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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – 2022 is close to turning into another record year for manatee deaths in Florida.

In the first two months of the year, there have been 400 manatee deaths, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

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Now several conservation organizations have sued the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to protect them.

Emilio Lopez with the Biscayne Bay Marine Health Coalition said pollution and runoff are a leading cause of death for manatees and other wildlife in the bay.

“These organics decompose in the water, they release a lot of nutrients contained in them, things like nitrogen and phosphorus,” he said.

Lopez said those nutrients distort Biscayne Bay and harm its wildlife

“As you may remember there was a massive fish die-off a couple of years ago in Biscayne Bay and part of it had to do with the low oxygen levels, the water temperatures, and a variety of factors. Nutrients are a component of that,” he said.

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But the nutrients aren’t just killing fish. A recent lawsuit filed against the EPA claims the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus being allowed in the state’s waterways is preventing seagrass from growing, and as result is responsible for a massive manatee mortality event.

“We lost more than 1,100 manatees in the state of Florida in 2021. That represents 13 percent of the entire population of manatees in the state of Florida. Degrading environmental quality in water quality has robbed the manatees of their primary food source. Those manatees are starving to death,” said Ragan Whitlock with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The lawsuit, which was brought by Save the Manatee Club, Earthjustice, Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife, hopes to force the EPA to address the concern

“So the goal of our lawsuit is to compel the EPA to revisit Florida’s nutrient criteria for water. That means the load of nutrients that we allow every year to be dumped in bays, in our waterways. With what happened last year, with the loss of manatees and the way the water quality is degrading across the state, it’s clear that that nutrient criterion is not sufficient,” said Whitlock.

Environmental advocates like Lopez hopes the fight is successful

“We have to protect the bay, we rely on it for jobs, for tourism, and also of course, for the ecosystem,” he said.

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On May 25th, Biscayne Bay Marine Health Coalition will hold a summit to discuss other ways to protect the bay.

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Lake Powell Operators to Withhold Water to Protect Hydroelectric Power

by Merrilee Gasser


The Bureau of Reclamation will reduce the amount of water released from Lake Powell in response to a drought situation threatening the water supply of millions of residents in several western states and hydropower generation.

The federal agency said Tuesday Lake Powell’s water surface elevation is currently at 3,522 feet, the lowest since it was first filled 60 years ago. The critical elevation is 3,490 feet and would be the lowest point where Glen Canyon Dam can generate hydropower, according to the bureau.

Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary of water and science for the U.S. Department of the Interior, said the agency identified “a number of concerns for public health and safety” that would happen this year if Lake Powell’s water level went below its threshold of 3,490 feet including water supply interruptions to water users who rely on Lake Powell for drinking water supplies and hydropower interruptions.

“The Department has reviewed these concerns, along with input from the Basin States, Tribal leaders and others and has concluded that prudent operation of Glen Canyon Dam for 2022 requires a downward adjustment to the water release volume originally planned for this water year to delay or avoid Lake Powell declining further to critical elevations,” Trujillo wrote in a letter to the director of Arizona’s Department of Water Resources.

It’s unclear how much residents will be affected by the current plan to reduce the amount of water released from the lake this year.

The bureau said it would decrease Glen Canyon Dam’s annual release volume from 7.48 million acre-feet to 7 million. As a result, about 480 thousand acre-feet will remain in the lake. This will bring up Lake Powell to nearly one million acre-feet over the next 12 months and increase elevation by 16 feet, according to the bureau.

The agency also plans to release about 500,000 acre-feet of water into Lake Powell from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir.

“Today’s decision reflects the truly unprecedented challenges facing the Colorado River Basin and will provide operational certainty for the next year,” said Trujillo in a news release. “Everyone who relies on the Colorado River must continue to work together to reduce uses and think of additional proactive measures we can take in the months and years ahead to rebuild our reservoirs.”

The drought response actions are part of a Drought Contingency Plan adopted in 2019. To reduce the water released from Glen Canyon Dam, the bureau will keep 350 thousand acre-feet of water that was held back earlier this year and hold back an additional 130 thousand acre-feet before September.

Reclamation Acting Commissioner David Palumbo called the plan a short-term response and said it was important to continue planning for the long-term to stabilize the reservoirs. 

– – –

Merrilee Gasser is a contributor to The Center Square. 




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