Monday, March 10, 2014

The Everglades can revive, and so can Democracy … by gimleteye

"Reed, a Jupiter Island resident who served as assistant secretary of the Department of Interior under President Richard Nixon, said one of his biggest personal failures was not convincing Florida’s power brokers to move water south sooner."

Are there any insights left, when it comes to discussing Florida's exhausted Everglades or polluted rivers, estuaries and bays?

Convincing Florida's power brokers to move water south, sooner, through the Everglades Agricultural Area is the same order of challenge as convincing Vladamir Putin to back off Ukraine.

Like Putin, Florida's power brokers are convinced that when it comes to rationing water through decisions allocating resources; for Big Sugar, for suburban sprawl, or for the environment, the bottom line is: my way or the highway.

That's just water quantity. What about water quality?

If science stands in their way, remove the scientists. That's what Putin would do, and what Gov. Rick Scott DID in the Everglades. Replace them with public relations specialists who know the party line, and speak it. Use "mixing zones" before measuring pollution, fudge wherever you can the fact that you aren't investing enough in science or data collection or interpretation. New knowledge about pollution? Bury it deep in the muck as methyl mercury now creating, in South Florida, some of the hottest hot zones in the world.

The billionaires like Big Sugar's Fanjuls exercise their influence in the state legislature and in Congress, pulling the conflict of states rights versus federal authority their way at will, thanks to a corrupt campaign finance system.

Big Sugar operates through trade associations rarely, if ever, criticized by the mainstream press: Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce are just two. Don't like a state agency like the Florida Department of Community Affairs? Make them a bogeyman. Do away with it. Don't like hard, fast numerical pollution standards? Use "narrative" ones: they will keep the lawyers happy through the next generation of braces, private schools, limousines in downtown Miami, helicopter rides and coming-of-age parties.

Moreover, Big Sugar dictates its terms of engagement on water pollution, regulation and enforcement through lawyers, engineers and consultants who are at work in Florida, whether the billionaires are on their yachts in the Caribbean, in the Mediterranean or the Aegean Seas. Every acre of land put in public ownership for the purposes of restoration is an opportunity for a lawyer to question the terms. Each and every point of dispute with federal or state agencies is a billable hour.

The process of fixing water quality in Florida has been deformed, subverted, and twisted for decades. Through it all, environmentalists have been jerked around whenever they have been invited to the august corridors of power, on blue ribbon panels and committees. A minority voice.

The rancid record of the Tea Party has only further hardened a status quo against environmental regulation and enforcement that experienced little if any pushback. They would do as well in Red Square, egging Putin on.

Why am I so angry this Monday morning?

Over the weekend, on a Friends of the Everglades tour of Everglades related "infrastructure", I listened to the state of Florida express how it is doing everything humanly possible to fix phosphorous pollution, while dodging the inconvenient truth that one of Gov. Rick Scott's first acts in 2010 was to eviscerate the science capacity of the South Florida Water Management District.

Nathaniel Reed, quoted by Eve Samples in an OPED in the Treasure Coast News (reprinted below), wishes he "could have persuaded Florida's power brokers to move water south" through Big Sugar lands, sooner. Those special interests had as little regard for Reed or his goals as Putin does for protesters in the Ukraine.

That's not an insight, by the way. It is a cold fact and invites the question: why do anything in the Everglades?

For one, we've made a promise to future generations. We owe a debt to past generations who tried their level best and urged us forward. Second, there is a strong economic argument for saving Florida's streams, bays, rivers, its estuaries and Everglades. Eventually, one hopes, special interests in Florida will understand that their race to the bottom hurts profits. Hurts business. Hurts their wallets. Lastly, as we saw this weekend -- within sight of an FPL power plant and acres of sugarcane -- under the right conditions, nature will revive.

And if nature can revive under the right conditions, so can Democracy. (Read Eve Samples' editorial, here)

Eve Samples: Water must move south from Lake Okeechobee. Let's finally settle on how
By Eve Samples

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Holy Grail for the St. Lucie River lies in the answer to this question:

What’s the best way to move a colossal amount of water south from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades?

If you ask backers of the grass-roots Rivers Coalition, it’s by building the “missing link” to restore a wide flow of water southwest from the Big Lake. Their preferred solution, called Plan 6, is based on a flow-way concept the Army Corps of Engineers came up with two decades ago — and it cuts through some of the most valuable sugar land in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

But if you ask Nathaniel Reed and others with the Miami-based Everglades Foundation, an easterly route via existing canals from Lake Okeechobee is more feasible — and less likely to be opposed by the political powerhouse that is Big Sugar.

This problem is almost a century old.

The time for debating solutions has passed.

It’s time to nail down a fix — one that will prevent the regular flooding of the most biodiverse estuary in North America, the St. Lucie Estuary (which feeds into the Indian River Lagoon).

“There’s no doubt that water has to move south,” Eric Eikenberg, chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation told me last week. “If we all start from that premise then let’s in fact move water south.”

He gets it.

Reed gets it.

The Rivers Coalition gets it.

The public gets it.

The problem is policymakers in Tallahassee don’t.

Some say they do — but they sure aren’t making it a priority.

If the degradation of the St. Lucie River was top-of-mind for them, they would have the state’s leading hydrologists and environmental scientists come up with a solid plan for moving water south from Lake O to the Everglades. Then they would put it into motion.

Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done.

“Let’s get solid minds in the room,” Eikenberg said. “There’s no doubt this can be knocked out in a week.”

Reed, speaking at a recent meeting of the Rivers Coalition, suggested hiring the University of Florida to come up with the best solution.

The school’s Water Institute is game. I spoke to its director, Wendy Graham, last week. She said her staff was capable of doing the job, so long as the scope was clear and funding was available.

We’re not talking millions of dollars here.

Recent studies of water restoration projects from UF’s Water Institute have ranged from $50,000 to $100,000. The state of Florida is projecting a $1.2 billion surplus for the upcoming budget year.

It wouldn’t have to take years either.

One of the more extensive water-plan studies the Water Institute recently performed took about six months.

It’s time to settle on a plan for a southern outlet that all parties can get behind.

Once that happens, it needs to be paid for.

“Nobody can tell me we can’t afford it,” Reed said. “If you had a governor who said, ‘The Everglades belongs to all of Florida,’ what a tiny, tiny tax would be required to raise the dollars.”

Reed, a Jupiter Island resident who served as assistant secretary of the Department of Interior under President Richard Nixon, said one of his biggest personal failures was not convincing Florida’s power brokers to move water south sooner.

“Everyone in this room believes in clean water,” Reed said during his recent visit with the Rivers Coalition, an alliance of homeowners associations, businesses and everyday residents affected by pollution of the St. Lucie River.

“Everyone in this room believes in sending the water south, where we desperately need it to go into Everglades National Park and finally into Florida Bay,” Reed continued.

“There is absolutely no division of thinking on what the final results must be.”

But there is a big division on how to get there.

Until that divide is bridged, the Holy Grail for the St. Lucie River will remain out of reach.

Eve Samples is a columnist for Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers. This column reflects her opinion. Contact her at 772-221-4217 or

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

FIU has more in-house talent than UF when it comes to Everglades science, including the NSF funded LTER research center.