CAN THIS MARRIAGE BE SAVED? Part II

The partnership to save the Everglades is in disarray. What will it take to put Humpty Dumpty together again?

Unfortunately, the answers are technical. Politicians and angry populace hate technical answers and long term solutions.

But if we get distracted by quick fixes and blame games we will lose the St. Lucie Estuary. The Everglades is in deep trouble, but it’s not going to die tomorrow. The Indian River Lagoon and the St. Lucie Estuary are in crisis. They might die tomorrow. The IRL is an Estuary of National Significance. It is the most diverse estuary in America. It has been battered by Lake Okeechobee discharges for decades but it is on the brink of collapse. That is not panic and hyperbole. The Corps report completed in 2002 states that without a change in water management the estuary will be irrevocably destroyed.

Irrevocable is irrevocable.

There are solutions.

Sen. Negron’s efforts to find 90 day solutions are admirable. The problem is beyond 90 day solutions.

Here’s what needs to happen:

CEPP! The Central Everglades Plan needs to be ready for authorization in the coming Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). CEPP is a group of CERP projects that will help to move water south from Lake Okeechobee to Everglades National Park. That will take all the enthusiastic efforts of the Corps and the South Florida Water Management District over the next four months. The State will have to take ownership and sponsor the Plan. The deadlines are important. It may take 7 years to get authorization if we fail now.

WRDA needs to include authorization for the C43 reservoir on the Caloosahatchee and other projects that are ready to go.

WRDA! We need to convince a dysfunctional Congress that they have to pass a WRDA Bill. It’s not enough to blame them and accuse them of being dysfunctional. We need to be in Washington making it happen.

CERP! Congress needs to accelerate CERP funding and immediately fund the CEPP project and reservoirs around the Lake. That will cut discharges to the Indian River Lagoon by half and at least put us on life support. It will deliver clean fresh water to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. Walking away from the comprehensive plan to look for silver bullets won’t work. If one of our U.S. Senators wants to shut down the government in a partisan battle that declares government is the enemy, then the Indian River Lagoon will die and the Everglades will be close behind. The Governor’s Commission that helped create CERP was made up of more business people that conservationists. It unanimously declared that South Florida is not sustainable on its present course. It’s not just about bugs and alligators. It’s about people and the economy.

LAND! The State’s responsibility in the CERP project is to buy land. They stopped doing that. The Corps cannot buy land. Without land acquisition the projects can’t be engineered and they can’t be built. We need to sign petitions to get the Land and Water Legacy Amendment on the ballot. We need to pass it. We need a source of funding for land acquisition that the legislature can’t steal. US Sugar is ready and willing to sell land. We don’t need to resort to condemnation. We need to buy it now.

LOBBYING! There is not a single drop of water in Lake Okeechobee that came from Washington D.C. The problem of too much dirty water in Lake Okeechobee and not enough clean water going south is Florida’s problem. We broke it. We need to fix it. If the decision rests with Congress, we can’t sit home and blame them. Every single State official involved with water resources, starting with the Governor, our Congressional delegation, State legislative leaders, and the Board of the South Florida Water Management District needs to be regularly trekking to Washington to make them do what’s right. And we need to find a way for angry residents, who frequently come from somewhere else, to lobby the Senators and Representatives from somewhere else to do the right thing.

WATER MANAGEMENT! There is a whole array of things that we continue to do that make the problem worse in terms of land use and water resource management. The Florida legislature has been in a feeding frenzy to do away with regulation. The Water Management Districts continue to grant permits that make the problem worse. The legislature has fought tooth and nail against the EPA’s efforts to make water quality better. Fifteen years ago the state developed plans to cut phosphorous coming into Lake Okeechobee from 500 tons a year to 140 tons a year. Fourteen years later it’s still flowing in at 500 tons a year. A myriad of state water quality plans haven’t been implemented or aren’t working . We need to look in the mirror and stop digging the hole deeper.

Those are the answers that will make things better. They will take a while, but they are the only way out.

They can be done. Governor Scott brought significant hope to the partnership by pledging $90 million for further bridging on the Tamiami Trail. State Sen. Joe Negron recently chaired an 8 hour Senate Committee hearing to look at immediate and long term fixes. US Representative Pat Murphy has invited the Governor to Washington to help Congress understand that the Everglades can’t wait.

If we all get together we can put Humpty Dumpty together again.