February 10, 2017
The Florida Legislature is likely to be divided this session between North and South Florida.
It shouldn’t be.
South Florida needs water desperately. What used to flow south from Lake Okeechobee down through the Everglades can’t get there anymore.
Florida Bay is dying. The Keys fishing industry is hurting.
If Everglades National Park is to survive, it needs lots more clean, fresh water.
Miami is facing salt intrusion on the Everglades side of the Biscayne Aquifer that serves 3 million people.
Because the water can’t go south, it is being dumped east and west and is destroying the coastal estuaries.
South Florida is finally united in backing the concept that we have to send clean water south, and we need to buy land for storage and treatment south of the Lake to make that possible.
Meanwhile, legislators are being heavily lobbied with this message: “It won’t work. It’s a land grab and a waste of money.”
The lobbying attack against Sen. Joe Negron’s effort to solve the problem has turned into a game of musical chairs. As soon as one argument against sending water south is shot down, another appears.
It’s confusing. It’s meant to be.
When the Orlando Sentinel and Everglades scientists point out the absolute necessity for buying land south of Lake Okeechobee, Sugar friends and lobbyists invent yet another reason for not doing it.
The Corps of Engineers went on record at the January Everglades Conference to “unconfuse” things. Here’s the Corps’ responses to the critics’ arguments:
1. “Buying land for a reservoir and sending water south is not part of CERP [the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan].”
The Corps says that’s not true.
2. “They don’t need more water, and they don’t want more water at Everglades National Park.”
The Corps says that’s not true. CERP won’t work without the key storage, treatment and conveyance south of Lake Okeechobee.
3. “Existing projects plus CEPP [The Central Everglades Planning Project], which just got approved by Congress, will take care of the problem.”
The Corps says that is not true.
4. “Fix the lake dike. That’s the problem.”
The Corps says fixing the dike is for safety, and it won’t send clean water south.
5. “Store water and clean the water north of the lake. That’s the problem.”
The Corps says it can’t store enough water north of the lake to protect the estuary, and the dike fix won’t send clean water south. Wendy Graham, director of the University of Florida Water Institute, says no amount of northern storage can send clean water south.
6. “We shouldn’t change the schedule, and we can’t buy land until the projects north of the lake are complete.”
Yes, we should, and we have. If we had not bought land before final plans were approved, and we had not changed the schedule, restoration would be much further behind.
7. “Finish what we’re doing before planning anything else.”
The Corps says we can go ahead with planning to send water south without delaying existing projects.
8. “We can buy the land later.”
It’s unreasonable to believe that if Sugar is fighting against sending water south now, it will be happy to endorse it in 2021. Meanwhile, planning has to wait until the land is identified.
9. “We already have the land we need.”
Then why not identify it and start the planning process?
Negron has proposed the only strategy that will send clean water south. It’s a plan for peaceful co-existence between Sugar and the Everglades.
But as of Feb 6, the Sugar industry dropped the confusing excuses and stated clearly that it will not sell land for the Everglades Agricultural Area component of CERP — not now, not ever. All major landowners signed the letter. That means CERP can’t work, and we can’t save the Everglades or Florida Bay — Miami’s water supply — or the coastal estuaries.
It means the governor has pledged $800 million from Florida taxpayers to clean up runoff from Sugar fields, while Sugar announces it is not going to support restoring the Everglades.
It may be tempting for North Florida to throw South Florida overboard, but all of us will face the economic consequences. Folks all over Florida need to tell their legislators to support Negron’s initiative.
The opportunity to solve this problem may not come again. If we don’t succeed together, we will fail together.