Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Will Florida Go The Way Of California, or, Of Texas ... by gimleteye

Florida's water management crisis is destroying the state's valuable fisheries. This photo, from the crushing toxic outfalls during the historic floods of 2015/2016 winter
A friend proposed the other day regarding the future of Florida: that we could "Calfornify or Texafy". What he meant was beyond the obvious comparison of blue versus red state.

His point was related to water and power.

In Texas, water is a private resource. If you are a property owner in Texas, you own rights to the minerals and to the water under your feet. That has never been the case in Florida, or, in California.

The idea that water is a public utility and a public right in Florida is changing. Fast. That is thanks to Big Sugar, Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP cabinet including Ag. Secretary Adam Putnam.

Provisions embedded in 2017 Everglades law contained a strange, extraneous provision pointing Florida in the direction of water privatization using public taxes to suss out the engineering obstacles to converting rainfall into money for wealthy sugar growers. At the time, some environmentalists cried "foul" and urged legislators to understand that the new law -- providing a massive $1 billion reservoir south of sugarcane fields -- was a Trojan Horse. Others, predominantly organized around the Everglades Foundation, said "this is the best we are ever going to get".

Coupled with a recent lawsuit and bizarre settlement by the Scott administration with a Martin County property owner and Miami investor, George Lindemann Jr., the signs are clear: Florida is on the way to becoming Texas. In the not-so-distant-future, Big Sugar billionaires could make more money selling rainfall from their land than growing sugarcane.

It's not an improbable proposition at all.

Since the Jeb Bush years, the Florida/Texas connection has been fortified. A Florida-based executive of the secretive King Ranch -- the largest property owner in Texas -- served on the board of the South Florida Water Management District.

The Tampa Bay Times reported in 2013 on King Ranch private jets ferrying Republican state lawmakers to the Texas ranch retreat.
A month after Gov. Rick Scott took a secret hunting trip to the King Ranch in Texas last year, he faced a big decision. A seat had come open on the board that oversees Florida's efforts on the multibillion-dollar project to repair damage to the Everglades caused by agriculture. To fill that position, Scott picked a corporate executive named Mitchel A. "Mitch" Hutchcraft.

Hutchcraft's major qualification for a seat on the board of South Florida Water Management District: He is the vice president in charge of the King Ranch's Florida agricultural acreage. "That's astounding," said David Guest of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which has repeatedly sued the agency over its protection of Lake Okeechobee and other water-related issues. Scott's announcement of Hutchcraft's appointment in March 2013 made no mention of what the governor's staff called a fundraising trip the month before. Scott's trip wasn't listed anywhere on his official calendar, nor is there any mention of King Ranch donations from that period in his campaign finance reports.
None of the participants would comment for the record. Adam Putnam, when asked, slammed a door in a reporter's face.

California has always been defined by control of water. Cf. "Chinatown" for the 1930's story. In recent decades, drought has exacerbated conflicts between the states' urban and big agricultural users. Florida water managers frequently crop up in California water policy, bringing a wealth of experience in trying to balance competing interests.

But there are other crucial differences. California is one of the world's most diverse economies. While Texas is also diverse, political power has always concentrated around the fossil fuel supply chain. It is a top-down power structure that reliably delivers pre-selected Republicans to control the legislative, executive and judicial branches.

That fits neatly into Rick Scott's vision for consolidating political power in Florida; now focused on his unannounced campaign to replace Bill Nelson in the US Senate. Control of water, and the money that flows from water, has been a focus of political organizing by Florida Republicans since Jeb Bush's first win in 1998. It wasn't long before his environmental chief, David Struhs, personally shuffled Enron executives around Tallahassee, pumping a scheme to privatize Florida's water supply called "Liquid Gold".

It's taken 20 years to flesh out that vision, but it is now taking corporeal form in Florida. President Trump is far too scattered, far too incoherent, and far too distractible to care much about what happens to Florida's water supply so long as his golf courses get water when they need it and drain water when it floods. No different from the Big Sugar billionaires who hold the Everglades and Florida's estuaries hostage, today.

If Republicans get their way with our state, our water future is headed towards Texas. Not California.


Ross Hancock said...

While they are privatizing the good water, they are going to give reclaimed poopwater to us regular folks. State Sen. Keith Perry (R-Gainesville) just filed bill SB 1308 declaring that “reclaimed water (from wastewater treatment plants) shall be considered environmentally acceptable and not a threat to public health and safety.”

Anonymous said...

Ross, Per a Gainesville utility website:
Reclaimed water is wastewater that has been highly treated at water reclamation facilities to be clean and safe for irrigation. Where available, the use of reclaimed water reduces the amount of drinking water that is pumped out of the ground, saving that water for future generations. View other common questions about reclaimed water.

Reclaimed Water Projects

Reclaimed water has various uses in our community:
•Water features
•Industrial uses
•Environmental Restoration

Florida utility companies need to do more to encourage conservation/create a conservation ethnic. One can only wish Gov. Scott would not promote Florida so heavily. And that our water management districts actually considered the health of our springs when issuing water consumption permits. And yeah, if our water use continues to increase.....we may eventually be drinking reclaimed water.....or relying on ocean desalination....even springs desalination - until Florida's springs dry up and completely disappear.

Anonymous said...

The South Florida Water (Management) District notes quite a few S. Florida cities and counties use reclaimed water....for irrigating yards, business grounds, farms and parks and green spaces, etc., etc. This certainly makes more sense than dumping treated water in the ocean. Certainly much more needs to be done to promote water conservation - such as using rain barrels to capture water for home yards and gardens. Water can be conserved while brushing teeth and taking showers, by not letting it run unnecessarily. We all need to do our part in conserving our precious natural resources.

Anonymous said...

Perry's bill is to allow mixing reclaimed water with drinking water resources, via injection, etc. Of course, recalled water has been used in Florida for 50 years for irrigation, etc. so there is no need for this bill with regard to those conservation uses.

Anonymous said...

"...via injection, etc": Ross, you evidently are referring to fracking associated with numerous environmental issues/contaminations. Perry unfortunately seems to be following the republican pack - despite his campaign rhetoric. Perry roofing has been around a long time. He seems like a nice enough fellow, though his campaign stance on this issue generated controversy - when he indicated he was against fracking. I had reservations...didn't vote for him.

Regarding reclaimed waste water, it could be better utilized in S. Florida, especially Miami and other S. Florida cities. A map on S. Florida (non-) water management district website shows use along coastlines, but very little use in most southern portions of state.