Friday, April 15, 2011

Rain Rain...Don't Go Away

Living in Florida, it is hard to believe that we are under a water shortage, as it seems that everywhere you look there is a waterway of some sort. However, in order to supply water to more than 90 percent of its booming population, as well as keep its golf courses and residential lawns green, Florida relies on groundwater that is extracted from permeable aquifers underground. Unfortunately the harsh reality is that "Florida's groundwater has been over allocated — not just in South Florida, but all over the state," asserts Cynthia Barnett, author of Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern United States. "In addition, we just haven't taken conservation as seriously as other parts of the country," says Barnett, with Floridians pumping groundwater out of our aquifers faster than the state's ample rainfall can refill them. Ultimately, while solutions to quenching the water needs of an increasing human population in Florida are quite difficult, there are simple solutions to meeting the needs of our own front yards, golf courses and the like, which can make a difference. One of these is the rain barrel.

Rain barrels, sometimes referred to as cisterns, are on-site rainwater collection systems by which rainwater can be collected as a valuable resource to irrigate lawns and landscaped areas, while also reducing storm water management costs by easing stress on the public water system and local water supplies. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, for every inch of rain received, about 600 gallons of water can drain from every 1,000-square-foot roof area and into the environment.

In considering irrigation advantages, rainwater is thought to improve the health of your landscaping, lawn and trees, since rainwater is naturally “soft” and devoid of minerals, chlorine and other chemicals found in tap water. However, on the down side, the water pressure will be less than from your outdoor spigot, so a small pump may need to be attached to increase the flow pressure. Furthermore, the general practice is to avoid using the rain barrel water on vegetables and other edible plants, such as herbs for cooking, since roofs may leach pollutants and bacteria that are collected there.

Despite a few shortcomings, another significantly beneficial use of rain barrels is that they may reduce peak volume and velocity of stormwater runoff that reaches our waterways. In most all U.S. communities, rainwater flows over impervious, man-made surfaces such as house roofs and paved roads instead of more natural areas such as forests or grasslands. As a result, when massive Floridian rainstorms dump exponential amounts of water, our sewer systems which carry human and industrial waste become susceptible to overflows and backups creating risks to environmental and human health.

Thus, with growing urbanization in water-scarce areas, including Florida, the increasing water demands for domestic, industrial, commercial, and agricultural purposes exacerbates the situation. While it may seem like a small step, rain barrels can make a huge impact on the environment and our water consumption as a human population at a low personal cost.

-Timothy Nalepka, Legal Intern

Sustainable Agriculture – The Future of Food?

So what does sustainable agriculture really mean? Well, it is defined as an “integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will over the long term,” among other things, “enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends…make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources…[and] enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.” This might seem like a lot to take in, but it is not. Stated in a different way, the University of California Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education Program summarizes sustainable agriculture as a meeting of the needs of today without limiting the ability of future generations to meet its needs.

Sustainable agriculture in practice involves responsible management of both natural and human resources. The human resources aspect of responsible management considers the social impacts in the present and future such as consumer health and safety, the conditions for labor workers, and rural community needs. The natural resources aspect involves farming practices that maintain land resources for the long term.

There are groups that promote the use of sustainable agricultural methods to transform our nation’s food system. National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is a collection of grassroots organizations with a 20-year history. NACS advocates for federal policy reform in order to promote the use of sustainable agriculture and the protection of natural resources and rural communities. The group also works to support research, education, and development of new markets and businesses. NSAC’s goal is to create a food system that is affordable, produced by sustainable agricultural methods, and harvested by local family farmers who receive a fair wage.

Slow Food USA (Slow Food) is another example of a grassroots movement that promotes sustainable agriculture. Its motto is “Good, Clean, and Fair Food.” One of Slow Food’s goals is to “strengthen the connection between the food on our plates and the health of our planet.” Slow Food has 200 chapters across the US. The group is involved with advocacy and public outreach including “identifying, promoting and protecting fruits, vegetables, grains, animal breeds, wild foods, and cooking traditions at risk of disappearance.”

Last week Slow Food and NSAC joined efforts to campaign in Washington D.C. on behalf of sustainable agriculture programs at risk of being cut. Erin Swenson-Klatt, from Slow Food, spoke with congressional representatives to convey the message that sustainable programs “are efficient and effective both at offering greater resources to innovative farmers and at revitalizing rural communities.”

Being a member in organizations like Slow Food and NACS is not the only way to have a say in how our food system works. As a consumer, you have the choice and the power to make an impact that can be felt locally as well as globally. One of the ways to do this is by purchasing your food from local farms and markets. One website that can connect you with grass-fed food is One of the farms featured on the eatwild site is Ashlin Farms. Located in Jacksonville, Ashlin Farms sells only grass-fed, free-range beef. Another great local resource is the Beaches Local Food Network. The group hosts a farmers market every Saturday in Neptune Beach called the Beaches Green Market. By supporting these types of initiatives you are promoting the stewardship of natural and human resources, the goal of sustainable agriculture.

-Ashley Harvey, Legal Intern

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Watch a Kite Fly....But Perhaps Not For Long

Swooping low and silent over Lake Okeechobee is the Everglade Snail Kite (Kite), preparing to select an apple snail from a water lily in its critical habitat. Lake Okeechobee is home to the endangered Kite, despite the fact that from the year 2000 until the present, the freshwater wetland has experienced extreme weather patterns and been subjected to new water management protocols which have created record low water levels for record lengths of time at increased frequencies. Lake Okeechobee now rarely provides suitable habitat for Kite nesting, or even foraging for that matter, causing the Kite population in Florida to decline from about 3000 individuals in the year 2000 to less than 700 today. “Who cares?,” you may ask.

Well, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), touted as providing a “framework to restore, protect and preserve the water resources of central and southern Florida,” seems to think it is important. You see, CERP, a partnership comprised of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), has more than 50 performance measures used to assess success in water management for the human population. Only three of these measures rank as “Total System-wide Performance Measures,” and the success of the Everglade Snail Kite is one of them due to its reliance on a properly functioning Everglades ecosystem. Thus, achieving Kite persistence is expected to demonstrate system-wide sustainable restoration, resulting in confidence that needs can be met for the human population.

However, in the month of March 2011, according to the South Florida Water Management District, “the region has received only 47 percent of its historic average rainfall through March 22, or 0.95 inches for a deficit of 1.18 inches,” which “follows the driest October-to-February period in 80 years and a dry season deficit that has reached 7.62 inches as of March 22, 2011.” This is concerning when on considers that “The Big O” is not only the seventh largest freshwater lake in the United States, but also South Florida's backup water supply which is relied upon to replenish drinking water supplies for some communities and tapped for irrigation by sugar cane growers and other farmers. Furthermore, according to the U. S. Census Bureau, Florida's human population will grow by about 12 million people between 2000 and 2030.

So, it seems to follow, if we don’t protect the lake’s traditional water level with higher restrictions and increased conservation, then the federally endangered Everglade Snail Kite (Kite) could be in serious trouble. And where the Kite goes, so may we.

-Tim Nalepka, Legal Intern