Florida’s water issues are again making national waves. This time around the news does not involve massive fish kills or ribbon-cutting ceremonies for restoration projects. No, this Florida water issue is about politics and an obscure attempt by some Florida State Senators to undermine all the progress achieved for Everglades restoration and water quality. Last week, Captains for Clean Water sounded the alarm on this backdoor plan, securing tens of thousands of signatures opposing the plan and organizing dozens of fishing guides and business owners at the State House to demand accountability. Before we dive in, be sure to sign the PETITION TODAY and continue to be engaged on this developing legislation.
The issue at the center of all of this is Senate Bill 2508, a budget-conforming bill that circumvents the traditional process for how a bill becomes a law. It’s basically a budget procedure where the FL Senate Appropriations Committee can fast-track the bill to the Senate Floor. Another important part of this is that budget-conforming bills are not intended for substantive policy altering legislation. Yet, that is exactly what SB 2508 would do. The bill was released late Friday February 4th, before a hearing was held last Wednesday, February 9th. Considering the complexities of SB 2508 this seems like a suspicious and rapid timeline. According to Captains for Clean Water and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), which was not the consulted, the bill would:
- Prioritize agricultural interests (mainly water supply for the sugar industry) over all other uses.
- Lines 242-274 of the bill would hamstring water management by requiring that any changes do not impact the existing water users or diminish their current water allocations.
- Constrain and possibly jeopardize funding for the critical EAA reservoir project, which would have the greatest impact on reducing harmful discharges by sending more water to the Everglades.
- Lines 337-339 strikes explicit funding for the EAA reservoir project and replaces it with a list of other Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan projects (the EAA is included). However, the issue here is that this change would dilute the stream of state funds for the EAA reservoir, further delaying and jeopardizing the single most important project for Everglades restoration. Captain Chris Wittman of Captains for Clean Water, calls the EAA reservoir the “crown jewel of Everglades Restoration.”
- Hinder the South Florida Water Management District’s ability to effectively manage Lake Okeechobee and prevent the harmful discharges to the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers.
- According to a SFWMD staff memo, this bill “threatens the SFWMD by indicating the legislature will not pay out any past CERP appropriations unless these new lake management policies are executed. These new lake policies jeopardize the health of our estuaries and the Everglades. This threat means current work on Everglades projects may have to stop if the Legislature does not allow SFWMD to pay for Everglades projects we’re building now.”
- Disrupts and end runs the years-long public and transparent process with all stakeholders to develop a new lake regulation schedule (Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual) pursuant to a bill drafted in secret, by placing the interests of the one industry above all other stakeholders, per the SFWMD memo.
Quite simply, this bill would wipe out years of progress and work towards improving South Florida’s water quality by messing with the intricacies of the EAA reservoir project and LOSOM –much to benefit the very industry that has played a significant role in Florida’s water crises, the sugar industry.
Unfortunately, SB 2508 passed the Appropriations Committee 16-4 after hours of public comment from guides, business owners, and stakeholders opposing the measures. The full Florida Senate is scheduled to vote on SB 2508 Thursday, February 17th. If the bill passes, there will still be opportunities to block the bill, but it becomes more and more complicated. That is why ramping up the pressure ahead of the Thursday vote is essential.
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What can you do?
First and foremost, sign THE PETITION, organized by Captains for Clean Water, which also provides informative context. The petition is at 37,000 signatures at the time of this article. As the petition and larger movement grow, SB 2508 and all its flaws become weaker and weaker. Share and spread the word on social media, to your fishing buddies, to anyone who cares about clean water and healthy estuaries. If you are a Florida resident, contact your State Senator today and let them know you oppose SB 2508–HERE is a link to connect with your respective Senator.
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What are people saying?
- Florida Governor Ron DeSantis: “I have been a champion for Everglades restoration and oppose any measure that derails progress on reducing harmful discharges and sending more water to the Everglades. Moreover, I reject any attempt to deprioritize the EAA Reservoir project south of Lake Okeechobee.Rather than advancing legislation seeking to affect a major change in policy, SB 2508 is being rammed through the budget process, short-circuiting public engagement and leaving affected agencies in the dark.”
- Daniel Andrews, Executive Director, Captains For Clean Water: “This is the worst legislation we’ve ever seen. This is life or death for the Everglades.”
- Gil Smart, Policy Director, Friends of the Everglades: “If this bill, SB 2508, passes, make no mistake: We will be looking at another toxic-algae crisis. In 2013, 2016 and again in 2018 our toxic algae crises became a national, even international news story, with people around the world wondering how Florida could let this happen. So I’d put this question to those of you on this panel. Why would we let this happen again?”
- Captain Benny Blanco, Everglades and Biscayne National Parks: “The Everglades is at risk. My livelihood is at stake. Your livelihood is at stake. Clean water all around the state of Florida is at stake.”
- Captain Dustin Pack, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper: “Not everyone goes to Orlando to see Micky Mouse. Most people come here to go to our waterways, our beaches, go fishing, go scuba diving, you name it. All of that revolves around clean water.
- Captain Tyler Kapela, Tampa Bay: “Have you seen 20 miles of death out on the water and water so toxic that it pollutes the air we can’t even breath? That is because of the supercharged red tides caused by Lake Okeechobee. If you allow this bill to pass, it will happen again and continue to happen. All of our estuaries are in a death spin, because you [Senate Appropriation Committee Members] are messing with water management.”
- Captain Will Benson Key West, Lower Keys Guides Association: “My business depends on water and a healthy environment. This bill is prioritizing and holding hostage the Governor’s Budget and all of the progress we’ve made on Everglades restoration and handing it over to the industry that harms these environments. This is a handout to those industries that receive subsidies and hide behind foreign import quotas, and it stands in opposition to small businesses like ours.”
- Captain Rhett Morris, Charlotte Harbor: “I’m representing a groundswell that is building against the status quo. I’m here today to make sure that everybody knows this groundswell is watching what happens today. Are we going to give up all the support for coastal economies and tourism for one small special interest group? When you compare those monies, there is no comparison.”
- Captain Mike Holliday, Stuart: “This horrid bill will divert funds meant for the construction of the EAA Reservoir, negate the positive aspects of LOSOM for our coastal residents, and essentially it will stall any effort to find effective solutions to our water issues. If you vote for this bill, your legacy will be the total collapse of South Florida’s billion-dollar water-based economies.”
Stand up for South Florida’s water, fisheries, ecosystems, and economies. Be sure to sign the Captains for Clean Water petition and stay engaged on this issue pertaining to the health and conservation of our country’s amazing natural resources.