Thursday, July 14, 2016

Sierra Club’s Statement to Governor Scott on the Florida Algae Crisis

Sierra Club’s Statement to Governor Scott on the Florida Algae Crisis 

- Presented by Diana Umpierre, Sierra Club Everglades Coordinator, to the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board on July 14, 2016

For six years, the Scott Administration has failed to acquire Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) land, despite repeated ecological collapses in our estuaries from Lake Okeechobee pollution and the insufficient flows of freshwater going to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. Our coastal communities along the Indian River Lagoon and the Southwest Florida Gulf Coast continue to face complete devastation. The water is guacamole thick. The air is rancid. Even those who wear industrial respirators are overcome.

You must stop releasing Lake Okeechobee water east to the Indian River Lagoon, southeast to the Lake Worth Lagoon, or west to Fort Myers and the Gulf of Mexico. You must take emergency action to move that water south. And you must start planning now for storage, treatment, and conveyance in the EAA for the purpose of Everglades Restoration, and do so in a way that does not negatively impact the residents of the EAA represented here today. Sierra Club joins the communities around Lake Okeechobee in demanding immediate federal and state action to expedite needed repair and strengthen the Herbert Hoover Dike.

The world has taken notice. The national and international press has descended. The state’s
tourism brand is tainted. Fish and manatees are dying. Beaches are closed. As the algae
spreads, home values are plummeting. It’s a taking, depriving residents of the value of their
property. It’s hard to find someone who wants to buy a home surrounded by foul-smelling,
green algae.

Governor Rick Scott is squarely to blame. The South Florida Water Management District’s near
daily press releases mirror the talking points of the sugar industry. Governor Scott’s 2013
hunting trip to Big Sugar’s King Ranch in Texas is indicative of just how inseparable they have
become. If he had pursued the US Sugar land purchase years ago, we could be sending this
water south today. But now he protects them by shifting blame to the coasts. He says septic
tanks are the cause, but this is a red-herring. The proof is the algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee,
now seen from space, so large it has a footprint the size of Orlando and Tampa combined. It’s
time to send the water south.

We need a plan to store, clean and convey the water south in the sugar lands. This has to begin
now. The money is there to acquire the land. The voters voted for it. The sugar industry must
share some adversity in this time of emergency. Why is it okay to flood the estuaries, but not the
land planted in sugar? Why aren’t the sugar growers offering to help? Why don’t you make
them? There is too much pain going around. It’s devastating people’s health and their property.
It’s killing fish and manatees. It’s hurting Florida. It’s time to send water south for the sake of
us all.