The future of the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee and how best to fix the issues surrounding these environmental jewels is of serious significance to every Floridian.
We all recognize the special place in Florida’s shared heritage and the unique ecosystem present in the Glades. In fact, I had the joy of taking both of my daughters on Everglades tours, and the memories are ones I hope they can replicate with their children one day.
So it has been somewhat disappointing to observe how much erroneous information is being written regarding attempts to restore the Everglades and fix ongoing challenges with Lake O. The James Madison Institute (JMI), with a 30-year history of nonpartisan, public policy work has done extensive research in this area, seeking to identify the most effective and efficient path forward regarding Everglades restoration.
Nobody disputes the fact that heavy rain events have a myriad of negative impacts on the environment, the economy and the population. Heavy rains cause Lake O to reach depths requiring discharges from the Herbert Hoover Dike (HHD). This water, often containing toxins, then flows into the Everglades estuary.
Floridians have watched in horror as toxic sludge (algal blooms) and dirty brown water have wrought havoc on both the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of South Florida.
And yet, many falsely claim the main source of pollution is the farmers of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). This is in direct opposition to the facts on the ground, as highlighted in our report of 2016 entitled “Solving the Everglades Riddle.”
State regulations and best management practices (BMPs) have, in fact, made the agricultural community a major contributor of clean water being returned to the Everglades. The numerous monitoring devices in place provide scientific data bearing this out. Additionally, the agricultural community has financially contributed $25 per acre per year (more than $200 million to date) to fund a reserve for Everglades restoration.
Some argue that the only solution is to construct a reservoir south of Lake O to hold polluted water where it can be treated prior to its release into the EAA. As JMI research has shown consistently, the more critical need is to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike, which would allow for more voluminous storage north, where polluted water can be treated before it gets into the lake.
Southern storage would account for roughly one-third of the identified storage need, a far cry from solving this enormous challenge. Moreover, southern storage would take roughly 15 years to come online. The HHD could be ready for more storage in five years.
Everyone benefits from Everglades restoration and conservation. As the Florida Legislature continues to formulate plans that will have impacts long after we are all gone, we should keep in mind this truth. Any agenda should be about protecting Floridians, while uniting around real plans to solve our environmental challenges.
Decisive, science-based action is needed rather than emotional rhetoric filled with confusion and misinformation.
J. Robert McClure, Ph.D., is president and CEO of The James Madison Institute, a public policy research organization based in Florida.