Monday, April 17, 2017

Double Talk from Tallahassee

It's easy to be cynical.

We were told for years that purchase of 60,000 acres of sugar cane land south of Lake Okeechobee was essential for containing overflow and cleaning runoff to the Everglades.

We had to buy that land. It was an environmental imperative. A massive reservoir was the answer to controlling algal bloom and stemming pollution of the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers. Don't sweat the cost, we were told. $2.4 billion was a small price to pay for avoiding a calamity that would destroy our waterways and sink our tourist industry.

Then, whoops, we learn we really don't need that additional land after all. Turns out we have had enough all along. The apocalyptic problems can be solved on 14,000 acres of state-owned land. And it will cost only $1.5 billion.

Wait a minute. We don't need more land? That's quite a flip-flop. Senate President Joe Negron, the impresario behind the $2.4 billion pitch, has twinkled his magic wand: Now we need it. Now we don't.

Credibility? Forget about it. Nobody will ever believe another thing Negron says. Or any of the other Chicken Littles that suckered us along for years, then flip-flopped along with Negron. I'm talking about conservation paragons like the Everglades Foundation and Audubon Florida. They don't deserve another nickel in donations.

But wait. There's more. Turns out the two reservoirs on state land (one planned, one already there) will hold 100 billion gallons of lake discharge. But they won't clean it up! That will require more money and more land. Filter marshes -- big ones -- will be needed downstream of the reservoirs to protect the Everglades from the polluted discharge.

Some of our pols say SB 10 is the wrong approach anyway. U.S. Senator Bill Nelson wants to build reservoirs north of Lake Okeechobee. Congressman Francis Rooney wants to complete existing projects before building any more reservoirs. He says we should wrap up some of the 68 projects already on the books, like reinforcing the the Herbert Hoover Dike around the lake.

And some of our pols have no clue whatsoever. One recently wrote, "The algal blooms will continue to occur unless the high volume of discharges from Lake Okeechobee are stopped."

This should not be a scoop, but here goes: The algal blooms are not caused by "the high volume of discharges from Lake Okeechobee." They're caused by fertilizer runoff from sugar cane fields. That's what must be stopped. Lake Okeechobee just holds the polluted water; it doesn't cause the pollution.

Governor Rick Scott is feinting in still another direction. He would have you believe the real problem is leaking septic tanks. It's not. Scott doesn't want to offend Big Sugar. Pure and simple, the algal blooms are fueled by fertilizer runoff.

There are two ways to fight the problem.

(1) Keep the water from getting polluted in the first place." To do that, tighten water-quality standards for dissolved nitrogen and phosphorus in all Florida waterways, including the sloughs, canals and streams in the cane fields around Lake Okeechobee. The DEP can and should do that. Can tough specs be enforced? Not everywhere. But the DEP can enforce them where the problem is most severe -- discharges from South Florida farms.

(2) Treat the water after it's polluted. To do that, build massive reservoirs north and south of the lake and spend money to add filter marshes or other cleanup facilities -- and, for a change, be honest about the land needed and the cost.

Here's an aside. Some months ago, a caller told me I didn't understand Florida farming. He said, because the soil is so poor, mostly sand, huge amounts of fertilizer and irrigation are needed to grow sugar cane. That's a perfect storm for nutrient runoff and algae growth. So, the caller said, if Big Sugar is to survive, the only approach is to let the farmers pollute, then have someone clean up the water later.

How this plays out remains to be seen. But here's a prediction. Little or nothing will be accomplished this year. Either the Florida House will water down SB 10 even further, or the House will kill the bill and we'll be back to square one.

The optimists say even a neutered SB 10 is better than nothing at all. Let the camel get his nose under the tent, and the rest of him will follow, maybe next year.

I say I'm tired of playing games. I'm tired of hearing that much should be done, only to learn that much isn't needed and then to learn that, in fact, much really is needed.

I suspect what's really needed is a wholesale change in Tallahassee.

1 comment:

  1. Fracking
    Fracking has been around way before 1998 as you stated in the recent Florida Weekly I receive here in Naples.
    I think mid 1940s. Until recently frac jobs were performed on mostly sand stone reservoirs.
    I have 36 years experience as a Petroleum Engr. in west Texas and Colo. Never heard of any problem that frac fluids got out of the zone intended and into fresh water.