Who would lobby to solve a problem s-l-o-w-e-r?
By changing the operational priorities for Lake Okeechobee’s management, we could be on the brink of an amazing shift in water policy with the potential to transform South Florida forever... right NOW... at virtually no cost to taxpayers. Shouldn’t we welcome that opportunity?
Of course we should. Should we also invest in monumental, multi-billion-dollar projects that can make it easier to manage water years from now? Of course we should.
A change in operations doesn’t replace the need for more infrastructure to fix Florida’s water management crisis. And no one would vote against the promised benefits of future projects. But projects have been derailed, delayed, and diminished before by legislative horse-trading. Think about the shrinking footprint of the EAA Reservoir. Think about CERP, 20 years in the making and counting, decades from delivery, and potentially off-track and off-target according to the experts.
Suggestions that we need to pick one or the other--immediate changes or long-term projects-- are false. Telling Floridians that focusing on a near-term fix means sacrificing future progress is wrong. It’s just arguing to solve our crisis...slower.
Fortunately Florida has a growing number of leaders who recognize that we need to do both-- invest in a better water management system AND make operational changes today to prevent thousands of people from being poisoned and stop the collapse of the Everglades and Florida Bay. The support of a governor and members of congress like Francis Rooney and Brian Mast, whose districts have paid an awful price for our failed water management, means Florida has its first chance in decades for immediate policy changes that deliver results right away.
Thanks to them, we’re getting a glimpse of what’s possible. The Army Corps is doing things different this year. They’re drawing down Lake Okeechobee to protect Florida communities from the kind of toxic algae and red tide disaster that made headlines last year.
It didn’t take an act of Congress. It didn’t take a dollar. It didn’t even take a year. It just took political courage. More elected officials are standing up to the sugarcane industry, insisting on new rules, rejecting the notion that demanding changes today jeopardizes funding for long-term solutions. It doesn’t.
That doesn’t mean we’re seeing the operational changes we need today. The Corps and SFWMD could have done more this winter, using existing STA capacity earlier in the dry season to clean lakewater and send it south, instead of waiting until the only option was dumping it to the coasts. But they’re showing it can be done: the system can be managed to protect people from toxic blooms, keep the Everglades healthy, and provide plenty of water for everyone else.
The Corps’ revision of the lake management rules, called the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM), is Florida’s chance to get this policy right. For all of us. Now. For free.
We’ve made great strides toward funding and building the system we need to protect South Florida’s future. With summer on the horizon, taking steps to protect us in the months ahead are no less important.