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The Richest Waterway in North America. And We're Killing It.

Florida is home to the most biodiverse marine environment in North America. It's not the Everglades. Or Florida Bay. Or the Gulf Coast. More species live in the St. Lucie and Indian River Lagoon than in any other waterway on the continent. Dr. Grant Gilmore of Estuarine, Coastal and Ocean Science, Inc. has spent decades exploring and documenting an incredible array of life here.

Meanwhile Florida's sugar industry and water managers have spent decades regularly blasting toxic pollution into it. Somehow, despite massive reductions in seagrass beds and plummeting fish and shellfish populations, this amazing estuary isn't dead.

Dr. Gilmore shared some insight about the St. Lucie estuary and the unique environment Treasure Coast residents have been fighting to protect, and why there’s no other place like it in North America:

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The St. Lucie: North America's Most Biodiverse Estuary

Dr. Grant Gilmore of the Florida Oceans and Coastal Council identified hundred of species within a few miles of the St. Lucie estuary, making it North America's most biodiverse.
Illustration: The St. Lucie is North America's Most Diverse Estuary
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This is How Medical Professionals Respond to a Crisis

by Allie Preston

Leaders generally don't answer a crisis with, "Let us do nothing."

A week after the Economic Council of Martin County sponsored a robot telemarketing blitz urging residents to do nothing to support legislation to cut toxic discharges, Martin Health System’s leadership broke with the group and demanded action. As the area’s biggest employer, Martin Health System took a stand for the Treasure Coast economy and public health, demonstrating how community leaders and medical professionals respond to emergencies.

As sugar lobbyists fought with lawmakers in Tallahassee over revisions to weaken Joe Negron’s SB 10, CEO Rob Lord stood behind Martin Memorial Hospital, on a dock overlooking the St. Lucie River, and declared support for the Now Or Neverglades principles of the bill to stop toxic cyanobacteria blooms from destroying the fragile waterway. Amid rounds of applause, he voiced the need to purchase land in the Everglades Agricultural Area to store, treat, and send clean freshwater south to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay, and not to coastal estuaries.

Lord and Dr. Steve Parr, director of emergency medicine, described last summer’s increases in emergency room visits when toxic algae blooms from Lake Okeechobee were at their worst. The spike in cases potentially linked to the toxins convinced them there was no other option than to treat the bloom as a public health crisis. They spoke of precautions similar to “the Ebola situation,” and warned residents of the remaining dangers lurking in the muck beneath the surface, and of effects that people who were exposed to cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) may still be years away from seeing.

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Algae Reached Islamorada This Week

On Wednesday, during the height of tourist season, a large algae bloom appeared off Islamorada, lapping the docks at Worldwide Sportsman. Worldwide is part of Bass Pro Shops, the largest retail fishing company in the world; thousands of visitors are going to see this. On Thursday Keys fishing guides took a day off work to spell the word 'HELP' with their flats skiffs in the affected area.

wide_angle_HELP_guides.jpg

Is Tallahassee paying attention? Maybe. Also on Thursday dozens of people from South Florida — doctors, fishing guides, boat builders, realtors — traveled north to speak before the Florida Senate Appropriations committee in favor of SB10, the bill that will create a dynamic reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, to send clean freshwater to Florida Bay and ease the cycles that trigger algae blooms. The bill passed committee, and heads to the senate floor next.

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Florida’s Water Management System is Broken. The CRC Can Fix it.

By Peter Girard

Florida’s water management system is broken. Water management districts are political and dysfunctional. Private interests routinely hoard freshwater, pass flood risks to residential communities, and dump pollution into public waterways.

Led by the biggest and most powerful South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), these organizations answer only to the governor, who is allowed by law to appoint donors and friends to their boards. The result is that water management districts’ leadership, budgets, and policies are controlled by the same users they were designed to regulate.

This is exactly the kind of systematic failure this year’s Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC) was created to fix. In a tropical climate whose economy, public health, and environment depends on the fragile balance of freshwater, Florida’s water management districts may be our most important government institutions. Making them democratic and accountable could be the most important contribution the CRC can make to our future.

Because their governing boards are political appointees, the districts have always been prone to capture by the highest bidder; and the sugar industry, with its massive water requirements and equally massive taxpayer subsidies, has no trouble outbidding everyone else. But the industry never openly controlled the SFWMD the way it has under the Scott administration.

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Now Or Neverglades Sportfishing Day: The Power of Stories

Hundreds of captains and guides are headed to Tallahassee on April 11th to tell their stories to lawmakers. You should, too.

Now Or Neverglades Sportfishing Day will unite people who depend on healthy fisheries for their livelihoods--fishermen, boat builders, outfitters… but also people who just love the water and refuse to stay quiet while our estuaries die. Legislators have asked us again and again to tell them in person about the impact of Florida’s water management crises, to take our stories to them. On April 11th we’re bringing them a boatful.

The reason it makes a difference is that numbers are abstract, even when they’re impressive. Florida’s fishing industry contributes $9.7 billion and 129,000 jobs to our economy, and boating contributes another $10.4 billion and 83,000 jobs--and both are dwarfed by our $89.1 billion tourism industry and its 1.1 million jobs. And toxic discharges and the diversion of freshwater from the Everglades puts every dollar of it at risk.

Register for Now Or Never Sportfishing Day

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The Bravest Thing You Can Do Without Getting Shot At

In a fight as bitter as Florida’s struggle for clean water, virtually no one can manage to face the opposition with civility and a constructive outlook, much less a smile. If you haven’t met Maggy Hurchalla, you should--even if she’s not on your side. Start by watching this:

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Does a Spoonful of Sugar Help the Toxic Algae Go Down? Nope.

Political cartoonists know they’re on the mark when their targets blow up. Herblock drove Nixon crazy. Thomas Nast did the same to Boss Tweed. Garry Trudeau enraged tobacco companies. Here in Florida, Andy Marlette infuriates Big Sugar.

His work is honest, clever, and deeply troubling for politicians and sugar company operatives who’d rather operate in the shadows, out of public view. Shining a light on the industry’s dealings earned him a recent visit from US Sugar’s goon squad and a public smearing from the company’s director of spin, Judy Sanchez -- both high compliments.

Joe Negron, Lone Hero by Andy Marlette/Pensacola News Journal. Reprinted with permission.

Sanchez is clearly frustrated that her henchmen’s re-education efforts didn’t take: Marlette wasn’t buying their alternative facts. So she repeated them. Without belaboring the point, here’s where they’re untruthful:

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This from a State that Brags about its Water

SB10 made it over its next hurdle in the Senate this week, although not without a few surprises. Sen. Bradley opened by reiterating the inexcusable conditions that coastal communities experienced as a result of toxic discharges. He noted that a State of Emergency is in most cases created by an act of God, but this was a glaring exception. Our 242-day exposure to dangerous cyanobacteria and the tremendous economic loss that resulted were self-inflicted. “This from a state that brags about its water.”

People from all across the state traveled to address the committee with personal stories. Captain Adam Morley of St. Augustine reminded the council that the effects of toxic algae are a shared burden throughout Florida. “When the gates open up, the guides down there are displaced and they come up to where the water is still healthy, destabilizing the local industry that I work on. This is not just a South Florida issue – it is a state-wide issue, it affects all of us.”

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Want to Make Glades Communities Safe from Flooding? Build a Southern Spillway.

Several prominent Florida politicians have suggested that storing more water in Lake Okeechobee is the key to fixing our water management problems. But without an emergency spillway--as Californians learned last month--a bigger dike is only a bigger threat to the people living below it. Ultimately the idea comes from the sugar industry, which opposes any engineering to send water south--including a spillway--because safety is not what they care about. This time people saw through the smokescreen.

When Sen. David Simmons tried to derail Sen. Joe Negron’s plan to curb toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee, proposing a competing idea to simply build a bigger dike to store more water and send Washington the bill, groups that had backed everyone’s attacks against an Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir seemed to have little appetite for Simmons’. Why? Partly his timing.

Just as Simmons filed his bill, news feeds filled up with images of 200,000 evacuees looking on as construction crews scrambled to stop the Oroville Dam from collapsing into the Feather River, north of Sacramento. It reminded South Floridians’ of their own uneasy coexistence with the rising waters of Lake Okeechobee, and the aging dike whose predecessor failed during a 1928 hurricane, killing more than 2,500 people.

In California the thundering 30-foot wall of water and rock that officials warned about never came. At Oroville, critical engineering features--spillways--ultimately held and saved downstream communities from a disaster of epic proportions. Lake Okeechobee’s dike doesn’t have a true spillway or any southern outlet to send high volumes of water when there’s an emergency, relying instead on canals to the east and west as relief valves. Even when the locks are wide-open, the lake drains slower than a storm can fill it. Simmons’ proposal wouldn’t change this; it wouldn’t reduce the danger. Instead it would push even more water against the dike, reminding people who live below it of the threat posed by every hurricane, or even a wet winter season like 2016.

The 1928 Lake Okeechobee hurricane still casts a shadow over glades communities

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