Florida Bay is thirsty, and it’s starting to bug the fish. Last month, while the rest of the state fretted over polluted water from Lake Okeechobee fouling nearby rivers, officials at the South Florida Water Management District reported that the southern Everglades was in trouble. Salinity in Taylor Slough, a historic freshwater artery for the bay, had spiked for the second year in a row, threatening to violate targets set to protect the marshes and marine life. A withering winter had left the region parched. And that could be bad news for shallow estuaries and creeks that fringe the bay.
Dirty water from Lake Okeechobee is once again threatening South Florida’s fragile ecosystem. With the arrival of the wet season and growing pressure on the lake’s aging dike, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced on Thursday that it would continue releasing water into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers despite an algae bloom in and around the lake.
Facing a thicket of candidates and ballot measures in the November election, Florida voters sent one resounding message to elected officials: More must be done to protect the state’s natural habitats — including the long-suffering Everglades. But as the Legislature heads into the final days of this year’s session, Republican leaders are being criticized for the way they are divvying up a $750 million pool of money created to buy, conserve and restore land and water resources. It was established when three-quarters of Florida voters approved constitutional Amendment 1, which sets aside part of a real estate tax.
Supporters of Amendment 1, an environmental ballot measure that passed last year with a resounding 75 percent of the vote, are bracing for a legal battle with legislators over how to spend a $740 million windfall. The showdown looms with less than a week left in the regular 2015 session. Lawmakers have set aside no more than $20 million next year for Florida Forever, the state’s public land acquisition program. Environmentalists had expected at least $300 million when the ballot measure passed less than six months ago.
It’s been 19 years since investigative reporters Bob Malloy and Will Bourne wrote how money and political influence contributed to the demise of water quality and the seagrass/coral reef ecosystems of Florida Bay and the Florida Keys. The story reads like a Greek tragedy. Everglades Foundation founders George Barley and Paul Tudor Jones featured large in the 7,925-word epic. According to the story, Barley bought into bad science promulgated by Joseph Zieman, a University of Virginia seagrass biologist, and his colleague, Ron Jones of Miami’s Florida International University; Tudor Jones bankrolled the development of their wrong conclusions. Meanwhile, water quality in Florida Bay and the upper Keys worsened because of it.
Ah, for the freedom of a billionaire environmentalist. Is there a more hypocritical, more protected species on this planet? No matter how many times I see and write about one of these creatures spouting some crashingly sanctimonious Life Lesson he doesn’t live by — and getting away with it because he’s … well … an environmentalist — I’m blown away when it happens again.