POINT OF VIEW The water is going the wrong way


For many, the discussion of Everglades restoration can get a bit overwhelming. The complex, man-made water management problems we face involve not just water quality, but also water quantity, timing and distribution.

Today, America’s Everglades are collapsing from a lack of clean freshwater. Sugar growers Florida Crystals and U.S. Sugar Corp. are literally and politically blocking the path and, therefore, the solution to this sobering fact.

The Weather Channel recently released an investigative documentary exposing the significant flaws in South Florida’s water management system. While the story largely focused on this year’s toxic algae crisis and Lake Okeechobee, it brought national attention to an intractable water management problem that has devastated Florida’s water resources and the Everglades for decades.

During times of high rainfall, tremendous volumes of freshwater are discharged to saltwater estuaries on the east and west coasts of Florida causing significant environmental and economic harm. Even if Lake Okeechobee water was as pure as the driven snow, discharging massive quantities of freshwater to estuaries results in a dramatic drop in salinity and devastates everything in its path.

At the same time, most of the Everglades remains too dry in all but the wettest of years and Florida Bay, the headwaters of the Florida Keys, is dying from a lack of freshwater.

For nearly two decades, experts have understood the need for additional storage south of Lake Okeechobee to help solve the issues of quantity, timing and distribution. From the National Academy of Sciences, to the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan in 1999, the River of Grass Planning Process in 2009 and the University of Florida Water Institute Independent Technical Review in 2015, the solution has been clear.

The sugar industry, once a supporter of additional storage south of the lake when it involved a government buyout of their land during tough economic times, is now opposed to selling any additional land for water storage. They now claim that pollution north of the lake is the culprit to our water woes and that storage there is the answer.

It is in their own self-interest to continue to point in other directions. For the Everglades, it doesn’t matter who is responsible for the pollution. What matters is that we get clean water moving in the right direction.

Efforts by Big Sugar to distract from real solutions should not deter Florida legislators from doing the right thing: buying land south of Lake Okeechobee to build additional water storage as called for and agreed to 16 years ago.

Now is the time for Floridians to support Senate President Joe Negron’s plan to purchase land south of Lake Okeechobee for water storage. In his words, “It is not a radical idea. It is not a new idea. The time has come to stop talking about it and do it.”

If in doubt, go review the too-many-to-count past efforts identifying additional storage south of Lake Okeechobee. Most importantly, do not be distracted by finger-pointing and red herrings.

For the Everglades, it doesn’t matter who is responsible for the pollution. What matters is that we get clean water moving in the right direction.

KIMBERLY MITCHELL, WEST PALM BEACH

Editor’s note: Kimberly Mitchell is the executive director of The Everglades Trust.


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