Tuesday, April 25, 2017

An Everglades Dirge ... by gimleteye

Everglades National Park, after a fire
A former director of Friends of the Everglades once said, "The Everglades is a test. If we pass, we may get to keep the planet." Joe Podgor was prescient.

What he meant was that by the early 1990's all the parties, including dozens of governmental agencies and special interests and environmentalists had coalesced around the opportunity to protect the Everglades, America's treasured wetland wilderness. There were critical lessons to be learned. For instance, that science and fact matter more than politics. This was a moment to shine. Instead, public policies headed deep, deep into the weeds.

The template of "cooperation" that formed around Everglades restoration -- fixing the water plumbing of what originally encompassed the entire southern half of the state, from the Kissimmee River north of Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay -- was a drill for humantiy's most complex problem: how to protect the planet that sustains us. Back in the 1990's, we didn't have time to lose, either in the Everglades or with global warming.

On the latter front, we lost a lot of time. Today, President Trump and a Congress represent fossil fuel polluters while the Trump administration falls even further backwards on climate change. Small consolation that former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently urged world leaders "to ignore" Trump on climate change.

On the former -- Everglades restoration -- a similar circumstance is unfolding. Florida is controlled by Big Sugar and its bottomless campaign contributions to the executive branch and state legislature. Sugar's proxies are laced throughout. They include Gov. Rick Scott, Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam, who plans to run for governor, and US Senator Marco Rubio.

What they are saying is, in effect, "I accept that Big Sugar will dictate any regulation or governmental initiative on the Everglades that involves in any way its profit models."

There are a few dissenters. Notably State Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez, from Miami, put science and reason on the front burner where it belongs.

Bullsugar.org -- one of the most forward leaning of the state's environmental groups and a founder of the Now Or Neverglades Movement -- yesterday issued this statement:
"It appears likely the legislation (Negron's SB 10) will go directly to the House floor without committee review as session enters its final days. Whatever process gets us there, Floridians deserve to see a plan that will actually work – and a plan that is put into action immediately. The compromise on this bill already occurred in the Senate, and it was a big one. The reservoir capacity was shrunk by 1/3, from 360,000 acre feet to 240,000. If the reservoir is too small, or there is not enough treatment marsh to filter pollutants out quickly enough to allow water to be sent south 52 weeks a year, it won't work. Think of all we stand to lose ... Everglades National Park, the drinking water supply for eight million Floridians, the estuaries and economies on both coasts. It is not an exaggeration to say South Florida's future depends on not shortchanging this project."
For the thirty years I've been involved as a close observer and participant in Everglades restoration, the number that has always been fixed as necessity is an additional 1,000,000 acre feet of water storage. Not 360,000 acre feet and certainly not 240,000. That's the number of acre feet of water needed to store water adequate to the purpose of rehydrating the Everglades and protecting Florida's estuaries. Not so long ago, the number equated to 100,000 acres. The point of the arithmetic is simple: if you have a hundred thousand acres, and put one foot of water on them, you get a million acre feet. Less land then you have to stack water much, much deeper.

In this session of the legislature and the current bill for the Everglades? The acreage has dropped from from an aspirational purchase from Big Sugar of 100,000 to 60,000 to the current version, more or less 14,000 additional acres.

Senate President Negron is trying to fix the only deal he could make with Big Sugar. For its part, Big Sugar launched a deep, multi-pronged public relations campaign against the bill until it got what it wanted. The deal takes eminent domain off the table in the Everglades Agricultural Area (eminent domain is prominently being used for Trump's wall against Mexico), opens a massive change in Florida water law that will lead to privatization -- ie. farmers selling rainfall to the public and making the public pay for engineering to make sure the water is cleaned up after being rinsed in Big Sugar's pollution -- and puts any hard and fast reckoning so far into the future that if it doesn't work, there will be no recourse but go back to Big Sugar for another round of "negotiation".

The physical science: to get 240,000 acre feet of water under the Negron plan will require building a pond with walls over thirty five feet high to meet US Army Corps of Engineers flood criteria, with a circumference of more than 20 miles, at a cost of $2 to $4 billion.

And if the Big Sugar plan doesn't work? That's the reason for a dirge. We will have the same result as waiting for sea levels to rise ten feet in Florida then going back to ExxonMobil and asking what is the company going to do about it.

The problem is a political system that is overwhelmed by campaign money from insiders, burying science and every piece of common sense. As true with climate change as it is with the Everglades. Especially the part about funding disinformation campaigns and outright lies. Yes, the problem is also a lobbyist culture, a complacent media and political gatekeepers who channel taxpayer dollars into a perpetual motion machine that damages the promise of democracy and liberty.

But if blame is to be assigned, the buck stops with voters and taxpayers. Truly we did this to ourselves.

1 comment:

Cyndi said...

Where are the people of south florida? They seem not to care at all.