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He started his career in the family real estate and hotel business in Florida from which his concern for the environment steered him in public life. He has served six Florida governors and two presidents in many positions, including terms as chairman of the Florida Department of Air and Water Pollution Control, and Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Beyond his government service, he helped found 1000 Friends of Florida and has served as both president and chairman of the board of the organization. He currently or has served on the boards of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Geographic Society, Yellowstone National Park, Everglades Foundation and Hope Rural School.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Stuart New Senate lagoon forum: 10 big ideas that emerged. Will they work? | Social media report

Senate lagoon forum: 10 big ideas that emerged. Will they work? | Social media report

Read our expert journalists' take on them

By staff report
Friday, August 23, 2013

STUART — Scientists, water managers, agricultural interests, environmental activists and the public gave testimony that was often impassioned about how to help the troubled Indian River Lagoon in a hearing that lasted from 1 to 9 p.m. Thursday. Much of the discussion was centered on the high-volume releases of Lake Okeechobee’s fresh water into the St. Lucie Estuary.
An estimated 500 people showed up, some of them to testify and some to hear what political and industry leaders had to say in response to residents’ concerns.
The panels ran long, so they didn’t stay on schedule. But Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who spearheaded the committee, made adjustments to ensure people had enough time to air their views. He took their comments until 9 p.m.
“There will be changes,” Negron said.
Here are the 10 big ideas that emerged from the Senate committee hearing and our journalists’ take on why each is or isn’t feasible.
1. Revise the Lake Okeechobee schedule
State Sen. Joe Negron repeatedly said he believes the Army Corps of Engineers should update the 2008 Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule, the document that determines when releases are made to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. But Army Corps Col. Alan Dodd told the committee the document will not need an update until more of the Herbert Hoover Dike is restored.
Our take: Revising the lake schedule would be a time-consuming bureaucratic exercise. Even if a new schedule required holding slightly more water in the lake, it still wouldn’t protect the estuaries from the most damaging releases during rainy years such as this one.
2. Declare eminent domain on sugar lands
Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, a Republican commissioner in the town of Sewall’s Point, said she believes the state should consider taking land owned by sugar cane farmers south of Lake Okeechobee to restore the natural southward flow of water.
Our take: There’s no political will in Florida for taking of private property, but all possibilities for acquiring land owned by U.S. Sugar and Florida Crystals — including eminent domain — should be analyzed for costs and benefits.
3. Re-examine a flow-way south
One of the most notable moments of Thursday’s hearing came when Bubba Wade, an executive with U.S. Sugar Corp., said he supported publicly re-evaluating the idea of building a flow-way south from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades. Wade has previously dismissed the concept, known as Plan 6.
Our take: In light of the current crisis, Plan 6 deserves a fresh analysis from the South Florida Water Management District and the state. It is the most feasible proposal on the table for restoring the natural flow south from Lake Okeechobee, and it should be seriously considered.
4. Septic tanks need to be removed
Brian LaPointe, of FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, said septic tanks and nutrients are a real problem killing the Indian River Lagoon and the wildlife in it and need to be removed.
Our take: Yes, this is serious problem. The 237,000 septic tanks in the northern lagoon counties of Indian River, Brevard and Volusia are adding nitrogen at a rate of 9 pounds per person per year, and generating “brown tide” events that have killed off sea grasses, manatees and dolphins. This is a long-term and expensive solution that must one day be achieved. The more immediate priority is to stop the water coming from Lake Okeechobee.
5. Rehabilitate the Herbert Hoover Dike
Herschel Vinyard, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, said the dike needs to be rehabilitated and called it part of the “ultimate solution.”
Our take: It won’t change the quantity or quality of water pouring into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. Lake Okeechobee environmentalists would never allow the waters of the lake to be maintained at a higher level because it would destroy the aquatic plant life that serves as critical habitat and helps clean the water there, too. It’s an expensive solution needed for public peace of mind in the ’Glades communities, but not germane to a solution for the river and Indian River Lagoon.
6. Put water from Lake o onto the sugar lands
Monica Reimer, EarthJustice, stressed the need for politicians to have the will for this solution.
Our take: This solution would satisfy some of the problems with the discharges, namely quantity. The problem is a certain group is using that land to make a living. It would be an expensive fix, and probably not a short-term one either by the time the infrastructure to do so would be permitted, contracts awarded and the plan executed.
7. Shut the gates sending polluted water from Lake Okeechobee
Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society, said to “close ’em all down.”
Stop sending polluted water from Lake Okeechobee east to the St. Lucie Estuary and west to the Caloosahatchee River.
Our take: While certainly a dramatic proposal, it doesn’t seem very feasible and could be downright dangerous. Perry himself said earlier in the hearing that because of the way the South Florida drainage system has been built, the Army Corps of Engineers currently has no alternatives to sending water east and west.
Asked if stopping the discharges would put the Herbert Hoover Dike around the lake and the communities to the south at risk, Perry replied, “Absolutely. ... But there’s a risk in sending water to the east and west.”
8. Ask Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency for both estuaries
This was suggested by Perry, who showed the panel a plastic bag of water with toxic blue-green algae taken from the estuary Thursday morning.
Our take: There’s no doubt the estuary in particular and the Indian River Lagoon in general are in an emergency, environmentally and economically. What exactly the declaration would accomplish is unclear. Are we sure we want Scott to have increased power to bring about changes in our lagoon environment?
9. Take control of Lake Okeechobee water levels and discharges away from Army Corps of Engineers and give it to a state agency
State Sen. Joe Negron has made the suggestion to take Lake O control away from the Corps before, suggesting that a state agency subject to popular election would be more in tune with residents needs.
Our take: It’s true that in most cases, after the Corps builds a project, it hands over control to a local authority. For that reason alone it’s worth consideration, with the understanding that control not simply go from one bureaucracy to another.
10. Store water on public and private lands
Negron, R-Stuart, continued pushing for an option to store more lake water on a variety of lands, both public and private.
Our take: Negron has a goal to reduce the discharges by 50 percent within 90 to 120 days, a plan that centers on finding land to store the water. But the acreage available is limited, and it’s simply a partial short-term fix.