By Audrey Peterman
Last week Frank and I were thrilled to be selected as Ambassadors for Yosemite National Park in California. The gorgeous “range of light” in the High Sierra Nevada Mountains is about as far as you can get from where we live at sea level in South Florida. But there’s only one America and one National Park System, and we are proud to leave a legacy in Yosemite as the Buffalo Soldiers left for us when they patrolled the park and protected it against ranchers and timbermen in 1904.
I landed back to Earth with a thud when I learned the same week that the governor of the State of Florida signed a bill that could take us down the same path of water pollution and poisoning as the citizens of Flint, Michigan are experiencing right now. Literally putting the fox in charge of the hen house, Rick Scott’s bill will place the biggest polluters in charge of themselves, on the “honor system” to report the amount of pollution they discharge into our waters and be responsible for cleaning it up.
This feels like a deliberate poke in the eye to our entire state. Beginning July 1, agricultural and other polluters need only apply “best management practices” such as reducing the amount of fertilizer they use, presumably lowering the amount that will run off into Lake Okeechobee and other water bodies. When these new procedures are eventually found to be ineffective, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will be required to develop new “rules” they can “voluntarily” follow.
Black communities around Lake Okeechobee that get their drinking water from the lake will be at vastly increased risk. So will the entire Everglades ecosystem and the marine environments of the Caloosahatchee and St Lucie Rivers, where excess water if often drained out to sea.
According to the South Florida Water Management District, “Lake Okeechobee is designated a Class I water that provides drinking water for urban areas, irrigation water for agricultural lands, recharge for aquifers, freshwater for the Everglades, habitat for fish and waterfowl, flood control, navigation, and many recreational opportunities.”
But the same week I received several e-mails from the District defending their decision to back pump water into the lake.
“On Jan. 27, South Florida experienced its wettest January day in 25 years. Glades communities south of the lake saw particularly intense short-term rainfall – 6 inches in 24 hours – overwhelming the local flood control system.
As a result, water managers ‘back pumped’ water into Lake Okeechobee to provide necessary relief….”
So under the new “honor” rules, unmitigated amounts of pollutants from the fields will likely be swept into the lake, into our aquifer, throughout our environment. I wonder how long it will take before the conversations surrounding Flint today will be the conversations surrounding South Florida?
More than 100 environmental and civic groups and former Florida Governor Bob Graham among many others opposed this change. Yet it will become the law July 1.
What does that tell us about the governance of our state?
What will we do about it?
I don’t have the answer.
I doubt anyone thinks this shows our state government working in the best interest of the people. (Look up our friend Alan Farago’s piece about Scott’s political ambitions for the US Senate)
This election year, it’s time for all the people to stand together as one – Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, black or white – and determine how we will put a government in place that works for all the people. It’s going to be as important for Yosemite in the mountains as it is for Florida at sea level.