Friday, April 18, 2014

Guest Blog: The Big Sugar Claim the Everglades cannot have both a more natural Water Quantity and Quality is a False Dichotomy

The following comments are reprinted from a Sierra Club Everglades list-serve. Eye On Miami, several months ago, commented on the same OPED that Mr. Fink is responding to, in his piece below. Click here for our reaction to Neal McAliley's Herald editorial at the time.

From Larry E. Fink, M.S.
Waterwise Consulting, LLC

Embedded below is an example of Big Sugar's advocates posing the false dichotomy of water quality versus water quantity and attacking the total phosphorus (TP) WaterQuality Standard as overly protective.

This ignores the modified Plan 6 Alternative: the spillway/flowway that breaches the Herbert Hoover Dike (HHD). This alternative can rehydrate the Everglades with water of higher water quality now, while relieving the stress on the HHD (Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee) and the imminent threat that poses to the public health, safety, and welfare, as well as the water quantity and quality stresses on the East and West Coast estuaries.

The emergency spillway could be built in six months once the pre-project gauntlet has been completed, which is typical for the SFWMD construction projects I worked on for permit compliance tracking, The flowway infrastructure could be built over the same period of time as STA-3/4.

In the meantime, The cost of the emergency spillway/flowway will be much less than the cost of repairing the failing HHD. if the emergency stacking of water now to relieve the stress on the HHD and the estuaries or in the future during the Big One constitutes a taking of a sugar cane crop, the sugar farmers are insured for those losses under a program also underwritten by the taxpayers.

If Florida is unable or unwilling to acquire the private land necessary for the spillway/flowway and adjacent land for emergency stacking using its eminent domain authority, the Federal government could use its eminent domain authority for purposes of protecting downstream Federal lands, rather than abusing it by granting it to a Canadian
firm for the Keystone XL Pipeline. Lease-back agreements would include the restrictions that the new uses be Everglades Restoration-compatible, e.g., aquaculture and algae biofuel production.

In addition, the roughly 0.5" EAA peat layer that is not oxidized could be claimed for carbon sequestration credits, while protecting what is left of this irreplaceable natural resource that is being mined away by consumptive use farming practice, rather than their sustainable equivalent. Moreover, because most of the sulfate in EAA runoff now comes from oxidation of legacy S in the peat, this will also have a collateral benefit for the downstream mercury problem.

So we can have our water quality and our water quantity concurrently, while better protecting human life and natural resources at a lower cost with more sustainable jobs, albeit at the expense of the EAA peat-consumptive farming practices used by sugar cane farmers and the few thousand non-sustainable jobs those practices provide. - Miami & Ft.
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Posted on Tue, Jan. 14, 2014
More freshwater should
be top priority in Everglades restoration

There is a growing
consensus that much of the Everglades is suffering irreversible damage from a
lack of freshwater. While Everglades advocates seek approval of a new
$1.7-billion restoration project, which will take decades to implement, the
reality is that we could substantially increase freshwater flows now with
existing facilities.

What it would require
is for people to rethink outdated restoration choices made 20 years ago.

A healthy Everglades
needs more freshwater, and needs that water to be cleaned of excessive
phosphorus. Without enough freshwater, the upstream Everglades loses the
characteristics of a river, and the downstream Everglades turns into mangrove
forests. With too much phosphorus in the water, marsh areas exposed to the
phosphorus can turn into a forest of cattails. Ideally, restoring the
Everglades requires both more water and cleaner water.

It is hard to both
increase freshwater deliveries and reduce phosphorus levels at the same time.
To meet strict phosphorus standards, water managers divert water that otherwise
could flow to the Everglades. This means that water managers have to choose
which is more important: reducing phosphorus levels to the absolute minimum or
increasing freshwater deliveries.

For decades,
government policy has been to reduce phosphorus levels first, at the expense of
delivering enough freshwater to the Everglades. That made sense 20 years ago,
when average phosphorus levels entering the central Everglades were in the
range of 180-205 parts per billion (ppb), far above the 13 ppb level for
inflows that most scientists believe is fully protective of the Everglades
aquatic ecosystem.

Moreover, most
scientists agreed that phosphorus damage was essentially irreversible in the
areas of the Everglades that received the high phosphorus water, but that the
damage caused by low water levels could be quickly reversed once new water
(with low phosphorus levels) is delivered.

Restoration officials
need to rethink that choice today. Since the early 1990s, substantial progress
has been made toward reducing phosphorus: Today, average phosphorus levels in
water entering the central Everglades are 18 ppb, which means that water
managers have achieved more than 90 percent of the cleanup target.

While phosphorus
levels over the 13-ppb target can cause adverse effects, the harm is minor
compared to when phosphorus levels were 10 times higher in the 1990s. Waiting
for the final few percentage points of cleanup - which is projected to take
another 15 years, at a cost of $900 million - is causing its own environmental

In 2012, the National
Academy of Sciences concluded that the Everglades faces irreversible damage if
additional water is not sent soon. In October 2013, a study by the University
of Miami showed that the reduction in freshwater flows, combined with sea level
rise, is causing Everglades marshes to turn into mangrove forests at the
southern end of the system. And this past year, billions of gallons of excess water
from Lake Okeechobee were dumped into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers,
causing severe harm there.

All of this harm is
happening, at least in part, because water managers cannot send additional
freshwater to the Everglades. And the insistence on perfection with phosphorus
levels stands in the way of implementation of important restoration projects,
including the project to modify water deliveries to Everglades National Park.

No government agency
has taken a clear-eyed look at this tradeoff in 20 years. When phosphorus
levels were averaging 180-205 ppb, there was a broad scientific consensus that
phosphorus reductions were the first priority. But since that time, government
agencies have been locked into that choice, and have not re-examined the tradeoff,
even as phosphorus levels have been dramatically reduced and scientific
evidence mounts that the Everglades is dying of thirst.

It is time for a frank
debate about whether it is more important to keep the last few ppb of
phosphorus out of the Everglades, or whether to deliver more freshwater. The
reality is that we cannot have it all when it comes to restoration, at least
for the foreseeable future.

The good news is that
we can actually increase freshwater deliveries with the water management system
we already have, and building on the phosphorus cleanup that already has taken
place. But restoration officials need to rethink their old assumptions.

Neal McAliley is an
attorney with the law firm White & Case in Miami, who has represented
governmental and nongovernmental clients in environmental matters. He currently
is chair of the South Florida National Parks Trust.

In his Jan. 15, Other
Views article, More freshwater should be the top priority, Neal McAliley argues
that Everglades restoration is being hampered by "outdated restoration
choices made 20 years ago." Nothing could be further from the truth says
Steve Davis of the Everglades Foundation. article
© 2014 Miami Herald
Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

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I am ready for the frank debate that Neal
McAliley is calling for. However, there is a difference between a debate based
on sound natural science versus sound political science.

There is no growing consensus among
scientists that the Everglades habitat is protected at 13 ppb TP, the new
alternative target, because it appears to be accessible to Phase I Plus
treatment technology when the concentrations and loads are log-transformed, or
16 ppb, 19 ppb TP, or 21 ppb TP, all of which were proposed by Big Sugar
consultants as an alternative to the proposed 10 ppb TP WQS in written and oral
public comments before the ERC in November-December 2003, because the 10 ppb TP
WQS went into effect by default in January 2004.

Two standard deviations above the average TP concentration in the lower
Everglades of 2-4 pbb TP is closer to 6-8 ppb than 10 ppb, so there is no
margin of safety in the 10 ppb TP WQS, so it cannot be considered overly
protective. In fact, a University of Oregon professor hired by FDEP to analyze
the data concluded that more than 60% of the natural diatom species had
disappeared at 10 ppb TP. However, his analysis was shot down by the Big Sugar
consultants as using a toxicologcal approach to nutrient WQS derivation, rather
than pulling it out of the air, as then FIU's Professor Ron Jones had done for
USEPA Region 4. They might also have
mentioned that the diatoms could be absent as a consequence of other unnatural
stressors, including the hydrogen sulfide produced from the excess sulfate in
EAA runoff, as well as the presence of various pesticides in potentially toxic
amounts, which would have been a clear violation of the no toxics in toxic
amounts narrative Class III WQS, so they did not advance this

Nevertheless, the upper Everglades may have received higher average TP
concentrations than the lower Everglades, but not necessarily above 10 ppb TP,
say 13 ppb TP. If Lake Okeechobee overflow was at 20-30 ppb TP, the mixed sawgrass
and pond apple marsh is likely to have reduced that to below 10 ppb TP by the
time it arrived at the edge of what is now the Remnant Impounded Everglades,
except during an extreme rainfall event, when higher TP concentrations were
pulsed farther into the downstream ecosystem. Nevertheless, we should not base
the TP WQS on such natural extremes, which is precisely what Big Sugar is
proposing to do below. USGS could model the pre-development TP concentration
gradient with its wetlands nutrient cycling model, which accounts for wetlands
plant resistance to thermally stratified flow during the day and unstratified
flow at night.

Based on my experience deriving, defending, and critiquing numerical WQSs
while an employee of the Michigan DNR and USEPA's Great Lakes National Program
Office, I proposed to define the TP WQS as the 95th percentile lower bound
estimate of the No Observable Adverse Effect Concentration (NOEC) in the
original draft of the work plan for the monitoring, research, and modeling
required to derive a protective TP WQS. If the apparent NOAEC is 13 ppb TP, the
lower bound estimate of that value would be at or below 10 ppb TP.

However, my manager edited the proposed approach for deriving the TP WQS
out of the draft, even though this was SOP for EPA, because nobody had yet
agreed that that was the way the WQS was going to be derived. I kept the review
draft as required by Florida records law and was queried about it under oath,
after being forced to produce it under subpoena duces tacum, by Gary Sams of
Hopping Green Sams and Smith, who was hired by Big Sugar to sue us over the
Everglades SWIM Plan. It got so bad that we had a court reporter in our staff


Ross said...

To sum this up, we are only 90% of the way toward a non-fatal dosage of phosphorus, so some people (and the sugar factories) are clamoring to turn the water flow back on right now. Science says this would be an irreversible error.

Anonymous said...

Besides the point of this report;
Why do all important achievements be accomplished trough Government by lawsuits, instead of wise decision making and legislation by our elected representatives?
I suspect a certain class of no flesh and blood "People", speaking with "In God We Thrust" voice, has something to do with it.