From the March 2019 print issue, on newsstands now. Click here to subscribe.

“I failed you.”

Downstream of the Okeechobee Waterway, toxic blue-green algae clots a residential harbor in Stuart, FL, in July 2018 Photo credit: John Moran

Former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham stood up in a packed room at the 34th Annual Everglades Coalition Conference and said something amazing: “I failed you.” He says he knew, as a U.S. Senator, that federal water management guidelines for Florida were completely outdated, they didn’t consider health or environmental impacts, and he didn’t act to fix that, and so he ended with “now it’s up to you.” People chuckled, but Graham wasn’t joking.

We can’t keep letting our government operate Florida’s water system with a manual from 1948.

Bob Graham’s regret over failing to update water management operations is exactly what current U.S. Congressman Brian Mast is working diligently to avoid facing two decades from now.

“Our government is poisoning us,” Mast has said, “which is why we’ll be re-introducing our legislation to force the Army Corps to manage Lake Okeechobee with public health and safety as the primary operational consideration. In other words, force them to put people’s health and safety above special interests.”

The Army Corps of Engineers currently considers these factors: flood and storm risk management, navigation, water supply for agriculture and municipalities, salinity control for the estuaries, recreation and fish and wildlife.

Mast’s legislation would:

  • Change the operational priorities for Lake Okeechobee to prioritize human health and safety of all people living south, east and west of the lake
  • Minimize the potential of toxic blue-green algae blooms
  • Prevent discharges containing toxins into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers
  • Ensures enough water moves south to the Everglades, Florida Bay and the Caloosahatchee watershed.

“Our health and human safety here is not mentioned at all when it comes to Lake Okeechobee, and that has to stop,” Mast said.

“What we’re demanding is that we be given priority as well.”

Mast also reiterated that his legislation would require the Army secretary and National Academies of Science to study lake pollution and nutrient-loading. It would not change any water projects included in the Central Everglades Restoration Plan or the Central Everglades Planning Project that are current or will be authorized before the end of this year. Nor would it alter the water rights agreement between the state and the Miccosukee and Seminole tribes, or the Miccosukee tribe’s access to water.

He also made it clear that deep injection wells are not the answer to this problem. “It’s a shortsighted patch with unknown and potentially disastrous long-term consequences. We need to address the source of the pollution and the operation of the system, not find workarounds to keep pretending that the status quo isn’t destroying our state.”

Bipartisan support continues to build for fixing the plague of toxic algae blooms, cleaning up our waterways and protecting human health and safety. Proof of this came by way of recently elected Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of the Miami/Keys area who pledged to be a “champion” of the Everglades and saying that she was looking forward to working with Bullsugar and other organizations to make it happen.

We need more members of Congress and our U.S. Senators behind this effort.

With pressure from you and from companies like those listed below, who gave their pledge of support for legislation that puts people first, we can capitalize on the recent positive actions coming from Governor DeSantis—whose request for the immediate resignations of the entire South Florida Water Management Board clears the way for new state leadership on these issues. Together we have a historic opportunity to take up Bob Graham’s challenge, learn from our past failures and deliver real change not years down the road but in 2019.


 

First Published Florida Sportsman Magazine March 2019

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