Blame long line of politicians for Florida’s recurring algae crisis | Fred Grimm

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draining everglades In: Blame long line of politicians for Florida’s recurring algae crisis | Fred Grimm | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River

The beginning of the water problems in South Florida was in 1881, when Hamilton Disston purchased four million acres of land and attempted to drain it.  At that time, draining wetlands was considered a good thing, and, unfortunately, some people still think so.  As Grimm says below, “The fix was always deemed too expensive.”

Now that “too expensive” fix is looking less and less expensive, compared to the huge mess Scott and his predecessors have gotten us into.

The scariest part of all is that this is just the beginning:  throughout the State, the normal modus operandi is to abuse out natural water systems, and the results are inevitable–meaning that we should expect to see similar problems everywhere else.

This may not always be outbreaks of algae; it will be that, but also will be more drying up of springs, further decline of river flow, more dropping of the aquifer, and uprising of salt water in our wells.

This will all come unless we change drastically our outlook on water use.  Our managers have not yet realized the scope of the problem nor its seriousness.  But they are on the way and the algae issue is helping that.

Read the original article at this link in the Sarasota Sun Sentinel.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-

Fred Grimm

So many times over the years, Florida has been on the verge of cleaning up this noxious mess. The fix was always deemed too expensive.

Wonder how they are feeling now, the pennywise powerboys who dodged and delayed and deceived and never found the money to honor their faux commitments?

They prevaricated for years. Administration after administration. And now they can see what their collective inaction wrought as plumes of toxic algae spill out of Lake Okeechobee and course down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. Now, the Florida formerly known as paradise suffers simultaneous disasters, east coast and west coast. Another summer ruined for fishing, surfing, kayaking, paddle boarding, swimming, boating. With canceled hotel reservations, closed beaches, lonely restaurants and angry tourists posting their toxic green algae photos on social media.

And so much for the real estate business. Who wants to buy a home near a waterway carpeted with green scum and dead fish?

Doctors, maybe, are prospering. At least 15 Martin County residents have headed to emergency rooms with respiratory problems attributed to the algae. Along southwest Florida, residents are getting both toxic green algae flowing from the inland and a massive infestation of red tide from the Gulf. Like living in a misery sandwich.

Gov. Rick Scott has declared an emergency in Lee, Glades, Hendry, Martin, Okeechobee, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties and promised $3 million to deal with the consequences of his negligence. (Apparently, there’s a dubious scheme afoot to vacuum the algae off the water surface.)

“Emergency” seems like the wrong word. Can a recurring, utterly predictable problem that state leaders have been promising to repair for more than four decades still qualify as an emergency?

Gov. Jeb Bush was among the pols who promised to find a way to cleanse algae-nurturing pollutants from Lake Okeechobee discharges, then direct the filtered water south to replenish the Everglades. In 2003, Bush wrote, “Everglades Restoration is a 30-year journey which has had and will have many bumps along the road.”

We all thought Jeb was referring to the previous 30 years. Not the next 30 years.

Obviously, Jeb didn’t fix the problem. Nor has any other governor. But it’s not as if the solution for this ecological disaster is so mysterious. Florida desperately needs a large, shallow catchment pond in the agricultural zone south of the lake. With thick grasses to filter out nutrients before directing the water to the Glades.

In 1989, a plan was proffered that would have the state to buy 40,000 acres from the sugar farmers for a filtering marsh. In 1990, a pricy consultant suggested that the project needed 108,000 acres. The South Florida Water Management District tried knocking it down to 14,000 acres.

Gov. Bob Martinez promised a 76,000-acre solution. “We are reversing many years of damage and leaving an important legacy for our children,” Martinez said. Those children, by now, have their own children. With a legacy of green algae and dead fish.

In 1991, Gov. Lawton Chiles walked into federal court and announced that he was ready to settle a Lake Okeechobee pollution suit and “stipulate that the water is dirty.” He said, “We want to surrender. I’m here and I’ve brought my sword.”

Surrender entailed a 32,000-acre marsh. With tentative plans to add another 36,000 if needed. Neither happened.

In 1996, Vice President Al Gore unveiled a $600 million proposal to purchase 140,000 acres of farm land for a filtering marsh. (Financed, in part, by a penny-a-pound tax on sugar. Which seemed fair enough, given Big Sugar’s contribution to the farm nutrients that feed the algae.)

“This will accelerate the restoration and enhancement of the Everglades by 20 to 25 years,” said Nathaniel Reed, the great South Florida environmentalist. “If we don’t get this money, I won’t see the restoration in my lifetime.” Nat Reed, 84, died three weeks ago, with restoration still a fleeting hope.

As usual, the all-powerful sugar lobby undermined the plan. State pols have never been eager to offend Big Sugar. Instead scientific studies were commissioned, some more scientific than others. Then more studies. While the years frittered away.

In 2003, environmentalists took heart when U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler declared that Gov. Jeb Bush was pushing a “clearly defective” plan to cleanse the water. But then Big Sugar convinced the chief judge in the southern district to remove Hoeveler from the case.

In 2008, Gov. Charlie Crist fashioned an ambitious deal to buy 197,000 acres from U.S. Sugar for the marsh. Except critics went crazy, the economy went sour and the plan kept shrinking.

Then came Gov. Rick Scott, the king of prevarication, who kept passing on options to buy tracts of sugar land. Meanwhile, Scott savaged the budgets of the state water management districts, opposed “onerous” federal water quality standards and undermined environmental protections. Now, Scott has the temerity to declare an emergency for a disaster of his own making.

But among the miscreants responsible for sustaining Florida’s forever “emergency,” Scott is hardly alone.

Fred Grimm (@grimm_fred or [email protected]), a longtime resident of Fort Lauderdale, has worked as a reporter or columnist in South Florida since 1976


  1. Those who are new to Florida, or those who think Florida’s water issues are the
    creation of modern politicians, need to study our history beginning with the aftermath of the Civil War–the so-called Reconstruction years when Florida
    was sold off to northern financiers in an attempt to recoup the Federal debt.
    Once described as “Worse than Hell, itself” Florida would become a “tropical paradise” in the timely propaganda of developers in the late 1800s and the land “boom” of the early 1900s, and untold thousands of canals and ditches began to drain the peninsular. Rainwater yet wastefully runs off to the sea rather than percolating downward into the aquifer, and other than “reverse
    engineering” by damming, filling or otherwise rectifying that circumstance,
    there is no solution to Florida’s water woes short of “reverse population!”

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