While our country reels from the knowledge that elected officials poisoned the water supply of an entire city and covered it up when citizens complained, the governor of the State of Florida last week signed a bill that could take us down the same path as Flint. 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.
My spiritual philosophy requires me to bear no ill will toward anyone, which is an incredible challenge today. The fact that this is happening while Flint is in the news feels like a deliberate poke in the eye to our entire state. Like Flint, our top official is apparently saying, “I have the power. I use it how I want to benefit my cronies, and the heck with the rest of you and the ‘environment.’ “
The new “water bill” removes the need for the big agricultural industries and others to get permits regulating the amount of pollutants they can discharge into water bodies such as Lake Okeechobee, the headwaters of the Everglades. Beginning July 1, 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 the lake and other water bodies. If these new procedures are eventually found to be ineffective, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will then presumably be required to develop “rules” they can “voluntarily” follow.
Just this week, I received several e-mails from the South Florida Water Management 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 – six 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.”
Under the permitting system which regulates the amount of pollutants the agricultural industry can use and discharge into our water, back pumping inevitably leads to negative impacts on the lake and the quality of drinking water for local populations, particularly the black communities including Belle Glade, Pahokee and others. Shunting the polluted water off these large scale farms into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee harms the health of these estuaries and the marine life within them.
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.”
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 in our state.