Q&A Of The Day – Part 2 Who’s Responsible For Florida’s Polluted Waterways?
Bottom Line: The single biggest obstacle in near-term progress is and has been The Army Corps of Engineers. The biggest long-term problem is and has been US Sugar. The Cliff Notes version goes like this. The Army Corps of Engineers is tasked with the structural integrity of the Lake Okeechobee Dike. While members of the Corps may be sensitive to the environmental concerns of east-west discharges and now the record manatee deaths associated with the killing off of seagrass resulting from them, the environment isn’t their primary concern or objective. As a result, when water levels reach heights they consider dangerous, they discharge water through the existing canals regardless of the environmental impact. Hence the importance of completing the Everglades Restoration Project to release water south into the Everglades as naturally happened prior to the construction of the dike over 90 years ago. That takes us to the biggest long-term threat. US Sugar.
US Sugar is the largest consumer of water from Lake Okeechobee and has permitted use for it through the South Florida Water Management District. Their primary concern has been consistent access to large quantities of water for irrigation purposes. As changes to the status quo have moved forward in recent years, they’ve sued to stop them. Before that, they attempted covertly to cut deals with the South Florida Water Management to thwart efforts to construct the EAA (southern) reservoir site. Basically, US Sugar set up its entire business, going back to the 1930’s, on the system as it is today. It works for them as currently constructed and they consistently fight for the status quo. Now, in-between the near- and long-term threats to progress are the current officials running departments and that’s where Nikki Fried comes into play.
As articulated earlier, Florida’s Agriculture Department is tasked with studying and reporting on waterways and the ag industry’s impact on them, in addition to creating best practices to be used across the state. As part of the Clean Water Ways Act there’s mandatory quarterly reporting. Under Nikki Fried, this hasn’t happened, and her department has been in violation of the law since last summer. It’s speculation as to why that’s the case, however about a month ago I depicted the known, negative, ecological impact of the cannabis industry on waterways and that Fried has a personal, vested, interest in the industry. I also illustrated the likelihood that Florida’s rapid growth in cannabis is a contributing factor to record levels of toxic algae appearing in Lake Okeechobee. We don’t know definitively because Fried’s Agriculture Department won’t report as is required. And yes, it’s a travesty that state and local news media continues to provide her with a pass, while we have record manatee deaths, record toxic algae in Lake O’ and now toxic algae in the water supply to Palm Beach, South Palm Beach and West Palm Beach. So, what needs to happen? I’ll cover that in the third part of today’s Q&A.
Photo Credit: Getty Images