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Science Doesn't Lie. And that's the problem.

It's hard to fire the truth. SFWMD executive director Pete Antonacci made headlines this week threatening to dismiss the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) from collaborating on Everglades restoration. Why? Because NAS has been telling embarrassing truths since its December report on the project, including the facts that planners grossly underestimated the water storage it needs and grossly overestimates how much can go underground. SFWMD has been peddling a very different story.

It wasn't the district's only struggle with truth this week. Just days after boasting about the purity of water churning out of sugarcane fields, the district’s own data showed phosphorus levels from EAA runoff more than 25 times the standard.

The SFWMD board's sugar industry sponsors are still furious about that standard, imposed by federal overseers in the rare legal loss they couldn’t pay their way out of. And they’re furious that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) monitors the federally mandated work on Everglades restoration. Antonacci's agency was attacking NAS on their behalf.

Of course, it's not Antonacci's agency anymore. Last night the former general counsel to Rick Scott stepped down from SFWMD, reportedly to head Scott's beleaguered Enterprise Florida. Antonacci's sudden departure might offer a lesson to his replacement about how to conduct the war against science and federal oversight and the truths they surface. (Quietly.) But the war continues.

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How Much Cancer is Too Much?

Sugarcane growers added to the failed legacy of “shared adversity” with their role in June’s Everglades flood. But is it realistic to expect the industry to voluntarily sacrifice to protect wildlife or tourism or even public safety?

Today the sugar industry has total control of South Florida’s water and drainage. They opposed EAA reservoir legislation, designed to protect all stakeholders in floods and droughts, because sharing protection also means sharing control and adversity. Right now sugarcane has all the protection it needs--perfect growing conditions in all weather and steadily rising yields since 1980. Even in the worst years, sugar faces no real adversity.

But everyone else does:

  • This summer it’s Everglades wildlife drowning in high water and sugarcane runoff

  • Last summer it was millions along the St. Lucie exposed to toxic discharges linked to cancer and neurological diseases

  • Earlier this year the Caloosahatchee bounced from toxic discharges to lethal salinity levels in a matter of weeks

  • Florida Bay still isn’t getting enough freshwater, even when so much rain falls that FWC warns “there may be nothing left to save” of the Everglades unless water is drained...just not to the canals that feed the bay

  • And without that flow, saltwater intrusion into the Biscayne Aquifer (Miami’s water supply) now extends beneath 460 square miles of land

“Shared adversity” isn’t a new idea. It’s been central to the Army Corps’ Lake Okeechobee regulation schedule (LORS) discussions since 2000. SFWMD called for shared adversity in 2011 when conditions were so dry the lakebed caught fire. Water managers let Florida Bay turn saltier than the ocean that summer. But still sugarcane growers got all the water they needed to boost yields by double-digits (see chart below).

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Did Sugarcane Growers Flood the Everglades?

By Peter Girard

Did sugarcane growers flood the Everglades last week?

Few reporters seemed curious about how much of the wildlife emergency in their headlines was preventable. No one asked what it cost to keep fields dry in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). Or how much water came off sugarcane fields.

The answer--assuming 424,000 acres of sugarcane, and 15 inches of rain--is 173 billion gallons. Roughly the volume of polluted water that poisoned the Treasure Coast during 2016’s Toxic Summer discharges.

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Flamingo Fish Kill: Another Bad Week

By Peter Girard

Florida Bay had another bad week. This video of the latest fish kill was taken on Monday at the marina in Flamingo.

Lake O had a bad week, too. As one expert reported:

When I see over 200 ppb [phosphorus] going out of STAs--five times the Lake O limit and 20 times the Everglades limit--I have to wonder what the hell is going on? Nothing clean about the June 2017 EAA stormwater, regardless of how it was treated. Someone is lying.” (SFWMD’s Randy Smith told reporters the water was clean).

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Florida's Secret Mercury Factory

By Alan Farago

Remember how Big Sugar said the problem in Florida’s estuaries was septic tanks adjacent to the Indian River? They say the same about the mercury problem in the Everglades and Florida waterways: it’s someone else’s fault. Not of course that Big Sugar fails to clean up its pollution.

Mercury contamination is well known in Florida. Sugar's responsibility for it isn't.

The same sort of wizardry applies to how Big Sugar talks about mercury. Let’s break it down:

For mercury contamination to pollute aquatic ecosystems, the mercury must first be transformed to the powerful neurotoxicant methylmercury. Once methylmercury is formed, it can readily enter the base of aquatic food chains and accumulate at increasingly higher concentrations up the food chain from algae to predatory fish and ultimately to terrestrial wildlife such as wading birds and mammal species, including the endangered Florida panther.

This process is known as bioaccumulation and can easily result in concentration increases of methylmercury in fish by factors of over one million relative to methylmercury concentrations in the water column of the Everglades. How does it happen?

  1. The bacteria largely responsible for producing methylmercury require sulfate to support their metabolism.  

  2. Sulfate concentrations are elevated across much of the Everglades. The magnitude of this contamination can reach factors up to and greater than 50 compared to background levels, depending on location. Those excess concentrations of sulfate are largely due to one source: farming practices involving the drainage of flooded soils and the use of elemental sulfur as a soil amendment in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

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Criminal Charges for Silence on Toxic Algae?

By Allie Preston

Michigan Health officials are up against manslaughter charges after knowingly withholding information from the public about contaminated water and potential effects on human health. Anybody else feel like they’re in the Twilight Zone? The ACLU says the same thing happened here.

Florida’s “Toxic Summer of 2016” made national news featuring mats of slime that contaminated waterways, massive losses of sea life, and a surge of emergency room visits. ACLU Florida released a report highlighting the human health implications of the 2016 algae bloom and more important, the lack of initiative by state officials to warn residents. Tainted Waters is a scathing accusation that administrative policies lacked transparency and that access to information on public health threats was screamingly inadequate for emergency situations like last summer’s toxic discharges.

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SFWMD: EAA Reservoir "is not going to happen"

The EAA reservoir “is not going to happen.” That’s what South Florida Water Management District WRAC member Newton Cook proclaimed at the June 8 SFWMD Governing Board meeting.

Depending on what meeting you attended this week, Senate Bill 10 and the reservoir are either the ambitious next step in a decades-old restoration process or the elephant in a room full of elephant hunters.

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Q&A: The US Sugar Program

Americans pay billions to help sugar growers buy politicians. We should stop.

The US sugar program is a sprawling, complex federal handout that too few people know about. As a result, it quietly skates by, largely unquestioned, leaving a trail of destruction and tax bills. The following Q&A is just the first step toward understanding and eventually stopping the damage this massive government subsidy enables.

Sugar Program Q&A

Q: Is the sugar program actually a subsidy?

A: Absolutely. Although not a direct payment to growers, the program sets artificially high prices, guarantees buyers, guarantees profit, and blocks competition. Growing sugar is a zero-risk business thanks to US taxpayers.

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SFWMD: Snakes on a Plain!

And now for something completely different...

SFWMD has the cure for "bad news" fatigue. It’s the python channel! All pythons, all the time.

Research linking cyanobacteria to liver failure ignited a recent wave of alarm as more evidence surfaced connecting toxic algae to health risks in coastal communities. But the South Florida Water Management District came through as usual with a welcome diversion on its electronic sidestage -- more pythons!

Although Florida faces another round of deep budget cuts, and federal funding for natural resource management programs may zero-out entirely this year, SFWMD somehow found the money to invest in a social media initiative dedicated largely to pythons.

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Toxic Algae Linked to Deaths from Liver Diseases

People are dying. Researchers around the world are studying the link between toxins in cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and serious, long-term health risks, and evidence is piling up connecting algae blooms to fatal diseases.

TC Palm today covered a decade-long Ohio State University study linking blue-green algae blooms to death rates from liver diseases. The study singled out Florida’s Treasure Coast, ground zero for toxic algae-laden discharges from lake Okeechobee, as a statistical cluster where anomalously high numbers of people die from non-alcohol-related liver failure.

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