Pushing the farmers under the environmental bus

Emotional political issues are dangerous for several reasons. One reason is that people often form opinions on emotional issues, based on bad information. Supporting or opposing something based on inaccurate reasons is a serious but common problem.

We see this problem today, with the issue of Florida’s Lake Okeechobee and water flow into and out of Lake O. Smart people have come down on the wrong side of reasonable solutions because they have allowed myths to substitute for facts. Politics and the search for votes has also entered the picture, as discharges from the freshwater lake, containing nutrients, have caused major green-blue algae blooms in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee river estuaries.

Flotida sugar growersTwo major camps have formed around the issue: the environmentalists and the farmers around the lake. It’s time to take a look at which side is relying on myths vs. facts, which camp has scientific evidence on their side, and which camp can claim favorable court rulings. All sides float arguments for or against all proposals being made. What is needed is to separate fact from fiction, and unworkable proposals from rational ones.

Let’s jump to the facts. One primary proposal of environmentalists is to push the lake’s water discharges to the south, through farms and farm communities, into the Everglades. This is their solution, even though 95% of the water, contaminants and nutriments flow into the lake from the north.  The 3,000 square mile watershed for Lake Okeechobee stretches 134 miles northward, all the way up the Kissimmee River Valley and Orlando. This is fertilized cattle-grazing and cropland, sending manure, chemicals and urban waste into the watershed. Meanwhile, farmers south of Lake O return water to the lake that’s cleaner than what’s already there. Sewage from septic tanks north and northeast of the lake is a significant bacteria pollutant, says a study done by a Florida Atlantic University institute.

Instead of insisting on solving the problem at its origination in the north, the enviros want to use other people’s money to make sugar, rice and vegetable farmers, and residents south of Lake O sell their farmland to governments, financed by taxpayers. Lake O water would be stored on that land and then sent south through the Everglades to Florida Bay.

Ignored is the fact that almost half the land in South Florida already is owned by governments. Ignored are the studies by South Florida Water Management District scientists, concluding the plan to move water south just won’t work because of capacity and structural limitations and because the amount of land needed for flow-ways, canals and flood-control systems will cost multi-billions of dollars. Further, what “buying the land” really means is destroying jobs.

SS Lake Okechobee, farmers, farmlandThe great undeniable irony is that the insistence of the environmentalists to send nutrient-rich water south through the Everglades not only violates court orders and federal regulations, and jeopardizes flood control for Miami-Dade, Broward and the Miccosukee Tribe, the rising waters will kill birdlife and endangered species that nest and grow up in the Everglades and Florida Bay. “They’ll kill the Everglades”, says a FAU professor.

The professional environmental community, launching relentless campaigns to eradicate the sugar industry from this region, has developed a cottage industry to use taxpayer money to push human activity out of this area. Taking away farmland, removing industries that employ people, and eliminating food production are part of the enviro agenda; these people don’t care about what the taxpayer must pay to satisfy their ideology.

The key to relieving the algae bloom emergency is to reduce the amount of water flowing into the Lake from the north, which would allow sending less water from Lake O to the Caloosahatchee River and the St. Lucie estuary. “Send the water south”, the mantra of environmentalists, won’t solve the problem. Worse, it creates new problems.

Bearing the brunt of these harmful new problems are the lower-income residents and communities south of the lake, the farmers and workers who grow crops there, and the birds and wildlife which live, nest and breed in the Everglades. Responsible authorities should not allow environmental groups with obvious anti-growth agendas to push farmers, workers and jobs under the environmental bus.

John R. Smith

John R. Smith

John R. Smith is chairman of BIZPAC, the Business Political Action Committee of Palm Beach County, and owner of a financial services company.
John R. Smith

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