Dr. Robert Knight & OSFR Member Colleen Whitehouse
“The problems … are… within the overall system of government that thrives on money spent by special interests that profit from governmental decisions.” “It has become clear that officials in Washington or Tallahassee are not going to save our springs…” “Past performance indicates that Florida’s paid governmental officials are not going to protect the commons unless they are forced to do so.” Dr. Robert Knight, Silent Springs.
So goes this recent book by Bob Knight, reviewed today in the Gainesville Sun by Ron Cunningham, seen here at this link. These words may seem harsh, but to those who have spent years trying to make headway following the “accepted” and “proper” channels, they may not seem harsh enough. It has become clear that our elected officials do not listen to those who voted them into office. It has become clear that their qualifications to make important decisions are in doubt. It has become clear that they consider themselves autonomous entities not connected nor related to anything other than themselves.
A rallying cry for Floridians to speak out about springs
Published: Sunday, May 17, 2015 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 15, 2015 at 5:17 p.m.
Gov. Rick Scott’s button men orchestrate a no-fingerprints “disappearing” of senior staffers at the St. Johns Water Management District that would make Michael Corleone envious.
Florida voters overwhelmingly approve a landmark land and water conservation initiative — and then their elected state legislators sneer as they turn that popular mandate into a $750 million slush fund.
Lobbyists for Associated Industries, the Chamber of Commerce, Big Utilities and Big Ag insist there is no need for legislation to save Florida’s dying springs. Laws already on the books are quite sufficient to protect our water, thank you very much.
Those being the laws that environmental regulators studiously ignore lest they anger the same monied special interests that pay the lobbyists and bankroll the politicians.
If somebody wrote a book about Florida power politics, it would read like “The Godfather.”
By the way, somebody just did write a book about — among other things — the “political science” that is laying waste to Florida’s most unique and precious natural resource: its fresh-water springs and the aquifer that nourishes them.
And the really bad news is that it’s not a work of fiction.
“It is not a stretch to say that for a reasonable person who cares that many of Florida’s springs are in a death spiral,” Robert Knight writes in his important new book, “Silenced Springs: Moving From Hope to Tragedy.” Furthermore, he asserts, the seemingly coordinated actions of Florida’s politicians, regulators and lobbyists “appear to be a conscious strategy to postpone any meaningful springs restoration.”
Knight, however, draws his inspiration, not from Mario Puzo, but rather from Rachel Carson. Her classic work “Silent Spring” touched off an environmental backlash against the overuse of pesticides that had nearly driven the American eagle to the brink of extinction. Similarly, Knight is hoping “Silenced Springs” will rally heretofore apathetic Floridians behind a monumental effort to restore our increasingly water-deprived, nutrient-poisoned natural springs to something resembling their former glory.
“It has become clear that officials in Washington or Tallahassee are not going to save our springs,” Knight writes early on in his new book. But “… the people must first be roused to action.”
Knight is well-known to longtime Sun readers for his frequent columns over the years that have documented the deterioration and abuse of iconic Florida waters like Silver, Ichetucknee, Wakulla, Ginnie, Manatee and other once magnificent springs. Many of those same columns are reprinted in “Silenced Springs.”
As a result of his writings and expertise, Knight — founder and director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute — has emerged as Florida’s most diligent and knowledgeable advocate for the springs.
He is a scientist first and foremost. And so, not surprisingly, “Silenced Springs” is heavy on the science. For instance, he lays out in some detail just why too much nitrate-nitrogen spells big trouble for Florida’s vast underground fresh water supply and, ultimately, for the people who consume it. But woven into all of the necessary science lessons is an eloquent prose that should touch the hearts and souls of people who profess to care about natural Florida.
“Springs are a source of life and a recipient of death,” he writes. “They are as fundamental to the history of humans as we are to their living ecosystems.
“We need springs. And silenced springs need us to speak for them.”
And here’s the thing. Even if you have never tubed down the Ichetucknee. Even if you will never immerse your body in the constant 72-degree temperature of a clear blue Florida spring. You — indeed every Floridian — need to care very much about what’s killing the springs. Because, as Knight points out, the springs are nothing more than windows into the Floridan Aquifer — the state’s major source of drinking water. And if less water and more nutrients are pouring out of the springs — if the springs are sick — that means the very aquifer that helps keep us all alive is unhealthy.
“Springs do not reside in a world separate from ours,” he writes. “We are like Siamese Twins sharing a common blood supply.”
What’s ailing the springs — and contaminating the aquifer — is no mystery. We are pumping too much water out of the ground and leaking too much fertilizer, pesticides, septic tank and dairy wastes, and other nutrient-laden toxics into Florida’s porous karst subsurface. There are “fixes” available — water conservation, alternative water sources, limits on farm and lawn treatments, better waste treatment and so on — but they will neither be cheap nor painless. And given the disposition of our political ruling class, the springs won’t be saved unless Floridians insist on it.
Still, Knight is both a realist and an optimist. Hence his subtitle, “Tragedy to Hope.”
“Is there a recipe for water resource sustainability in Florida that can accommodate over 20 million people and still maintain a healthy economy and healthy springs,” he poses.
The answer is yes. But only if Floridians care enough about clean water to lead their leaders for a change.
Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.