULD increase alagal growth potential, i.e, blooms will last longer!! SJRK has been stating this for the past 18 months; withdrawals will exacerbate blooms and will increase their occurrences in the lower river.

The District announced they are requiring Seminole County to mitigate these impacts. While it is nice to hear the district change their story, our position has not changed--we are against Yankee Lake withdrawal. Regardless of this last minute admission.

I'm looking forward to this week. We present our case. I'll save the details until after the fact.

Needless to say, I'm encouraged by what has happened and know Ken and Michael will do a good job.

Keep the faith.

Thanks for all the well wishes and prayers.

For the River,

Your St. Johns Riverkeeper

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Good Week For the St. Johns

Hello Friend of the St. Johns

Sorry about the delay in posting. It was a very long week which ended with my testimony and cross examination. I need some time to decompress. This is hard, but we ended the week on high note.

First, let me say again how much I appreciate our attorneys, Ken Wright and Michael Howle. I cannot begin to describe how much time they are putting in on this case. They spend many late hour's preparing for the tremendous amounts of witnesses put on the stand by Seminole County and SJRWMD. They read depositions well into the early morning hours, and they are sitting in the hearing the next day @8:30 AM ready to do battle.

This hearing is one of the greatest experiences of my almost 20-year career of working for environmental organizations. It is an honor to be a small part of this historical event.

Honors are due,too, to Jacksonville's attorneys, Sean Frazier and Jason Teel, and St' Johns County's team of Patrick McCormack and Regina(forgive me Regina, I forgot your last name). Our side is really working together well, and it is great to be part of this effort.

I'll end by saying the last part of the week went extremely well for the St. Johns River. I need to go do some yard work. Stay tuned. Later today, I'll post a blow-by-blow and why I believe we have a real chance to win the case.

Thanks for your support.

For the River

Your St. Johns Riverkeeper

Friday, October 10, 2008

The River Finally Speaks!

Good Friday Morning,

After hours of testimony by paid consultants and SJRWMD staff, Seminole County and the SJRWMD have rested their cases--well almost. The district is negotiating a new permit condition for the proposed Yankee Lake permit with Seminole.

This action stems from the SJRWMD admission that removing water from the river will increase the algal growth potential causing algae blooms to last longer.

Riverkeeper has been stating the obvious for over 18 months; removing water causes more residence time making algae blooms last longer.

In any event, less this situation the hearing finally turns to those defending the river, SJRK, St. John County, and Jacksonville. Finally, the "rest of the story."

Jan Brewer, Director of Environmental Services for St. Johns County (SJS), testified yesterday afternoon. She was great! Those of you from SJC should be very proud; she represented he river and your interests very well.

This morning, Jacksonville, presents two of their witnesses, and then, its showtime for SJRK. I testify this afternoon. I've been preparing for the last couple of nights, and I am confident things will go well.

I will tell the judge about the real St. Johns River--the beautiful, important body of water that means so much to all of us. Sadly the others side rarely if ever mentions the river in any terms other than millions of gallons of available water. That changes today!

Knowing you are all with me will make my job easier.

Today, the River finally gets her say!

I'll post later to let you know how things went.

Keep the Faith.

For the River,

Your St. Johns Riverkeeper

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Quck Update From Sanford

Good Morning,

Forgive me for failing to post in the last several days. Things are very hectic--that's an understatement. Also, Internet connections that allow me to log on to the blog are not always available.

We've had a couple of good days. The SJRWMD has been putting on their case, and that will continue until this afternoon. St. Johns County presents its witness today. Tomorrow, Jacksonville present some of their witnesses, and it looks like I'll go tomorrow afternoon. That means I've got a lot of work ahead of me to prepare.

Its remarkable what we've learned during this process. Its clear the District made the decision to remove water from rivers without fully considering the alternatives.

Yesterday, the permit writer for the proposed Yankee Lake withdrawal testified he did a cumulative impact analysis for the Seminole County's project in HIS HEAD. He did not write anything down; he just worked through it in his head. I don't know whether we should be angry or scared.

Got to run. I'll get something out tonight.

Thanks for your support, and in some cases prayers. We all the help we can get.

For the River,

Your St. Johns Riverkeeper