Proven Environmentalist Criticizes Agricultural Commissioner
The following article in today’s (Nov. 15, 2015) Gainesville Sun is by a proven environmentalist who has made his mark in both Washington and Florida. Read the original article at this link, or continue here:
Nathaniel Reed: Putnam protects Big Ag more than water
By Nathaniel Reed
Special to The Sun
Published: Sunday, November 15, 2015 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 12, 2015 at 9:22 p.m.
I read with interest Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam’s comments in response to The Sun’s Oct. 4 editorial, “Real leadership needed on water policy.
There is not a thoughtful, well-informed Floridian who is not concerned with the proposed, complex “water bill” that will be presented to the Florida Legislature when it convenes. I have been a critic of the commissioner for a number of years, as Florida’s public waters — rivers, lakes, and estuaries — have all suffered from excessive amounts of agricultural pollution. Incredibly for an outspoken “water conservationist,” Commissioner Putnam indicates that “Florida’s springs have played second fiddle to South Florida’s complex and expensive plumbing issues far too long.”
Yes, the water issues that South Florida faces are complex and costly. The Biscayne Aquifer supplies drinking and irrigation water for 7 million South Floridians. The combination of agriculture and the 7 million residents and the millions of tourists who visit South Florida should be of major concern to Commissioner Putnam.
His interests regrettably have shown primary concern for protecting the subsidized sugar plantation owners whose drainage has been a major source of pollution of the Everglades system. It took major federal legal action to force the state and water district to acquire thousands of acres of expensive land and construct a series of so-called Stormwater Treatment Areas to reduce the tons of excess phosphorus flowing from the sugar plantations into the Everglades.
The commissioner has been all too silent on the issues of Everglades agricultural pollution. The vast majority of the costs of land acquisition, construction of the STAs — in reality Pollution Control Treatment areas — and the management of the system to cleanse the polluted drainage has been borne by the taxpayers of the 16 counties that comprise the South Florida Water Management District. So much for the amendment requiring that “Polluters shall pay the full cost of cleansing their pollution”! Without effective litigation before federal courts, the industry would never have complied with strict water quality standards.
Commissioner Putnam avoids the “costly issue” of saving billions of gallons of water desperately needed to recharge the Biscayne Aquifer and restore a functioning Everglades ecosystem. He ignores the wasting of billions of gallons of excess Lake Okeechobee water by having to release it down the lake’s two outlets — the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers — constantly destroying their estuaries. He simply cannot support acquisition of a major land area within the Everglades Agricultural Area; the construction of a major reservoir to hold the lake’s excess water, cleanse it and allow it to flow south to Florida Bay, which is in desperate need of the once natural runoff from the Everglades system. He is “blinded by the usual suspects.”
No one would deny the needs for major statewide water management improvements. No one would object to the polluters being required to dramatically reduce their discharges to the publicly owned “waters of the state.” We would all hope that water managers will take serious concern over the needs of Florida’s unique natural systems as a legitimate co-equal partner as our state’s water priorities are divided up.
We all will watch with curiosity Commissioner Putnam’s claims of keen interest in the management of our state’s most precious asset — plentiful supplies of clean fresh water — in the months ahead as a water bill will be fiercely debated.
— Nathaniel Reed has served seven governors. He is best known as the chairman of the Commission on Florida’s Environmental Future. He also served as assistant secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks in the Nixon and Ford administrations. He is a member of the Board of the Everglades Foundation. He lives in Hobe Sound.