Focus Amend. 1 Money on Everglades and R⁠i⁠vers

By: Guest Author / 2016



Orlando Sentinel
Focus Amend. 1 money on Everglades and rivers
By: Daniel Peterson

It has been said that Floridians are lucky to live where many vacation. Our state's beauty and growing economy have drawn people to Florida each year — some just to play, others to stay. Regardless of the time spent in Florida, many people across the globe realize our environmental resources are precious and should be protected.

When an aerial photo of brown sediment making its way out of the St. Lucie inlet surfaced on the Internet, a firestorm of comments and outrage hit the proverbial airwaves. Rightfully so, many local businesses that rely on healthy waters for fishing and the tourism draw were angry and worried about how this would impact their livelihood and the wildlife in the area.

Playing off these feelings, recent attempts by certain environmental extremists to mislead public opinion have twisted the truth. Their efforts have placed blame on the wrong targets and have done little to help the public understand the issues at hand or how to do something about them.

It is critical to understand when water levels in Lake Okeechobee threaten the integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a federally established regulatory mandate to release the excess water. These releases send excessive amounts of nutrient-laden waters into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee river estuaries and cause discoloration and algae blooms in the estuaries and along the coast.

Several extremists point the finger at the agricultural community. They accuse agriculture of simply dumping polluted water back into Lake Okeechobee. This is simply false and opposite of what is really taking place. In 1994, theFlorida Legislaturepassed the Everglades Forever Act, which mandated a 25 percent reduction in phosphorus in waters flowing off agricultural lands. Often ignored is this impressive fact: Every year since that mandate, the agricultural industry has exceeded that goal.

Additionally, through the implementation of best management practices, farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area make a net contribution of 173 billion gallons of clean water to the Everglades ecosystem. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the best management practices have reduced pollution from phosphorous by 55 percent. The agricultural community is helping lead the charge on restoration.

The problem is well recognized by the Florida Legislature. Last year lawmakers took Amendment 1 at face value. They allocated critically needed funds toward state-owned lands maintenance. But they also allocated much-needed funding to Everglades restoration, targeting specific projects aimed at mitigating the polluting effects of the Okeechobee releases.

Some of these were government projects to build reservoirs to capture excessive water before it gets to the estuaries. Other included water storage using private-sector projects such as the Caulkin water-farm pilot project near Stuart.

Despite this funding and the fact that government (local, state, and federal) already owns more than 30 percent of Florida land, special-interest groups in the environmental community wanted Amendment 1 funding to go solely toward purchasing more land.

This year, legislators proposed stabilizing such a commitment. Senate President-DesignateJoe Negronand Rep. Gale Harrell have advanced policies to dedicate Amendment 1 money toward restoring the Everglades and reducing harmful discharges of water to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee river estuaries every year during the life of the amendment.

By ensuring dedicated, recurring funds, these enormous, long-term projects can be pursued and completed without fear that funding would need to be renewed each year under the tensions of the political arena.

The costs of current environmental restoration and conservation land maintenance are enormous. To choose to ignore such needs just so more land can be bought is a shortsighted folly.

The propaganda being churned out by extreme environmentalist may make many feel emotionally good. But a closer look at the facts and the efforts being made by so many stewards of our beautiful state is the best thing one can do to know what the record really shows.