OP-ED: Three Card Monty

stop the dischargesBy: Captain Donald Voss, Director, One Florida Foundation, Inc.

Three Card Monty is a street hustler’s game that can be used with either cups and a bean (or button) or three cards, with one card very different from the other two.  The idea is, through slight of hand, to misdirect the player’s attention and fool them into selecting the wrong cup, bean or card.

The same could be true of the novice clean water advocate.  How do you wade through all the rhetoric and decide what is the correct path? The local chatter is to “buy the land and send the water south.”

We have all seen the discharges, the green water, the algae blooms, the bacteria warning signs and we have heard that Florida Bay is dried up and the Everglades is dying. And, it is true, when there are discharges, the estuary suffers.  Will these discharges cause the estuary to die and never return?  In short, NO; Nature has a way of coming back from catastrophes. Of note is Death Valley. Nothing represents a lack of nature more than this desert however, with just a few inches of rain, the desert floor springs into bloom of thousands of flowers that last as long as there is water. There are also the mud daubers.  These minnows dig deep into river beds as they dry out and if and when water returns they surface and return to living; sometimes years later.

Will Buying the Land stop the discharges?  No. Buying the Land comes with a mandatory 20 year lease-back to Sugar clause that would prevent any action until those 20 years are up.  Completing any reservoir, permitting, construction and other details could take another 10 years, so no chance of stopped discharges until after that.  Also, that reservoir will hold about 20% of the current discharged amount. That leaves 80% unaccounted for and is the major reason One Florida continues to seek out diverse water storage sites all around the lake.  It was noted recently that such a reservoir would remove about 6 inches of water from Lake Okeechobee—unless, as when Tropical Storm Colin rolled through, it rained 12-plus inches over that reservoir site, Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades and central Florida.

Will Buying the Land stop ALL discharges?  The question needed here is “How much water can go south?” Currently, in non-discharge conditions, about 5000 acre feet a day wind south through the Everglades Agricultural Area’s (EAA) filtering to the final mandated 10 parts per billion of phosphorus. To address the type of situations now occurring, 17000 acre feet of water per day for the entire rainy season would be required to move from the Lake.  No reservoir can accommodate this type of flow and mandatory water quality levels at the same time, therefore, the answer is NO; it will not stop the discharges as a standalone project.

How much water will be addressed as the federal projects are completed? There are dozens of projects that make up Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) and Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP).  These are expected to be completed by 2035 and at that time, will address 26% of the 1.6 million acre feet discharged in 2013 (our standard for addressing discharges) or about 400,000 acre feet.

Will Buying the Land do anything about algae blooms, bacteria warning, fish kills, septic issues or other pollutions?  If the water is just sent south, the algae bloom would travel with it.  If pollution is not addressed at the source and as it flows, the chances of reducing the phosphorus levels in the small area south of the lake are very slim.  Water enters Lake Okeechobee at water quality levels of 200 to 400 parts per billion phosphorus; It needs to be 10 parts per billion phosphorus to meet court mandated levels. Proponents of Buy the Land say it is a given the water must be cleaned they just do not offer any how’s, where’s or when’s.  Proponents of the Buy the Land say it is a distraction to talk about pollution as it takes away from the MAIN THING… BUYING THE LAND.

There is a lot of chatter about Amendment #1 money being mandated to buy this parcel of Sugar land. This is false. Such a mandate would have been a local option not a state-wide ballot.  Amendment #1 is to buy land and water parcels that will assist in keeping our state’s parks and wetlands properly maintained and supported. Sugar land could fall into this area, but it was not designed for that purpose.

No one disagrees that water has to move south. It must be cleaned. It must be done in the proper amounts. But it must also be done in conjunction with other diverse storage around the lake to address the acreage feet not currently address by future projects.  Three Card Monty is designed to fool the gambler.  Our solutions for our water should not be along the same premise.

Reduce the Flow; clean the water at the source and as it flows; and send the proper amounts of clean water south.