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Politics

Letter from 60 Water Policy Experts: Stay the Everglades Restoration Course

January 31, 2017 - 6:00pm
Henry Dean
Henry Dean

Gov. Rick Scott will have a front-row seat in what has become -- overnight, apparently -- the battle of the Everglades experts.

Politico Florida's Bruce Ritchie said in a story Monday that Scott will receive a letter from "dozens of water policy experts and scientists across the state of Florida (who) have come together in support of finishing the work that was agreed upon more than 15 years ago."

The letter clearly is a direct response to Senate President Joe Negron's No. 1 priority in the Legislature this year -- a bill to spend a 50 percent share of $2.4 billion on 60,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee to divert harmful discharges to coastal estuaries.

What the 60 signers of the letter don't want to do is "compromise the potential for moving toward restoration." But the letter focuses on the positive -- staying the restoration course and avoiding further delay.  It does not mention Negron, R-Stuart or his plan by name. 

Says the letter, "Water is Florida's most precious resource, and the state's largest freshwater system -- which spans from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades -- deserves a thoughtful, comprehensive solution in addressing water quality and quantity issues. This solution has already been developed with input from some of the most knowledgeable scientists, engineers and water quality experts in the world."

Henry Dean, South Florida Water Management District director from 2001-2005, who signed the letter on behalf of the water experts, will deliver it to Scott personally on Tuesday, Politico Florida says.

In an interview with Politico Florida, Dean emphasized the letter's purpose is to support finishing work on the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan rather than criticizing Negron's reservoir proposal. "Obviously, I have tremendous respect for Senator Negron," Dean said. "But I really don't think buying the additional land south of the lake as is being proposed will accomplish the fix that it's intended to fix, and it's vastly expensive."

The letter to be delivered by Dean includes signatures from former Florida Department of Environmental Protection secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr., former South Florida Water Management District executive director Melissa Meeker, former district deputy executive directors Tommy Strowd and Ernie Barnett and Irene Kennedy Quincey, former deputy general counsel to the district.

Politico's Ritchie pointed out that some who signed the letters "have ties to the sugar industry, including Barnett, who represents the Florida Sugar Cane League and the Florida Land Council; Kennedy, a lawyer who now represents U. S. Sugar Corp. and the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida; and former DEP deputy secretary Greg Munson of the Gunster law firm."

Everglades Foundation leader Eric Eikenberg last year produced a list of 207 scientists/experts he says support altering the restoration to "buy the land and flow the water south." 

In the end, legislators likely will want the answers to seven questions to decide the issue: 

1) Will a 60,000-acre reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee cancel the need for lake discharges and end the threat of algal blooms in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries? 

2) Can the southern reservoir already in the CEPP plan, together with land the state already owns, be adapted to store the same amount of water?

3) How much time will it take to complete and permit a new reservoir?

4) How much delay will the process of land purchase and construction cause in completing projects just waiting for funding?

5) How will a 60,000-acre reservoir affect the local economy -- will it alter a way of life in the Glades, cost jobs, lose money from the county tax rolls and necessitate a tax hike?

6) Will this water really help Florida Bay and during very wet periods, what are the dangers to wildlife?

7) New reservoir or staying the course? Which gives Floridians the best bang for their buck?

Negron's reservoir proposal, filed last week, calls for the South Florida Water Management District to begin identifying willing land sellers in the Everglades Agricultural Area in 2017. If the district can't do that by the end of 2017, the legislation authorizes the Cabinet to exercise a 2010 option to buy 153,000 acres from U. S. Sugar. 

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

Comments

I've seen "plausible" estimates of a 6 ft to 8 ft sea level rise by the year 2100. MHHW in that area is just about el. 3. The Everglades, according to the NPS website, is about at elevation 6.0.. A 6 ft SLR means MHHW rises to about 9., so the freshwater marsh is then a shallow salt water bay. What will we "restore" it to at that point? And why? Why not wait a couple of years to spend these billions until we have a better idea of the rate of rise? Or are we now rejecting the concepts of warming, change, and sea level rise? Who's making money here?

Have been in water resources for 40+ years in Florida. Most of these names are not known to me. Maybe find some real experts who have not worked for SFWMD or SUGAR.

If you don't know these people you must have had your head in a hole the last 40 years!!

Ask a simple question: If the Negron reservoir had been in place during the rain events of 2013 and 2016 would it have prevented the damaging discharges to the Caloosahatchee and the St. Lucie rivers? The answer is NO. So why spend $2.3 billion on a project that will not prevent the discharges? The reason the reservoir will not be of but minor help is that it will hold 180,000 acre feet of water from the Lake....only 4 inches off a Lake that during rain events rises in feet per week....In 2016 the reservoir would have been full in a few days.....and the USACE still would have had to lower the Lake drastically out the C- 43 and C- 44. Some will say, empty the reservoir south...But, that is impossible from February to Mid August as the water cannot go under the Tamiami Trail out of WCA 3, which is also flooded, because of the protection of the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow......The large outlets under the Trail south toward Florida Bay are mostly closed until early or mid August, August 13 this past summer. So....you get one shot in the reservoir...4 inches off the Lake...Simply a drop in the bucket compared to the billions of gallons of water coming into the Lake from the north at a very fast pace....

SFWMD is bought and paid for and appointed by Rick Scott. Rick is the largest environmental disaster to ever hit our state. This letter is nothing more than Big Sugars attempt to confuse the issue as they always have. They have 60+ lobbyists spreading the same propoganda. Why would they need so many lobbyists if they weren't doing anything wrong?

The comment above looks to be written by Janet Taylor. It is a copy and paste of her statement on US sugars website.

Nancy, you are doing an excellent job on your coverage. But you are writing in vain. So are my friends here. The Florida Senate is going to chase the bright shiny object because Senator Negron is making it his number one issue and Senators dont have the guts to do the right thing when the Senate President tells them to do the wrong thing. Because they all have their projects they want as well and he can get in the way. And Senator Bradley is going to do it because he does what he is told. Nevermind they have been embarrassed on the science of their "plan". Nevermind it will harm everglades restoration in the long run. Nevermind it will hurt sugar, vegetable farmers and all their employees. They do not care because Joe Negron wants it, and he gets what he wants. Its the spoils of power. They need to get ready to increase their medicaid rolls though when thousands of people get out out of work. Pretty sure the state pays for part of that.

Maybe we should come hang out in Tallahassee for a while once our employees are out of work because the government took land to build a giant pond of dirty water - and didnt even fix the problem that these MORONS on the coast have - dirty water from Lake O! This crap is unbelievable. Cannot believe its Republicans falling for this and pushing this. A GD disgrace these guys in Tallahassee have become. Attacking our agriculture community for this foolishness is a complete disgrace.

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