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We Must Pull Together for a Statewide Water Policy

August 20, 2014 - 6:00pm

I firmly believe if the state of Florida does not man up and adopt a statewide water quality policy, we are in deep trouble.

One only has to look at the western states to see an example of what we will be facing in our future. We are all part of the problem, but we are also all part of the solution.

These solutions have to be based on solid up-to-the-minute scientific data. We are talking decades to engineer and build plus a commitment of billions of dollars. We cannot and must not fall prey to politics and store-bought science.

Yes, agriculture is part of the problem, that is why decades ago they were legislated to clean up their act. In my opinion they are doing their part and are continuing to improve their water quality. The facts prove this. Now it's everybody else's turn.

My frustration comes from Martin County in Central Florida, on the eastern edge of Lake Okeechobee, projecting the image that they believe they are completely innocent of contributing to the destruction of the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon. And the Rivers Coalition and River Keepers are assisting them in this ruse by blaming everybody else. The refusal to accept any responsibility only destroys Martin County's credibility.

This broken record of nonstop chanting of "Plan 6, send the water south" is, quite frankly, embarrassing. It's 30-year-old science and completely ignores the results of a decades-long lawsuit with the federal government and the Miccosukee Indians. Yes, the water needs to go south; yes, the water from Central Florida needs to stay in the Orlando area; yes, we need to build storage areas to hold and clean the water. We need to do a lot of things and do them quickly. Statewide.

We can only do this when everyone accepts their part in causing the problem and takes the appropriate steps to correct it. All the players need to be at the table at the same time. Making it someone else's problem does not solve the problem.

I would urge everyone to go to the Martin County Web page. Go to Commissioner Ed Fielding's link. He represents Martin County on the IRL Coalition Board and is the chair. He posts all of the meetings' minutes and presentations. Please read the minutes of the March 7, 2014, meeting. Follow that by looking at Rebecca Jetton's presentation under that same date.

Back when the Rivers Coalition was yelling that the Indian River Lagoon was a $4 billion economic engine to the state of Florida, that did not go unnoticed by the state. Jetton is the director of the Areas of Critical State Concern, a division of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. I spoke at that meeting about the "elephant in the room" -- septic tanks. Chairman Fielding thanked me for my comments and then quickly dismissed me.

After introducing herself, Jetton turned to me and said. "I am here to address that elephant in the room" -- septic tanks.

My concern is that if Martin County goes through with its plan to adopt Chapter 10 without waiting for all of the data to be collected and analyzed about the real effect of septic tanks and plan accordingly, they will be very sorry.

That's what happened in Apalachicola Bay and the Florida Keys and why I continue to mention them. Tallahassee came in and took control away from local officials and placed themselves firmly in the driver's seat. They were not invited in. They are not about to let county officials wreck a $4 billion economic engine for the state.

Any changes to Martin County's future land-use plans would be dictated by Tallahassee. Please read the minutes and see for yourself.Please let's try to reach some common ground

James Sasser, a four-term former mayor and lifelong resident of Pahokee, is a strong proponent of central sewer systems in all Florida municipalities, large and small. He wrote the above column as an email, distributing it to environmentalists and officials on the Treasure Coast.

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