Last week, I took my fourteen year old niece, Natalie, to a meeting with me, to meet Florida’s brand new, only seven weeks old in the position of Lieutenant Governor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami; he is the first hispanic ever to hold this office.
The purpose of the meeting was to “educate” the new lieutenant governor about issues concerning the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. I had Natalie for Spring Break and since she has been a member of River Kidz (http://riverscoalition.org) since she was ten, I figured I’d put her to work.
I said, “Natalie, just be honest and polite. Shake his hand, look him in the eye, smile and then tell him how you and your family were affected by the releases from Lake Okeechobee and the other canals last summer, the “Lost Summer.”
When it was our turn, Natalie went first. She did exactly what I had asked. She shook his hand, looked him in the eye and smiled saying:” My name is Natalie and I live in North River Shores. Last summer, because of the releases from Lake Okeechobee, my family and I could not use the new wakeboard we got for Christmas, because the river was off limits with toxic algae blooms. Also we did not go fishing like we usually do. The water was gross…”
At this point, as there were others standing around listening and waiting to meet Mr Lopez-Cantez too, I did my typical control-freak move and “nicely” butted in just to qualify a piece of information so my comrades couldn’t claim I was using Natalie for purposes of propaganda.
“Natalie, we should mention, that the other canals were releasing too; you know the C-23 and C-24; the C-23 is the one your sister did her Science Fair Project on…”
Natalie looked and me and the Lieutenant Governor looked at me. Natalie nodded her head, and Mr Lopez-Cantera honestly asked: “Don’t all the canals here connect to Lake Okeechobee?” Silence.
“I’m glad you asked, I said. It’s all very confusing.” I drew a picture as Natalie explained that C-44 does connect to the lake, but C-23 and C-24 do not. She also explained that the C-23 and C-24 are very polluting canals, but it has been only when the heavy releases from Lake Okeechobee come, on top of the releases from our local canals, that the river goes completely toxic.
I told a story that is well known. Prior to the releases from Lake Okeechobee, the South Florida Water Management District had taken samples of toxic algae, “microcystis aeruginosa,” a type of cyanobacteria, from Lake Okeechobee at Port Mayaca , and the Army Corp of Engineers knew this, before they opened the gates at S-308 and S-80 allowing the water to flow into the St Lucie Canal and St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
I relayed that Mark Perry speaks on this situation often, reiterating again, that the river became toxic not while our own, although they be disgusting canals, were releasing, but only when the massive water from the Lake Okeechobee was allowed in…
The Lieutenant Governor looked surprised, “Who is Mary Perry? ” he asked. “Mark Perry is the executive director for Florida Oceanographic,” I replied. Mr. Lopez-Cantera wrote down Mark’s name.
Our fifteen minutes were up, I gave the Lieutenant Governor a booklet of aerial photos my husband and I took of the river during the summer of 2013; he did a double take when he saw the cover but it was time to go.
Nonetheless, he did not rush us off, and as we were getting up to go, he told Natalie about being a big wake boarder himself in Miami in younger days. We took a photo for Natalie’s album and then Natalie and I were off to walk the dogs and bake cookies since it was too windy to go to the beach.
I commend the Lieutenant Governor for coming to Stuart and meeting with local stakeholders to learn about the Indian River Lagoon, St Lucie River and Lake Okeechobee. I’m sure he has people pulling at him from all directions, but he came here.
As distasteful as politics is, at the end of the day, change for our rivers will come through the steady work of building relationships. By knowing our politicians, whether they be republican or democrat, the face to face experience makes it harder for them to forget us when the vote is before them.
I’m hoping when it comes time for a vote, or in the future when the possibility of sending the water south is real, Lieutenant Governor Lopez-Cantera, or what ever his position is at that time, will remember the nice kid named Natalie from Stuart, and her story about not being able to wakeboard in the toxic St Lucie River during the lost summer of 2013.