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.
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.
SB10 calls for expediting a critical project in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) called "Component G," signed into law in 2000 by Jeb Bush and Bill Clinton. For 17 years, Component G has called for a 360,000 acre foot (120 billion gallon) reservoir in the EAA so that water from Lake Okeechobee is cleaned and sent south, instead of shunted east and west. The algae blooming in Islamorada today, like the toxic algae crisis in Stuart last summer, are grim reminders that we need this solution badly. That is the premise of the Now or Neverglades Declaration and the impetus for SB10.
SB10 is Senate President Joe Negron’s priority because he calls Stuart home. He knows firsthand how urgent — and preventable — this crisis is. Despite enormous pressure from the sugar industry, he has mustered the political courage to elevate this issue to the point that a real solution is in sight, and for that we are very grateful.
Unfortunately, the sugar industry has responded against SB10 with even more opposition than anyone thought possible, sending more than 100 lobbyists to pressure every lawmaker in Tallahassee. The day before the Appropriations hearing, the bill was changed to shrink the size of the EAA reservoir to 240,000 acre feet (80 billion gallons), with a possibility but no assurance of reaching the 360,000 acre feet called for by CERP. Did the science behind Everglades restoration change last week? If so, we weren't told about it.
We don’t want to inconvenience the sugar industry any more than necessary to stop the destruction of the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. We certainly don’t want to derail this bill, which has taken so much effort and courage on the part of so many. But slashing the size of the reservoir at the 11th hour by 33 percent? C’mon. We know that the brunt of this short-change will fall on the people of Fort Myers and Stuart, and that’s already been happening for far too long. But we've also learned that in times of drought, Everglades National Park and the Keys are in the crosshairs. Stuart’s problem is Islamorada's problem too, and the solution is storing, treating, and sending *enough* clean freshwater south to keep all three estuaries in balance.
As Joe Negron said in January, “We have a right to live in this community and in southwest Florida without having our beaches and our rivers destroyed.” That goes for the Keys and Everglades National Park too. This may be our last chance to send water south, so let’s not blow it. But this may also be our last chance to build a system that solves the whole problem, so let’s not shortchange it, either. Fix it the way CERP calls for, with a 360,000 acre foot dynamic reservoir.