The Subverting of El Nino

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

By:  Capt. Donald Voss, Director, One Florida Foundation, Inc.

I was in Ohio for the Fourth of July.  I had time while flying to view coastal waters, lakes and rivers from Florida to Ohio and to tell you the truth, there was algae from the Orlando Airport lakes to Lake Cumberland, Ky. Our family cottage on a canal by Lake Erie had a small corner of algae and we went off septic over 40 years ago.

Some of the photos I have here were the backdrops for the local weather while there.  My gosh!  Our discharges have finally gotten some attention.  Back in October 2013, One Florida mounted a historic bus trip to Washington, D.C. to speak before the Patrick Murphy’s House Panel on our lagoon.  Although Paul Ryan had shut down Congress, it opened for our travelers, our Florida House and Senate officials and since the rest of the town was closed down, we were the news.  Since that trip, we have received nearly $4 billion dollars in projects for our water from state and Federal budgets with a WRDA moved up to two year reviewing and a Florida Legacy Law sending another $200 million a year for just the Everglades.  Some do not believe that is enough.

Granted, One Florida estimates repairing the Florida water system including infrastructure could cost $75 to $200 billion at current dollar value, so maybe the impact of that bus trip and positive impressions that brought this attention to our plight pales in comparison.

My point is, in Ohio, their comments were how the vacation capital of the world had fallen asleep and allowed their natural wonders to be exhausted, trashed and left covered in slime.  However, Canada was beautiful and open for tourism.

El Nino was coming.  We knew that as it rolled off South America in the Fall of 2015.  You might have hoped that Water Management and Army Corp supervisors would have adjusted the basin, river and lake levels to be ready to accept more water.  In January, Central Florida was hammered with a record dry season rainfall of 22 inches.  This caused discharges that have only stopped a few days here and there now eight months later.  Also in January, at the annual convention of water advocates, it was being pressed that the “Talking Points” to be used this election season was “Buy the Land”.

Under the heading of “Buy the Land” this year are:

  • One inch of water pumped from the southern canals back to the lake to prevent flooding caused oyster death and sea grass loss;
  • It was not a “rain” event, it was years of illegal actions by agriculture;
  • Muck was being carried from Lake Okeechobee to our estuary;
  • There was a fish kill in the Banana River that was falsely tied to discharges from Lake O;
  • The agencies in charge had messed up the entire water management system;
  • The Army Corps over-reacted in its interpretation of the Lake Okeechobee Release Schedule (LORS). The volume of water from the basin comes into Lake Okeechobee at a 6:1 ratio. Twenty-two inches of rain could become a 132 inch increase in the Lake’s elevation;
  • Protests were hyped up against Commissioner Putman and other agency directors;

But, the Water Management District voted to not buy the land.

  • The combination of excess fresh water, nutrient rich water, stirred up phosphorus and very warm water, are the perfect combination for a harmful algae bloom (HAB). And when it exploded, the HABs became national news as the slime grew:
  • Again, the Army Corp worked as its own worst enemy by not restricting any algae release to the estuary. A simple environmental containment boom could have helped greatly:
  • Sugar includes a 20-year lease-back clause, a $3 billion price tag and permitting and construction timelines that could add another 10 years before it could ever take a drop of water; and
  • There is the Tamiami Trail not letting much water pass under, as well as the pumps and infrastructure needed to send water to Florida Bay.

Buying the land will not stop discharges in the next 30 years.  Buying the land will not stop algae blooms.  Buying the land will not stop the loss of oyster beds or sea grass, but all this hype over an anticipated weather event has brought overwhelming national attention to our state only over-shadowed by the police shooting in Dallas and other cities.  Our economy may well be the loser after all the hype has passed… after the election is over… after our interests are no longer important. People will still ask, ”Is your water still poison?”, “Are the beaches slimed?”, “Can you walk around without hazmat suits and respirators on?”.

If we allow water to be discharged to the Everglades as is presently suggested by the Buy the Land folks, HABs will flow through those gates just as they do east and west now.  And why should we expect anything different?

Clean the water of pollutants from Shingle Creek through Lake Okeechobee.  If not, these images could be the Everglades as well.

[sws_blue_box box_size=”630″] A quote from NOAA: “El Niño was originally recognized by fishermen off the coast of South America in the 1600s, with the appearance of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean. The name was chosen based on the time of year (around December) during which these warm waters events tended to occur. The term El Niño refers to the large-scale ocean-atmosphere climate interaction linked to a periodic warming in sea surface temperatures across the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific. Typical El Niño effects are likely to develop over North America during the upcoming winter season. Those include warmer-than-average temperatures over western and central Canada, and over the western and northern United States. Wetter-than-average conditions are likely over portions of the U.S. Gulf Coast and Florida, while drier-than-average conditions can be expected in the Ohio Valley and the Pacific Northwest. The presence of El Niño can significantly influence weather patterns, ocean conditions, and marine fisheries across large portions of the globe for an extended period of time.” [/sws_blue_box]