As Rob Bradley's Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources moves forward, its members might want to "weight" some of the scientists, engineers and other "experts" they're relying on to educate them.
There's a lot at stake for Florida's future here. And not all stakeholders in Tallahassee to make their pitch are without hope or agenda.
That became patently clear Wednesday when Bradley's Senate subcommittee members met for the first time this session to try to bring themselves up to speed on Everglades plumbing -- working in a big hurry to assess the need for all, part or none of Senate President Joe Negron's $2.4 billion plan to buy land and build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.
All presenters at the 10 a.m. meeting -- with the exception of Wendy Graham, director of the University of Florida Water Institute -- were stakeholders.
I bring this up now because one presenter in particular, Gary Goforth, Ph.D., formerly with the South Florida Water Management District, often associated with Mark Perry's Florida Oceanographic Society in Martin County -- given a 15-minute slot to make his case and even congratulated for his evenhandedness -- reminded me that as time goes on, senators might have to do more than listen carefully. They might want to consider renting out Politifact.
I admit I'm suspicious of Goforth for no other reason than he is so often aligned to Florida Oceanographic, an organization that gets money, as so many South Florida environmental groups do, from the Everglades Foundation ($20,000 in 2014, the last year a report was available to us). Florida Oceanographic is part of the environmental activism in Martin County that buys into a one-size-fits-all cause for the polluted St. Lucie River and estuary: agriculture generally, and sugar specifically.
Goforth hurt his argument on a number of issues, but he particularly got my attention when he downplayed the part septic tanks have played in the degradation of the St. Lucie River, the estuary and the Indian River Lagoon.
Said Goforth, "There has been some red herrings concerning septic tanks. I say red herrings because it has sort of distracted from the discussions but estimates have been less than 2 percent of the loadings last year from septic tanks."
Huh? Estimates have been less than 2 percent?
What estimates? Whose estimates? No explanation, no show of how or who came up with a figure like that. Is that a guess, Everglades Foundation-style?
Marine biologist Brian Lapointe, Ph.D. of Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch nearly dropped the phone when I told him he's apparently only dealing with 2 percent of fecal coliform, so he can get out of the water now.
Lapointe has been commissioned by counties and municipalities up and down both coasts -- including Martin County -- and has spent thousands upon thousands of hours testing water and writing reports.
I've written my own stories about it many times. Lapointe's research has been reported in the press wherever he goes and has led to septic-to-sewer conversions -- most recently in Charlotte County. Gary Goforth knows it, the Everglades Foundation knows it, the environmentalists who dismiss it know it. I have a copy of the Martin County study, am unable to attach it here because it's too large for the SSN format. But if you email me and ask, I'll be happy to send it to you.
Here's what happens: Let's say a community has 28,000 individual septic tanks. Four million gallons of human waste a day flows into the ground because of them. A day. That's the equivalent of one ton of nitrogen entering the environment every day. It goes into the ground. And eventually but surely it makes it into the waterways. That's not a guess. It's not a red herring. It's in black-and-white in Lapointe's research.
Luckily for the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources, Brian Lapointe has been given 15 minutes on Jan. 25 to share his expertise with the senators. I hope someone on the subcommittee asks him about Goforth's 2 percent. I can't wait to watch him try to contain himself.
I'm fully aware stakeholders each have their own agenda. Nothing wrong with that. But it won't help this appropriations subcommittee if they don't keep their argument honest.
Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith