What Are We Celebrating?

By Chris Maroney

As you’ve probably heard, Senate President’s Joe Negron’s EAA Reservoir bill passed the Florida legislature this week. 

You’ve also probably heard the bill was watered down, and it was — but make no mistake: this is a real victory. So what are we celebrating?

Progress, and most of all, unity. When Bullsugar formed nearly three years ago, Floridians were in the dark about the key to stopping toxic discharges and restoring the Everglades. Today, they are much better informed. In the last year, organizations, businesses, and individuals across Florida united to demand that the state expedite the most critical project in CERP, the EAA Reservoir. This demand was presented in a short, simple statement of support for long-established science and basic economics called the Now or Neverglades Declaration.

Bullsugar supporters united to win in Tallahassee

The declaration was the brainchild of Bullsugar and Sandy Moret of Florida Keys Outfitters, but it incorporated input from dozens of experts and organizations from across the state. The goal was and is unity. The founding members of the coalition include Patagonia, Orvis, IGFA, Florida Sportsman, Captains for Clean Water, Everglades Trust, Bonefish Tarpon Trust, Everglades Foundation, and others, uniting for the first time groups from the three regions most impacted by South Florida’s broken plumbing with corporations renowned worldwide for restoring impaired waterways. Hundreds of companies, non-profits and over 60,000 (and growing) citizens signed in support.

Unity. It is always subject to unraveling due to human nature, competition, honest differences of opinion–and crafty sugar lobbyists sowing seeds of dissent. But the most important lesson to take away from this rarest of victories is: when people of good faith work together, we can win. As the Miami New Times said this week, “There is no more obvious symbol of the sugar industry’s stranglehold on Florida, or its waning grip on the state Legislature, than the story of the Everglades reservoir plan.”

We had courageous leadership in Tallahassee from Joe Negron, Jack Latvala, Jose Javier Rodriguez and others. We had a year of El Nino-driven climate that reminded us that our current antiquated water management system fails miserably whenever it’s too wet or too dry. Seagrass die-offs and algae blooms were everywhere at once–while sugarcane bumper crops remained unaffected, as always. But the underlying gamechanger was unity.

The Internet and social media enabled it, allowing us all to quickly organize, collaborate and rebut false information. Upstart grassroots groups like Bullsugar and Captains for Clean Water had an outsized impact due to the new technology, but even more important was the vast collected work of scientists, educators, and other experts, waiting to be shared online. We stood and stand on the shoulders of giants from all over the state, especially near the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, the Keys, and Miami. The number of remarkable people who have made fixing South Florida’s water and politics their life’s work (some for more than 50 years!) are too many to mention here, but we have and will continue to interview them, write about them, learn from them, and thank them.

So what about the bill that just passed?
 How much was it watered down due to the unrelenting pressure by Big Sugar? That depends on what happens next. Mostly it depends on doing the scientific modeling called for in the bill openly and honestly, and making sure that there is sufficient treatment so that the EAA Reservoir is dynamic, flowing clean water south 52 weeks a year. In other words, it depends on YOU–on all of us–to build on this week’s victory together so that our lawmakers and the SFWMD stay true to this bill’s intent and the principles of the Now Or Neverglades Declaration, and commit to acquire the land (per the scientific modelling) necessary to send CLEAN water south.

Together we achieved a momentous victory, and we all should be proud and happy. We won a battle, though, not the war. Remember that 17 years ago, environmentalists and sugar lobbyists walked the halls of congress arm in arm celebrating the Everglades’ salvation. If it worked out that way, there would be no need for Bullsugar, and we’d all be fishing instead! Let’s keep building on what we’ve started, so our kids get to do the fishing.