Congressman Rooney Talks Water


    Water Weigh-In

    “We need to think about solving the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee water releases like a spider web,” said freshman Congressman Francis Rooney (R, F-19) in his first Sanibel speaking engagement since his November election. “You link all these water connections together to make the web, then we draw in all the people we need to accomplish our goal.”

    Congressman Rooney spoke at the “Weighing-In on the Water” presentation hosted by the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) at its Bailey Homestead Pavilion on Thursday, February 9th. Rae Ann Wessel, SCCF Natural Resources Policy Director, in introducing Congressman Rooney and Sanibel mayor Kevin Ruane to the roughly 150 in attendance, said “2016 brought ecological and economic challenges from the discharges of dark water, and these will only be heavier year after year if we don’t get water right. We have as much water as we ever had since dinosaurs roamed the earth, but no longer have the capacity to store and move it. We need science to be the decision-making process to properly go forward.”

    “We must state our case as simply as possible,” explained Congressman Rooney, “to tell the legislature what we need, and to bring them down here to make it come alive for them. I am assembling a list of colleagues with family or friends or second homes in Southwest Florida so I can develop relationships with them to gain their support. When I talk to Congressional leaders, I show them just 9 bullet-point slides including those of the massive algae breakouts, so anyone can see the problem with their own eyes.”


    A Politician Has to Do What He Says

    He emphasized that “part of the dilemma is we don’t need any new projects authorized by the government, but to fund the $6 billion necessary for those already approved. Now we have Florida Senate Bill 10 that will add more storage and water south into the Everglades, so the goal is to get DC people to see the Everglades as a national issue. I recently wrote a letter to President Donald Trump to remind him when he campaigned in Southwest Florida he promised to restore the beautiful Everglades; we also got the entire Florida delegation to sign this and that is very unusual – now we are all on record that the key is the Everglades! We want the President to do just what he said he would, and sooner or later a politician has to do what he says, doesn’t he?”

    Congressman Francis Rooney
    Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane and Congressman Francis Rooney. Photos by Gary Mooney.

    “Water is a really important commodity and so is its education,” adds Mayor Ruane, “not only at the state level, but having a Federal partner like Congressman Rooney means a great deal. If we can get Senate Bill 10 through, the Army Corp of Engineers will move up its Everglades design plan from 2021 to 2018. To accomplish this throughout Florida, I lead a compact of 163 cities and 19 counties joined together as one to send a common message: flow water south. We want to know the people who know the appropriations members, and that is where these connections come in – because that local mayor will have a better relationship with their local representative than me, to get up their courage. If the Florida House and Senate say yes and we have our Federal partners, then I can’t imagine Governor Rick Scott would veto that. Let’s make a menace of ourselves and get something done.” The Congressman concurred, saying “we have got to make the economic argument as much and affectively as the ecological argument.”


    Are Children Worth It?

    In responding to a question concerning fellow freshman Congressman Matt Gaetz (R, F-1) and his recent proposal to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that received a huge negative reaction from the audience, the Congressman said, “I will protect the environment because I live here too! No one wants to overturn environmental regulations; no one will want to do that, or at least I don’t. I don’t have any interest in Matt Gaetz’ plan to abolish the EPA or relax pollution standards – we made a lot of headway over the years but there is a lot more to be made.”

    Wessel added, “Water and the Everglades is the largest environmental restoration project on the planet – no one else has done this before so it took a lot of planning in those first few years. Now we have Senate Bill 10 and an engaged federal representative, so the time is now to bring all the major voices together. People say this is frustrating and takes a long time, and why should we do this if it takes decades and millions of dollars? But I tell them it takes decades and millions of dollars to raise good children and ask, ‘Are children worth it?’ It is basically the same thing.”

    “Water is a very difficult problem,” Congressman Rooney said in conclusion, “and difficult problems are hard for simple politicians – it is easy to corner a guy to appropriate money and get a bridge named after you, but complex issues like this are tough to explain, so keep it simple and on message. Nothing with water will be easy and it will take a lot of time, but worthwhile things are never easy. We are all in this together, so our kids and grandkids have the same opportunities as we have had.”


    Gary Mooney