The can has been kicked down the road long enough. We are beyond the tipping point in terms of protecting our natural resources here in Florida and it will take radical legislative and public action to save what’s left. Voices in the wilderness calling for ethical and responsible treatment of our environment must be supported by action and you can help with your support of the 2022 constitutional amendments at FL5.org.
As the local government representative for Okeechobee, Glades and Highlands Counties with the South Florida Water Management District and then as Water Resource Manager for Martin County, I observed BMAPs, BMPs, so-called restoration of the Kissimmee River and an excruciating multitude of meetings that ultimately have done nothing to improve water quality in the Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades system. Current state law mandates that the Total Maximum Daily Load of phosphorus entering Lake Okeechobee from all sources shall be 140 tons. That includes “atmospheric deposition”, and all non-point (runoff) and all “direct” flow – tributaries, canals and the Kissimmee River. Experts tell me that the current and expected load for the foreseeable future is about 500 tons.
Climate change is heating us up earlier in the year and Lake Okeechobee has become not just a contributor to downstream pollution but actually a danger to human health. It’s no surprise that recent water samples from the Lake contained 130 microcystin toxins (micrograms per liter). These toxins are produced by blue-green algae and that number is more than 16 times the recommended level for safe contact for people or animals. What can this be doing to the integrity of the Lake O ecosystem?
Our elected officials, tainted by lobbyists for industry and development, are not going to get serious about changing the laws to protect us and our economy from polluted water. While we are at an impasse with the Godzilla of blue-green algae meeting the King Kong of red tide on both coasts and now bacteria is keeping folks out of the ocean on Hillsborough County beaches, the 2021 legislature failed to pass bills that would assist in protecting our water resources. SB 1654 to improve the management of bio-solids, a major contributor of phosphorus to our waterways, died in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee of all places. Then the Senate killed funding for the Blue-Green Algae Task Force established specifically to address the calamity we now face. Had enough?
Our North Florida springs are being ruined by thick algal mats resulting from overuse, over pumping and nutrient loading. Our iconic manatee are starving to death because algae are killing the seagrasses upon which they feed. Oysters are no longer able to clean nutrients out of the Indian River because they are clogged with nanoplastics. Nanoplastics? Good grief! Oh, and then there is the blue-green algae in the water supply for the City of West Palm Beach. It’s easy to ignore a problem when you aren’t looking at it every day, but it should be a major wakeup call when it’s coming through your kitchen faucet.
The Suwannee River Water Management District Board recently doubled the permitted amount of water to be pumped out of Ginnie Springs for bottled water. They said it was under protest and that they are unable to deny permits under current regulations. The regulations need to be changed. Chapter 373 of Florida State Law has been the Holy Grail for resource protection for decades. It’s not working. With the explosion of our population and the obvious disregard for our springs, waterways, wetlands and adjacent land uses, something has got to give. Cumulative impacts are not appropriately considered in permitting and the result is death of our precious waterway habitats, increased incidents of sinkholes and spoiled stretches of our iconic beaches.
Ask any business owner around Lake Okeechobee or at the end of the pipes known as the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers if the ecology of the system is not their economy. The five amendments that www.FL5.org is asking you to support may not be the answer to all of our natural resource problems but they are a much needed start. Please sign and forward your petition to join the fight to defend our fabulous environment.