September 3, 2013


So we have seen the Florida Senate Select Committee on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin (IRLLOB) in action.  The keeners could follow the show for a whole day – in person or on live video.  The Committee was formed as a response to howling residents of mainly around the Florida east coast Indian River Lagoon that is being inundated by discharges from Lake Okeechobee. Billions of gallons of polluted and tea-colored water creating havoc along the St. Lucie River and killing the Lagoon where those quantities of fresh water just should not be.  They support toxic algal blooms and kill the salinity-sensitive sea life.  While the east coast gets only one quarter of LO water releases, three quarters are streaming down the Caloosahatchee to the west.  We have read and heard all about the ensuing troubles -
East coast lagoons are
overpowered by toxic algae

But that water just has to go somewhere since Lake Okeechobee cannot hold all that falls from the sky during the famous Floridian wet summer. It was particularly watery this year.  Protective Hover Dike around Lake Okeechobee  is unreliable to the point of potentially giving way as the LO water level rises. That would be a major disaster.  What to do ?
Chairing Florida Senator Joe Negron was relentlessly and pragmatically pushing for an immediate fix for the problem. Imagine, as if there could be such a thing after almost a century of hard and diligent work on having the center of Florida drained and mainly taken over by the agriculture and exploding population.
Now – stop the water releases – reverse time – and pronto !
There are some remediation steps that could be taken relatively quickly. They may help some but they do not solve the current problems. Undoing our fathers and grandfathers mistakes - those solutions, involving diverting truly huge quantities of water, are time consuming and expensive. Contemporary science knowledge is telling us what is necessary.  We just have to be bold enough – and do it.  Of course that there will be a bottom line with a dollar sign on it.  We, or some segments of Florida population, benefitted for long enough – and now is the time to pay the piper. And as the issue demonstrates, it is urgent.
Good senator Negron’s Committee heard the solutions – some quick, some slow – all relatively ‘expensive’.  It really takes smarts and some boldness and imagination to make sense out of it all. Amidst shouts of “move it southmove it south !” (meaning water from LO), the senator asked a good question –
What are the barriers for water flowing south ?
Tamiami Trail bridge
under construction
Are they physical and/or legal ??  Actually, there are both.  For water quantity, the downstream ‘plug’ has to be removed first for water to eventually flow south. This represents elevating section(s) of the Tamiami Trail ‘dam’ and putting it on bridges. That construction is moving ahead. However , LO water would still not be allowed to flow south – it is not clean enough ! 

In practical terms, that represents a legal hurdle – maximum 10 ppb of phosphorus has been agreed upon by a Consent Decree for water quality. The Everglades National Park (federal) should  not be fed “dirty water”. This is a serious quality matter and a big legal mine-field.  Water quality is judged by a complicated procedure based on a number of “exceedences” in the predetermined amount of phosphorus to enter.  That is determined by a complex formula specified in Appendix “A” of the Everglades Settlement Agreement.
Experts are now hard at work trying to determine what would be the effect of moving LO (and other) water down south. It is about the effect on the frequency and size of phosphorus “exceedencies”.  This was something the IRLLOB could not quite discern in the discussion – it could be called the “legal plug”. Its removal will require cleansing the water before it is allowed to flow south – meaning new land for construction and operation of reservoirs and STAs. Necessary, but an expensive and definitely not a short-term proposition !
One thing is for sure – the huge quantities of water to be handled (and other practical factors) render ideas of water storage on land (water farming) into the category of “band-aids”.
In terms of expedient (partial) solutions for the meantime, the senator would have to be very bold to consider some unconventional solutions for the grave situation.
Among those in the feedback provided to  the IRLLOB were:
● First of all - stop “studying”, encourage and expedite “doing” – and stay with it.
Declare the State of Emergency to allow for special procedures and funding.
● Use the “Eminent Domain” approach to obtain the necessary land faster and at reasonable price.
Dredge new inlets into the Indian River Lagoon to allow for access of more salt water.
Consider pipelines and dispersal systems for off-shore sea discharge of the LO water.
● Raise water levels in the EAA for extra water storage.
Enforce BMPs for LO watersheds with a strict control of phosphorus applications.
Broaden septic tank rules to prevent leakage into ground water.
There are plans, designs and specific projects, vetted and well discussed – such as CEPP, CERP, LORP, etc.etc.  Expedite them and secure adequate funding.
Enough ?
As usual, not just one of these –ALL these factors mentioned above should be worked together.
And all this considering the East as well as the West coast.
Go ahead – be bold – at least as much as Governor Broward was when he started all this mess – a 100 years ago.  But we don’t have all this time to doodle around – the rains, toxic algal blooms, the hurricanes are coming next year again. And every year !

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