It’s incredible how foggy some people’s memories are when it comes to past efforts to restore the Everglades, buy farmland and build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.
Time and again, environmental extremists are quick to blame the sugar industry for every ill in the region, past, present and future, without any regard to science or the truth.
And speaking of the truth and science, recently, they were caught by the South Florida Water Management District manipulating data to show a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee is preferable to one to the north. The real science shows it is not.
For starters, no one is arguing that the discharges do not create problems for coastal communities due to the infusion of fresh water (up to 80 percent of which is later filled with nutrients in the local basins) to the estuaries.
The simplest way to capture and clean this excess water is to put it in a reservoir where it originates: north of the lake. This is the thinking behind the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) that — combined with the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) — is scientifically designed to reduce the discharges plaguing the area.
No part of CERP or CEPP calls for buying additional land. The land for a southern reservoir was already purchased before both plans were developed.
Would-be land grabbers label the sugar industry as an opponent of storage south of Lake Okeechobee, but it was the sugar industry that gave up 120,000 acres of farmland over the last 20 years for Stormwater Treatement Areas (STAs), flow equalization basins (FEBs) and other projects.
The first of two reservoirs, the A1, has already been constructed. Additional reservoir construction was halted not by the sugar industry, but by environmental special interests, including the Everglades Trust. Following a ruling in 2010 by U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno forcing the completion of the reservoir, Everglades Foundation attorney Thom Rumberger wrote this in his opposition to the reservoir: “The reservoir is unnecessary and expensive … It is our opinion and that of the scientists … that it’s more advantageous to have the property.”
The gamesmanship involved in the construction of this reservoir shows that the motives of the groups funded by Paul Tudor Jones II, including the Everglades Foundation, Sierra Club and Audubon Florida, are less about fixing water quality problems and more about taking land from sugar farmers. Because buying land is their answer to everything.
Want to solve local water quality problems in communities 60 miles north of the Glades? Buy the land. Want to stop red tide? Buy the land. Want to fix Florida Bay? Buy the land.
All of these claims are made without science or any regard for the people living in these communities.
Clearly, the people of the Glades communities have done their part. In addition to cleaning water every year by an average of 55 percent, they gave up 60,000 acres of the Talisman sugar-cane property in 1999, which shut down at least one sugar cane processing mill. They’ve also spent more than $250 million through an agricultural privilege tax and another $200 million or so that is a combination of the $5 per acre to fund research on BMPs and restoration efforts and the estimated cost of performing on-farm BMP. All of this despite the fact that the communities north of Lake Okeechobee are contributing more than 95 percent of the nutrient load and water flows to the lake. What have these communities given us other than dirty water and the headache of calling for the purchase of our land?
The Glades communities are more united against current proposals in the Legislature to buy their land than at any point in recent memory. Predictably, environmental groups such as the Everglades Trust are rallying behind this plan as if it’s Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Floridians should be skeptical of this plan for a variety of reasons. Why is more land needed when plenty of land has already been taken? Recent revelations about the Everglades Foundation’s fraudulent manipulation of the modeling used to calculate their reservoir is another cause for concern.
The Everglades Foundation’s fraud was called into question by a South Florida Water Management District scientist in a recent journal article where they were peddling more lies.
The sales job involved in pushing this misguided policy tells you everything you need to know: It stinks to high hell. When the history of Everglades restoration and Lake Okeechobee has to be rewritten, and numbers have to be made up to sell it, it’s clear those pushing for it are becoming more and more desperate by the day.
J.P. Sasser is the former mayor of Pahokee, Florida.