Four Uncertainties that Can Change The Future for Florida’s waters

The future of Florida’s water can take a different direction depending on the outcome of any of these four uncertainties: voters may have changed Florida's future

1. Nikki Fried’s campaign says her team–with the help of voters–has ousted Matt Caldwell from Florida politics. Called one of the Toxic Trio (with Adam Putnam and Rick Scott) for his polluter-friendly policy work on behalf of the sugarcane industry, Caldwell’s loss in the ongoing recount would replace a Big Sugar advocate in the governor’s cabinet with an Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner who pledged to make clean water a state priority.

2. The South Florida Water Management District says it’s done following federal water quality rules because flows into the Everglades are already clean enough. (They’ve never come close to the federal target.) And it gave Florida Crystals an unneeded lease extension on the future EAA reservoir site, rushing the decision before the incoming governor could weigh in. (Ron DeSantis–assuming recounts confirm that he’s headed to Tallahassee–did weigh in to ask for a delay. The District ignored him.) SFWMD’s hurry to pass sugarcane-friendly initiatives during Rick Scott’s last few days in office hints at how much might change at the agency in January, starting with its leadership.

3. Rick Scott and Bill Nelson both say they won a seat in the US Senate. We may not know who’s right for some time. (Palm Beach County’s voting machines overheated during the recount–they won’t make today’s deadline.) Scott, of course, was labeled “Red Tide Rick” for allowing nutrient pollution in Florida waters to explode during his time as governor. Nelson spoke out against Scott’s record on water–he’s obviously the better candidate for clean water, and endorsed him. But sugarcane billionaires have funded both campaigns, so the industry may be less interested than voters about the outcome.

4. Brian Mast says he’ll reintroduce the Stop Harmful Discharges Act in the House’s next legislative session, to force government agencies to factor human health into water management decisions. That proposal has been the target of strange criticism this fall. It shouldn’t be. Here’s why:

If you believe that it’s wrong to knowingly expose people–any people, anywhere–to toxins that killed dogs, sickened children and adults, and elevate our risks of ALS, Alzheimer’s, and liver failure, then asking our government to consider human health before releasing toxic discharges into our communities is the right thing to do.

If discharging polluted water into places where people live–again, any people, anywhere–became a last resort in Florida instead of government agencies’ first option, no one would be harmed or even inconvenienced.

With one exception: sugarcane companies.

The discharges that carried and fed toxic blooms this year happen because our government stockpiles extra water for the sugarcane industry in Lake Okeechobee, and then dumps whatever the industry doesn’t need (along with toxic algae and tons of red tide-feeding nutrients).

The industry almost never needs extra water.

The USDA predicts a near-record sugarcane crop this year. Growing conditions were perfect, again. The fields stayed dry, which is critical for sugarcane. And the extra water we stored in the lake went to the coasts instead, again.

This is how our government has managed water for generations, and it’s why sugarcane has never had a bad year. But as nutrient pollution skyrockets, toxic blooms become annual events, and medical research uncovers more links to deadly diseases, keeping the status quo is clearly unacceptable.

The status quo still works perfectly for the sugarcane industry, but its PR departments know better than to defend it at the expense of human health. In their place, what would you do?

Would you get someone else to do the dirty work? Create confusion with false claims, spread conspiracy theories, exploit political divisions? Launch social media attacks, troll supporters?

Maybe the better question is, Will it work? If reasonable people stop listening to the noise and never learn the facts, it will. But it won’t if reasonable people question why anyone would stand against human health, “follow the money,” and seek out the truth.

Communities all over Florida have a lot riding on the answer.