Over 300 people attended the 30th anniversary of the Everglades Coalition last week.

The crowd was optimistic and excited.

They faced monumental hopes, grim reality, and political uncertainty.

The hope is that Gov. Rick Scott is going to make history exercising the US Sugar option to send clean water south.

That was the theme of the conference.

From the perspective of Everglades advocates,  there is no way to save the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, and the coastal estuaries without buying land immediately south of the Lake.

The agreement the state has with US Sugar allows them to buy a smaller 40,000 acre piece just below the Lake or to buy all US Sugar lands.

For now, the critical piece is the 40,000 acres.

That piece is the best land for growing sugar.If the option expires in October, it won’t be offered again.

Buy it now, or we can’t send water south.

That’s what most of us were saying at the conference.

The minority position was to announce in reassuring tones that “all options are being looked at”.

No one could tell us what other option could send the water south. There are lots of other good projects, but they won’t make it possible to send water south.

Among optimists there is a feeling that Gov. Scott and only Gov. Scott can pull off the land acquisition that’s necessary and that he will take up that challenge. The money is there from Amendment 1. Rick Scott is not stupid. He understands return on investment. He knows how to solve problems.

Perhaps most important, he can, if he chooses, stand up to Big Sugar on an equal footing.

That was the big hope of the conference. The grim reality came in the sessions on climate change. Never mind why, the data shows change  is happening. It will bring higher average temperatures and more extreme cold snaps. It is bringing higher sea level, more storms and extreme rain events and lower annual rainfall.

Those predictions make Everglades Restoration more important than ever for Miami and Dade County.

If we don’t send more water south and it rains less, the muck in Shark Valley Slough evaporates and invites Florida Bay to move up the west side of the Biscayne Aquifer. An aquifer surrounded on three sides by rising saltwater is in trouble. Increased numbers of dry season fires will leave Dade County choking when the wind blows from the west.

The Governor’s Commission that helped create CERP was dominated by South Florida businessmen. That group unanimously concluded that “South Florida is not sustainable on its present course.” A failing South Florida economy will wreck the state’s economy.

The political uncertainty that was talked about at the conference  is the legislature’s desire to make this The Year of Water. Will that make good things happen that are long overdue? Or will it be co-opted by lobbyist determined to privatize Florida’s  water? Stay tuned.

On January 26th and Feb 2, the Corps will hold community workshops at the South Florida Water Management District in West Palm on setting CERP priorities. Martin County residents and Everglades advocates plan to be there to make sure that the top priorities are:

1.     Buy the land to send the water south.

2.     Get CEPP authorized.

3.     Finish what has been started – buy the land for the IRL-South Plan.

Martin County can be proud of its representation. Commissioner Sarah Heard was at the conference. Sewall’s Point Mayor Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch got the John Kabler Organizing Award. Our Congressman, Patrick Murphy, got the James Webb Public Service Award.

Martin County River Warriors were a force to be reckoned with at the conference. They were passionate, well informed, and willing to stand up and wave solidarity fish to support:

Send Clean Water South!