CAN THIS MARRIAGE BE SAVED?     Part I

Once upon a time, a long time ago, the State of Florida and the U.S. Government held hands and pledged eternal partnership. It had to be eternal because saving the Everglades will take a generation.

In the year 2000, Comprehensive Everglades Restoration was bipartisan. “Saving America’s Everglades passed overwhelmingly.

The State and the nation forged a 50/50 partnership to restore the second largest wetland in the world.

The State would be responsible for water quality and land acquisition. The feds would be responsible for constructing projects.

The State started with enthusiasm. In 1991 Gov. Lawton Chiles laid down his sword before a federal judge. The State was being sued for failing to uphold state water quality standards for federal lands. They initially fought the case in court, fiercely and expensively.

Gov. Chiles accepted the fact that it was Florida’s water and Florida’s Everglades and we would clean it up.

The State set out to do so and spent millions on stormwater treatment areas to clean the water going south to Everglades National Park.

Gov. Jeb Bush proudly supported the Florida Forever Initiative committing the State to $300 million a year to buy land. The Feds went forward with detailed planning for the separate components of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project that created a total comprehensive plan that would restore the Everglades.

Florida basked in the happy thought that, with the Governor’s brother in the White House, project funding would follow.

The honeymoon was short and the partnership became a seesaw.

The first component of CERP that completed a detailed plan was the Indian River Lagoon – South.

Congress asked: “What does that have to do with the Everglades?”

The answer: It was the 1947 State and Federal partnership that created the Central and South Florida Flood Control Project that was causing the estuary to be irrevocably destroyed.

Other component plans were completed. No Federal construction funds could be budgeted until each project was authorized in the Water Resources Development Act. There was no WRDA Bill passed until 2007.

Meanwhile, the state got tired of paying for water quality improvements and went back to court.

In 2004 Governor Bush declared that the Feds were moving too slowly and the State would take over construction of key reservoirs and Aquifer Storage and Recovery wells under a program called Acceler8! The premise was that the Feds were slow and bureaucratic and the State would get ‘r dun through public/private partnerships.

It didn’t work.

At the same time the South Florida Water Management District finally faced up to the fact that the Aquifer Storage and Recovery wells that were part of CERP weren’t going to work as designed and more land would be needed for water storage and water quality treatment.

The seesaw wobbled.

Two big breakthroughs turned things around.

In 2008 Gov. Christ announced the US Sugar deal to buy 183,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee to provide water storage and water treatment and move water south from Lake Okeechobee and the sugar cane fields to Everglades National Park.

Then the Department of Interior completed a plan to raise the Tamiami Trail through a series of bridges that would move more water south.

The Obama administration committed stimulus funds to build the first one mile bridge on the Trail.

The Corps committed to fast track a group of CERP projects that would take down the levees in the Water Conservation Areas north of the Trail to move water south under the new bridges.

Governor Rick Scott was elected to cut state government and put Florida to work. The environment wasn’t mentioned except to disparage the U.S. Sugar purchase proposed by his predecessor.

The State stopped buying land for CERP projects.

The SFWMD funding was dramatically reduced and they were told to return to their core mission of drainage and water supply.

The seesaw wobbled. Now the Feds were pouring money and manpower into Everglades restoration and the State was becoming a silent partner.

Then the seesaw wobbled again when Gov. Scott hammered out a settlement with the EPA for the long standing water quality lawsuit. He committed $800 million over ten years to meet the State’s commitment to clean up State waters flowing onto Federal lands.

Then it rained. They dumped Lake Okeechobee out the St. Lucie Canal and the Caloosahatchee.

The estuary turned neon green from toxic blue green algae. The Health Dept. told residents not to stick a toe in the water or breathe near splashing waves.

The Governor blamed the Corps. Then he blamed Congress. The Senate committee spent 8 hours looking for immediate fixes.

The populace took up pitchforks and staged rallies and yelled “Enough!”

All the levels of government blamed each other and went scurrying off in all directions to demand immediate answers for their angry populace.

There are no immediate answers.

The only in answer is a comprehensive plan and a State and Federal partnership.

That partnership has failed. Can it be restored?