Senate Agriculture Committee – This week the Committee heard presentations about the problems facing the oyster industry in Apalachicola Bay.    The committee was briefed by Professor Karl Havens with the University of Florida Oyster Recovery Team.  This team has been organized to determine the status of the bay and reasons for its decline, provide suggestions about future oyster fishing and management, and foster the sustainable use of the resource.  Members include academia (UF, FSU, FGCU), state agencies (FWC, DEP, DACS, ad WMDs) and Franklin County’s Promise Coalition, Seafood Workers, Workforce Board, and residents.   Although oil and dispersant has been found to be below detectable limits, the team is continuing to analyze samples of oysters, crab, fish and shrimp, and is developing an interactive support tool for oyster management.

The committee also heard from Dr. Glenn Morris, an epidemiologist with UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, about the “Healthy Gulf” project which is funded in part by the National Institute of Health.  The goal of the study is to “optimize psychologic, sociologic, and public health response in [the] community.”   For more information, see www.healthygulfcoast.org.   The committee then heard from a number of speakers about the problems and possible solutions to the bay's problems.  Although there was little discussion of any proposed legislation, many sought funding studies of Florida's water needs and coordination among state agencies.

House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee – This week the committee heard presentations from the Department of Citrus and the Department of Environmental Protection.  Agency representatives gave brief overviews of their structure and the statutory responsibilities of the divisions within the agencies (e.g., Regulatory Affairs, Water Policy and Ecosystem Restoration, Coastal and Aquatic Managed Lands, Waste Management and Parks and Recreation).    The DEP also discussed possible legislation involving the Consumptive Use Permit Consistency (CUPCON) program and Statewide ERP rulemaking priorities and goals. 

Finally, the DEP gave a brief update on numeric nutrient criteria.  As reported previously, The U.S. EPA approved all of the state rules for Florida’s rivers, streams and lakes, and for the estuaries in South Florida.  The EPA also amended its necessity determination to recognize that Florida’s rules were protective of downstream waters, and proposed draft criteria for those waters not (yet) covered by the state rules.  These include:

  • Remaining estuaries
  • Open ocean waters
  • Point where South Florida canals enter estuaries; and
  • Scientifically challenging tidal creeks and conveyance canals

House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Committee – This week the committee, chaired by Representative Ben Albritton, heard presentations from the Department of Citrus on the spread of citrus greening disease and the enormous impact on the $8 billon industry.  According to Mike Sparks with Florida Citrus Mutual, the disease was first discovered in two southern counties in 2005, and now is found in all of the 30 citrus-growing counties in the state.  This disease, also called “huanglongbing” or HRB, is a bacterial infection that has no known cure and is transmitted by a pest called the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP).   Because the HLB is devastating the industry, the Department is seeking funding for its research efforts which include pathogen and genetic research, pest monitoring and suppression, and education. 

The committee also heard an overview of the Everglades restoration programs from DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard and Deputy Secretary Gregory Munson.  They discussed Florida’s commitment to date, including $1.8 billion in stormwater treatment area (STA) construction that last year treated 735,000 acre-feet of water and reduced total phosphorus loads to the EAA by 79%, and implementing BMPs on 640,000 acres of land reducing phosphorus an average of 55%.  They also briefly described State-Federal partnerships including the Kissimmee River restoration, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, and the Central Everglades Planning Project, and summarized key projects and construction schedules moving forward.  Projects include 6,500 acres of STA’s, 110,000 acre-feet of Flow Equalization Basins (shallow storage), sub-regional source controls, replacement features, and restoration of the C-139 annex.  

Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee – This week the committee heard a presentation regarding the Lyngbya algae problem and clean up efforts Crystal River and Kings Bay in Citrus County.  Lyngbya has formed in benthic mats on the bay bottom and has destroyed fish habitat, and beneficial vegetation, depleted oxygen levels, and smothered spring vents.   The local Rotary  Club has started a program called “One Rake at a Time” in which citizens from all around the area donate their time to help clean up the bay.   In the last two years, they have removed approximately 575 tons of these algal mats. 

Citrus County Commissioner Joe Meek is so passionate about the issue and clean up efforts that he came all the way to Tallahassee to testify before the committee.   Even during these difficult economic times, the Citrus County Commission dedicated significant funds to the clean-up effort.  The committee members were clearly impressed and pledged to support the lyngbya removal program.  Thanks Commissioner Meek! 

The Committee then heard from the DEP’s Office of Coastal and Managed Lands on the status of Apalachicola Bay.  The historic drought and low flow rate has resulted in increased salinity and temperature, reductions in commercial harvests due to increased predation and disease.  The FWCC also presented a status report on the oyster industry in the area finding that these conditions are resulting in depleted oyster populations, stressful conditions for those remaining, and low production estimates for the future.  Indeed, Governor Scott has requested disaster relief from the U.S. Department of Commerce.