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Florida’s plans don’t do enough to protect Wekiva River

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Published Dec. 29, 2020 in The Orlando Sentinel

 

Central Florida’s Wekiva River and its springs are facing a double whammy: declining water levels and nutrient pollution.

 

Two state plans meant to address the problems fall short and simply won’t protect an ecosystem that generates $60 million in revenue annually and supports 500 jobs.

 

Recently, the St Johns River Water Management District adopted its 2020 water supply plan for Central Florida. The plan predicts that by 2040, groundwater withdrawals will increase by about 36% from 2015 levels unless more aggressive water conservation programs and alternative water supplies are used. However, the same plan estimates that the aquifer can support only a 14% increase.

According to the plan, projected groundwater withdrawals will cause flows in the Wekiva River and Wekiwa Springs to drop below the state’s adopted minimum flow and level between 2025 and 2030. However, district data show that flow from Wekiwa Springs has been at or below its required level 60% of the time from 2003 to 2018. And the plan acknowledges that flows from Palm and Starbuck springs, which also feed the Wekiva River, are already less than the minimum needed to maintain healthy ecosystems.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has proposed new rules that would limit groundwater withdrawals by public utilities to their projected 2025 water demands. But that’s only half the story.

The rules also would allow utilities to continue withdrawing more groundwater for up to five additional years, with approval only from the water management district’s staff. And the district’s board could even approve variances to the rules, potentially allowing utilities to withdraw even more groundwater.

Other users, such as commercial, institutional, agricultural and landscape/recreational users, would need to demonstrate only how much water they need in order to continue withdrawing from the aquifer. We need withdrawal limits that protect our natural resources and leaders who will stick to them.

A second plan by DEP addresses increasing pollution — primarily nitrate and phosphate — that help fuel algae that chokes the river. That plan is also woefully inadequate.

In 2018, DEP estimated that more than a million pounds of nitrogen annually flows into the portion of the upper Floridan aquifer that supplies water to Wekiwa and Rock springs and other local springs. More than 50% of the nitrogen comes from fertilizers used on lawns, sports turf and agricultural lands. Another 30% comes from septic tanks.

Nitrate and phosphate levels in Wekiwa and Rock springs are already 3 to 4 times higher than DEP says is safe for healthy ecosystems. However, DEP’s plan would reduce total nitrogen loads only by about 20%, which is insufficient to restore or sustain the aquatic ecosystem.

Friends of the Wekiva River challenged the DEP plan in January 2019, and in November 2019 joined other environmental groups in testifying at an administrative hearing. To date, the administrative law judge has not ruled.

The Wekiva River is an Aquatic Preserve, an Outstanding Florida Water and one of just two rivers in the state to be named a federal Wild and Scenic River. These designations recognize the river’s tremendous natural assets. And recently, FOWR joined with the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council to show the economic significance of the river and springs: $60 million in revenue yearly and 500 jobs.

Taking the following steps could help save this economic and natural resource:

1. Develop prevention and recovery plans for Palm and Starbuck springs.

2. Require utilities, industry, agriculture and other water users to implement aggressive water conservation measures, particularly for landscape irrigation. The district estimates that half of the water currently supplied for drinking is used for landscape irrigation — a very inefficient and costly practice.

3. Require Florida-Friendly Landscaping for new homes and businesses to reduce use of fertilizers and irrigation.

4. Offer incentives for conversion of existing lawns and landscaping to Florida-Friendly Landscaping.

5. Impose a per-gallon water use fee for water withdrawn from aquifers, streams and lakes.

6. Establish and enforce restrictions on irrigation of lawns and landscaping.

7. Provide more incentives for agricultural best management practices.

8. Require central sewer systems for all new subdivisions within the Wekiwa and Rock springs springsheds.

9. Install central sewer systems in existing Wekiva-area subdivisions that use septic tanks.

FOWR believes that groundwater withdrawals and excess nutrients will continue to degrade the natural treasures that have drawn people to Central Florida for centuries.

We must protect these environmental jewels for ourselves and future generations to enjoy.

Mike Cliburn is a retired environmental engineer and secretary of the Friends of the Wekiva River and the Florida Springs Council.

In memory of Bill Belleville

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Bill Belleville, renowned Florida environmental activist and true Friend of the Wekiva and St. Johns Rivers died in Sanford in August. Bill served on the board of the Friends of the Wekiva River for several decades. He held the position of vice president and was actively involved in dozens of activities. He was particularly good at leading field trips and articulating the importance of conservation through references to native American culture, biology, literature, and his own spiritual connection to the river system.

Bill was a noted author of books and short stories about the beauty and vulnerability of central Florida’s waterways. He produced inspiring films documenting the splendor of Florida’s springs and rivers and their susceptibility to pollution and groundwater withdrawal. He was an influential speaker with an ability to move audiences with beautiful prose in speeches that blended art and science. As much as anything, he was a passionate outdoorsman who believed that to genuinely love and appreciate nature you had to deeply experience it.

A few years ago, Bill and Steve Phelan spearheaded an effort to identify what they called the “Hidden Springs of Black Water Creek” in the Wekiva basin. They used topo maps to estimate the locations of previously un-mapped springheads deep in the woods of Seminole State Forest. They then traipsed through the woods to see if these candidate sites included small springs that fed the Creek – several sites did. Afterwards, Bill and Steve led Friends of the Wekiva River field trips where Bill described the ancient ecology of Shark-tooth Springs, discussed the importance of the isolated spring runs to the evolution of unique species of snails, and cited poetry that unveiled the emotions he felt while immersed in those unique landscapes. Those kinds of trips were great experiences for novice and knowledgeable adventurers, and Bill led many of them.

Bill was a stalwart advocate, motivating communicator and an enduring Friend of the Wekiva River. He is already missed.

 

Sentiments

 

Bill Belleville was an extraordinary mentor, colleague, teacher, and friend. Although I was already a fan of his writing we didn’t meet until the founding of Equinox Documentaries. There we combined our hopes of helping Floridians find a sense of place and, therefore, love of the state’s natural wonders. Bill often spoke to my classes at Rollins College and led field trips into the wilds of Central Florida where students pondered why there were ancient shark teeth in freshwater streams. Together we slogged through many palmetto stands to find native mounds and remnants of old settlements and we kayaked through area waters, stopping to admire beautiful flowers or massive alligators. He helped me better understand the beauty of Florida, so beautifully expressed in his writing. He was Florida’s Thoreau and my friend. He will be greatly missed.

—-Leslie Poole, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, Rollins College

 

I first met Bill when Seminole Audubon Society (SAS) along with Friends of the Wekiva River (FOWR), Sierra Club, and numerous Sanford residents were opposing the Astor Farms development in Sanford. Bill wrote an article about urban sprawl using the specifics of the then-proposed development as a prime example of sprawl and leap-frog development. The article was picked up by the national Sierra Club magazine.

At that time Bill was working on his first book, River of Lakes: A Journey on Florida’s St. Johns River. In my mind, this was Bill’s masterpiece in which he describes his journey down the 310-mile length of the St. Johns River. He shares his experiences and insights gained while kayaking, boating, hiking its banks, diving its springs, and exploring its underwater caves. I rarely reread books, but this one I have read three times, and I still pick it up now and then to read a chapter.

Bill described himself as a nonfiction writer specializing in nature and conservation. He authored six books, contributed to eight national anthologies, wrote over 1000 articles, scripted and co-produced seven films. All his work has the thread of the importance of establishing connections between people and places. As I write this I can hear Bill at one of the FOWR Board meetings we attended together over the last twenty years saying we need to facilitate people making a connection with natural Florida whether it be on the Wekiva River, in Seminole State Forest, or another of Florida’s special places. Once that connection is made they will then care about it and help us to preserve it. This is a thread in all his works.

Bill gave willingly of his time and talents to various non-profits, his favorites being FOWR and St Johns Riverkeeper. On numerous occasions, Bill was a guest speaker for SAS meetings. He loved and cared for Florida in ways few others have done, and he will be missed by all of us in the environmental community.

—-Faith Jones, Board member, FOWR

 

We first met Bill in the very early days of the FOWR and he quickly became a friend and a very active member of the board. Bill was a frequent contributor to the monthly FOWR newsletter and he was a fervent and involved board member. He was an excellent writer, explorer and adventurer and he knew his ”home”, the Wekiva lands and waters better than anyone; he loved to share that knowledge.

We always enjoyed his company, the thoughtful conversations we had with him and the sharing of a good laugh.  He was an avid and enthusiastic advocate for the Wekiva River and Wekiwa Springs; it is hard to believe he is gone.

—–Pat & Fred Harden, founding members of the FOWR

 

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”- The Peace of Blue- Bill Belleville

Bill served on the board of the Friends of the Wekiva and served as vice president. He valued and shared his expertise and communicated the importance of conservation. He used references to American culture, biology, literature, and his own spiritual connection to the river system to inform audiences and hikers.

Bill was a noted author of books, articles, and short stories about the beauty and vulnerability of central Florida’s waterways. He partnered and produced inspiring films documenting the splendor of Florida’s springs and rivers and their susceptibility to pollution and groundwater deprevation. He was an influential speaker with an ability to move audiences with beautiful prose in speeches that blended art and science. As much as anything, he was a passionate outdoorsman who believed that to genuinely love and appreciate nature you had to deeply experience it.

A few years ago, Bill and Steve Phelan spearheaded an effort to identify what they called the “Hidden Springs of Black Water Creek” in the Wekiva basin. They used topo maps to estimate the locations of previously un-mapped springheads deep in the woods of Seminole State Forest. They then traipsed through the woods to see if these candidate sites included small springs that fed the Creek – several sites did. Afterwards, Bill and Steve led Friends of the Wekiva River field trips where Bill described the ancient ecology of Shark-tooth Springs, discussed the importance of the isolated spring runs to the evolution of unique species of snails, and cited poetry that unveiled the emotions he felt while immersed in those unique landscapes. Those kinds of trips were great experiences for novice and knowledgeable adventurers, and Bill led many of them.

Bill was a stalwart advocate, motivating communicator, and an enduring friend of the Wekiva River. All who knew him will miss his kindness and wealth of knowledge.

Enjoy and remember Bill while reading this selected list of books. You will find a “peace of blue.”

• “The Peace of Blue: Water Journeys”

• “Salvaging the Real Florida: Lost & Found in the State of Dreams”.

• “Deep Cuba: The Inside Story of an American Oceanographic Expedition

• “Sunken Cities, Sacred Cenotes and Golden Sharks: Travels of a Water-Bound Adventurer”.

• “Losing it All to Sprawl: How Progress Ate my Cracker Landscape”

• “River of Lakes: A Journey on Florida’s St. Johns River”

   —– Carole Hinshaw, board member, Friends of the Wekiva River

Central Florida’s newly updated water supply plan leaves springs under threat

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Central Florida’s newly updated water supply plan leaves springs under threat

Our growing population’s thirst for water is projected to increase 53 percent in the next 20 years and water managers’ plans to meet the demand could harm our springs.

A new draft 2020 plan for managing water supplies says the Floridan Aquifer — the state’s underwater sponge-like limestone system that provides water to people and the environment — can safely support withdrawals of 760 million gallons a day in Central Florida. After that, there is too little water to keep springs and rivers flowing at healthy levels.

The new draft water plan predicts groundwater withdrawals in central Florida will increase to 855 million gallons a day by 2040 unless more aggressive water conservation programs and/or alternative water supplies are implemented. And here’s another problem: Water managers have already granted permits to allow withdrawals of more than a billion gallons a day. Not all of those permits are in use now; some are planned for future growth.

How is Central Florida going to meet these growing water demands while protecting the water needs of lakes, wetlands, springs and rivers that support our natural environment, agriculture, tourism, economy, and community lifestyles?

Every five years, water managers update the Regional Water Supply Plan (RWSP) to address water use, conservation, alternative water supplies and other issues. The draft 2020 plan was authored by the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI) composed of three water authorities that have jurisdiction in the region that includes Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Polk and part of southern Lake Counties. Those authorities are the South Florida, St. Johns River and Southwest Florida water management districts.

We believe their draft plan is woefully inadequate and actually leaves Central Florida’s natural environment in danger.

The draft plan forecasts that flows in the Wekiva River and Wekiwa Springs will fall short of their currently mandated minimum flows by 2027 if groundwater withdrawals continue to increase as projected. Already, Palm Springs, one of the springs that feeds into the Wekiva River, falls short of its required minimum flows.

The draft plan identifies potential conservation measures and 39 alternative water supply projects that could reduce groundwater withdrawals. However, none of the proposed alternative water supply projects within the Wekiwa springshed would significantly reduce groundwater withdrawals.

Although public water supply demand is projected to increase 53 percent between 2015 and 2040, with lawn irrigation accounting for the biggest chunk, the identified conservation measures would reduce that demand by about only 7 percent. The plan estimates agricultural operations will reduce their water use by only 2.5 percent.

Potential alternative water supplies include drilling deeper wells in some areas, so water closer to surface isn’t tapped for all of the additional needs. However, withdrawing groundwater from deeper wells can also reduce water levels in the Upper Floridan Aquifer, which would reduce the flows from our springs. Another idea is building reservoirs or other storage areas to capture water from the St. Johns River during high flow conditions. The Taylor Creek Reservoir, currently used by the City of Cocoa Beach to store water, is an example.

To protect our springs and rivers in the Wekiva basin, Friends of the Wekiva River believes the water management districts must require utilities, industry, agriculture and other water users to implement aggressive water conservation measures, particularly for irrigation of landscaping, It is also urgent to protect the dwindling flows of Starbuck and Palm Springs and reduce already permitted groundwater withdrawals to match the amount of water that will be safely available.

In 2015, Central Florida’s population used approximately 635 million gallons per day. The area’s population is projected to reach approximately 4.4 million by 2040, which is a 49 percent increase from 2015. More people mean more water needs. But one of the core missions of Florida’s water management districts is to protect our water resources and aquatic ecosystems while assuring a sustainable water supply.

We cannot allow water withdrawals to harm the natural assets that draw people to Florida in the first place. We owe ourselves and future generations a state with all the natural wonders that make it special — and the water it takes to do that.

The Friends of the Wekiva River recommend the following actions to protect the water resources of the Wekiva Basin:

· The draft RWSP should be revised to reduce groundwater withdrawals in and around the Wekiva Basin so that Palm and Starbuck Springs will meet their currently adopted MFLs. Alternatively, the RWSP should demonstrate how proposed alternative water supply projects in the Wekiva Basin will reduce groundwater withdrawals that are causing Palm and Starbuck Springs to fall below their currently adopted MFLs.

· The RWSP should give top priority to conserving water supplies within Central Florida. The water management districts should require more aggressive water conservation efforts by local utilities, agriculture, commercial enterprises, and landscape/recreation sites. Local governments must adopt more stringent limits on irrigation of existing lawns and drastically restrict the amount of grass lawns in new developments.

· To reduce existing and projected water demand, the water management districts should impose a water use fee per gallon for water withdrawn from our aquifers, streams, and lakes. Currently, there is no such fee. Utilities, businesses and agriculture get water for free after paying a fee for a permit. Utilities charge customers for water that is treated.

· The RWSP should require the water management districts to modify existing water use permits so that the Floridan Aquifer’s sustainable yield of 760 million gallons per day will not be exceeded under the permits that have already been issued.

· The St Johns River Water Management District must adopt Prevention and Recovery Plans for Palm and Starbuck Springs in conjunction with adoption of the 2020 CFWI RWSP. Prevention plans must be developed as soon as possible for the Wekiva River and Wekiwa Springs to prevent them from falling below their currently adopted MFLs before 2027.

The Wekiva River Needs its Water — Managers to Set Minimum Flow and Level

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The Wekiva River Needs its Water — Managers to Set Minimum Flow and Level

How much water does the Wekiva River need to remain healthy? Water managers are trying to figure that out.

Minimum flows and levels, known as MFLs, establish the amount of water necessary to prevent significant harm to water resources or ecosystems. The levels, which are required by Florida law, are supposed to help guide and limit water withdrawals for human use in an area around a water body. If a water body’s flows and levels dip below the minimum, it can suffer low oxygen levels and poor water quality, which can harm fish and other animals.

The St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) is working to revise the current MFLs for Wekiwa Springs, Rock Springs and the Wekiva River at State Road 46. For the first time, the district also will establish an MFL for the Little Wekiva River. District officials, who previously held two public meetings in 2018 to review the method for setting the flows and levels, will host public workshops later this year to review the proposed MFLs. Friends of the Wekiva River will stay on top of these developments and keep you posted.

MFLs define how often and for how long the high, intermediate and low water flows and/or levels can occur without causing significant harm to the ecosystem. Two to five MFLs are typically chosen for each water body. The MFLs are defined as the minimum infrequent high, minimum frequent high, minimum average, minimum frequent low, and minimum infrequent low flow or level. Because flows and levels of rivers, lakes, and springs are dynamic and vary naturally, the District seeks to capture and protect high, low, and average conditions by setting multiple MFLs for each priority* water body. The SJRWMD uses the most constraining MFL for determining the amount of water that can be withdrawn safely.

If the SJRWMD determines that a water body is projected not to meet its adopted MFL, a Prevention and Recovery Plan will be developed that includes strategies for water withdrawals to be maintained at or below sustainable limits through conservation and regulatory measures. Impacts from water withdrawals can also be mitigated through water supply development projects — such as reclaimed water, aquifer recharge and alternative water supply sources.

Since the program began in 1990, MFLs have been established for 101 lakes, six rivers, seven wetlands and 10 springs within the 18-county area managed by the SJRWMD. The current MFLs for the Wekiva Basin, which were adopted into the Florida Administrative Code Chapter 40C-8.031. More

information about the SJRWMD’s MFL program is available at: https://www.sjrwmd.com/minimumflowsandlevels/wekiva-basin/

*What’s a Priority Water Body?

Water Bodies are included on the SJRWMD Priority List if they are considered waters of importance to the state or region. The list also includes waters that are experiencing or are reasonably expected to experience adverse impacts. Development of MFLs for water bodies on the Priority List take precedence over water bodies not listed.

State’s Plan to Protect Wekiwa & Rock Springs Won’t Work!

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July 21, 2019

Wekiwa and Rock Springs have a pollution problem. Too much nitrogen and phosphorous are causing excessive growth of algae and other undesirable plant species, such as hydrilla, in the Wekiva River and Rock Springs Run, threatening food sources and habitat for fish. 

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) developed a plan to reduce the nitrogen load to Wekiwa and Rock Springs. However, the Friends of the Wekiva River (FOWR) believes that the state’s plan does not fully address the sources of this pollution, and has challenged the plan. Plans for other springs are also under scrutiny. So FOWR, along with a number of other environmental groups across the state, are taking their case to a state hearing in September. We’ll keep you updated on our website (www.FriendsofWekiva.org) and Facebook page and let you know how you can help. Details about donations are below.  

The Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act of 2016 required FDEP to develop plans known as Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs) for first order magnitude springs and springs of regional significance, which include Wekiwa and Rock Springs.  The BMAP for Wekiwa and Rock Springs was adopted by FDEP in June 2018. 

The BMAP estimated that about a million pounds of nitrogen enter the groundwater in the Wekiwa and Rock Springs springshed each year. The major sources include septic tanks (29%), urban turfgrass fertilizers (26 %), wastewater treatment facilities (17%), farm fertilizer (11 %), and sports turf fertilizer (7 %). 

The nitrogen concentrations in the springs range from 0.8 to 1.4 milligrams per liter – about four times higher than is considered safe. And phosphorous concentrations are about two to three times higher than the limit. In 2008, because of these high nutrient levels, FDEP designated the Wekiva River and Rock Springs Run as “impaired.” 

During development of the BMAP, FOWR provided numerous comments to FDEP to address the plan’s weaknesses. FOWR’s main concern is that the BMAP does not address the entire nitrogen load to the springshed.   Instead the plan proposes to only reduce nitrogen loads by about 200,000 pounds per year, which is only about 20% of the total nitrogen load to the springshed.  

Also, the BMAP does not account for future nitrogen loads from new residential and commercial development in the springshed.  The plan will also allow new septic tanks to be installed during at least the next five years.  And the plan only recommends reducing nitrogen from fertilizers by 6-10%!

FOWR believes that the BMAP must identify strategies to reduce the entire nitrogen load to reduce the nitrogen concentrations in the groundwater that reaches Wekiwa and Rock Springs.

As we approach the September hearing, FOWR is working hard and incurring expenses, including for experts who can show the need for improving the plans. As you can imagine, this is a costly effort.  We would appreciate any support you could give us.  Just go to the home page of our website (www.FriendsofWekiva.org) and click on the “DONATE” button.  

We cannot afford to let these precious jewels become over-run with algae!  Please help today! 

Searching for Scrubjays Hike

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At 8:00 on Saturday, Feb. 9th, 17 people gathered at Bear Pond in Seminole State Forest with park biologist, Ralph Risch. The trees were shrouded in fog but as we gathered a low flying, immature eagle flew overhead, giving us a “under-view”  of the mottling of brown and white feathers.  It was not long before a couple of mature bald eagles soared over the pond.
 
The walk around the “Bear” was quiet except for an occasional bird call. The birds were waiting for the wind to settle and the sun to break through the fog.  Pine warbles, mourning doves and white-eyed verios were spotted. A small flock of wood ducks flapped across the pond.
 
Onward to the scrub!  The Jays displayed their cerulean blue wings as they perched on the highest tips of the very short scrub oaks.  Ralph explained the specific habitat that these indigenous birds to Florida require. They live in community and each bird has a responsibility to uphold. Some take turns being the sentinel bird to warn of hawks entering the territory. Others feed the family.  Some privileged families even have caregivers.
 
As we moved out of the scrub into the pine forest many warblers were seen and heard. This time the sunlight illuminated their yellow feathers.  A red-headed woodpecker was spotted on a dead tree…probably listening for insects.
 
The hike ended with a delightful picnic under the pavilion at Bear Pond. Our take-away: A  better understanding and appreciation of what it means to manage through protection, preservation, and restoration of this unique habitat, Seminole State Forest.
          

FOWR SEEKS FUNDING FOR WEKIVA-OCALA CORRIDOR PARCELS

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For many decades, the State of Florida has been purchasing properties necessary to create an unbroken corridor of wilderness connecting Wekiva Springs State Park to the vast acreage within the Ocala National Forest through programs such as C.A.R.L., Preservation 2000, and Florida Forever. Since 1980, the state has acquired nearly 56,000 acres at a cost in excess of $183 million for the Wekiva-Ocala corridor, and more than 25,000 acres are additionally being sought. Acquisition of the land is necessary to provide a wildlife movement corridor and important refuge and habitat for many rare species such as the Florida black bear, the bald eagle, Florida scrub jays, swallow-tailed kites, Florida scrub jays, sandhill cranes, Eastern indigo snakes, Sherman’s fox squirrels, Florida scrub lizards, and gopher tortoises. Another priority is to keep development away from these lands where rain seeps underground to the Floridan Aquifer, which is the source of water for the Wekiva river and dozens of other springs in the area.

FOWR has recently been engaged in efforts to secure funding for acquisition of, and a conservation easement over, several hundred acres located within some of the fragmented parcels still being sought by the state for acquisition in the Wekiva-Ocala corridor. In connection with these efforts, FOWR has learned of a federal grant allocated to the state for a Highlands County scrub jay project where alternative funding has instead been received. FOWR has asked the state to consider allocating the funds to acquire property and establish a conservation easement over two parcels consisting of approximately 200 acres of land in Lake County. Florida scrub jays can be found on one of the parcels, and both scrub jays and Eastern indigo snakes have been documented in the scrub communities on the parcel proposed to be placed under conservation easement.

Several state agencies are involved in the process of reviewing and approving FOWR’s request either because they have a role in allocation of the funds or a role in long-term management of the properties. If re-allocation of the federal grant monies is approved, FOWR will have one year to secure additional funds in order to qualify for receipt of the monies from the federal government. The Conservation Trust for Florida has advised it is willing to assist FOWR with securing preliminary appraisals and the necessary fund-raising efforts. A representative from Florida Fish and Wildlife Service has signed off on FOWR’s request and FOWR is now waiting for permission from the remaining state agencies involved.

Results of the Christmas Bird Count 2018

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Summary of the 2018 Audubon Christmas Bird Count

for the Wekiva Count Circle

In the 2018 Wekiva Christmas Bird Count (CBC), 53 people endured a relatively rainy and very cloudy day to identify 132 species, and 14,595 individual birds. The number of species observed was slightly higher than the 128 species we have averaged over the last 10 years.

The 10 species with the highest number of individuals observed on the count were: fish crow (3607), American robin (1142), black vulture (716), tree swallow (668), white ibis (627), red-winged blackbird (575), turkey vulture (346), yellow-rumped warbler (320), boat-tailed grackle (319), and palm warbler (302). We observed more than 100 individuals of 32 species; we saw 5 or less of 38 species and only 1 individual of 18 species.

Other interesting aspects of this year’s count included:

* “Rare” birds in this year’s count included American redstart, summer tanager, northern waterthrush and yellow-crowned night heron. All these birds are commonly observed in the region or abundant in other seasons in the Wekiva basin, but their lack of regularity in the Wekiva CBC necessitated completion of a rare bird form.

* Three species of birds were not detected during the 2018 count though they had been observed on at least 20 of 28. These included northern harrier, herring gull and eastern meadowlark. There continues to be a dramatic decline in eastern meadowlarks, particularly in the last 5 years – we observed 315 in 2007!

* Black-bellied whistling ducks continue to be observed in relatively high numbers – they have now been observed in the last 9 counts, and 275 were observed this year.

* Wild turkeys, which were not common in the Wekiva basin 30 years ago, have also become firmly ensconced in the count circle, including residential neighborhoods. Nine-two were observed this year, which was near the all-time high.

* Including this year, a single horned grebe has been counted 10 times during the Wekiva count – never any more.

* We had a near low count of the highly nomadic wood stork (8), but they have been observed on every count.

* We observed high numbers of American white pelicans (43), grasshopper sparrow (5) and least bitterns (3), which have only been observed on 4 counts.

* We observed only one northern flicker. Northern flicker numbers have been declining from a high of 55, 25-years ago.

* We have not observed a hairy woodpecker in 9 years, but they were observed in 15 of the early years of the count,

* We only observed one house finch, a bird that has recently become common in central Florida – we observed a high number of 16 in 2014. I had wondered if this species would be more prevalent since it has now been observed in 10 of the latest counts.

Please join or renew your membership

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FOWR membership is invaluable because you help keep us strong. Your support helps us defend the Wekiva and educate future generations who will need to take up the work of ensuring this remains one of Central Florida’s environmental jewels.

Many thanks to those of you who have already renewed your membership, and a reminder that it just takes one click (below) for those of you who have not yet had the opportunity to do so.  We would like to recognize those who have thus far renewed at our highest membership levels:

CORPORATE – -Encore Farms

LIFE — Leslie Poole

PATRON — Dick Ashby, Curtis Duffield

Friends of Wekiva River depends upon the income received from annual dues to sustain its many important activities related to protection of the river and basin. Through our efforts, we seek to minimize impacts from fragmentation and loss of habitat, declines in spring flow and degradation of water quality.

Your dues cover administrative expenses, such as paying the rental fee for monthly meetings and insurance for the activities that we lead. Your fees are also critical to programs we sponsor, such as educational materials and research we fund on wildlife and water quality in the basin.

Please click on the following link and renew your membership for 2018-2019. The Wekiva River and the wildlife who live within the basin are depending on you!!!

www.friendsofwekiva.org/membership/

FOWR Board: Who are they? What do they do?

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We’re so glad you asked!

After organizing informally in 1978 and incorporating in 1982, The Friends of Wekiva River, Inc. began with 19 members and an even smaller number sitting on the Board of Directors. Over the 40 years that have ensued, FOWR has grown to more than 300 members residing in Orange, Seminole and Lake Counties. With the most recent election conducted at the Board of Directors meeting held on May 3rd, the Board now consists of 18 members each serving three-year terms, governed by a President, Vice President, Treasurer and Secretary.

We will be launching a series of articles in upcoming newsletters to “spotlight” and introduce each of our Directors to you, but for now we thought you might be interested in some general information about the current make-up of the Board, the different areas of expertise the Board members contribute to FOWR and its mandate, and some of the activities the Board has contributed to and is currently involved in.

Most of the Board members have lived in the Wekiva basin for many years, and several were intimately involved with obtaining designation of the river many years ago as an Outstanding Florida Water, a Florida Canoe Trail, an Aquatic Preserve, and a Wild and Scenic River. In addition to the knowledge acquired over the years from these and other activities, many of the Board members contribute technical expertise in areas relevant to protection of the river, including law, biology, engineering, landscape architecture and media.

Board members are actively engaged in programs related to water quality enhancement, black bear research, land acquisition in the Wekiva to Ocala corridor and assuring design standards for the Wekiva Parkway. We monitor and analyze projects proposed for development within the basin as well as changes proposed to local government development codes and comprehensive plans that could negatively impact the river and basin. We appear at public hearings before local government boards to advocate for the river, and participate in many hands-on projects throughout the year preparing data and analysis related to species and habitat protection, water quality issues and education.

The Board meets 6:15 pm the first Thursday of every month at:

Seventh Day Adventist Church

Markham Woods Road

Longwood, FL.