Politicians’ gravy train has brought Lake O to its knees

 

From Kevin Henderson,  co-founder of the St. Lucie River Initiative and Rivers Coalition, and a former mayor of Stuart:

Wondering where the U.S. Sugar ads have gone?

All those full-page color propaganda sheets blaming someone else (septic tanks, Orlando, etc.) for our bad water? Yes, the ones that don’t mention decades of the Everglades Agricultural Area’s back-pumped pollution that brought Lake Okeechobee to its knees.

Today Lake Okeechobee is too high for safety. Oddly, no one worried much about Lake levels of 17 feet and higher until two things happened. Hurricane Katrina was one. The other was Hurricane Wilma, which nearly broke the Herbert Hoover Dike in 2005. I raised the alarm after personally inspecting Wilma damage.

The South Florida Water Management District was so sure I was wrong they commissioned a $250,000 private engineering study. That study reported the dike had a 1 in 3 chance of failure any given year under the existing regulation schedule.

The Army Corps of Engineers stepped in (over sugar industry objections) and unilaterally lowered the top of the Lake Okeechobee regulation schedule as an interim safety measure. So here we are — both east and west coasts being dumped on since January with no end in sight. Lake Okeechobee is operating under an “interim” schedule for safety with NO consideration for us.

The lake regulation schedule is an interesting creature. South Florida Water Management District is the only agency with computer modeling capability to estimate how the lake will behave. The main driver is maintaining water supply for the Everglades Agricultural Area.

The Army Corps knows the district’s computer models favor water supply. They created their own model for lake regulation over 10 years ago. Powerful sugar interests canned that computer model before it was made public.

Big deal, everyone knows Lake Okeechobee regulation puts water supply first.

But whose water?

Not public water supply well fields serving millions of folks in South Florida.

Not the Everglades. Not the Caloosahatchee River or Florida Bay.

The “official” South Florida Water Management District story that Broward and Dade well fields have backup water supply in Lake Okeechobee is a computer-generated myth. It has been nearly 40 years since the district last tried (and failed) to send Lake Okeechobee water to those wellfields during a drought.

Could the lake regulation schedule be revised to serve South Florida’s well fields first? Of course. Clean water could be sent south every wet season. Nice side effects would be clean freshwater for the Everglades and Florida Bay, and a lower and safer lake level.

The lake could also supply the small amount of water needed to the Caloosahatchee River when potable water supplies and west coast ecology need it.

What if irrigation for sugar farms was last priority? We don’t know!

There is no documented loss of sugar crop due to either drought or flood for 40 years. There are only computer model predictions of crop loss that never occur in the real world.

Wrecking east and west coasts with extra water stored every year is just a side effect of a Lake Okeechobee regulation schedule designed to protect sugar from consecutive drought years.

No farmers anywhere in the world have this degree of drought and flood protection.

The cost to sugar? A share of their federal “fixed price” subsidy paid back to politicians to keep the gravy train running.

The cost to the rest of us? Billions in higher consumer costs for sugar, and destruction of South Florida ecosystems far more valuable than the entire Everglades Agricultural Area.

Jobs? Sugar has mechanized many farming jobs in the EAA. They are not coming back!

We are suffering this disaster because the sugar industry will not part with enough land, even if overpriced, to send Lake Okeechobee water south every year. It is just that simple.

Why? The politicians sugar owns do not know. All they want or need is money to keep their gravy train running.

Think we need a new lake regulation schedule? Politicians who care more about us than money? Me too.

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