Recently a state of emergency was declared for Lee, Martin and St. Lucie counties from the filthy water and toxic algae spilling from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and estuaries. The irony is that the state knowingly has made decision after disastrous policy decision that have contributed to this crisis.
While denial, excuses and pointing fingers at the feds abound, there is little from our Governor as to how the state - not the feds - is the primary entity responsible for pollution and water quality, as well as for buying land for water storage and treatment projects. There has been no mention of how he has led the state Department of Environmental Protection to continuously downgrade water quality standards and protections including for nutrient pollution, or has forced the South Florida Water Management District to do a 180 from their previous initiative to buy land in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) for the redirection and filtration of these polluted waters to their current staunch opposition of doing so.
Even last week, the Conservancy as well as other water advocates and concerned citizens from around the state convened in West Palm to urge the top brass from all the state and federal agencies to move forward in planning for the added storage, treatment and conveyance needed in the EAA to help solve our water crisis. Unfortunately, that call to action has been met with a deafening silence. Planning for this crucial EAA water storage project has been pushed off to begin in 2020 despite dire water conditions and land use projects pushing into that area that could eliminate the potential of using them to fix this situation forever. This is wholly unacceptable.
While we continue to advocate for many other steps that will also be needed, the EAA is the essential missing piece of the puzzle to cleansing and returning the excess water back to the Everglades and Florida Bay, where it historically flowed and is desperately needed. Agriculture and flood protection will be maintained for the surrounding areas. The conversion of a portion of agricultural lands for this vital purpose would hardly spell disaster for the sugar industry, which will likely continue farming on the adjacent tens of thousands of acres it currently uses for sugar production.
Our rivers and estuaries are deteriorating, our tourism and real estate economies are suffering and people are becoming scared to enjoy the waterways which drew them to South Florida in the first place. We can no longer afford to have leaders only talk about solving this without taking the necessary actions needed to do so. Addressing septic systems is helpful but the science is clear that additional EAA land south of the Lake is needed.
With the passage of Amendment 1, the opportunity and money to buy land and build water projects is there. What we need now is our Governor and the state agencies he directs to step up, take responsibility, and actually do what the voters want and count on them to do to address this situation and prevent it from reoccurring. To take action and message the Governor, go to: www.conservancy.org/ourwork/policy/action.
Rob Moher is the president and chief executive officer of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.