Florida Waterkeepers United visit FDEP 2018-08-01

Seven of the fourteen Florida Waterkeepers visited the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to express our serious concern and a sense of urgency to protect and restore Florida’s rivers, coast, bays, estuaries, lakes, springs, and aquifer, especially about resiliency after hurricanes, harmful algal blooms, BMAPs, and phosphate mines. I congratulated Noah Valenstein on his meteoric rise: only two and a half years ago he was just starting as head of the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD), and now he’s the head of FDEP.

L-R: Andy Hayslip (Tampa), Georgia Ackerman (Apalachicola), Marty Baum (Indian), Jen Lomberk (Matanzas), Drew Bartlett (FDEP), Whitney Gray (FDEP), Rick Frey (St. Marys), Lisa Rinaman (St. Johns), Noah Valenstein (Sec., FDEP), Shannon Blankinship
L-R: Andy Hayslip (Tampa Bay Waterkeeper), Georgia Ackerman (Apalachicola Riverkeeper), Marty Baum (Indian Riverkeeper), Jen Lomberk (Matanzas Riverkeeper), Drew Bartlett (Deputy Secretary for Ecosystem Restoration, FDEP), Whitney Gray (Administrator, Florida Resilient Coastlines, FDEP), Rick Frey (St. Marys Riverkeeper), Lisa Rinaman (St. Johns Riverkeeper), Noah Valenstein (Secretary, FDEP), Shannon Blankinship (Advocacy Director, St. Johns Riverkeeper), John S. Quarterman (hat, Suwannee Riverkeeper), Tom Frick (back, Director, Division of Environmental Restoration, FDEP); Photo: John S. Quarterman for WWALS

Press Release: Florida Waterkeepers Unite at FDEP

Florida Waterkeepers Logos


August 1, 2018


Georgia Ackerman, Apalachicola Riverkeeper (850) 321-6262, georgia@apalachicolariverkeeper.org

Marty Baum, Indian Riverkeeper (772)631-5827, indianrivguy@yahoo.com

Rick Frey, St. Marys Riverkeeper (404)909-0667, stmarysriverkeeper@gmail.com

Andy Hayslip, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper (727) 537-0484, andy@tampawaterkeeper.org

Jen Lomberk, Matanzas Riverkeeper (904) 471-9878, jen@matanzasriverkeeper.org

John S. Quarterman, Suwannee Riverkeeper (850) 290-2350, contact@suwanneeriverkeeper.org

Lisa Rinaman, St. Johns Riverkeeper (904) 509-3260, lisa@stjohnsriverkeeper.org


TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — On July 31, Florida Waterkeepers joined forces in Tallahassee to stand up for Florida waters. Waterkeepers united from across the state representing urban and rural communities and waterways in and around the watersheds of the Indian River Lagoon, Tampa Bay, Matanzas River, St. Johns River, St. Marys River, Suwannee River, and Apalachicola River.

At a time when waters and communities throughout Florida are plagued with harmful algal blooms and threatened by rising waters, Waterkeepers across the state met with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to express serious concern and a sense of urgency to protect and restore Florida’s rivers, coast, bays, estuaries, lakes, springs, and aquifer.

As demonstrated by Hurricane Irma, major storms deteriorate water quality, threaten human health, and undermine Florida’s economy. Absent more proactive action and investment in becoming more resilient, water quality protection, and adaptation efforts, Florida’s economy, environment, and public health will suffer.

Hurricane Irma, Infographic

Florida Waterkeepers submitted a joint request strongly urging FDEP to fully protect our waterways and our community by increasing Florida’s ability to withstand future storms. Recommendations include comprehensive audit of infrastructure vulnerability and storm risk to accurately price the cost of inaction, prioritization of green infrastructure, and enhanced protection of wetlands and mangroves. See attached white paper for details.

Diagram, Whitney Gray, Administrator, Florida Resilient Coastlines, FL Waterkeepers at FDEP
Whitney Gray, Administrator, Florida Resilient Coastlines, with diagram from Florida Adaptation Planning Guidebook; Photo: John S. Quarterman for WWALS

Another ongoing threat is excess nutrient pollution from sewage sludge, failing septic tanks, aging infrastructure, stormwater runoff, and agricultural runoff. This pollution fuels toxic green algae, brown slime, and red tide. Inadequate monitoring and lack of timely health advisories puts Floridians in harm’s way. Absent a comprehensive strategy to target the root causes and to stop this pollution at its source is a recipe for environmental, human health, and economic disaster.

On July 25, 2018, samples of cyanobacteria in the Cape Coral tidal canals on the Caloosahatchee River revealed an alarming high level of the toxin microcystin nearing 40,000 ug/l (parts per billion.) These levels are dramatically higher than EPA’s recommended safe recreational standard, 4 ug/l, and is consistent with risks to human health and animal mortality.

Urgent action is long-overdue. Waterkeepers requested the activation of the Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force; prioritize testing the actual algal bloom and publicize health advisories of toxic outbreaks quickly, a statewide moratorium against sewage sludge disposal near waterways; septic tank phase out strategies and the development and enforcement of truly restorative Basin Management Action Plans. The entire group presented a resolution against phosphate mining. In addition, the water advocates further voiced their joint opposition to FDEP’s efforts to assume the dredge and fill permits regulated by Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

Marty Baum explaining, FL Waterkeepers at FDEP
Marty Baum, Indian Riverkeeper, recounting some of the damage done; Photo: John S. Quarterman for WWALS

Florida’s waterways are uniquely connected and thus should be comprehensively and collectively protected under the Clean Water Act. Florida’s Waterkeepers are united in our goals to protect Florida’s water.

The Florida Waterkeepers share an unwavering commitment to protect the environmental integrity of Florida’s rivers, coast, bays, estuaries, lakes, springs and aquifer through science-based advocacy and a unified voice. There are currently 14 Waterkeepers in the State of Florida and each independent organization is a member of Waterkeeper Alliance, a global movement of on-the-water advocates who patrol and protect thousands of rivers, streams and coastlines in North and South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa.

Part scientist, teacher, and legal advocate, Waterkeepers combine firsthand knowledge of their waterways with an unwavering commitment to the rights of their communities and to the rule of law. Whether on the water, in a classroom, or in a courtroom, Waterkeepers speak for the waters they defend – with the backing of their local community and the collective strength of Waterkeeper Alliance.

Suwannee Riverkeeper et al., FL Waterkeepers at FDEP
John S. Quarterman, Suwannee Riverkeeper, et al.; Photo: Shannon Blankinship

Florida Waterkeepers Position Statement on Hurricane Irma (PDF)

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, Floridians are still assessing the short-term and long-term impacts of the storm with current estimates of storm-related damages between $25 and 46 billion. As climate change intensifies, we can expect more frequent and more severe weather-related catastrophes. Absent more proactive action and investment in coastal resiliency, water quality protection, and climate adaptation planning, Florida’s economy, environment, and public health will suffer.

Hurricanes and major storm events can deteriorate water quality threatening human health and the environment, particularly in Florida. Such storms generate large volumes of flood water, causing sewer and septic systems to fail, and flush large quantities of sewage and pollutants into our oceans, bays, rivers, and lakes. Nutrients, pesticides, fecal bacteria, heavy metals, petroleum products, industrial chemicals and many other contaminants enter our waterways and make them unsafe for swimming or fishing. Major storm events and the associated pollution can significantly impact local fisheries and tourism based economies, and the people and livelihoods that depend on them, often-taking months or years to recover.

Scientific projections indicate that major storm events like Hurricane Irma are likely to continue to batter and threaten the region in the coming years as storms increase in frequency and intensity. Climate change is expected to exacerbate storm impacts, dramatically increasing the risk of damage to coastal infrastructure and our clean water economy in Florida. Most notably, as sea levels rise—so do storm surge levels and impacts from flooding. While Florida’s infrastructure was created with water in mind, engineers and planners in the past did not anticipate rising seas or the dramatic population growth that the state has experienced in the past 50 years. As a result, living shorelines and natural systems have been replaced with man-made seawalls, impervious surfaces, and stormwater systems that have inadvertently increased flood risk and exacerbated pollution problems.

The Waterkeepers of Florida strongly urge elected officials to fully protect our waterways, our water supply and our communities by improving and enhancing the resiliency of Florida’s infrastructure and our state’s ability to withstand future storms. We simply cannot afford to wait any longer to prepare for the effects of climate change which are evident today. Florida’s future depends on local and state leadership committed to protecting our economy, communities, ecosystems, and public health before, during, and after major storms. Therefore, Florida Waterkeeper organizations urge state and local leaders to protect our water by taking the following actions:

  • Comprehensively Audit and Assess Florida’s Infrastructure Vulnerabilities
    • Conduct Vulnerability Assessments to identify necessary improvements to reduce flooding, sewage overflows, property losses, and power outages including potential of solar panels and batteries for sewer facility power resilience.
    • Conduct a post-storm utility audit to evaluate technical failures, power outages, sewage overflows, and flooding issues that occurred throughout the state.
    • Complete necessary improvements to infrastructure that failed during Hurricane Irma.
  • Implement Best Management Practices to Harden Infrastructure and Protect Natural Systems
    • Prioritize green infrastructure, living shorelines, and sustainable development practices and growth management policies that preserve critical floodplains, require ample wetland buffers and setbacks, and steer development towards areas that are less vulnerable to impacts from storm events and sea level rise.
    • Protect and restore wetlands and mangroves, the least expensive buffers to sea level rise and extreme weather events.
  • Require sound planning principles that must be used to eliminate inappropriate and unsafe development in the coastal areas when opportunities arise. (Florida Statute 163.3178)

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

You can join this fun and work by becoming a WWALS member today!