Fact From Fiction
“Our water doesn’t look too bad now,” said Erick Lindblad, executive director of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF), in introducing the Annual Everglades Update panel to the standing-room-only crowd of roughly 200 including the entire Sanibel town council at the Sanibel Community House on Monday, January 30. “I anticipated people in only the first two rows, because every time the water is clean the room is empty, so I hope tonight shows we’ve turned the corner.” The Everglades Foundation and SCCF co-sponsored the update.
“The Southwest Florida Management District is in the news a lot,” Erick explained, “and our panelists are here to sort out fact from fiction.” He introduced Rae Ann Wessel, the SCCF Natural Resources & Policy Director; Tom Van Lent, vice president and senior hydrologist for the Everglades Foundation; and James Evans, Sanibel Resources Policy Director; with Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg contributing frequently.
Wessel calls the Number One myth “if the State purchases land to store water north of Lake Okeechobee, there is no need to purchase land south by the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA).”
“I go back to how it worked before, versus how does it works now,” Van Lent added. “The difference between those two is the key to understanding what is the best future path. The historic River of Grass worked great before we began all our ditching and draining to release water into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. The worst part is those horrid releases from last year can happen again and again because that’s how we designed the water to flow. The fix is to replumb the system.”
The Path of Least Resistance
Van Lent explained that “right now the solution is ‘where can I move water the fastest” and sorry-to-say that is you along the Caloosahatchee; you are the path of least resistance. To fix the Everglades will be one of the largest projects in the history of our planet, so there is no silver bullet. We are dealing with a 1950s plan based on a population buildout of 2 million people, and now we have 8 million, so we are working off an obsolete concept that does not serve modern Florida. We need to fix the parts that don’t work anymore, and discharging into the estuaries does not work anymore.”
Evans endorses Florida Senate President Joe Negron’s idea to purchase from willing sellers 60,000 acres in the Everglades for water storage, calling it “a real opportunity that can speed up numerous other restoration plans. Remember it took us decades to damage the system, so will take us decades to repair it.”
In speaking from the audience, Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane said, “The Governor consistently says no – why? His answers are only frustrating so we have mayors from 19 counties that combine for $2 trillion in economic development pushing this plan, from 163 cities that represent 55% of the total real estate in Florida, to increase the pressure to say, ‘here is what we need.’ Using the leverage of local leaders with $2 trillion of economic development should go hand-in-hand with a governor who is all about jobs.”
Evans agreed, and stressed that “this will push forward the Army Corps of Engineers’ plan that is to commence in 2021. Sadly, the Southwest Florida Water Management District continues to drag its feet and that is just not correct, as we need a policy for water storage to the north, south, east, & west of Lake Okeechobee. I know it is all politics, and I get it, so it really is up to the folks in this room – this is America’s Everglades and without it, a large portion of the nation will not have heathy drinking water, nor will we here in Florida have safe beaches and a vibrant tourism industry. The Everglades is not a Southwest Florida problem but a national one.”
Eric Eikenberg stressed “we spent 242 days last year under a toxic emergency that ruined The Fourth of July for countless kids and families and tourists and businesses. This is 2017 – what generation is going to stand up and say enough is enough! Aren’t we all getting Everglades Fatigue? Enough of the meetings – let’s do something!”
He told the crowd they can “start right now by texting 52886 and join this movement. You will receive information updates, ways to contact your local representatives, and sample bullet points.” Wessel agreed, saying “you cannot stop writing or calling your representatives, and several of us will attend the Senate environmental and preservation committee meetings in Tallahassee the week of February 7.”
“Urban settings require stormwater ponds that treat water before it goes to a public resource, but in agriculture they only have Best Management Practices,” Wessel said. “You do not need to sign up but if you do the State assumes you are in compliance and that is a huge part of the problem – it is voluntary and does not deal with issues like nitrogen pollution – you self-report and receive the presumption of compliance, and no other community organization receives that same assurance.”
Evans reminded the crowd, “Only 4 people really set water quality standards in Florida: the Governor, Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer and the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture are the four who rule! We are moving in the right direction but are not there yet to improve water quality. Maybe it is time for our leaders to ask, ‘What is the cost of not protecting our water to tourism, property values, jobs and our very livelihood.’”
Eikenberg agreed, adding, “Don’t be depressed! There are 160 Statewide elected officials in Florida, but as James said, less than a dozen people will really make this decision, and this is how we will influence them – by what they hear back home. That’s where you all come in, by getting into the ears of your local representatives.”
For more information on the SCCF see www.sccf.org or call 239-472-2329.