Broken water management 101

Historically, the Everglades used to cover most of South Florida, stretching from present-day Orlando all the way south to the Florida Keys. Water from the Kissimmee River would fill Lake Okeechobee and then flow south into the River of Grass. But sadly, this is no longer what the Everglades looks like. 

A profoundly broken water management system has remained broken for decades due to the lack of political will, and a system designed to maintain the status quo. This bad plumbing that redirects the water to where it is not needed and starves areas that do need it, is designed to prioritize Agriculture over all others. 

How did we get here?

Historically, the Everglades measured over four million acres and served as a home to indigenous people and thousands of species. Having once spanned down from the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, through Lake Okeechobee and all the way down to Florida Bay and the Florida Keys, the Everglades is now only half of its original size.

Diversions of freshwater, agricultural nutrient pollution and loss of habitat have reduced the life-giving ecosystem so drastically, that the United Nations now considers the Everglades one of the world’s most endangered natural wonders.

Toxic discharges 

Man has dammed, drained and ditched the lake over the last hundred years for the sake of agriculture and development and now the water can no longer flow south. The area south of Lake O, the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) includes vast acres of sugar farms blocking the flow of water south to the Everglades. To protect the EAA from annual flooding when Lake O fills up, the Army Corps of Engineers sends massive amounts of the polluted water through rivers that run east and west to Florida's coasts, regardless of the damage it causes.

For months during 2016 and 2018, plumes of toxic algae turned South Florida’s waters the color of coffee and smothered its inlets under a blanket of fetid green goop that sickened many Floridians, killed pets, and thousands of tons of marine life. The ecocide of 2018 saw residents of Florida's southwest coast unable to make a living, seeking assistance from food banks; many businesses closed while some residents left Florida altogether. The beaches, littered with all manner of dead marine life sent tourists fleeing. The economic and human health impacts of the summer of 2018 are still not fully known.  

For decades, we've watched the degradation 

We know that this calamity is man-made, but for decades we've been helpless to stop it. It’s the culmination of 135 years of engineering missteps, arrogance and a determination to turn Everglades sawgrass into cash crops. 

Environmental degradation is only part of the price the public pays so private companies can turn sugar into money. These tropical wetlands have been drained and maintained for decades at great expense for the benefit of Florida’s sugar cane industry, dominated by two politically connected companies. Sending massive amounts of water out to sea, wasting a precious and finite resource, without consideration for ecological, human or marine health are the results of this politically biased system. Billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on a regional flood control system that keeps the cane fields from flooding during periods of heavy rain and irrigated during droughts.

Adding to the public cost, a national sugar program requires American consumers to pay twice the world price for sugar through a blend of import quotas, tariffs and loan guarantees. Congress has kept the program in place specifically for the sugar industry since 1934. Read more here.

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