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(Subscriber Op-ed) A wise man once said that when you have lost the argument, it’s time to shoot the messenger. That applies to the journalist mouthpieces for Florida’s environmental industry, who are scurrying to their keyboards to write “ain’t it awful” articles about the evil farmers around Lake Okeechobee.
The most recent conspiracy theory being advanced is that the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has joined forces and become allied with sugar companies to jointly “back pump” water back into the lake from the south. This theory holds that such back pumping not only adds pollution, it dumps millions of tons of water into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee river basins, creating havoc in the rivers. The implication of this charge is that the fox is guarding the henhouse and that nothing published or spoken by the region’s only independent, statutorily-created water regulator can be believed.
Even in an era when skepticism of the government is running high, such conspiracy theories don’t hold water, pun intended. Media conjectures about the operation and management of a very complex water system by the scientists and engineers who designed and operate that system are hard to believe. It takes a certain level of insanity to believe that the data being produced by some of the most well-credentialed and respected district scientists is bunk.
The SFWMD has every right to defend its decision to back pump the communities south of Lake Okeechobee. Imagine the derision from eco-infatuated journalists if the SFWMD were to fail in its job to protect these communities, and the historic January rains flooded those hard working, and in many cases, minority citizens out of their homes and businesses.
It is this type of editorial page elitism — where the interests of those living in rural areas are given lesser weight than the urban, wealthy environmental extremists’ agenda — that has nearly earned Florida’s mainstream newspaper industry a prominent place in the dustbin of history. Readers of the Sun Sentinel, The Palm Beach Post and others want and deserve facts — not distorted arguments that are not grounded in reality.
It’s easy for the newspaper shills of environmental groups to point the finger at sugarcane farmers, but the facts don’t support the hysteria. The data presented by the SFWMD and others go against the narrative that sugarcane farmers are to blame for the pollution, which is why journalists sympathetic to the environmentalists’ cause are attacking the district and the farmers. The SFWMD has reported – and scientists have agreed – that nearly all of the nutrients polluting the estuaries are originating in the local basins to the north, east and west of the lake and not from the south. And the source of almost all the nutrient pollution– including over 95% of the phosphorous– flows from the huge watershed basin that extends northward nearly to Orlando. This 5,000 square mile basin drains into the 730 square mile lake.
In fact, in the last 10 years, water entering Lake Okeechobee from south of the lake, where most of the farmers are located, accounted for less than 1 percent of all water entering the lake. Another fact often ignored by the media is that none of the sugarcane farmers pump any water into the lake. All pumping is done by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the SFWMD. Further, any back pumping done from south of Lake Okeechobee puts cleaner water back into the lake than the water that’s already there.
But don’t take my word for it. Last summer, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal rejected the arguments of the Florida Audubon Society, and held that the practices of the sugarcane farmers near Lake Okeechobee have resulted in “phosphorous reductions that exceed state requirements.” The court specifically “rejected arguments that permits (issued by the SFWMD to sugar farmers) fail to protect the Everglades.”
It’s time for the environmentalist crowd and their media allies to look elsewhere for culprits.