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U.S. Sugar’s advertising ignores missing piece of puzzle

June 8, 2016
By CARA CAPP and MICHAEL BALDWIN , Lehigh Acres Citizen

U.S. Sugar has placed several full-page newspaper advertisements reporting the "facts" about moving Lake Okeechobee water south. On behalf of the 61 organizations of the Everglades Coalition, committed to the protection and restoration of America's Everglades, we must set the record straight.

Florida's waters are in crisis. The Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries are choking from polluted overflows from Lake Okeechobee, while Everglades National Park and Florida Bay are starved for freshwater. Habitat is fragmented, algae is blooming, and fisheries are dying. As Floridians, clean water is the lifeblood of our environment, economy, and quality of life - all of which are in jeopardy.

The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) - enacted under the bipartisan leadership of President Clinton and Governor Bush - seeks to restore some of the southern water flow that has been lost through the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), south of Lake Okeechobee.

U.S. Sugar's ad ignores the consensus of expert opinion that more storage, treatment, and conveyance south of Lake Okeechobee is needed. This is the missing piece of the puzzle required to restore America's Everglades and stop the harmful releases of contaminated lake water into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee. Both CERP and the state-sponsored technical review by the University of Florida Water Institute indicate that achieving this goal will require additional lands in order to capture and convey hundreds of thousands of acre feet of water.

The ad suggests instead that completion of repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike will largely solve the problem, which is not the case. The important work to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike is being undertaken primarily to address the safety of communities south of the lake and will have a minimal impact on reducing lake discharges. Deepening lake levels much beyond today's depths would only worsen ecological conditions of the lake and the quality of the water being discharged to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee.

The ad states the Federal Government already owns significant land south of Lake Okeechobee which, while true, neglects to mention there is a sizable gap between the lake and those federal lands - creating a bottleneck that restricts the ability to send water south to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. Much of this critical land that is needed is owned by U.S. Sugar.

The ad states that "special interest groups unfairly blame farmers" for the harmful releases. Environmental and public interest advocates do not stand to profit and are not special interests. Recognizing the role that agribusiness plays in both the problem and solution is not "blame."

Everglades restoration and the elimination of harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee are imperative from an environmental and economic perspective. Returning a portion of the EAA back to the historical storage and conveyance of freshwater will allow agriculture to continue to thrive, while protecting the vital economic impact of our tourism and real estate sectors throughout South Florida. It will also grow the freshwater supply needed to sustain our growing population.

We applaud leaders like Congressmen Curt Clawson and Patrick Murphy, who support buying land for restoration. A recent U.S. House bill introduced by Congressman Clawson would allocate $500M of emergency funds to study and acquire lands south of Lake Okeechobee. The Florida Legislature's recent passage of the Legacy Florida bill designates at least $200M per year for Everglades restoration. These efforts demonstrate that there can be the political will and funding needed to buy the needed land and get this done if U.S. Sugar would come back to the table as a willing seller.

The Everglades Coalition calls on U.S. Sugar to step up as a restoration partner and immediately resume negotiations with state and federal leaders to sell a portion of its EAA lands to secure the missing piece needed to solve Florida's water crisis and restore America's Everglades.

Cara Capp and Michael Baldwin are co-chairs of the Everglades Coalition. For details, visit: evergladescoalition.org.

 
 

 

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