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My Father, George Barley, Would Have Opposed the Everglades Reservoir Plan

March 4, 2017 - 9:00pm

My father, George Barley, never ceased to amaze me with his passion for nature and wildlife. It was evident from my first memories when we lived on the pristine shores of Playalinda Beach in the late 1950s, which is now the Cape Canaveral National Seashore where the rocket launch pads sit.  

He took my mother Shirley, and my sisters Lauren and Mary and me out to appreciate the outdoors often, and all of our family vacations centered around it. He taught us to love, preserve, and protect nature and wildlife first and foremost. He taught me at a young age how to shoot, fish, and to track wildlife for food purposes only. Although I eschewed hunting, I do love to fish and that is what we did the most. 

I remember being up to my neck in muck in the crystal clear water when I was about 10, stuck in the flats of the Florida Keyes. My sisters and I dislodged our small fishing boat on a steamy day while Dad sat dry in the boat with a long pole barking orders in his never-ending endeavor to instill an appreciation of nature and toughness in us. 

Although I live in California now, I still visit Florida frequently and really appreciate its delicate ecosystem. When I was in college, my father sent me to Australia and Fiji for a biology class for a month to study and experience the two most delicate and diverse ecosystems in the world, the Great Barrier Reef, and the tropical rain forests.

If my father were alive today, I think he would be appalled at the political, economic, and scientific shenanigans and wrangling. I cannot believe that almost 22 years after his death, nothing has really changed in spite of persons at his funeral promising to pick up his cause and fulfill his dream. Unfortunately for all of us, no one has filled his shoes.

Granted, he was wealthy, but he was an extremely conservative, low-key person who drove modest cars, lived in modest homes, went to bed early, disrespected pretentiousness, celebrity, and dishonesty. More than anything else, he demanded honesty and would stop at nothing to find the truth, even if it took a lifetime, and that is the most precious character trait he instilled in me. 

Unfortunately, he was not able to realize his dream, and I feel an obligation to help fulfill it on his behalf some 22 years later because I share his passion and quest for real solutions to fulfill his promise of having a better future for his children, grandchildren, and the future generations of all Floridians and visitors to Florida.  

Indeed, my father never wavered in his pursuit of mitigating the environmental damage to the Everglades, and protecting and restoring the “River of Grass” and his beloved Florida Bay were goals he relentlessly pursued -- even as he died on the way to meet the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers that fateful day. As evidenced by the respect still accorded him today, his name is nearly synonymous with the historic Everglades restoration that Florida and our federal government have been working on for nearly three decades.

Sadly, his dream of saving the Everglades could be slipping away as the focus on restoration has been replaced by the current battle pitting coastal environmental groups against agriculture in order to reduce damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

Much to all of our dismay, current environmentalism has become just another special interest relying on glitzy galas, well-heeled lobbyists, and an army of paid staffers to spread its messages. Where my father used his passion to urge the public and private sectors and our political leaders to come together to take action, today’s activists are spreading a message of hate and division.

My father’s battle with farmers was to ensure that those responsible for pollution paid their fair share. He fought for stricter water quality requirements and for farmers south of Lake Okeechobee to help restore the Everglades south of their farms. He always said he would never be around to see his efforts fully realized, but he knew progress was within his reach.

He would be happy to see that sugarcane farmers have taken responsibility for cleaning their water and paying their fair share of restoration. Most of all, he would have been thrilled to witness the incredible progress we are seeing today with more natural water flow -- more than 90 percent of the Everglades are meeting strict clean water standards, and the recent projects under way to get more clean water to Florida Bay. 

Despite this progress, however, today’s members of the Everglades Foundation, an organization that my father founded, have strayed far from his mission. I have conducted extensive research over the years, and talked to many people, both farmers and scientists, and the extensive flooding of Florida Bay with excess nitrogen in the 1990s caused massive algae blooms and wildlife mortality. This was not what my father was led to believe by Everglades Foundation "scientists" Jay Zieman and Ron Jones. 

In the press and on social media, folks are callously dismissing the generational family farming communities south of Lake Okeechobee. My father always made a point of reminding us that we may come from different backgrounds and viewpoints, but we can all work together and have shared goals in an attempt to have a win-win outcome that takes everything accurately, fairly, and scientifically into consideration. 

That is partially why my father was so well embraced, and respected, for he knew how to compromise and to negotiate tough, and complex issues in order resolve them accurately, honestly, and fairly, which is a goal we all share. For my father and the many others working with him at the time, that shared goal was to restore the Everglades and Florida Bay. 

I don’t know precisely where my father would have stood on the current debate over the acquisition of land south of Lake Okeechobee, but I do know that he would have focused on solutions that kept the Everglades from further harm. I know that my father would NEVER support a plan calling for sending massive amounts of polluted water south to the Everglades, particularly at times when the sensitive Everglades ecosystem is already too full. I also think he would be considering the issue more comprehensively, taking into consideration the entire ecosystem, north, south, and central while considering the complex and comprehensive effects of the many septic systems throughout the State, as well as the effects of nitrogen, fertilizers, pollution and pesticides from our air and soil. 

If he had to, my father would have hired numerous experienced and accurate scientists and weighed all of their opinions in making a decision. That is what he taught me to do when making decisions, to accurately and carefully consider and weigh options. When it comes to humans, flora and fauna, there is no room for error, especially considering the delicacy of this ecosystem. 

Getting the proper timing, quantity and quality and more natural conveyance of water south has been the focus for literally billions of dollars of state and federal monies. With the development of South Florida, the remaining Everglades is half its original size and re-routing hundreds of billions of gallons of nutrient-rich Lake Okeechobee water south has never been a part of Everglades restoration. No matter how simple it sounds, sending that much additional lake water south would destroy what’s left of the Everglades.

The Everglades Foundation that my father founded has badly lost its way. Rather than keeping momentum for Everglades restoration moving steadily forward and ensuring funding to complete these science-based projects is not lost to other priorities, my step-mother Mary Barley, Paul Tudor Jones and current leadership have lost sight of my father’s dreams.

Granted, damaging discharges to the coastal estuaries needs to be seriously addressed. There has to be some way of keeping that water out of the lake and out of the estuaries. However, the solution to those problems CANNOT come at the expense of the finally recovering Everglades. 

My hope is that the current debate playing out in the Florida Legislature can stay focused on solutions that continue real restoration. We only have one Everglades.

Catherine Barley-Albertini, daughter of Everglades Foundation founder George Barley, graduated summa cum laude from the University of California, San Diego and works as a commercial real estate investment strategist/investor/developer. She lives in Cardiff-by-the-Sea. Calif. on the edge of the San Elijo Lagoon estuary and Pacific Ocean. Copyright 2017 Catherine Barley-Albertini.



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Catherine: Thanks so much for writing this article. As another Florida native (born in Palm Beach county and raised in Stuart FL), I appreciate your self-reflection and heartfelt commentary. The pundents (some of whom are neither native to the state nor understand how families actually live in Florida's agricultural communities west of the turnpike), the current Everglades Foundation, and many politicians are driven by a political fervor that at times seems to ignore the science, the public's best interests or perhaps even what's actually best for the Everglades and the estuaries that feed our communities. I appreciate everyone's passion, but as I learned in business and in life, hope is not a strategy. Clint Eastwood, the director, doesn't make a movie unless he has a villain in the storyline. My observation is that the Everglades Foundation have made our farmers and families living in the agricultural corridor along western Martin & Palm Beach counties as well as the entire sugar industry in Florida the antagonist of this story. What are we, the general public, to do but attempt to make sense all of the many interests and personal agendas of easy of the players? In any case, I believe in compromise and maintaining civility during public discourse. And I believe in strategies that are supported by both science and alignment to public interests. Thanks again for your article.

I want to thank "Catherine" for her response to my remarks. I guess my comments are made of years, and years of distrust for Florida's Governments, particularly those who cast their votes regardless of public sentiment.Since I have no axe to grind, no affected property and certainly not sitting on the fence counting cars driving by, I continue to distrust government, and most of what it currently stands for. Before the revolution begins, the PEOPLE/VOTERS have a chance to take back the government through voting. As seen with the election of President Trump, it was the PEOPLE who spoke up for changes to take back government after being in the hands of Mr. Obama for the last 8 years! While I may not agree with every single move Mr. Trump makes, or does, I will support his efforts because I voted for him and want the changes he's making as well as he's planning! God bless him and the U.S.A.!

The State of Florida and the Federal Government and the private landowners and the Native Americans have all devised a plan based on science. Let's follow it. It is balanced for the people, the animals and the economy. Stop trying to reinvent the wheel. Catherine. You were right on point. Keep talking.

Pay no attention to these commenters, Catherine. You didn't say what they want to hear. My wife and I have had other people tell us the Everglades Foundation was hijacked by big money corporate environmentalists years ago. I'm sure that's what you are talking about and know more than all of us about what has been going on there. I don't like algae but this plan is as bad as you say if you listen to engineers who have been with Everglades restoration from the beginning. Your op-ed was beautiful & heartfelt.

Poorly written article. It weaved all over the place and left wondering what the problem is and what her suggested solution is. Sounds like you loved your dad but that is all I got out of it. I'm not from Florida but I really would have liked to know a succinct explanation of problem and solution. You assumed we all knew that back story. We don't.

No disrespect meant, BUT, you're a real estate developer from California which makes all of what you stated, great memories of your father. Other than that, who cares what you have to say about a serious problem YOU already contribute towards. Another fine SSN 'guest article'

No disrespect Mark, but I develop existing properties, it's called regentrification and we ensure environmentally sound sustainability. Thanks, but to that I will never stop contributing to that cause in spite of bitter rhetoric from those with a self-serving agendas.

This, from the same shrill out-of-state voice, with no relevant scientific background of her own, who belittles the science of past researchers in Florida Bay, and the consensus of current scientific researchers in Florida Bay . . . . as I've challenged you in the past --> please explain the 2015 seagrass collapse in Florida Bay in the ABSENCE of any major preceding nutrient-driven phytoplankton bloom shading of seagrasses in the bay . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . what, no peer-reviewed evidence of your own to back up your demonization of past and current science . . . . . . . . . . . . . . PATHETIC . . . . .

Frank I asked you months ago to provide a peer-reviewed scientific article to back your claims which you have never or refuse to provide. All we've seen thus far from you is the redundant use of your favorite word "pathetic" and other insults. You don't even give your surname. Is your name fake like the science you promote too?

First of all, I have no idea who you really are, especially as the last time "you" commented on one of my comments, you used a different "nom de plume" (i.e. not simple "Catherine") . . . . . . . . but I'll do you one better . . . . . here are some comments from a 2014 National Academy of Sciences report on Everglades Restoration (Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades: The Fifth Biennial Review, 2014) from BEFORE the most recent 2015 Florida Bay collapse, and from a 2016 Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission report (Seagrass Integrated Mapping and Monitoring Program Mapping and Monitoring Report No. 2) FOLLOWING the 2015 collapse --> 2014 NAS: "In 1987, a widespread collapse of seagrasses occurred, which is generally attributed to hypersalinity (Deis, 2011). . . . . Any potential increase in salinity is of concern to the restoration, given that one of the objectives of the CERP is to reduce salinities in Florida Bay through increased freshwater inflow to more closely mimic pre-drainage hydrology." . . . . . . AND --> 2016 FFWCC: "But in the summer of 2015 as many as 10,000 acres of seagrass died in northern and western Florida Bay due to extremely high salinities and elevated water temperatures, which led, in turn, to high levels of toxic sulfide in sediments under seagrass beds. . . . . Unusually hot and dry conditions in summer 2015 resulted in high-salinity, anoxic bottom water and build-up of high concentrations of sulfide in sediment porewaters in seagrass beds in Rankin Lake and Johnson Key Basin. This in turn led to die-off of large areas of seagrass in these basins in the fall. The die-off appeared to be expanding to seagrass beds in Rabbit Key Basin and Whipray basin as well." . . . . . . OH, AS A BONUS HERE'S SOME FROM THE 2016 NAS REPORT (Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades: The Sixth Biennial Review, 2016): "In the mid- to late 1900s, Florida Bay was characterized as having clear water and dense seagrasss meadows, but in 1987, hypersaline conditions resulting from chronic and acute shortages of freshwater inflows triggered a cascade of ecological effects in the bay. Together with high temperatures, the hypersaline conditions caused hypoxic conditions and high sulfide levels that caused widespread seagrass collapse in the central and western portions of the bay, algal blooms, and increased turbidity (Deis, 2011; Hall et al., 1999) with major effects on commercial and recreational fishing. Although the most acute impacts lasted between 1987 and 1991, the ecosystem was still recovering as of the mid-2000s (J. Fourqurean, FIU, personal communication, 2015). In 2015, a seagrass die-off (Figure 2-3) was again observed in several locations in the bay. The 2015 seagrass die-off was attributed to local rainfall deficits associated with a strong El Niño which, in addition to the chronic shortage of freshwater deliveries, led to increased salinity in the bay (up to 72 practical salinity units [psu] in Garfield Bight, the highest salinity yet recorded in the bay) (NPS, 2016a). By late 2015, the spatial extents of seagrass die-off included areas such as Johnson Key, Rankin Lake, Pelican Key, Dido Key Bank, and Garfield Bight (NPS, 2016a). In the 1980s, the collapse of Florida Bay brought increased scientific, public, and political attention to the conditions of the Greater Everglades ecosystem and support for restoration actions to increase flows to and restore conditions in Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. Twentieth-century water management in South Florida had decreased freshwater inflow to the bay by about 60 percent compared to predrainage conditions, while altering the distribution and timing of that water (Herbert et al., 2011). CERP and non-CERP projects (e.g., C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project, C-111 South Dade), were authorized and constructed to help restore freshwater flows to Taylor Slough and Florida Bay, but as of 2015, flow restoration implementation was insufficient to prevent a recent reoccurrence of seagrass die-off." . . . . . and there's ALOT MORE in the scientific literature, go look it up, maybe you'll learn something . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . as I've stated previously, science opinions and denial by non-scientists is just so . . . . . . PATHETIC . . . . .

No mater who a person's parent may be it doesn't give him or her any special knowledge of an environmental problem. She is a real estate developer which is not very often known for their strong environmental stands and rigorous scientific background. She says her father would hire scientists to deal with the problem however the vast majority of scientific results favor the plan to hold and clean water in a southern holding area. She talks about sending pollution south and that the Everglades is already "full." There is however an ongoing problem of saltwater intrusion in the Everglades caused by a lack of clean fresh water flowing south, no sure what she uses for her facts that all is good and the system is "full." The southern flow plan is not designed to send polluted water south (which would violate Federal water quality laws unless Trump has already removed such standards). The science based plan is to naturally clean the water before it takes the natural southern path toward Florida Bay. As to all those poor "family farmers" she must not have been back to the cooperation owned field for a long time. The cooperation owned farms keep the locals poor and make use of both migrant and undocumented workers. Pahokee and Belle Glade are the poorest areas of the state so foe an industry so concerned about the locals there seems to be a massive lack of evidence when looking at the health and welfare of the current residents. I will agree the southern clean and send south plan is not the full answer. What nobody is talking about is why the water entering Lake O is filled with pollutants and what needs to be done to stop this pollution. The majority of the rise in nitrogen levels comes not from septic tanks but ranching and agriculture interests north of the lake and there seems to be very little political desire to deal with the problem. The next problem is the uncontrolled growth in the northern areas of the Kissimmee Basin and very limited oversight in water runoff of both residential and commercial properties. There is very limited control on the use of high nitrogen content fertilizers in this area that finds its way down the waterway and into Lake O. Multiple cities continue to sell (or give away) of the sludge byproduct coming from their sewage treatment plants to be spread by the ton on farm fields with only self regulated and reporting of waste runoff. This material is much less expensive than commercial fertilizers yet contains as much if not more of the harmful pollutants that often leach into the waterways. The cleanup of the waters coming out of Lake O would be required even if all this pollution stopped tomorrow because of the levels of pollution already in the lake and the lake bottom. However there is no reason we should be paying to clean up the mess caused by others and continue to allow the degradation of the environment to continue.

Check every State Senator's and Representative's election campaign financial reports and see who BIG Sugar bought, oops, I mean contributed to, and how much was 'donated'. Then, when the state legislature makes the deal FOR sugar and AGAINST the people, see who is voted out of office next election period. It's amazing how much some voters talk and never back it up with their votes.

Exactly. This article is a paean to a beloved father and nothing more. No one is proposing sending contaminated water into the Everglades. However, 50 years of not sending water into the Everglades has not worked so well. Just for anyone's information, the Everglades Foundation, and Audubon, and Environment Florida, and Captains for Clean Water, and hundreds of marine and wetlands and ecosystem scientists are not wrong. These organizations are the David's and not the Goliaths. We all know that Big Sugar is the Goliath. What a joke about attributing big corporate money to barely surviving environmental organizations. If only their Board's knew that they were rolling in money. Seeking compromise for decades has resulted in a standstill while the Everglades die a little bit every year that passes. The last thing we need is to listen to commercial real estate interests. That is the problem, and not the solution.

I am surprised that she would even check here for comments, on her own accord. Or is it Catherine who is even bantering with the commenters?

With the ecological upbringing and background you grew up with, I can't understand why the beautiful property you grew up on, was sold to become a space center and other non ecological endeavors. Mistake #1. Your comments were lovely, but the very answers you seek, are in your comment. I wish I had known your dad. He sounds a lot like my own father.

Mary, the properties were taken by the government by eminent domain. Our property was owed by my maternal great-grandparents, the Scobies of whom Nathaniel was the first lighthouse keeper at the Cape. I see it's use presently as ecological, it is a national park now, The Cape Canaveral National Seashore. One won't find anything privately owned there so not sure what you mean by non-ecological exclusive of the Space Center. If I recall correctly, my great-grandparents were paid about $34,000 for their oceanfront home which was a decent compensation back then.

SOLD?!?... I rather think it was "stolen" via Federal "Eminent Domain" so Jack kennedy could "reach the moon" (as HIS presidential "legacy"). This woman was raised by parents exercising COMMON SENSE.... (Politicians and Environmental "Wonks": STOP WASTING OUR TAX MONEY;...YOU'RE "KILLING THE GOOSE THAT LAID YOUR 'GOLDEN EGG'.."). Keep on making South Florida a bigger & bigger"Sanctuary City", and you won't have to worry about ANY "environments",... the "Political-Sneaks, Lobbying-Snakes, Illegal-Alien-Invading-Thugs & Boas" will "replace" THAT problem "Mos-ricky-tic"...

Amen well said. Take cover against big sugar they will try and destroy your message. C B like a shark in the water will start to circle your message.

Everybody in this Everglades discussion has their own ax to grind, their own egotistical and monetary interests and I am at the point where I am skeptical of ALL of them. Until ALL sugar and cattle farming and use of phospate fertilizers and pesticides is ended, we will continue to have massive pollution and ecological problems.pollution. They are all full of shit and I don't beleive ANY of them and neither should you. It's all about the money and the politicians it buys. Millionaires and billionaires control the discussion and the politicians are ALL lying to you. You are all being duped.

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