|Captain Mike Holliday, February 2016|
Every taxpayer in the state is funding this debacle, whether they know it or not. Water quality, property rights and public health are allowed to deteriorate for a simple reason: corporations that control the levers of government are more intent on protecting profits than people. When you hear Gov. Rick Scott's incessant mantra about "jobs", keep that in the back of your minds.
Mike Holliday is a 38-year resident of Stuart, an outdoor writer and fishing guide. He's just written an excellent OPED in the Treasure Coast Palm, "How to end the cycle of destruction in our estuaries" (reprinted below).
|SWLF clean water activist John Heim|
Yes, Florida needs jobs but we don't need jobs in a state coated by a ring of pollution so severe it makes Floridians the functional equivalent of coal miners in Kentucky: shit out of luck.
The Florida legislature and executive branch, lead by a radicalized GOP, have swung so far to the right that even this year's outpouring of anger from mostly Republican districts fronting the Caloosahatchee, the St. Lucie and Indian River lagoon -- is scarcely heard in Tallahassee. And poor Florida Bay.
Oh there are the rare senate field hearing, the government PR events, the announcements from Gov. Scott's office, from the senate president Joe Negron's office, from agriculture secretary Adam Putnam and representative Matt Caldwell. All coordinated. All spin. All the time.
|Heim is now hospitalized for toxics exposure|
Fair Districts -- fought by the liberal application of tens of millions of taxpayer money by the GOP in Florida -- gives hope that eventually Floridians' waterfront property, public health and environment will be priorities of the rebalanced legislature.
In the meantime, newspapers and television news have been largely captured by polluters' advertising budgets and promotion of false equivalencies. For months, US Sugar Corporation has been deluging Martin and Palm Beach counties with daily ads professing what good corporate citizens they are, how we have to "stay the course" with existing projects, how they are just good neighbors like you.
Behind the scenes, US Sugar (owned by the charitable Charles Stuart Mott Foundation) and its Big Sugar twin -- Flo-Sun and Florida Crystals (owned by the Billionaire Fanjuls of Coral Gables and Palm Beach) -- furiously work to delineate terms of Florida's water policy through mouthpieces like Ag Secretary Adam Putnam. It is pay-to-play, legislators lubricated with campaign contributions and marketing expenses extracted from the corporate welfare benefiting billionaire farmers; a continuous record of chipping away legal provisions for the state's water quality and policies.
One of Big Sugar's tactics from a dog-eared 1990's playbook: find an enemy to target. Hire fake actors to mount fake protests. Use a proxy, the South Florida Water Management District through a governing board micromanaged by Gov. Rick Scott, to carpet bomb misdirection, deploy fronts like economic "councils" on both coasts, or political operatives to hit the Everglades Foundation and its founder, Paul Tudor Jones, a Wall Street billionaire.
Big Sugar would love to make the battle of billionaires versus a billionaire. It's not working because people understand how the battle pits taxpayers down in the dumps and anxious about the future against polluters who will squeeze every last cent of profit from the Everglades Agricultural Area.
It is taking a lot of social media to fight back extraordinarily well-organized, well-funded, smart insiders, but it is happening day-by-day, every day.
There is always a chance that Big Sugar will decide now is the time to sell. That the conditions for selling at least 100,000 acres of land south of Lake Okeechobee to store and clean water adequate to the purpose of protecting rivers, estuaries, the Everglade and Florida Bay will never be better than they are, now.
Local county governments should follow Miami-Dade County's example and pass resolutions calling explicitly for the purchase of Big Sugar lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area. The money is there. The science is there. The need is there. The only missing piece: political leadership.
Mike Holliday: How to end the cycle of destruction in our estuaries
Treasure Coast Palm. May 27, 2016
By Mike Holliday
Florida's estuaries are under siege. At no time in our history has there been such a distinct collapse of our waterways as what we're seeing on both coasts and in Florida Bay. And it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better.
To understand the solutions, you have to understand the problems. The Everglades and Florida Bay are starving for the freshwater that used to flow south from Lake Okeechobee, through what is now the Everglades Agricultural Area. Less than one-third of the freshwater that historically flowed into the Everglades now goes there.
That reduction in freshwater has created a hyper-saline environment much like a dead sea. It's too salty, to the point the water has measured as high as 81 parts per thousand (35 is normal seawater). Because of that, more than 50,000 acres of sea grasses in an 80-square-mile stretch of Florida Bay have died. So have mangroves. It happened once before in the early 1990s, and it took decades to partially recover.
The results of the hyper-saline environment, mangrove, sea grass and fish die-offs is an overabundance of sulfide in the water, giving the water a yellow tint the locals call the "Yellow Fog." Where the fog lies, everything dies.
Lake Okeechobee discharges to more than double into St. Lucie River
Water isn't going from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades because it's being diverted to the east through the St. Lucie River and the west through the Caloosahatchee River. Hundreds of billions of gallons already have passed through these waterways this year.
There are two issues with this water: one is the sheer volume of freshwater diverted; the other is the nutrients and poisons the water carries. Both have disastrous effects on our estuaries.
When you dump a continuous volume of freshwater on a marine ecosystem, it eventually goes from being saltwater or brackish water to entirely freshwater. After three weeks of freshwater, the systems' natural filters (oysters and sea grasses) die. We've already had more than 100 days of freshwater.
The second issue is all the legacy nutrients and poisons that are carried downstream with that freshwater flow. This mixture of silt, decaying plant matter and chemical compounds (fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides) have enough mass to make the water dirty and prevent light from penetrating it. They settle to the bottom, covering the sea grasses and oysters, and build into an impenetrable muck. They hamper the recovery of the system so it struggles to rebound.
Those nutrients feed the harmful algae and bacteria that create red, green and brown tides. They help the blooms grow, until they eventually die, and the process of decomposition sucks all the oxygen out of the water, creating the massive fish kills. Fish aren't the only thing to die. The entire food chain that depends on oxygen dies, wiping the system of life.
Our current water systems have starved the Everglades of water and created a cycle of destruction. So far, the marine ecosystems have rebounded, and for the most part recovered, because they were strong enough to survive. Unfortunately, the balance has tipped.
At some point, the ecosystem gets too weak or has too much destruction and residual algae and bacteria to recover. The stretch of seagrass and oysters that are killed off is too large and the nutrients remaining in the system too plentiful. That's where we are now.
We know from prior algae bloom events in Florida Bay that it takes about 20 years for sea grasses to recover, longer for the fisheries. Until we fix the hydrology issues, reduce the discharges to the east and west, better regulate the stages of Lake Okeechobee and significantly increase the flow of freshwater to the Everglades, we will not see a change in this pattern.
We know the water that flows into Lake Okeechobee needs to flow south through the Everglades Agricultural Area. It needs to help recharge the Florida aquifer and recreate the healthy brackish water environments that make the area thrive.
No one wants to swim in the chemicals we spray on farms and the animal refuse that washes off our lands. We know cancer, Alzheimer's and a host of other diseases have environmental triggers. Recreating in chemicals, algae blooms and farm runoff has to have consequences.
So why doesn't the water flow south through the EAA? Two reasons: opposition from Big Sugar and the politicians who take their campaign donations in exchange for their vote.
In 2014, Florida voters passed Amendment 1 which provides $700 million for land acquisition, thinking those dollars would be specifically used to purchase the land in the EAA to fix these problems. Instead, our elected officials allocated it for pet projects, salaries and vehicles.
Florida's marine environments are being systematically killed off in the name of short-term profit to the sugar farms that reside in the EAA. Our politicians are bought and paid for by the sugar lobbies and Big Sugar's reluctance to help with the problem, to share in the costs, to sacrifice a token of their total acreage for the good of mankind is the only thing standing in the way of a solution.
We can take those ecosystems back, fix them and resurrect our quality of life. We can remove from office every politician who voted to misappropriate Amendment 1 funds, who sidetracks the solution of sending water south and doesn't campaign to fix Florida's hydrology.
Land acquisition in the EAA needs to be a top priority. Hopefully, the owners of that land will understand the destruction, see the value of our ecosystems and be willing sellers.
If not, we need to take the land through eminent domain, either through a legislative act or a constitutional amendment. When you consider that Big Sugar wouldn't exist without government supports, it's more like payment due on a loan rather than eminent domain.
Mike Holliday is a 38-year resident of Stuart, an outdoor writer and fishing guide.