About the Jurisdiction
Lake Worth Waterkeeper’s exclusive jurisdiction encompasses 1,620 square miles throughout Palm Beach County. The water throughout our jurisdiction consists of complex interconnected natural and manmade water bodies. All of which are controlled by government agencies for flood control and storm water management.
The Lake Worth Lagoon, our namesake, is a long narrow waterway that runs parallel with the Atlantic shoreline. It was once a freshwater lake, but has since turned to saltwater after a series of inlets were dug, and canals built to connect it to the rest of the Intracoastal Waterway. Like the rest of South Florida, these waterways are intertwined with the Lake Okeechobee/Everglades system. Waterways from Lake Okeechobee lead to many wetlands throughout the jurisdiction, including the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge, considered a northern extent of the Everglades.
The Lake Worth Lagoon is home to popular beach side towns that support an important tourism industry. There’s also the local fishing and diving industry, where captains use the inlets to access the Florida Reef Tract. The same environmental threats faced throughout South Florida are present: farm and urban runoff pollution, coastal development, poor fisheries management, and laissez faire government policy constantly threaten the watershed and the industry it supports.
Notable landmarks throughout the jurisdiction includes the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge, John D. MacArthur Beach State Park, Phipps Ocean Park (aka Blue Heron Bridge dive site), Peanut Island, South Lake Worth (aka Boynton) Inlet and the Hillsboro Inlet.
About the Waterkeeper, Reinaldo Diaz, J.D. – President, Founding Member
As a native Floridian Reinaldo was brought up in south Florida’s ocean centric culture. An avid waterman, whether it’s fishing, diving, or paddling, any excuse is sought to be out on the water. These passions lead to a career as a divemaster and guide. Yearning to more effectively share this lifestyle by educating the public, Reinaldo studied communication and anthropology at Florida Atlantic University, eventually finishing with a law degree from Shepard Broad Law Center at Nova Southeastern University. His passion is advocating on behalf of his home, to share the unique lifestyle that he was brought up on.
Reinaldo’s experience with Waterkeeper Alliance began in May 2017 as Executive Director of Calusa Waterkeeper. Here he planned and implemented a fundraising strategy, while diving into the surrounding environmental community. In his free time, Reinaldo can be found searching for wildlife encounters on long backpacking trips, fly fishing, scuba and free diving, or paddling.
Board of Directors
Ryan Abrams, Esq. – Vice President, Founding Member
Ryan grew up in South Florida in the Fort Lauderdale area. Ryan earned his undergraduate degree in Urban and Regional Planning at Florida Atlantic University. As a law student, Ryan wrote a critical legal analysis on the problem of nutrient pollution in South Florida, “The Problem of Nutrient Pollution: Lessons from Florida’s Fragmented Approach,” which was published by the University of Denver Water Law Review.
After earning his juris doctorate from Shepard Broad Law Center at Nova Southeastern University, Ryan and his family moved to the Florida Keys where he started a successful career practicing government law. Ryan has experience in government procurement, litigation, administrative law, and negotiating major government design-build and land acquisition contracts.
Ryan is now practicing local government law in Boca Raton, Florida. Outside of work Ryan can be found at the beach with his family, out fishing with friends, or cheering on the Miami Dolphins.
Billie L. Brock, Esq. – Treasurer, Founding Member
After earning her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Kansas, Billie earned her juris doctorate from Shepard Broad Law Center at Nova Southeastern University where she focused on environmental and government law. Billie worked as a research assistant to Professor Richard Grosso where she focused on Sea Level Rise. Billie is currently a civil trial attorney practicing in insurance defense.
Billie has a twin sister named Ruby: they were named after the Seals & Crofts song Ruby Jean and Billie Lee. Outside of work Billie can be found traveling, scuba diving, and passionately arguing with others about why the University of Kansas is a superior basketball team. Rock Chalk!
Goals and Objectives
To strive to improve the waters of our jurisdiction, including its impacts on riparian and estuarine systems, habitat, flora and fauna, ensuring drinkable, fishable, and swimmable waters.
To promote public education concerning the historical significance, present condition, and future of our watersheds.
To increase public awareness of the importance of our waters to our quality of life.
To study the effect of domestic, commercial, and agricultural uses of our water resources.
To monitor and work to improve water quality, quantity, and flow characteristics.
To observe and participate in the activities of agencies responsible for the management of our watersheds.
The Lake Worth Waterkeeper logo represents 3 fish that are vital to our jurisdiction: largemouth bass, snook, and lemon shark.
Largemouth bass (Micopterus salmoides) is a freshwater gamefish native to North America. Largemouth bass is the state freshwater fish of Florida. They are apex predators that feed mostly on other fish, but also amphibians, small mammals, and even birds. Their predatory behavior makes them a highly sought after fish for anglers. Lake Okeechobee is considered the best place to fish for largemouth bass, leading to a very important fishing and guide industry in and around the lake.
FWC Largemouth Bass info page: http://myfwc.com/research/freshwater/sport-fishes/largemouth-bass/
There are 5 species of snook that inhabit our jurisdiction: the common snook (Centropomus undecimalis), small-scale fat snook (Centropomus parallelus), large-scale fat snook (Centropomus mexicanus), swordspine snook (Centropomus ensiferus), and tarpon snook (Centropomus pectinatus).
These fish can be found throughout our jurisdiction, with their wide tolerance of salinity they can be found in inshore canals to our beaches. Unfortunately, their tolerance of temperature is not nearly as robust, they are highly susceptible to strong fast moving cold fronts. One such front lead to such a high mortality that the State issued a moratorium on its taking. Extensive research coupled with strict management has lead to their recovery. But threats such as habitat loss to development, poor water quality, and overfishing continue.
Snook are highly sought after by fishermen because of their spirited fighting, often leading to dramatic jumps, and their quality as table fare. These fish are practically their own economy, influencing a plethora of local specialty fishing tackle. When snook season opens you can be sure there will be a mad rush comparable to holiday shopping.
FWC Snook info page: http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/snook/
Lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris) are found in subtropical waters and are known to return to specific nursery sites for breeding. Many of these sites are located in our jurisdiction, where they are key in supporting our local dive industry. Many divers come from all over the world to dive and photograph these sharks. Unfortunately, lemon sharks and the industry they support are constantly under threat by the loss of coastal mangrove habitat to development, overfishing, and pollution.
FWC Shark info page: http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/sharks/
About Waterkeeper Alliance
Waterkeeper Alliance is the largest and fastest growing nonprofit solely focused on clean water with over 320 Waterkeepers across 6 continents, protecting more than 2.5 million square miles of rivers, lakes, and coastal waterways. Waterkeeper Alliance is an international network of local nonprofit organizations, each advocating and protecting their own watersheds.
Waterkeeper Alliance ensures that the Waterkeepers are as connected to each other as they are to their local waters, where firsthand knowledge of their local waterways with unwavering commitment to the rights of their communities seek to defend the fundamental right to “drinkable, fishable, and swimmable water.”
Lake Worth Waterkeeper Incorporated as a brand new NGO and member of Waterkeeper Alliance in October 2017.
Lake Worth Waterkeeper joins other Florida Waterkeepers: Apalachicola Riverkeeper, Calusa Waterkeeper, Collier County Waterkeeper, Emerald Coastkeeper, Indian Riverkeeper, Matanzas Riverkeeper, Miami Waterkeeper, St. Johns Riverkeeper, Suncoast Waterkeeper, and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, with more on the way.
Waterkeeper Alliance: www.waterkeeper.org
Water Quality Monitoring
In the fight for “drinkable, fishable, and swimmable water” one of the most important tools we can have is an independent water-sampling laboratory.
Florida’s Department of Health undertakes a “Clean Beaches” program where they test beaches around the state for Enterococcus, a bacteria associated with fecal contamination.
On October 10, 2000 the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act) was signed into law as an amendment to the Clean Water Act (CWA). This amendment required the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop performance criteria for monitoring coastal water problems to warn the public of potential health risks. The result is a grant program for state agencies to take on the responsibility with programs like Florida’s “Clean Beaches” program.
In our jurisdiction, Palm Beach County’s division of the Department of Health undertakes honest reporting of the samples they analyze. Unfortunately, the lack of funding made available to them results in woefully infrequent testing. Too few samples are analyzed to provide adequate warning for the public and to understand the severity of the bacteria contamination problem. Also, the BEACH Act, as the name suggests, only requires testing of Florida’s beaches, ignoring important inshore areas.
Lake Worth Waterkeeper’s priority is to set up an independent water-sampling lab so that we may fill this void. Sampling of inshore areas, more frequent sampling, and sampling from more sites will lead to a better understanding of where and how bacteria contamination originates, and to a better and more concise warning for the public.
EPA BEACH Act About page: https://www.epa.gov/beach-tech/about-beach-act
Lake Okeechobee Discharging
Prior to humans inhabiting South Florida, the Everglades/Lake Okeechobee system consisted of the Kissimmee River Basin bringing water into Lake Okeechobee. Here, water would essentially overflow the south banks of the lake into the Everglades. Not coming from a narrow source, the water moved together as “sheet flow” until reaching Florida Bay.
As people moved into the area at the end of the 19th century, a complex drainage system (including the Herbert Hoover Dike meant to contain and manage Lake Okeechobee’s level) was being built to drain the area immediately south of the lake for conversion to agriculture use. This area became known as the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). The drainage system diverts the water that once flowed into the Everglades into predominantly the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers, known as the upper estuaries. Water is also diverted through canals that bring lake water to the southeast coast of Florida.
In our jurisdiction, water is often diverted through the L-8, West Palm Beach, and Hillsboro Canals. Where it’s dumped into the Lake Worth Lagoon and Intracoastal Waterway, and ends up on our beaches through various inlets. This happens during events of substantial rainfall, where Lake Okeechobee reaches high levels considered dangerous to the dike’s ability to contain the water and prevent flooding to the neighboring communities.
The problem is two-fold: the diversion of water deprives the Everglades of the water it needs to be healthy; and Lake Okeechobee’s water quality is dismally poor and contaminated with nitrogen and phosphorus, among other pollutants, which ends up polluting our lagoon and beaches.
Without adequate water the Everglades struggles to maintain it’s famed “river of grass.” Habitat loss, inadequate resources, and overall declining health of the environment affect many species, including humans. This effect is long reaching: the thirst is felt in Florida Bay, where inadequate freshwater supply leads to problems such as being too shallow, hypersalinity, and seagrass and mangrove death.
Farm and urban runoff from the communities surround Lake Okeechobee pollutes the water. There’s special concern over the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus. At normal levels these nutrients are necessary for plant growth. But, the excess nutrients added by the surrounding communities leads to a plethora of problems. Having too much phosphorus especially, will influence algae blooms, which in turn suffocate other life in the water, allowing bacteria to take over. Also a concern is water turbidity, water clarity. Lake Okeechobee’s brown tannic water is inappropriate for coastal estuaries and offshore waters where habitats such as seagrass and reefs require sunlight to live. More often than not, Lake Okeechobee’s water is far beyond tannic, and becomes an opaque coffee color, which devastates the coastal waters.
Addressing these problems has been debated for quite some time. More recently, Congress authorized the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) in 2000. This plan set the dream to restore flow to the Everglades and to minimize Lake Discharging. In 2011, the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) was initiated to carry out the goals of CERP. The plan will deliver a suite of restoration projects in the central Everglades for Congressional authorization so that CERP can be implemented.
Among these projects is what is known as the EAA Reservoir Project. The reservoir will be located within the EAA, fed by the Miami and North New River (NNR) canals. The water is meant to be treated, stored, and eventually fed into the Everglades. Additionally, a series of other projects involving the removal of barriers such as dikes, canals, and roadways south of the reservoir will help promote sheet flow of the water coming from the reservoir.
The agency in charge of implementing CEPP, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is in the process of designing this reservoir project. The problem is that this project is in serious danger of being hijacked from its original purpose of Everglades restoration as intended by CERP. Other interests are seeking to adopt this project to serve more as a water storage project for agricultural use.
Lake Worth Waterkeeper will be monitoring this project as it develops, and will take action when necessary if the project strays from its original purpose. As well as monitoring any agency projects or decisions that may impact Lake Okeechobee discharge. The goal is to minimize this harmful discharge to the coastal communities by treating the water and using it to restore flow into the Everglades.
EAA Reservoir Project info and schedule: www.sfwmd.gov/EAAreservoir
Statewide fisheries management has a profound effect on the fishing and diving industry of our jurisdiction. Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) is in charge of reviewing and making management decisions regarding fisheries management. These decisions are made regularly, and are open to public input.
FWC Commission Meeting Schedule: http://www.myfwc.com/about/commission/commission-meetings/
FWC Workshop schedule: http://www.myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/rulemaking/workshops/
FWC Saltwater public comment: http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/rulemaking/comments/
Currently under consideration is a management decision for goliath grouper. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is currently considering opening the goliath grouper to limited taking.
This is a contentious issue every time it is revisited. On one side, is the old school fishermen outlook that these goliath grouper are “eating everything in sight” and need to be culled. On the other side, is the science that proves this is not the case. Typically, when FWC has considered this issue in the past, science comes in at the last moment to protect the grouper from baseless management decisions. The problem this round, is that FWC seems to be taking every effort possible in ignoring the science, repeating that the taking would be a “harvest” and a “unique fishing opportunity.”
Often heard arguments in favor of killing goliath grouper are that they are “everywhere” and “eating everything”, so they impact other important fisheries such as snapper and groupers. FWC will admit that we don’t have the data to support a decision, but they are leaning toward these arguments as a matter of “policy, not science.”
The science we do have irrefutably proves these arguments false. Goliath grouper are slow lumbering giants that are incapable of catching fast predators such as snapper and grouper. Even if they can catch these fish, goliath groupers lack the appropriate teeth for grabbing other slippery fish. Studies prove that the goliath grouper’s diet consists mostly of crustaceans such as lobsters and crabs, with only around 1% of snapper. These snapper were likely taken off a fisherman’s line, but the conditions and timing have to be perfect for this, unless the fisherman is using inappropriately light gear. The notion that goliath grouper are “everywhere” is absurd. It may seem like that to the layman because they do congregate on particular sites, especially during breeding season. But across their historical range, their numbers are dismally low compared to what they once were.
FWC has taken on the strategy of describing this limited taking as a “harvest” and “unique fishing opportunity” for fishermen. First, harvesting goliath grouper is not likely as their slow growth rate and large mass makes them highly efficient at bioaccumulation. Essentially, they are what they eat so the pollution and contaminants found in their waters can be found in their flesh. This includes Brevetoxin, a serious poison that brings health risks and even death if consumed. “Unique fishing opportunity” is a recent descriptor being used by FWC that has no scientific or legal basis. It appears to be a way to avoid calling this taking what it is, trophy hunting, which is never a justification for a taking of an endangered species.
Lake Worth Waterkeeper is monitoring this process, and plans on attending the FWC board meeting where the decision will be made in early 2018.
FWC Goliath Grouper Info: http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/goliath-grouper/
Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Task Force
Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) are an important symptom of declining water quality. In 2016, massive HABs lead to a state of emergency throughout the Everglades’ upper estuaries (Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers). Exposure to HABs brings substantial health risks. Neurodegenerative diseases such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s have been linked to the cyanotoxins some HABs create. Recent studies have also linked HABs in Florida to an increased incidence in liver cancer.
For many, the 2016 HAB that affected so many across the state was the culmination of Florida’s ineffective water policy. Florida does not have standard policy to respond to or prevent HAB events. But the model is there, 22 other states have “actionable” guidelines codified in policy to address the HAB threats to their communities.
In 1999, the Florida HAB Task Force was initiated and still exists as Florida Statute 379.2271, but it was defunded shortly after in 2001. Renewed funding of that HAB Task Force through the 2018 Legislative Session is necessary for the State to address the problem and create policy that could help us respond to or prevent future HAB events.
Federal legislation on HABs is currently being considered, and could bring considerable funding for HAB related public health issues nationally. Florida needs to take advantage of any opportunity to address this problem.
Lake Worth Waterkeeper is a part of the coordinated effort spearheaded by Calusa Waterkeeper to lobby for the funding of Florida’s HAB Task Force, the first step in addressing this serious public health and safety problem.
Lower East Coast (LEC) Water Supply Plan
The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is developing the 2018 Lower East Coast Water Supply Plan Update (LEC Update). This plan will assess projected water demands and potential sources to feed that demand for the period from 2016 to 2040 throughout Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties as well as parts of Monroe, Collier, and Hendry counties.
Local governments, water users, and utilities use this plan to update and modify local comprehensive plans, facility work plans, and ordinances. With the growing population of the area, and limited freshwater source, a balance needs to be found so that all stakeholders will have their fair share of water.
Lake Worth Waterkeeper will be involved with the process, monitoring and providing input when necessary so that the water users in our jurisdiction are ensured fair use, and that important natural sources of freshwater are protected.
SFWMD LEC Supply Plan info page: https://www.sfwmd.gov/our-work/water-supply/lower-east-coast
Much like the failure of the beach renourishment projects themselves, the argument of whether to take on these projects seems to never go away.
Florida Senator Jack Latvala (R, District 16) introduced S.B. 174: Coastal Management, which will be considered in the January through March session. The bill was co-introduced by Sen. Lauren Book (D, District 32), Sen. Travis Hutson (R, District 7), Sen. Dorothy Hukill (R, District 14), and Sen. Debbie Mayfield (R, District 17).
A similar bill has failed before. What it seeks to accomplish is to permanently secure beach renourishment money and change how the state selects what projects to undertake. The problem with this bill is two-fold: beach renourishment projects are proven wastes of money, their intended effects are short lived with often long term harm to the environment; and this bill seeks to misappropriate funds from the Land Acquisition Fund.
Beach renourishment projects are often undertaken following major storms that erode beaches. Often this is due to improper coastal development, where natural barriers to this erosion such as dunes and appropriate vegetation are destroyed in lieu of having a view of the water. Never willing to accept responsibility for their poor planning, these coastal properties seek to gain all the temporary benefit of expensive renourishment projects while sending the bill to the taxpayer. These projects lead to numerous environmental concerns such as turbidity and habitat destruction. And despite these costs, the sand rarely lasts through the next major storm.
The vast majority of Florida voters supported the Land Acquisition Fund for its intended original purpose: using a percentage of a document tax (approximately $800 million annually) to purchase lands for public use so that they may be used for restoring and protecting lands for conservation. Since it passed, the Fund has been in constant peril of misappropriating, unconstitutionally stealing money to use for other unintended purposes. This bill is one of the many hands in the pot; it seeks to permanently set aside $50 million of this Fund for beach renourishment projects.
Lake Worth Waterkeeper will monitor and provide comments and recommendations against this bill during the legislative session. Lake Worth Waterkeeper will also similarly challenge any beach restoration efforts in the jurisdiction that seeks to solely benefit private coastal properties and not for conservation purposes.
S.B. 174 info page: https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2018/00174
Equestrian Farm Water Management and Planning
A longstanding and key contributor to our local economy, the equestrian community is often underappreciated and lacks a voice in important water use stakeholder decisions.
Lake Worth Waterkeeper plans on partnering with interested parties to develop a standard guidebook for equestrian farms. The guidebook would be a plan of best practices for the farm to adopt, these practices will of course relate to water use. For example, grey water from horse wash stalls is usually drained into the sewer, groundwater, or whatever the local wastewater management system is.
However, the water from these stalls can be diverted and stored in an underground cistern, so it can be repurposed. Rainwater from roofs and grey water from laundry rooms can also be recycled similarly. If green detergents are used this otherwise wasted water can actually be beneficial for watering gardens or irrigating fields because most detergents are phosphate rich, bringing nutrients that are beneficial to the farm but would otherwise be harmful if dumped into wild water sources.
It has been proven that breeding and training facilities can save 30,000 gallons of water every month, even with about 20 acres of grounds that requires watering the outdoor arena 3 times a day.
Such a plan would provide the catalyst for equestrians to integrate their community into rural planning and development. And perhaps most importantly, serve as a model for other agriculture industries, further proving the possibility of green agriculture.
Lake Worth Waterkeeper will organize and lead a team of interested parties to develop this plan, which will be presented to local communities for planning of equestrian communities.
Florida Constitution Revision
The 2017-2018 Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) is the third in our history. The CRC seeks to propose and pass amendments to our state constitution. Among the proposals currently being considered are a few that may impact our rights to a healthy and clean environment. The CRC must complete their work by May 10, 2018.
Lake Worth Waterkeeper will provide comment and recommendations for the CRC to consider regarding the proposals that may affect our water use and environment.
Florida constitution revision commission page: http://www.flcrc.gov
Proposal 23 info page: http://www.flcrc.gov/Proposals/Commissioner/2017/0023
Proposal 24 info page: http://www.flcrc.gov/Proposals/Commissioner/2017/0024
Proposal 46 info page: http://www.flcrc.gov/Proposals/Commissioner/2017/0046
Proposal 48 info page: http://www.flcrc.gov/Proposals/Commissioner/2017/0048
U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz (R, FL-1) introduced H.R. 861: to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year, which proposes to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Cosponsors are Rep. Thomas Massie (R, KY-4), Rep. Steven Palazzo (R, MS-4), Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R, GA-11), Rep. Mike Rogers (R, AL-3), Rep. Roger Williams (R, TX-25), Rep. Alexander Mooney (R, WV-2), and Rep. Andy Biggs (R, AZ-5).
This patently, is a terrible idea. The EPA, though not without its criticisms, is absolutely vital in protecting our community, and the nation as a whole, from environmental harm.
Lake Worth Waterkeeper will provide comment regarding this matter, and will campaign to influence members of the public to do so as well.
H.R. 861 info page: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/861
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/lakeworthwaterkeeper/
Lake Worth Waterkeeper
P.O. Box 1367
Lake Worth, FL 33460
Pollution Hotline: TBD