If there is a silver lining to 2020 for the Everglades and the Everglades Trust – some humor and hope – it is the public’s reaction to Florida’s sugar industry.
Today, millions of Floridians are armed with science and facts on what, who and why America’s Everglades and three nationally-important coastal estuaries are being destroyed.
More importantly, they know how to solve these problems and understand what is at stake if we do not. This is a far cry from where we started.
One of the Trust’s favorite ways to gauge the public’s sentiment is to read the comments on social media posts sponsored by Florida Crystals and US Sugar. When the public's ire gets hot, these corporations start pumping out their public relations “we’re just farmers” malarky.
When it comes to Everglades Restoration, we know the details can be complicated, and made even more so by misinformation pushed out by the Boys of Sugar and their team of pay-to-play and phony online “news outlets,” complicit or ignorant politicians, consultants and lobbyists across the state of Florida.
But at its core, restoration is simple. Return to what Mother Nature gave us to the best of our ability: a natural flow from the Kissimmee River into Lake Okeechobee, that continues south to the Everglades. We all know that the answer to saving our Everglades is to send clean water south.
So why are we hearing new arguments to “slow the flow” into Lake O, or to install expensive water storage north of the lake in the form of Aquifer Storage & Recovery (ASR) wells? You guessed it – Big Sugar is at it again, pushing a $2 billion project for water supply north of Lake Okeechobee, where they are now growing sugarcane. Yep, more free water for sugar barons, sticking the taxpayers with the bill under the guise of mitigating Lake O discharges.
And right now, they have a Florida Senate all too happy to oblige them.
ASR wells are used all over the world, including Florida. But they function as water storage and recovery under normal conditions. There are none, zero, anywhere in the world, being used for flood control. Here’s why: ASR wells can absorb roughly seven cubic feet of water per second (7 cfs). They are proposing eighty wells. Doing the math, that’s a combined 560 cfs operating at maximum capacity. Currently, polluted water is being unnaturally discharged out of Lake Okeechobee to both coasts of Florida at a rate of 6,000-10,000 cfs. Math matters.
Here comes the rope-a-dope.Read more
For decades, scientists, water managers and politicians of both political parties have known about the Everglades water woes: an oversupply in the wet season that gives rise to toxic blue-green algae and forces unnatural discharges to both coasts of Florida, followed by severe shortages in the dry season that cause deadly droughts and jeopardize the drinking water supply for 9 million Floridians.
It is that southward flow of freshwater through the Everglades that feeds and refreshes the Biscayne Aquifer, the underground water storage for everyone in South Florida and tens of millions of visitors each year. It is that flow of freshwater the Everglades need to survive.
For 30+ years, we have worked hard to get the most critical projects moving forward. And for 30+ years, the sugar industry has delayed progress, using politicians and bureaucrats at both the state and federal levels to manipulate and slow down the inevitable.
Two federally-subsidized sugar corporations – US Sugar and Florida Crystals – fund an entire cottage industry that makes a fortune keeping things broken. They spend tens of millions of dollars each year protecting the death grip they hold over the public’s water. They dole it out as political contributions to politicians and lavish monthly retainers on hundreds of lobbyists and consultants.
In our 30-year battle to save and protect America's Everglades, we have lacked true bipartisan leadership inside the state of Florida and within the halls of the United States Congress at the same time. In this Everglades Review, we share with you one of the finest Congressional hearings we have witnessed and why we believe the times are changing.
These video clips of the meeting illustrate exactly what we have been up against: how the sugar cartel and hundreds of their high paid lobbyists and consultants have worked to stop Everglades restoration. But THIS time, you will also hear the right questions being asked, witness effective bipartisanship at work and meet the political heroes making it happen.
For decades, Everglades Trust has been on the front lines of Everglades restoration. We've worked to keep the focus on making the EAA Reservoir – the Everglades reservoir and treatment project – a reality. This one project has been a linchpin of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan since its inception in 2000, yet 20 years later our government still doesn’t have it built.
Out of 68 projects, this reservoir and treatment component – the Everglades reservoir south of Lake O – was ranked number two. 20 years ago. And as we all know too well, the situation we’re in now is far more dire than it was 20 years ago.
After agreeing to it in 2000, the sugar cartel has fought it at every turn, dragging out the process to their benefit while the Everglades and Florida Bay deteriorate more each year from a lack of freshwater and both coasts of Florida are tortured by toxic, polluted water discharges.
Recently, the Miami Herald hosted the 2019 Florida Priorities Summit that focused on issues affecting all Floridians – the economy, education, the environment, health care and transportation. The day-long conference of speakers and panel discussions brought together some of Florida's top leaders and decision makers. Oh, and Big Sugar.
Moderated by Michael Grunwald, journalist and author of The Swamp, the group convened to discuss the number one issue described by the 50 top thought leaders in the state – our environment – and included Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, Eric Eikenberg of the Everglades Foundation, and Julie Wraithmell of Audubon Florida.
Joining these environmental leaders was Gaston Cantens of Florida Crystals, representing the Sugar Cane League. Weird, right?! Turns out, the Sugar Cane League was a sponsor of the event.
America’s Everglades have many things to be thankful for this year. I’d like to share with you the highlights.
We are thankful for those in the trenches. For you, for our partners and for all the advocates – scientists and citizens – who stay engaged and don't back down from the fight. We are pushing an enormous boulder uphill and cannot do it without you.
We are thankful for a Governor and First Lady who have staked their legacy on Everglades restoration. Governor DeSantis said it best at his swearing-in back in January – "We will fight to restore our Everglades and we will never ever quit. We won't be cowed, and we won't let the foot draggers stand in our way." – and he has not let up on the gas pedal since.
We're thankful for inspired leadership. From the most amazing board of governors ever assembled to lead the South Florida Water Management District to the talented and passionate Secretary of Environmental Protection, Noah Valenstein, we have good people at the helm.
We're thankful for progress. This year brought the end of one of sugar’s leases. Building filtration marshes and the reservoir in the EAA is now the top priority. We are hopeful for shovels in the ground before year end. The bridging of Tamiami Trail and the removal of the roadbed is in its last phase and for the first time in 100 years, water can flow south under the Trail into the southern part of the system.
We're thankful for legislative heroes. A growing number of men and women in the Legislature are recognizing the importance and value of Everglades restoration. Leaders like Senators Rob Bradley (R) and Jose Javier Rodriguez (D) and State Reps. Chris Sprowls (R) and Anna Eskamani (D).
We're grateful we have Congressional leaders. Congressmen Brian Mast and Francis Rooney have worked tirelessly to usher in a new paradigm for the future of Florida’s waterways and Everglades – against all odds.
In the history of Everglades restoration, there has never been a better year. My sincerest hope is that next year’s Thanksgiving note will be even brighter.
Thank you for sticking with us! We at the Trust wish you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving.
My last few updates have focused on the ugly – those who stand in the way of fixing this mess (you know who you are, Big Sugar). But for this week’s update, we want to focus on the good. The mighty good.
One of our partners – Captains for Clean Water – is in the running for the prestigious Eagle Rare Life Award from Garden & Gun Magazine. This award celebrates those who lead a rare life, demonstrating courage, leadership, survival, devotion, character, and heroism. We're asking for your help.
As boat captains and fishing guides, Chris Whitman and Daniel Andrews saw firsthand the degradation of Florida’s waters and have gone on to become unlikely leaders in a movement started before they were even born. With their local fisheries fouled, and no solution in sight, they set aside their rods and reels and charted a course of change.Read more
Not all progress on Everglades restoration is tangible – moving and cleaning water, building things. Far from it. Over the years, one of the key challenges to restoration has been in engaging all Floridians, explaining what’s at stake and encouraging them to action.
In 2016, we witnessed a critically important constituency of stakeholders get organized and educated, demanding action for clean water. Fishing guides, boat captains, anglers, boat manufacturers and tackle shops. This army of small businesses, whose very existence depends on clean and plentiful water, now actively battle to save the Everglades and Florida's waterways. They are giants and they’re not slowing down.
Tapping into non-traditional, but extremely valuable, stakeholders has been harder. Hotels, tour companies, restaurants and retailers have been unwilling to join what has historically been viewed as an environmental fight. Those reliant on tourism feared taking a stand would highlight the problem and be bad for business today, even though being silent would kill it tomorrow.
But worse than being silent, the Florida Chamber of Commerce has become a big part of the political problem. Candidly, they’ve gone from advocating for the interests of big business (not a bad thing) to simply a money-laundering operation for special interests buying political influence. They prop up the status quo through massive moves of money hidden from public view (a very bad thing).
Every single day, we work over, around and through obstacles in the name of Everglades restoration. This work has never been easy, but these obstacles have made it more difficult, dragging out real solutions years, even decades, longer than necessary. This week we hurdled over another big one.
We told you last month Florida Crystals notified the SFWMD they would “agree” to terminate a lease on land that is crucial to the EAA reservoir. The lease extension was granted by the prior administration in a gift to sugar before the new Governor could be sworn into office - a deliberate move to delay the EAA reservoir project. Instead of allowing the land to be returned to its rightful owner - the public - the former administration handed us yet another obstacle to Everglades restoration we’d have to battle to remove.
We also told you about Governor DeSantis’ efforts to unwind that lease. Last week, the Governor and Florida Cabinet worked to unwind a separate but related lease. See, back in 2013, Florida Crystals asked the prior Governor and Cabinet to approve an additional 30-year lease to grow sugarcane on state-owned land. When environmental groups objected to the extensions because the land was likely to be needed in the future for Everglades restoration, Big Sugar had its doo-boy Matt Caldwell tuck language into legislation that mooted any legal challenge to the action.