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:

  1. Lots of water can and did flow south through existing structures between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades, even last year, even with added restrictions for endangered species. It’s true that water storage in the EAA was maxed out in 2016, but don’t worry -- the sugarcane fields stayed dry and safe, even if the communities along the rivers didn’t.

  2. As for why the existing storage was maxed out, the sugar industry’s farming practices have contributed to the EAA sinking down more than 15 feet in places, and because the high-yielding strain of sugar they grow needs more drainage than other varieties, they pump so much rainwater off their fields that there isn’t room for excess lake water. So it goes to the coasts, and not to the Everglades.

  3. A dynamic reservoir isn’t limited by its dimensions. It’s called that because it lets water flow through to Florida Bay, so it can be refilled over and over, simulating the timing and quantity that existed before we dammed the River of Grass and choked off the Everglades. To pretend that it’s a hole in the ground, and not an active outlet, is to knowingly spread misinformation.

  4. Pretending that reservoirs “deal with” quantity vs. quality is also spreading misinformation. And gibberish. The EAA plan has always been to store, treat, and send clean water to the parched Everglades and Florida Bay.

  5. Claiming that sugar hasn’t polluted Lake Okeechobee recently (because they were ordered to stop back-pumping a few years ago) is a childish half-lie after the industry flushed tons of fertilizer into the lake for decades. If the water flowing into the lake were as pure as Evian, sugar's legacy pollution would fuel toxic algae blooms for another 80 years.

  6. Talking about “local basin runoff” (measured in dry years, and including a quarter-million acres that were artificially added to the St. Lucie watershed by drainage canals to redirect agricultural runoff into the river) while “forgetting” that more than 200 billion gallons of lake water spewed into the estuary--enough to cover Stuart in more than 100 feet of water--is untruthful at best.

  7. Blaming algae on local sources while satellite photographs show a toxic bloom the size of New Orleans on the lake, and national news media film it blasting through the locks and into the Atlantic, coating everything in its path in what reporters call “guacamole?” That approaches delusional, except that it’s intentional.

A Spoonful of Sugar, Andy Marlette/Pensacola Journal News. Reprinted with permission.

There’s more, and Andy Marlette heard it all, live and in-person. His response to bullying and sleaze is to draw a picture of it. A really funny picture. Too bad Big Sugar doesn’t have a better sense of humor. We do, though. (Thanks, Andy!) 

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