Blame for our water problems is usually laid at the feet of our elected leaders. Ron Cunningham writes in the Gainesville Sun that we, the voters must take the blame, and we must change the leaders.Ron Cunningham: Selling Florida’s natural Wonders is getting tricky
By Ron Cunningham
Special to The Sun
Published: Saturday, May 28, 2016 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 25, 2016 at 3:01 p.m.
When I’m not being a Trained Observer Of The Human Condition for The Sun, I’m in the tourism business.
My little nonprofit company, Bike Florida, brings snowbirds to The Sunshine State. We sell natural Florida — the promise of crystal-clear springs and unspoiled beaches and slow winding rivers and primitive wetlands.
Last month we brought more than 500 cyclists to the Sarasota area for a week. And as you might suspect, the Gulf’s emerald waters and white beaches were a big hit. On Siesta Key we brought stacks of towels so our riders could get off their bikes and cool off in the briny blue.
And we lucked out. There was no red tide to raise a stench that day. The overflow of “toilet water” from Lake Okeechobee was not turning the Gulf brown at the moment. Public health officials did not close the beach due to high bacteria levels.
It was practically a paradise.
And not to pick on Sarasota. As I write this I am sitting in a coffee shop on St. Augustine Beach doing prep work for a tour that goes from America’s Oldest City south to New Smyrna and then west and north again to loop the St. John’s River. Between periodic reports of massive fish kills in the Indian River Lagoon and giant algae blooms on the St. John’s, selling the region’s natural wonders is getting to be a tricky business.
On another tour this past March, our riders spent two nights in Apalachicola, which is struggling mightily to reinvent itself as a resort town now that its once lucrative oyster industry has gone bust. How do we tell our customers that the water consumption rights of Atlanta-area developers takes priority over the fates of families that have for generations pulled oysters out of a Florida bay?
I could go on. Our customers still marvel at the crystal-clear springs we show them. But do we tell them that virtually all Florida springs are dying the slow death of nutrient poisoning?
Which is not to say it couldn’t be worse. Heck, it probably will be. Currently the state’s Department of Environmental Accommodation is in the process of relaxing water quality standards for a couple dozen cancer-causing chemicals.
“If you ask the 20 million Floridians and 100 million visitors ‘Should we allow more carcinogens into the water?’ Nobody would say ‘Yes.” Linda Young, director of the Florida Clean Water Network, recently told the Palm Beach Post.
Well, I certainly wouldn’t. Neither would my customers.
So now I read that the hacker group Anonymous is blaming Gov. Rick Scott for the release of toxic waters from Lake Okeechobee. “As the rainy season is fast approaching, we direct the polluted waters be redirected into the state Capitol’s front doors and remove Rick Scott as the governor,” Anonymous said in a monumental exercise of wishful thinking.
This is nonsense, of course. Rick Scott is not to blame for Florida’s water woes.
We knew what Scott was before we elected him. And his dirty-water legacy was a matter of public record well before we reelected him. And Scott isn’t the only political polluter we’ve turned a blind eye to.
Adam Putnam is an odds-on favorite to be Florida’s next governor. As agriculture commissioner, Putnam never met a Big Ag-supported dirty water standard he didn’t like. And what about all those legislators who ignored the overwhelming popular mandate to spend more money on land and water conservation? Think they’re worried about losing their jobs for spitting in their constituents’ faces?
I keep reading that there are people like me all over Florida — and I’m not talking about newspaper pundits, but folks who make a living selling the Florida dream to tourists — who are growing increasingly worried that dirty water and rising sea levels and Zika infections will put them out of business. Fishing guides are fed up. Paddle board renters have had it. Mom-and-pop beach motel proprietors aren’t going to take it any more.
They’re ready to throw the rascals out.
I’ll believe it when I see it.
We know who the dirty water politicians are. It’s no secret. And on six months we’ll can show a bunch of them the door.
That is, if we don’t get distracted by a lot of phony blather about transgenders in bathrooms and liberals coming to take our guns away.
And, listen, we better start tossing this time around.
While we still have a Florida dream to sell.
— Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.