U.S. Congressman Brian Mast (FL-18) and more than 30 environmental groups across Florida are fighting back against a lobbying effort currently underway in Congress to tie the hands of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as they write the next regulation schedule for Lake Okeechobee, which was authorized by Rep. Mast in 2018. The goal of this lobbying effort is to circumvent public comment and scrutiny in favor of locking in a failed water distribution scheme from the year 2000 that prioritized private profit over public water users.
To accomplish that goal, U.S. Sugar Corporation and their allies are proposing to retroactively apply three sentences in a two-decade old bill—the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan’s “Savings Clause”—to the effort currently underway to rewrite Lake Okeechobee’s regulation schedule that determines the timing and quantity of discharges from Lake Okeechobee. Tying these two unrelated provisions together would result in more discharges from Lake Okeechobee, more toxic algal blooms in the estuaries and less clean water for the Everglades.
“Florida’s water is one of its most important public resources, and right now there are very important water policy changes being considered. What happens next could mean more toxic discharges, less toxic discharges or no toxic discharges ever again,” Rep. Mast said. “Using the coronavirus pandemic as cover, special interest groups are hoping nobody will notice that they’ve seized this moment to try again to hijack Florida’s water for their own profit. They’re hoping nobody will remember the masks we had to wear to protect ourselves from toxic algae as long as we’re still distracted wearing masks to protect ourselves from coronavirus. We cannot let that happen!”
More than 30 environmental groups have signed letters urging Congress not to give in to this special interest water heist:
“The proposed language would significantly undermine restoration efforts currently underway and jeopardize billions of dollars of taxpayer money allocated by the federal government and the state of Florida for Everglades and ecosystem restoration that is critical to the long-term well-being of Floridians and the Sunshine State Economy,” more than 30 environmental groups wrote in a letter led by Audubon Florida. “We urge you to reject it.”
“This language seriously jeopardizes continued progress toward managing toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee and greater ecosystem restoration. Over its twenty-year history, the savings clause has been one of the biggest impediments to Everglades restoration. Instead of being the shield that it was intended to be, it has become a sword for the sugar industry to oppose projects or demand they be reconfigured to its benefit and the environment’s detriment,” The Everglades Foundation wrote. “This language extends the sword beyond CERP projects to non-CERP projects and it should not be included in WRDA 2020 legislation. The Everglades Foundation is opposed to any efforts to do so.”
“Why would we go back to water management as it was in 2000 when we know so much more now about the health risks stemming from human exposure to cyanobacteria/blue-green algae,” Friends of the Everglades wrote. “Retroactively applying the unrelated WRDA 2000 Savings Clause to LOSOM would require keeping Lake Okeechobee water levels too high during the dry months — which, history tells us, results in toxic discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries during the rainy months —and would deprive the Everglades and Florida Bay of much-needed water when they need it most.”
“To be clear, this is an attempt to guarantee the sugar industry a level of service that no other water user in the country is given—to the detriment of everyone and everything else,” Everglades Trust wrote. “Agreeing to this new language would all but guarantee a certain death to the Everglades and three nationally-important estuaries, taking Florida’s economy and future with them.”