Florida: Polluted lakes, polluted estuaries and only one way out

Florida: We’re Number One!

In polluted lakes, that is:

The state’s waters have long been fouled by dirty stormwater and algae blooms fed by fertilizer run off from farms. Now a new study examining water quality across the U.S. shows Florida ranking first for the highest total acres of lakes too polluted for swimming or healthy aquatic life. That means water can have high levels of fecal matter and other bacteria that can sicken people , or have low levels of oxygen or other pollution that can harm fish and other aquatic life.

Oh, and we’re Number Two, too!:

The state ranked second for polluted estuaries.

This is both travesty and tragedy, and consider the data comes from the state’s 2020 Water Quality Report filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Anyone want to wager on whether our lakes and estuaries have gotten dirtier or cleaner since then?

Big Ag is the big problem

The study was compiled by a group called Environmental Integrity Project, helmed by Eric Schaeffer, who at one time helmed the EPA’s regulatory office and talks about how 1972’s Clean Water Act – important though it was – didn’t solve what turned out to be Florida’s biggest problem:

The 1972 law made it a federal crime to directly discharge pollution into waters, but remained vague about runoff that drains into waters. That’s created decades of problems for states like Florida, where farms and dense urban areas line waterways.

Across the U.S., it’s also allowed industrialized agricultural operations to largely bypass pollution limits, Schaeffer said.

“A failure to confront agriculture is probably the biggest program failure in the Clean Water Act,” said Schaeffer, who resigned from his EPA post in 2002 after criticizing the Bush administration for gutting the Clean Air Act. “We have to confront the fact that agricultural runoff is really the leading cause of water pollution in the U.S. today. I don’t think that was true so much 50 years ago.”

Confront agriculture in Florida? We don’t have elected officials with the guts to do it.

Which is why VoteWater exists in the first place: To help find them.

Can’t stop the phosphorus – and we really aren’t trying

The study talks about how the fouled nature of Lake Okeechobee is the biggest reason Florida took the top pollution spot for lakes, noting that for all the billions spent and still to be spent on Everglades restoration:

Florida has not yet been able to slow the amount of phosphorus flowing into the lake, which can feed algae blooms.

The amount remains about three to five times higher than the 140 metric ton limit set by the state. And even more legacy phosphorus sits in about four inches of muck at the bottom of the lake.

The story goes on to talk about how the state’s regulatory agencies – the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) are understaffed and how that’s led to less enforcement. And given the agencies periodic commitment to work with offenders rather than penalize them – using the carrot instead of the stick – there was never much enforcement to begin with.

Here’s what we have to do

Read the full story, read the report. Then ask yourself: Where does it end?

For it can only end one of two ways:

One, we permit the utter and perhaps irreversible destruction of our precious waters.

Or two – we identify and elect politicians at the local, state and federal level who’ll stand up to polluters, demand stricter enforcement and fight the industry-funded smears and disinformation.

Because one thing’s for sure: If we keep voting in the same old people – we’re going to get the same old results.