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Community Overview of the Biggest Concerns, Programs Effecting Our Environment
The Gulf Coast is really only as great as the waterways and coastlines that encompass it, which is why it is imperative to fight the good fight in order to save our precious resources.
For years we have fought an uphill battle against runoff pollution in many of our bays, bayous and inlets -- with fish kills and no swimming zones prevalent throughout the 1970s and 80s.
Now that we've seen improvements since that time due to stricter laws, regulations and community awareness, it's time to assess our situation and determine further measures we need to take to make our water safe.
Chasidy Fisher Hobbs of the Emerald Coastkeepers, a local environmental group that promotes conservation of our waterways, says we're on the right track to repairing our water, but far from where we need to be.
"We have certainly come a long way since the Clean Water Act (1972) began being enforced. However, we have a very long way to go," she says. "Bayou Chico is much worse off than Bayou Texar. I believe we hear so much about Texar because of the very active homeowners' association and the huge loss of recreational value of that bayou."
Pensacola City Councilmember Larry B. Johnson, who also serves on the Emerald Coastkeepers board of directors, believes the serious problem with our water is often overlooked.
"About one-third of the world's population suffers from scarcity of fresh water, and 95 percent of the world's cities still dump raw sewage into their water supplies. Water is a precious commodity and we must do all we can to protect it."
Johnson is also greatly concerned with the quality of Pensacola's drinking water, which was reviewed by the Environmental Working Group over the past four years and rated as the worst in the nation.
"One of the most serious environmental issues facing our community is our water quality," he says. "There have been grand jury reports and non-profit studies that show our waterways and drinking water are contaminated with many different types of pollutants; this is a great concern for our community."
Hobbs believes the biggest issue currently facing the future of our water is in the hands of the Board of County Commissioners. She says she is concerned that a proposal to change the current land development code would allow businesses to build in areas that could compromise our waterways and underground aquifers.
"Escambia County is gearing up to amend the Land Development Code," she says. "Everything that happens on the land impacts our drinking water aquifer and local water bodies. We have a wonderful opportunity to create a code which encourages sustainable development and smart growth for central and north Escambia.
"Imagine the progress we could make as a community if everyone stood up and demanded local officials to protect our waterways and drinking water," Hobbs adds.
"You know, we could be a community that attracts high-paying jobs and creates a living and working environment which is supportive of our incredible natural resources, rather than continuing on this mentality of 'growth at any costs,' which has gotten us in the predicament of unhealthy surface and ground water.
"There are examples of communities across the nation that thrive on the fact that resource protection aids economic development...that healthy communities attract jobs. Why is this so difficult to understand?"
This year will likely be remembered as an important stepping-stone for recycling in our community, with both Escambia and Santa Rosa counties beginning curbside glass pickup programs.
But give Santa Rosa extra props. The county's Clean Community System was able to use an Impact 100 Grant to purchase a glass pulverizing machine, which will be used to make gravel that can be used as sand products.
"It really is a simple process," says John Tonkin, the CCS director. "It's just a matter of having the machine, which cost about $90,000. The machine will go down the line and break the glass and take out the sharp edges."
The special pulverizing machine is one of roughly 150 in the nation, according to Tonkin. He says later this year the county will provide the sand-like glass to its residents at no charge.
"Right now we're putting (the glass) out in places like the Chamber of Commerce and other buildings before we provide it to the public in September."
On the business front, it's difficult to find a local business that has been more innovative or has taken more steps to push the green movement than Ever'man Natural Foods.
The grocer prides itself as a co-op, which provides locally grown produce and vegetables, and also sells only organic products on its shelves.
But according to Jennifer Dutton, the store's marketing director, there are many things that are done behind the scenes to help the environment.
"We have both in-store and outdoor recycling programs," she says. "We literally recycle everything. We even have a man who comes in and takes our Styrofoam popcorn and gives it to Mail Boxes Etc. to recycle. We also compost and recycle all fruits and vegetables that go to waste.
"To cut the grass we use a push lawnmower...not a motor lawnmower," she adds.
"It's the little things we think about...the cups in our deli...everything we do we consider recycle content whether pre-consumer with organic foods or post-consumer."
There's no getting around the fact that big business and utilities create a fair share of pollution. Fortunately, in recent years several of the big boys in our area have developed programs to help curb their toxic impact.
Gulf Power is one company that has stepped up its conservation efforts, adding a $645 million scrubber to its Crist Plant late last year that is expected to reduce coal-regulated emissions by 95 percent.
"Since 1992, we've reduced total power plant emissions by 80 percent," says Jeff Rogers, a spokesman for Gulf Power. "We just got our scrubber (that removes harmful pollutants from air) and we're working on another part of the plant to help even further."
Rogers says while the company is working to reduce pollution, it is also working to promote conservation from its customers.
"If everyone just tightened up their house a little bit, we could save a lot of energy," he says. "As early as the 70s, we have had the Good Cents program. Now we've got Earth Cents, which adds the environmental aspect to see what can be offset. You can now build your house to a certain standard and have it tested to see if it complies."
ESP Natural Gas is also pushing conservation by promoting energy-efficient water heaters.
"By using a tankless water heater, you could be using 2,700 pounds less in carbon dioxide than using an electric tank," says Natasha Reynolds, an ESP green energy specialist/engineer. "That's just per household per year and only one appliance."
April 16-25, Florida Energy and Climate Commission is giving rebates for tankless heaters. ESP will be on hand to promote its water heaters during Earth Day at Bayview Park on April 15.
The Emerald Coast Utilities Authority, which handles the majority of the county's sanitation and water needs, is currently promoting grease recycling by providing containers to customers that can be taken to drop-off locations around the county as well as a campaign to promote bags being used for all trash and recyclables.
ECUA will also begin shifting its operations from the downtown Main Street sewage treatment plant to its new state-of-the-art facility later this summer, which will remove the smell for nearby residents and businesses and prevent the risk of raw sewage overflow into Pensacola Bay.