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Congressman not ‘fixin’ water woes as previously stated

May 25, 2016
By RAY JUDAH , Lehigh Acres Citizen

In his recent opinion "Real Progress Made In Reducing Water Pollutants," Congressman Tom Rooney suggests that this year's wettest dry season, since 1932, has magnified a long standing grievance with the United States Army Corp of Engineers (USACOE) as excessive volume of polluted water was released from Lake Okeechobee to downstream estuaries.

Contrary to Congressman Rooney's claim that a balanced decision determined the release of storm water runoff from the lake, the driving factor to use the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie as the relief valves in response to rising Lake water was to prevent flooding in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) south of the lake to ensure optimum growing conditions for sugar cane to the detriment of coastal estuaries.

To prevent flooding in the EAA, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) manages water in the EAA at 18 to 24 inches below grade, regardless of seasonal fluctuations.

To make matters worse, the SFWMD back pumped water laden with chemicals including insecticides, pesticides and fungicides and fertilizers such as phosphorus and nitrogen from the EAA into Lake Okeechobee at the same time that the USACOE was working to respond to rising Lake water.

Congressman Rooney takes exception to the recent articles and editorials that have repeatedly characterized the water discharges from Lake O as "dirty" and "polluted," and cites a 2016 South Florida Environmental report as evidence of phosphorous reduction in agricultural runoff.

The facts do not support Congressman Rooney's position. In 2014, a Federal District Court Judge ruled that back pumping from the EAA into Lake Okeechobee violated the Clean Water Act.

The Florida legislature response was to eviscerate state water policy during the 2016 legislative session and adopted a Water bill that delays Lake Okeechobee clean up by eliminating a January 2015 deadline - which the state didn't meet - for compliance with nutrient levels without creating a new deadline. More than 400 tons of phosphorus enter the lake each year and the state was supposed to reduce it to 105 tons. Furthermore the Water bill failed to establish deadlines for setting Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for removal of nutrients even though nitrogen and phosphorous are the most destructive pollutants throughout the state.

Congressman Rooney states that he is a fiscal conservative and opposes the need to purchase additional land south of Lake Okeechobee, suggesting that such action is a "costly federal land grab."

If only the Congressman would review the economic and water budget for Everglades restoration. The Central South Florida Flood Control project model used as the basis for Everglades restoration under the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program (CERP) is seriously flawed because the model incorporated data collected from a 30 year dry cycle between 1965 to 1995.

The SFWMD underestimated the need for water storage to restore the Everglades and there is a need for an additional one million acre feet of water storage to properly manage maximum flow from Lake Okeechobee. However, the Congressman would prefer to spend approximately $16 billion dollars of tax payers money over the next 30 years under the guise of Everglades restoration that will not adequately address the storage and treatment of excessive flows from Lake Okeechobee.

Furthermore, the USACOE has already spent approximately $750 million dollars on fortifying 22 miles of the Herbert Hoover Dike and recognizes the alarming potential costs of restoring the remaining 120 miles. The Congressman should realize that a spillway combined with additional land south of the Lake would be the most cost effective and efficient solution to storing, treating and conveying water south to restore coastal estuaries, rehydrate the Everglades, recharge the Biscayne aquifer and protect public and private well-fields from salt water intrusion.

The Congressman says to trust him and that he is "workin' on it" with regards to Florida's water problems. Unfortunately, his voting record and blatant disregard for responsible stewardship of our precious water resources require further public scrutiny to hold him accountable for his actions.

Ray Judah is a former Lee County commissioner and a long-time environmental activist.

 
 

 

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