Water Quality Issues

Water Quality Issues

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Water (chemical formula: H2O) is a transparent fluid which forms the world's streams, lakes, oceans and rain, and is the major constituent of the fluids of organisms.

A Fact is something that has really occurred or is actually the case.

As part of CCA Florida’s continued efforts to provide valuable information to on behalf its membership, CCA has combined these two words to provide recreational anglers with well-founded water facts that we will be calling and referring to now and into the future as WACTS.  As part of this effort, we will be providing information to our membership on water issues in specific regions of the state.  The topic of this edition is:
The Apalachicola River.

Florida’s coastal estuaries are impacted in varying degrees from human population growth and coastal development impacts which compromise estuarine water quality and fisheries sustainability.  In Florida’s Panhandle, Apalachicola Bay has been threatened by man’s decades-long alterations of water flows in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin, which is a massive 21,000 square mile area found in three states, WACTS 1Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.  The region has also suffered from inadequate local municipal storm water drainage systems.

At over 100 miles long, the Apalachicola River is Florida’s largest river in flow magnitude and originates at the Florida-Georgia state line near the town of Chattahoochee, Florida.  It is approximately at this point where the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers merge to form the Apalachicola.  In flow volume, it is the fifth largest river feeding the Gulf of Mexico, and the 21st largest in the country.  The river gets its name from Native American peoples who lived along its banks up until the middle part of the 19th Century.   The river basin in Florida is a story in contrasts and bio-diversity, and includes various flat wood and pine forests as well as swampy wetlands.  Elevations throughout the entire ACF watershed in the three states vary from sea level to almost 4,500 feet in northeast Georgia in the southern Appalachian Mountains.  Water flows throughout the basin have been altered dramatically by dams, flood control structures, and hydroelectric facilities over the past century.  Apalachicola Bay, East Bay, St. George Sound, and St. Vincent Sound all are part of the estuary basin of the Apalachicola River.  Other tributaries to the basin include the Chipola River, the New River, and the Carrabelle River.

WACTS 2According to studies prepared by the Florida Storm Water Association, US Environmental Protection Agency, Florida State University, the American Society of Civil Engineers and others, the state of Florida is faced with approximately $50 billion in water resource management needs by 2035.  Water resource discussions cannot take place without understanding statewide demand for funding, and Florida’s legislature must continue to make water resources its highest priority.  There is a preponderance of evidence Florida needs to take necessary actions to secure the entire state’s future water supplies, not only for human needs and consumption, but also for a complex set of environmental demands.

A great example of this dynamic is the extensive resources necessary to secure adequate water supplies to protect our coastal fisheries in Apalachicola Bay.  Complicating any possible solutions is a multi-decade lawsuit among Florida, Georgia, and Alabama over water WACTS 3consumption and water rights throughout the ACF system.  At the center of the water wars among the three states is the United States Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for managing the water in the ACF system.  Another critical element at play is the Endangered Species Act (ESA), providing additional challenges to water managers’ mission in their oversight of an already complex system.  The Corps has established operational guidelines and rules which govern water releases, timing, and quantities from various federal dams throughout the watershed and, in doing so, according to Florida’s legal argument, has put Apalachicola Bay at risk.

As is true throughout other watersheds and estuary systems, the water management in the ACF basin is incredibly complex.  In the case of the ACF, the Corps operates several action zones in its attempts to manage water demands in the three states.  Just some of the challenges facing the Corps include droughts, seasonal rainfall and variables, modified hydroelectric schedules, navigation, flood control, and, of course, human water supply needs by millions of inhabitants.  In the case of the latter, Lake Lanier in Georgia provides the lion’s share of water demands of the greater Atlanta metropolitan area, which alone are over 375 million gallons per day (Georgia’s water demands are expected to double over the next 25 years).  In reality, the lake is a 60 square mile reservoir which was created in the 1950’s when the Chattahoochee River was dammed for downstream flood control and for water supply demands of the greater Atlanta area, which is downstream from the lake.  The re-design of the system and its current management have had profound effects on fish and wildlife.

At the terminal point of this complex over-engineered system is Apalachicola Bay.  The Bay supports one of Florida’s largest oyster fisheries as well as over 130 fresh and salt water fish species.  The area typically WACTS 4provides approximately 90% of Florida’s commercial oyster harvest, as well as an abundance of blue crabs and shrimp.  According to a recent study by Georgia Tech, the Apalachicola River normally provides up to 90% of the fresh water the system requires.  Data suggests oyster health is directly related to appropriate salinity levels in the Bay.  Further, oyster health is proven to provide a natural filtration system as well as vital fin fish and shellfish habitat.  The ACF system has been studied extensively and most conclusions support increased fresh water flows to Apalachicola Bay.  Despite several protective state designations, Apalachicola Bay is still at risk of collapse.

Like some other water issues, the problems of the Apalachicola River will be resolved in the courts, and its outcome is still uncertain.  The long standing “Water Wars”  being waged by Florida, Georgia, and Alabama are primarily over who owns and controls the water in the basin.  The court case is focusing on a severe drought in 2011 - 2012, during which time Georgia held back water in the ACF system for its use, and at the expense of Florida’s oyster industry.  It is anticipated - and strongly preferred - the Supreme Court will come up with some type of equitable apportionment of water use throughout the system.WACTS 5

CCA Florida’s legal team has reviewed certain aspects of the current case (there were previously other legal actions pursued), which was filed in the U.S. Supreme Court, and not through the normal appeals process.  This is primarily because it involves three different states, although Alabama has largely sided with Florida in the case.  The trial involves a Special Master of the court (a federal judge appointed by the court to hear the case), which ended just recently on December 1, 2016, and was based in Portland, Maine in an effort to avoid conflicts of interest and to keep the case from being ensnarled in a media circus.  The Special Master’s report is due in the immediate future, and his recommendation will go to the U.S. Supreme Court for the final ruling.  Judge Ralph Lancaster, the Court’s Special Master, continues to urge the states to settle the case through mediation, and has given them until January 24 to come to terms.  Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and other advocacy groups have filed amicus briefs in the case.

Priorities for the Apalachicola River and for Apalachicola Bay:

  • Considering the legal complexities of the current case before the U.S. Supreme Court, CCA Florida believes it is vital to establish an improved  operational manual to address all of system needs, and in doing so equitably allocate water for each of the three states and all of their multiple constituencies, now and into the future.  This operational manual should be designed to insure a vibrant natural system throughout the ACF riverine watershed to the extent possible, provide for flood protection, residential and commercial water needs, and recreation.  The balance needed will, no doubt, be imperfect, but there has to be a better managed balance of the resource for all concerned.

  • Local communities closest to Apalachicola Bay, such as Carrabelle, the City of Apalachicola, Eastpointe, and other municipalities throughout the Panhandle, need to continue to do their part and improve their storm water run-off systems, and proactively eradicate septic systems in favor of more environmentally-friendly sewer systems.

  • All Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) plans should be accelerated and funded by the Northwest Florida Water Management District and the State of Florida immediately.

  • The Army Corps of Engineers should restore normal flows and manage seasonal fluctuations to the greatest extent possible.

  • All interested parties, user groups, and concerned citizens would encourage cooperation among Federal, State, and local agencies, as well as residents and business interests.

  • All agricultural interests and all land owners in the ACF watershed should be encouraged to use Best Management Practices, specifically using buffer zones, minimal fertilizer use, seasonal fertilizer cessation, limited herbicide distribution, and more efficient irrigation systems.

  • Florida leaders need to increasingly recognize that water is the state’s most precious resource.  CCA strongly advocates for increased funding for strategic water resource needs.

As we consider issues of water management throughout Florida, whether they be in the Panhandle, South Florida, or Northeast Florida, it is important for CCA members to be aware parallel dynamics and challenges exist throughout the state.  All of Florida’s riverine and estuary systems are incredibly complex, and each of them face similar high demands from a growing number of residents and businesses, all of whom must be cognizant of the delicate balance necessary for a healthy environment for fish and wildlife.  In just about every case, the natural system has been dramatically altered by man over decades, so returning them back to their original state is virtually impossible.  CCA members should pay particular attention to the dynamics and complications created by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) which effects how the Army Corps of Engineers and state water managers oversee every system.  Another reality is the fact that any particular area will receive, on average over time, the same amounts of historic rainfall that feed the system.  At the same time, demands on water from rainfall have risen dramatically with growing populations, whether they be in greater Atlanta in the ACF system, for example, in the I-4 Corridor in Central Florida, or in South Florida, and it is rare to find a naturally flowing system.

ACF system map courtesy of the Apalachicola Riverkeeper

Florida's coastal estuaries are impacted in varying degrees from human population growth and coastal development impacts which compromise estuarine water quality and fisheries sustainability.  The communities of Southwest Florida and the Caloosahatchee Estuary are routinely impacted by freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee and excessive stormwater runoff from the Caloosahatchee watershed.  The latest event occurred during the winter and spring of 2015/16, at the peak of Southwest Florida's tourism season.  A strong El Niño was the catalyst for record rainfall throughout south Florida which exceeded 400% of the historic average.  This resulted in the releasing of billions of gallons of freshwater to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, in addition to increased runoff in the respective watersheds.  During the peak of the freshwater contributions, the Caloosahatchee estuary received a daily average flow exceeding 14,000 cubic feet per second at the Franklin Lock (S-79), which is located in Alva, Fl, approximately at the midpoint between Lake Okeechobee and Punta Rassa, or roughly 40 miles downstream from the Lake (Figures 1 & 2).

Read more: The Caloosahatchee Estuary

  • CCA Florida supports the funding and completion of all Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project (CERP) Foundation projects.
  • CCA Florida supports authorization and funding of projects involving water storage, treatment, and conveyance north, south, east, and west of Lake Okeechobee.
  • CCA Florida supports all Central Everglades Planning Process (CEPP) projects, with specific emphasis on the authorization and funding of construction of the former Talisman Sugar properties south of the Everglades Agricultural Area, additional bridging of Tamiami Trail, and curtain wall construction in South Miami-Dade County.
  • CCA Florida supports the passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 currently before Congress that includes CEPP funding.
  • CCA Florida supports continued funding and construction of the Indian River Lagoon South C-44 Reservoir Project.
  • CCA Florida supports authorization and funding of the Caloosahatchee C-43 Reservoir Project.
  • CCA Florida supports the C-111 projects in South Miami-Dade.
  • CCA Florida supports South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) efforts to increase water flows into Taylor Slough, which will provide benefits to Florida Bay.  This involves building connections to existing canals, building canal plugs, the reconstruction of a C-31 West canal levee, and other component projects.
  • CCA Florida continues to encourage and promote better communication between the SFWMD and officials and managers of Everglades National Park.
  • CCA Florida strongly encourages Everglades National Park officials to use existing structures to facilitate the flow of additional fresh water into Florida Bay.
  • CCA Florida actively supports septic tank eradication and sewer conversion throughout the state, and especially in areas bordering estuaries and watersheds.
  • CCA Florida continues to promote Best Management Practices for all commercial and residential property owners.
  • CCA Florida continues to promote the use of Amendment 1 funds for everglades restoration and other legally-mandated purposes.  CCA Florida actively supported the passage of Legacy Florida legislation.
  • CCA Florida continues to monitor and, to the extent possible, participate in local initiatives that can possibly help our estuaries, such as the Indian River Lagoon Summit, and Brevard County’s recent actions to fund various IRL restoration projects through a ten-year sales tax.

For more information, please contact CCA at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
With refreshing bi-partisan support, the U.S. House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed H.R. 5303, the Water Resources Development Act of 2016.  The legislation includes important funding for the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), a series of important initiatives which will help bring relief to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuary systems and will facilitate movement of more clean water into Everglades National Park.  CEPP will also help improve Florida's water quality and provide additional flood protection.  The U.S. Senate had previously passed their version of the WRDA bill, so now the House and Senate will need to conference to work out differences between each rendition of the legislation.  The good news for Florida and for the estuaries is CEPP funding is already included in both bills.
CCA Florida has long supported CEPP funding, as well as other Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects.  Computer models estimate CEPP projects will deliver roughly 60% of the water all CERP projects ultimately strive to push southward from Lake Okeechobee.  Although CEPP will not provide all the relief the estuaries need, they still will play an important role in the broader set of strategic solutions for water management in South Florida.  Moreover, from a pragmatic standpoint, CEPP has long had the best chance for funding from both the state and federal governments.

Read more: CEPP Funding Passes Another Hurdle

A River Revival: The Halifax Oyster Festival from Presslaunch Pictures on Vimeo.

September 27, 2016

Senator Marco Rubio 
United States Senate
284 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Re:  S. 2848
Dear Senator Rubio,

On behalf of CCA Florida’s 16,000 members and CCA’s nationwide membership of over 125,000, I wanted to thank you for your leadership and proactive support of the Central Everglades Planning Project funding in the Water Resources Development Act of 2016.  We now look forward to the House of Representatives acting on this important legislation.

As you know, CEPP projects will eventually help provide relief to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuary systems, and will play a key role in the delivery of greater volumes of clean water to the Water Conservation Areas (WCA’s) and to northern Everglades National Park.   CEPP projects will also help restore important habitat throughout the central Everglades system. CCA Florida has long prioritized CEPP projects within the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan framework, especially since they involve land the State of Florida already owns.  We also continue to back the completion of all CERP Foundation projects and support other crucial CERP components, especially those which will provide further relief to our estuaries and Florida Bay.  We appreciate your on-going advocacy for authorization and funding for each of these elements of Everglades and estuary restoration.  

Read more: Letter from Paul Giordano to Senator Marco Rubio Regarding CEPP funding

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