Last week I read a guest column from Florida Oceanographic Society Exexutive Director Mark Perry on TCPalm.com, headlined "Flawed water delivery system continues to imperil estuaries."
I have known Mr. Perry for years and know that he cares deeply about South Florida’s environment and the beauty and health of its waters. I know he means well in his efforts. However, some of his statements within the piece are factually impaired. Sure, advocates need support to further their goals, but key facts must be presented to a readership seeking to truly make a difference. That’s the right thing to do.
As a lifelong Treasure Coast resident who volunteers time to serve on the South Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board, I want nothing more than to “get the water right” throughout our 16 counties. But this Board cannot “get the water right” when inaccurate information makes its rounds to our constituents.
Misinformation results in a domino effect that can have real consequences on the future of restoration in South Florida. False information is published, the public accepts it as fact, campaigns of support are raised and media channels use this misinformation as if it were gospel. This can cause delays to existing restoration efforts or cause the leapfrogging of projects that are key to resolving the very problem being espoused. A clear and complete understanding of how water management works in South Florida is necessary for us all to collectively make headway on restoration.
Mr. Perry has been around South Florida long enough to know the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has full control and responsibility over Lake Okeechobee and has full authority to make any releases from Lake Okeechobee for public safety. When Mr. Perry states that on June 1, “the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District began discharging billions of gallons of water from Lake Okeechobee,” he is using sleight of hand. The District does not release water to the estuaries, and Mr. Perry and the newspaper that published his column know better.
To make it perfectly clear, SFWMD is a flood control agency. In addition to our extensive restoration efforts, our primary mission is to protect all land, families and businesses from flooding. We provide flood protection for 8.1 million residents in 16 counties the same way.
If Mr. Perry truly wanted to support real solutions, ones that can actually be completed and make a difference, he should stand behind programs like SFWMD’s study of "emergency estuary protection wells," also known as deep injection wells, that could divert excess water in emergency situations when it would otherwise get sent unchecked to the estuaries.
That is a solution that can be built in two to three years and aid in reducing discharges while working in conjunction with larger storage and water management projects both in the near term and once restoration projects are completed. In that scenario, no one gets harmed, and all parties are treated equally.
This Board fully recognizes that water is a critical resource, and we are not in the business of wasting it. But when harmful algae is about to be discharged into our estuaries and the water that carries it out to tide, I would much rather spare the residents who live along those waterbodies, as well as their delicate ecosystems, and send it deep underground.
Mr. Perry, I firmly believe, wants to make a difference, so I ask him to put his efforts behind getting the federal government to approve and share the costs of building the Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir, a project that environmentalists including himself lauded and asked for when the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott created it in 2017. They asked for that part of the solution, the governor and the Legislature did their part to authorize it, and SFWMD did its part delivering a plan that meets all the goals and objectives set forward in state law.
Let’s all lend our talents to helping get the reservoir built, as well as the immediate construction of wells to protect the estuaries. Let’s lose the soundbites and end the false narrative and all start pulling in the same direction to get real projects online.
Brandon Tucker is one of nine Governing Board members who set policy for the South Florida Water Management District. He represents an area that includes St. Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.