November 22, 2014


Useful conversions first - close to the Everglades:
Water and Math in the Caloosahatchee Watershed
One acre-foot represents VOLUME and it equals:
    • 326,000 U.S. gallons
    • 43,560 cubic feet
    • 1233 cubic meters
    • 893 gallons per day for 365 days
  • Your bathtub holds about 5 cubic feet. How big is the Caloosahatchee River ?
  • In the dry season, the Caloosahatchee River flow can go as low as 300 ft3 (0.007 acre-foot) per second, or 18,000 ft3 (0.4 acre-foot) per minute, or 1.1 million ft3 (25 acre-feet) per hour, or 26 million ft3 (600 acre-feet) per day.
  • In the rainy season, the Caloosahatchee River flows at about 2,000 ft3 (0.05 acre-foot) per second, or 120,000 ft3 (16 acre-feet) per minute, or 7.2 million ft3 (170 acre-feet) per hour or 170 million ft3 (4,000 acre feet per day) per day.
  • The Caloosahatchee watershed contains 1408 square miles, or 900,000 acres. It receives an average of 53" (4.5') of rain every year. That comes to 4.1 million acre-feet of rain that drains into the soil, runs off hardened parking lots and roads, or evaporates
     (Courtesy of Friends of the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves)
And now, please allow me a to add a few words, a little rumination perhaps - on "science" and some attitudes.
First of all, the above is NOT really "math" or "science" - it is really arithmetic and it is part of what is generally labeled as "literacy". Just like reading and writing, it is an indivisible part of our civilization - and functionality. We need to know how to count our money, right ? We are priding ourselves as being literate. Well, are we really ?
Have you heard of "functional illiteracy" ? It has to do with, for example, writing a message that we post on our fridge - that could be understood by others. Others who are supposed to not only read it - but interpret it and act on it.
Surprise - there is 48.7% "functionally illiterate" people in the USA !
And this is not even considering math or arithmetic skills.

Governor Scott entered history with his 'disclaimer' that "I'm not a scientist". That is true, he has not been trained as one. We can only hope that he does comprehend some level of "science" and can act correspondingly. Also, that he can read and interpret the message on his fridge posted there for him by the experts, the highly trained science people.
It all has to do with literacy and functional literacy.
And at the bottom of it all is EDUCATION - which relies on a certain level of INTELLIGENCE that we claim to posses as human species.

Regarding those two categories (education and intelligence), it does not do much good when highly visible and role-model public personalities, a governor, TV or radio hosts, politicians, celebrities or such, publicly declare that he/she is "no good in math" - and we are really talking only simplistic addition/subtraction skills.
Such a confession does happen every once in a time - much too often in our 'intellectually' dominated media where people do not seem to read and 'think' numbers. Avoiding them since childhood. Hmmm -
Can you imagine the impact of such a public statement ?
Leading by example ? This type of a 'disclaimer' is not only dumb, it is actually a very-very serious intellectual public crime -
Crime on our children who see, hear or read it - and form their attitudes. What a role example, what motivation !
What a leadership.

April 21, 2014


The rumination and idea outlined here may be somewhat raw and only semi-baked. But the more we think of it the more we get the drift of it – and it looks quite logical.  It has to do with Central and South Florida watershed schemes and Phosphorus removal.  At this point, nobody doubts that phosphorus contamination is the main culprit in deterioration of what’s left of the Everglades.
These huge-scale ecological systems have to be approached like one HUGE scheme, not so much piece-meal.  The northern watersheds dump nutrients into Lake Okeechobee – that, in turn, has to release its waters further downstream.  We cannot expect these waters to be clean because Lake Okeechobee is thoroughly overwhelmed receiving 500-600t of P/y (max. 105 tP/y allowed).

The South of the Lake, Everglades Agricultural Area, with its vast sugar-cane monoculture, makes the nutrient surplus situation even worse.  A series of new STAs are valiantly struggling with the nutrient (mainly phosphorus) overloads that impair their performance in cleaning up water destined to eventually feed the Everglades Protection Area and the ENP itself.  According to the latest calculations, new expanses of land are now required for expansion of STAs and water reservoirs (FEBs). The latter are necessary for water storage and smoothing the seasonal flood and drought situations.
It is necessary to emphasize that these man-made water storage and cleansing structures are built and operated on taxpayers money.  We shall let the stakeholders argue about this concept, keeping the Tallahassee lobbyists busy (and paid).  

In summarizing the situation, it can be said that -
- we have huge quantities of P-contaminated waters representing a problem;
- large quantities of fresh water AND Phosphorus are used for agriculture operations (NOT going to go away any time soon);
- agriculture needs water - and keeps pumping and using perfectly CLEAN water from underground aquifers – only to contaminate it with hard-to-remove phosphorus.
It is clear that the agriculture needs WATER and P. 
Why not give and distribute both to them already in a MIXTURE ! - and -
- save huge costs of removing P from water (to extremely low levels of 10ppb), and
- preserve the precious clean fresh-water aquifers for city use.

In other words - why don't we have agriculture using exclusively P-loaded water instead ?
Of course, that would mean -
- gathering and holding that water;
- pumping that water;
- conveying that water – perhaps using modern higher-tech distribution PIPELINES rather than canals that suffer from seepage and high evapotranspiration losses;
- have somebody (user ?) pay some (?) of the water conveyance costs.

One could go even one step further, realizing that : 
- As surplus P-rich water from Lake Okeechobee (LO) is currently relased ‘to the tide’ (Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers) it wreaks havoc along these waterways and on the estuaries. 
- The shallow muds in LO contain high amounts of deposited “legacy” Phosphorus accumulation.
- Large land areas in the EAA suffered soil oxidation, depletion and subsidence (5 feet at some locations).
- The key to water quality and quantity problems in Central and South Florida is Lake Okeechobee.

Pumping out P-rich muds of LO
This may perhaps be a longer range challenge –filling in badly subsided and eroded sections of EAA land, enriching and building up the soil. This approach would be helpful in solving numerous existing side-problems. This may be the only way of solving the LO outstanding water quality problem that stands out and has not even been addressed to this day. Too big a chunk to swallow ?

In fresh water we have what is rapidly becoming a diminishing resource. Just like our municipal water distribution structure is rapidly becoming duplicated – for fresh water and for recycled water, we can expect a similar concept used for agricultural irrigation:  use P-loaded water for that purpose.
Now - here is the economics clincher:
This approach may still be CHEAPER than buying out LAND for and operating FEB-STAs combinations. Nedless to say, with Florida dry-wet seasons, water-storing reservoirs will always be needed.

The whole regional water scheme will likely radically change also with the blocking of remaining ocean outfalls - in a not too distant future. A dual water distribution network is quickly becoming commonplace with those purple 'recycle water' pipelines being laid down everywhere.

The water-phosphorus-agri scheme discussed here should become another ELEMENT in the water management puzzle of Central and South Florida - among all those others introduced, like BMPs, RASTAs, LO, dispersed water storage, etc. 
Not one, not two, but ALL of these remedial actions need to be applied in concert since there is no silver bullet of a solution for problems of this magnitude, compounded by a century of wrong and neglect.
Enough -
That's MY five-billion-dollar conceptual suggestion - for consideration and to keep on the drawing board of solutions being suggested, examined, and eventually pursued. 
Examine it. We just have to better look after our water resources.
Naive ? - well, keep it in mind and just see somebody else coming up with it sooner or later.

January 5, 2014

BMPs and STAs

BMPs - Best Management Practices (mainly for agriculture).
STAs - Stormwater Treatment Areas.
These are two different concepts for keeping the ‘watery’ environment appropriately clean. To minimize AND  to clean up the pollution. Mainly water pollution which is mobile and travels, polluting everything in its way.  However, there is a world of difference between the two clean-water techniques discussed here.
While BMPs are mainly a PREVENTATIVE (upstream) measure.  Building and operating STAs amounts to an attempt to clean-up AFTER the “cat is out of the bag” , so to speak – the pollution is already streaming through the environment. Ideally, a functioning STA system should normally consist of a Flow Equalization Basin (FEB) and a constructed shallow wetland whose growing ecosystem absorbs and helps mineralize (immobilize and deposit) the excess nutrients.  While FEBs accumulate and release water in wet and dry periods, respectively, they address the water flow quantity aspect.  The wetland-based STAs actually improve water quality.
STA wetland removes polluting nutrients (P)

And what pollution are we talking about ?  In case of Florida Everglades it is primarily the excesses of nutrient PHOSPHORUS, because the pristine ecology of watery Everglades has historically been phosphorus limited. Man’s activities (farming and development) dump excessive phosphorus into the environment everywhere.  The general modern consensus is that ‘normal’ everglades water should not contain more than 10 ppb (parts per billion = micrograms/liter) of phosphorus in it – and that’s ‘very low’ !  That’s the way it used to be or should be – and we can have it that way only if we are VERY careful (practicing the BMPs) or if we CLEAN UP effectively (large land areas of STAs).
As usual, the combination of BOTH together is probably the best approach to achieving sustainable human presence in fragile ecosystems.
The good old wise saying tells us that –an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of medicine”.  No doubt that this applies, and particularly so, in the case of Everglades pollution.
We have to keep one additional very important aspect in mind – of course, the COSTS.
The costs of BMPs (limiting the pollution SOURCE) are paid by the ‘pollution originator’, usually the farm operator – depending on the levels of their subsidies from the government.
FEBs and STAs construction and operation are paid for mainly by the government – the taxpayer.

It is still dark in the Florida Capitol ...
The government(s) should not burn taxpayers’ money on clean-up that really needs to be the responsibility of those generating the nuisance. For the Everglades Agricultural Area this is even mandated in the Florida Constitution that stipulates that “polluters pay”. And so they should – and not only in the EAA ! While not “omnipotent”, the (preventative) BMPs and particularly their strict enforcement deserve much more attention. Increased enforcement of these is not so difficult – because currently there is virtually no enforcement. You would laugh at it if you knew the details. Despite the natural and expected farmers’ outcry about costs of BMPs, this needs to be done.
It is the “cost of running business” – just like any other.