Florida Congressional District 26 includes Monroe County and the Florida Keys. The region's economy is tourism-based. Florida Bay is suffering under a blanket of dead sea grass as a result of upstream water mismanagement serving, primarily, Big Sugar.
The litmus test: who among candidates for public office -- from the county commission, to legislature, Congress and the White House -- will sign the Now Or Neverglades Declaration calling for major acquisition of lands south of Lake Okeechobee in sugarcane production.
Either candidates to represent the area in Congress are for taxpayers and clean water or for Big Sugar and the polluters. If Big Sugar lands are acquired in the right location, expeditiously converted to water storage and treatment marshes, eventually the estuaries and Everglades and Florida Bay will recover. If they are not purchased and if the status quo remains in place, the multi-billion dollar investment in Everglades "restoration" will continue to be a work-around of Big Sugar. If the Congressional District 26 candidates are for taxpayers, they will sign the Now Or Neverglades petition. If they don't, they will demonstrate how Big Sugar campaign cash deforms democracy.
In 2015, more than 200 scientists implored Gov. Rick Scott to acquire sufficient lands in sugarcane production to store and cleanse the vast pollution spewing out of Lake Okeechobee. Big Sugar ignored the scientists. Then the rains fell. In January, historic rainfall hit Lake Okeechobee during dry season, causing water managers controlled by Big Sugar to release vast plumes of polluted water to the adjacent rivers and estuaries. Billions of dollars of coastal real estate and the region's tourism economy were turned into sacrifice zones for Big Sugar.
While the public turned back to the statement by scientists, Big Sugar turned back to its classic tactics of divide and conquer. It also mounted a multi-million dollar public relations campaign. In newspaper ads, TV commercials, and through hired hands, Big Sugar attempted to persuade angry taxpayers that the billionaires are just ordinary folk.
A taxpayer and civic revolt triggered by groups like Bullsugar.org claimed US Senator Marco Rubio during his bid to be the GOP nominee for president. In 2015 Big Sugar went all-in with Rubio. The junior senator from Florida had demonstrated his loyalty to Big Sugar while a leader in the state legislature. Rubio's presidential nomination bid was a disaster for the candidate in his home state.
By ignoring the plight of many Republican voters afflicted by a massive algae bloom, Rubio failed to garner even 15% of the primary vote. Chief among his campaign contributors: Big Sugar's Fanjul billionaires.
The same political money is now supporting the Republican incumbent in Congressional District 26: Carlos Curbelo. Although Curbelo believes in the powerful connection between the environment and the economy, he has not signed the Now or Neverglades Declaration. Big Sugar features among his donors.
Curbelo has raised triple the funds of his nearest Democratic challenger. In addition to $2,737,229 in campaign contributions, a PAC supporting Curbelo has raised another $435,517.
Annette Taddeo, Corbelo's general election challenger until Joe Garcia entered the race, has raised $1,333,996. She has taken no money from Big Sugar, based on a brief review of the federal elections database.
Big Sugar keeps its thumb on the Florida Keys for many reasons including the fear that declining water quality in Florida Bay will draw attention to its upstream pollution and control of water management infrastructure. In 2015, before Big Sugar could slam on the brakes, the Miami Dade County Commission, lead by Daniella Levine Cava, passed a resolution calling for public acquisition of lands south of Lake Okeechobee now in sugarcane production.
Voters in Florida District 26 should base their vote on whether the candidates sign or not, The Now or Neverglades Declaration printed here:
I support the 200-plus Everglades scientists who believe that increased storage, treatment and conveyance of water south of Lake Okeechobee is essential to stop the damaging discharges to the coastal estuaries; to restore the flow of clean, fresh water to Everglades National Park, Florida Bay and the Florida Keys; to improve the health of Lake Okeechobee; and to protect the drinking water for 8 million Floridians living in Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Using Amendment 1 and other funds, we must identify and secure land south of the lake without delay, before development in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) or other uncertainties condemn our waters to irrevocable destruction.
Three nationally vital estuaries are in long-term collapse due to the damming, diking and draining of the River of Grass. The Herbert Hoover Dike that contains Lake Okeechobee prevents fresh water from following its historic path southward through the Everglades.
Today, Lake Okeechobee is treated as an impounding reservoir constantly at risk of overflow. To manage lake levels, too much untreated fresh water is discharged into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. Consequently, the lack of fresh water flow through the Everglades makes Florida Bay, the largest contiguous seagrass meadow in the world and crown jewel of Everglades National Park and the Florida Keys, too salty.
The resulting salinity imbalances in all three estuaries cause seagrass die-offs, dangerous algal blooms, multi-year ecosystem collapse and economic hardship. Florida’s $9.7 billion fishing industry (129,000 jobs), $10.4 billion boating industry (83,000 jobs) and $89.1 billion tourism industry (1.1 million jobs) need healthy estuaries.
Additionally, sending water south would improve the water supply for 8 million people (1 out of 3 Floridians) by reducing the threat of saltwater intrusion into drinking wells and the Everglades.
The solution to all these problems is stated simply in a petition signed by 207 respected Everglades scientists on March 12, 2015:
“As a scientist working in the Everglades, it is my scientific opinion that increased storage and treatment of fresh water south of Lake Okeechobee, and additional flow from the lake southward, is essential to restoring the Everglades, Florida Bay, and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.”
Estimates of land required are approximately 15 percent of the EAA, neither eliminating farming nor harming Glades communities. This amount is less than half of the acreage that U.S. Sugar has offered to sell to the State of Florida, in an agreement that remains in effect until October 11, 2020.
Water storage, treatment and conveyance in the EAA is the best option to reduce the damaging releases to the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and to improve the water flow south. Especially considering the recent devastation to the coastal estuaries and ongoing massive seagrass die-off in Everglades National Park, planning for EAA projects must be expedited and be given top priority over planning for other new Everglades restoration projects.
We can’t keep kicking the can down the road. The costs and risks of further delay are staggering. Development plans in the EAA threaten to change the region, permanently severing the link between Lake Okeechobee and Florida Bay.
The science is settled. The money is available thanks to 75% of Florida voters who, in 2014, voted for Amendment 1. Identify and secure the land. It’s now or never.