Trouble in South Florida in the Indian River Lagoon, and the estuary and coastline fed by the St. Lucie River, have many rightfully up in arms. The United States Army Corp of Engineers recently released billions of gallons of water from Lake Okeechobee to protect the integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike around the lake. While the dike and the inhabitants to the south are safe from flooding, the lagoon, estuary, and coastline are paying the price by being lined with blue-green algae blooms.
For decades, one of Florida’s top environmental challenges has been the restoration of the Everglades. Recent events such as voter approval of Amendment 1, the Lake Okeechobee water releases and the expansion of algae blooms have brought the issue to a highpoint. Flaming arrows of blame are recklessly fired from many directions and in many directions. Some fault the agriculture industry. Others say it’s all due to septic tanks or lawns being over fertilized. Many others recognize the impact of so much fresh water flowing into brackish and salt water. Environmental activists shouting “Buy the Land” are also using their bullhorn.
There are a lot of factors at play here, but one thing is for sure, anyone who thinks that there’s a one-piece-of-land-fixes-all solution to this has disregarded the facts. That’s a costly bandwagon to jump on both for Floridians and for the environment. It also disregards the hydrology of the system, where the vast majority of flow occurs to the north of the lake.
Florida’s population and the need for development have grown quickly in recent years. The report highlights the major aspects of change the Everglades has experienced over the past 100 years. Preserving what is left is worth our time, attention and resources. People are looking for immediate relief, and that’s understandable. These are trying times for Florida. That’s why it has never been more critical to ensure available funds are used wisely and in a way that will have a long-term and significant impact.
To bring some objectivity and historical reference to this heated debate, The James Madison Institute published a backgrounder titled, “Solving the Everglades Riddle: Addressing Water Quality and Quantity to Restore a Florida Legacy.” Meant to provide policymakers and concerned Floridians with a comprehensive overview of the Everglades restoration process, the report describes the enormity and complexity of the Everglades by looking at its various regions and ecological challenges. Also described are various methods currently being used or considered to control vast amounts of water and improve its quality.
In what should be an encouragement to readers, the JMI report points out four factors contributing to successes in restoring the Everglades including contributions from best management practices and stormwater treatment areas. Measurable, positive results have already been achieved, and new funding sources will help Florida maintain a steady course toward continued Everglades ecosystem improvement.
In the heat of the moment, it is often important to step back and look at the big picture. In light of the enormity of Everglades restoration and the matrix of multiple projects at various stages of completion, it is easy to get lost in the weeds of detail and miss the overall goal. Through this report, JMI gives guidance to policymakers and concerned Floridians to help them cut through the web of complexity, remain on track and help keep the focus where it should be to effectively preserve and protect Florida’s precious resources.
Continued progress will only happen if all stakeholders can find common ground on facts and not get caught up in frenzied rhetoric. As the report states, bringing decision making to the most local of levels is important. Also, using scientific data will help objectify evaluations and planned financial allocations to restoration projects. If scientists, legislators, policymakers, and private sector stakeholders use funds available through Amendment 1 and continue to unite around the plans already in place, it just might be said years from now, “They solved the riddle of Everglades restoration.”
Daniel Peterson is the Director of the Center for Property Rights at The James Madison Institute.