Rum 138 snagged the premier showing of the new blockbuster movie which documents the killing of Florida’s springs by the very people charged to protect them. Award-winning film maker Oscar Corral was present at the showing and spoke about the making of the film. The film will appear this summer on PBS. Oscar Corral titled his movie “The Fellowship of the Springs” but a more appropriate title might be “Slow Death of the Springs.”
This two-hour film is the most thorough documentary to date on the plight of Florida’s springs and goes to the heart of the issue, revealing the sources of the problems and the inaction of those whose job it is to carry out the state’s laws to protect them. Although springs in all parts of the state are referenced, the main thrust of the study is on Central and North Central Florida where most of the springs are found.
Since it is fact that our state agencies are failing in their missions, it is not surprising that many of those responsible who recognize their failure refused to be interviewed by Corral. Among those are former Gov. Rick Scott, Gov. Ron DeSantis, DEP head Noah Valenstein, Suwannee River Water Management Board Chairwoman Virginia Johns, and Southwest Florida Water Management District scientist Ron Basso. In two cases underlings were sent out to face the questions; Tom Frick for the DEP and Katelyn Potter for the Suwannee River Water Management District. They were unable to answer Corral’s questions truthfully without looking bad, so they gave pathetic statements which did not condemn their bosses but did not come even close to answering the questions.
Other water management employees gave false impressions that the water districts uses the best science when this is not always true according to independent water scientists whose jobs are not invested in the state. This is probably the first film that exposes not only the failings but what is worse, the coverups of our state agencies whose scientists and spokespersons cheat and lie in their findings in order to draw more water from our springs and rivers to serve industry.
That, of course, is the reason the springs are dying. Our DEP and water management districts see themselves as dispensers of water withdrawal permits in order to help businesses make more money. To this end they allow over-pumping of the aquifer and over-fertilization of crops and lawns. They know the pollution and water deficits are killing the springs, but their attitude is to make money now and let the next generations worry when they have no more water.
Dr. Knight standing left, and Ron Basso, center. Photo by Jim Tatum.
In the image above, Dr. Robert Knight of the Florida Springs Institute, calls out Ron Basso, scientist employed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District for intellectual dishonesty during the public meeting to discuss the Minimum Flows and Levels for the Rainbow River.
As Corral points out in the film, these taxpayer-supported water districts fail to do their jobs and the public must sue them to do their work, and the taxpayer then pays the salaries of the lawyers they hire. Even though Dr. Knight clearly pointed out Basso’s failings, the legal challenge for his incorrect conclusions went in favor of the water district. It seems the judge favored Basso’s word over Knight’s, even though the latter’s credentials as a scientist shows he has the terminal degree in his field while Basso does not.
Corral does a great but not perfect job in selecting his spokespeople for the springs. His lead representatives, Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson and Dr. Robert Knight are undoubtedly the two most informed, active and honest people regarding Florida’s spring protection policies and the associated political problems. Jim Stevenson is an icon in Florida’s environment, as is photographer John Moran with his photo essays, which often read like poetry.
In the same exclusive club is Karen Chadwick whose main mission is uncovering the flooded springs of the flooded Ocklawaha River, as was also the mission of the late, irreplaceable Whitey Markle. Classic was the politician representing that area — shifty-eyed, fence-sitting, waffling, trying hard to answer Corral’s questions but so very careful not to offend any future voter. At least he had the courage to face Corral and his questions, unlike the state employees mentioned above.
Although a recent entry into springs advocacy, Michelle Colson, like those advocates in the paragraphs above, has made an impact by not just talking but by attending meetings of county commissioners and water management districts, speaking out, demonstrating and rallying to advocate spring protection.
I left the viewing of this film feeling very sad, frustrated and angry.
But mostly angry.
There is no excusable reason for intentionally and deliberately allowing our springs to die, and no excuse for the lying, cheating and cover-ups done by the DEP and the water management districts.
I was surprised that the film had such an emotional effect on me, because I already knew what Corral exposed. I have attended innumerable meetings over the past years, and I have heard lawmakers in Tallahassee speak bald-faced lies to legislative committees. I have seen members of water management boards show their total ignorance of basic water and pollution issues while making uninformed judgements about them. I see these same board members take the word of the staff attorney as gospel and unquestionable truth without considering right or wrong or any other issue.
I have seen board members who believe they are great stewards of the environment just because they like the sight of green fields, trees and cows. I have seen board members express their belief that the springs are in prime, healthy condition because they went out and looked at them and they were “pretty”. My name was on a BMAPs legal challenge where the judge ruled in favor of the DEP simply because they filled out the paper work to write the documents, disregarding the fact that the DEP admitted that the BMAPs would fail to reach the goal.
Many people of Florida have no inkling that our state agencies are letting our springs die, especially when these same springs-killers tell us in op-eds and speeches that they are doing a wonderful job taking care of our water. This film does a great job of exposing the problem and some of the people causing it. Everyone should see this movie.
Thank you Oscar Corral for your work.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum