Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Managing Lake Okeechobee's crisis: Who is the bad partner? By Wayne Daltry

The following guest blog is reprinted with the author's permission. It has appeared in several Florida newspapers, too, as a commentary/ OPED. EOM agrees with Wayne Daltry's premise: Floridians have never been able to trust in good faith their state government to protect critical natural resources like water quality in Lake Okeechobee. The state, with its financial might thanks to taxpayers and visitors, is only reliable in so far as it delivers services to the big businesses and wealthy interests who fund political campaigns. Lake Okeechobee, for example, supplies fresh water that accounts for a significant percent of water that finally arrives at your tap. But that water quality has been severely affected by Big Sugar and municipalities and dairy farms north of the Lake. The state's public relations machinery is a significant reason more people don't know the truth. That includes big downtown Miami law firms that have made tens if not hundreds of millions in fees, over the years, representing the state and polluters in federal courts. Now we should trust the state to manage Lake Okeechobee? No way.

The Florida Legislature is discussing whether to use political might to
seize control of the management of Lake Okeechobee, and water reservoirs,
from the US Army Corps of Engineers, and turn control over to the South
Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). This proposal is a bad idea;
it overlooks the history of the management of Lake Okeechobee, and related
water bodies, in regard to the Clean Water Act.

First, Florida petitioned the Federal government for the construction of
the Herbert Hoover Dike, and the Central and Southern Flood Control
Project, to provide flood relief and water supply sources for agricultural
and urban development in southeast Florida. This expensive effort, in
conjunction with navigation projects for the Kissimmee, St Lucie, and
Caloosahatchee Rivers, resulted in a fair weather water management system
that is unable to adapt to increasingly common drought and flood

Second, Florida through its agency, now known as the South Florida Water
Management District, managed water for the benefit of agriculture and
urban water supplies, a reasonable effort until the effort abandoned any
concept of environmental water supplies for estuaries or preserved wetland
systems such as Everglades National Park. Additionally, public waters
were allowed to be degraded, and were assisted to be degraded, by the
actions of public agencies that were supposed to be adhering to the
provisions of the Clean Water Act. The deterioration reached such
extremes that the Federal Government sued the State of Florida, and its
agent, the South Florida Water Management District to prevent further
degradation and restore national resources. The lawsuit dragged on for
years until Governor Chiles symbolically surrendered the State's sword,
which resulted in a Court overseen and monitored Settlement Agreement.

Third, as part of the partnership, the State of Florida and Federal
Government agreed to a Federal/State restoration effort Task Force, which
in turn developed a restoration plan that was agreed to by both parties.
The plan calls for cost sharing, and joint consultation in management.
This is where we are, or should be, today.

Unfortunately, in the years of bad management of Lake Okeechobee, water
levels were allowed to reach heights for water supply purposes that led to
deterioration of the Herbert Hoover Dike. As a result, the Corps had to
institute new regulation schedules to protect the Dike's primary purpose
of flood prevention. Additionally, SFWMD practiced favoritism for water
supply deliveries, while shunting flood waters to communities that were
not normally in Lake Okeechobee's flood zones. Only in these last few
years have these adversely affected communities on the east and west sides
of the Lake able to get the Corps of Engineers to consider their needs,
often contrary to SFWMD recommendations. However, in fairness, SFWMD has
been a responsive partner in many projects outside of the Corps domain or

The quality of the environment is key to the economies of east and west
communities. Experience has demonstrated that without the creative
tension of the partnership, both partners receiving input from affected
parties, that one agency will be swayed to the interests of favored
stakeholders/lobbyists, to the detriment of the other stakeholders,
notably the silent stakeholder, Nature. This is a situation that needs
both the belt and the suspenders of State and Federal government, because
otherwise, our pants have kept falling down. Trying to co-opt the Federal
role, in management, while expecting the Federal dollars, indicates the
lessons of the lawsuit have been forgotten. It is possible that some
Florida interests think they have gotten all they want from the effort to
date, and thus the rest can be abandoned. We on the west coast know that
our needs have not been addressed, except through temporary and
discretionary relief, and that we need equitable attention from both
partners. Eliminating one will only result in harm to our communities,
our economies, and our environments.

Wayne Daltry, North Fort Myers

Wayne Daltry is President of the Caloosahatchee River Citizens Association
(Riverwatch). He is a former director of Lee County's Smart Growth
department. Before that Wayne spent 27 years with the Southwest Florida
Regional Planning Council - 20 as executive director.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The South Florida Water Management Board is far too political. Too many lobbyists and too many self absorbed political appointees.