New artwork by Julia Kelly: http://juliakellyart.com
River Kidz, an organization created in 2011 in the Town of Sewall’s Point “by kids for kids,” whose mission is “to speak out, get involved, and raise awareness, because we believe kids should have a voice in the future of our rivers,” is expanding its range.
The group’s message will now encompass not only the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, but also the Caloosahatchee and Florida Bay. These three south Florida estuaries all suffer due to longstanding mis-management practices of Lake Okeechobee by the Army Corp of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District. You may have most recently heard about these three estuaries together as Senate President Joe Negron has proposed a land purchase in the Everglades Agricultural Area and a deep reservoir to improve the situation.
So what’s the problem?
Ft Meyer’s Calooshahatchee River on the west coast gets too much, or too little water, “depending.” And Florida Bay, especially in regards to Taylor Slough near Homestead, hardly gets any water at all. In fact the waterbody is reported to have lost up to 50,000 acres of seagrass due to high salinity. No way! And here at home, as we know first hand, during wet years the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon is pummeled with Lake O water causing toxic algae blooms beyond comprehension as experienced in 2016.
In all cases, whether it is too much, or too little water, algae blooms, destruction of water quality, and demise of valuable wildlife habitat ensues. Kids know about this because the most recent generation has lived this first hand. -A kid growing up, not being able to go in the water or fish or swim? No way!!!!
We can see from the satellite photo below how odd the situation is with the EAA lands just south of Lake Okeechobee engineered to be devoid of water so the EAA plants “don’t get their feet wet” while the rest of the southern state suffers. Yes, even a four-year old kid can see this! 🙂
To tell this story, in Kidz fashion, new characters have been created. Familiar, Marty the Manatee of the St Lucie River/Southern Indian River Lagoon, has been joined by two new friends: Milly the Manatee from the Caloosahatchee, and Manny the Manatee from Florida Bay. Quite the trio!
Also joining the motley crew is a white pelican, sometimes visitor to Lake Okeechobee, Florida Bay, and the Central IRL; also a stunning orange footed Everglades Snail Kite complete with Apple Snail; and last but not least, the poor “blamed for mankind’s woes of not being able to send water south,” the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow. Finally, she will have a chance to share her story. Endangered species, weather, and the water-cycle will be added to the curriculum.
Workbooks will be available free of charge thanks to donations from The Knoph Family Foundation, and Ms. Michelle Weiler.
River Kidz is a division of the Rivers Coalition: http://riverscoalition.org/riverkidz/
Workbook Brainstormers: River Kidz co- founders Evie Flaugh and Naia Mader; the River Kidz, (especially River Kidz member #1, Jack Benton); Julia Kelly, artist; Valerie Gaynor, Martin County School System; Nic Mader, Dolphin Ecology Project; Crystal Lucas, Marine Biology teacher and her daughter Hannah; and Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, former mayor and commissioner of the Town of Sewall’s Point. Workbooks will meet Florida Standards and be approved by the Martin County School System thanks to Superintendent, Laurie Gaylord.
Road Trip Series, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon-Taylor Slough
Happy New Year to all of my readers!
We begin 2017 at the southern most part of our state, the Florida Everglades. Over the holidays my husband, Ed, and I continued the Road Trip Series further south to gather insights, one that I will share with you today: the great water disconnect of Taylor Slough. We have too much water and it doesn’t have enough. Could we help?
Before we begin, what is a “slough?” What a strange word!
For years I drove along a road in Port St Lucie, north of Stuart, named “Cane Slough.” I wondered to myself what that meant considering the area was paved over. When my mother told me Cane Slough was once a marshy shallow river, I thought how odd that was considering there was not trace of it today. The same thing, but on a much larger scale, has happened in the Florida Everglades and in both instances it is a great loss.
“Slough,” pronounced “slew,” is not just a river, but a river that is made for Florida’s dry and rainy seasons. It is a slow-moving river whose grassy shores expand and contract. During the dry season when rains are scarce, the remaining water in the deepest part of these depressions is where plants and animals hold on to life-giving water until the rains begin anew…
Before South Florida was developed there were two main sloughs running through the Everglades to Florida Bay. Named, the Shark River, the largest, and Taylor Slew, smaller and further to the east. We must note that Florida Bay the past years has suffered from algae blooms and seagrass die off due to high salinity because Taylor Slew cannot flow southeast. This lack of water affects both land and marine communities.
It is easy to see the great “disconnect” for Taylor Slough on this National Park map. A park ranger informed me that “all water” received into Taylor Slew now comes via canal structures controlled by the South Florida Water Management District.
Yes, some great things finally are happening such as the recent construction of elevated bridges along Tamiami Trail designed to deliver more sheet flow into the park and a future where the “Chekika” public access area off 997 could be closed year-round so water could be flowing south. Others too I’ve no room to mention…
One can visually note that restoring this flow is tricky as Homestead’s agricultural and rural development zones abut the old water shed and Broward County north of this area has communities literally in the Everglades (C-11 Basin) that were once part of Taylor Slough as well. Crazy!
But, if we sent men to the moon 50 years ago, shouldn’t we be able to accomplish reconnecting the flow of water “today?” Now, when the Everglades and Florida Bay need it?
How can we along the St Lucie River help speed things up?
…Learn about Senator Negron’s proposal for 60,000 acres of storage, cleaning and conveyance in 2017. Learn about pressuring our government to “face the facts.”
…One thing is certain, we can’t allow the Everglades to die on our watch, and we have exactly what she needs…
Recently, Senator Joe Negron proposed as part of his goal-set as incoming Senate President the purchase of lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee. The idea of a reservoir is not a new one, but is certainly an idea whose “time has come.” To have the Present of the Senate supporting this idea is unprecedented!
As we move forward, it is important to know that this concept has been “on the books” since the beginning of Everglades restoration and is doable. We have all been really fighting for land since 2013, but the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan took shape in 2000. Unfortunately is not taking shape very quickly as it is caught in the tar-pits of government and can’t seem to break free.
So now we the state must take leadership.
The chart I want to share with you– in case you are unfamilar —so you can see the “tar-pit”— has a confusing name.
It is called the “Integrated Delivery Schedule” or (IDS).
But what does that mean?
The Army Corp of Engineers “IDS” as seen above, in many colors, is like a goal sheet, but because there are so many moving parts going on simultaneously and they because they are dependent on each other, the chart is multi-dimensional rather than just “one, two, three.” Nonetheless, the projects are “in order”…just think of it as a “list of things to do” from top to bottom…as the money comes in and the ACOE tries to get things done between politicians and stakeholders fighting.
OK to stick on point, I want to call attention to the bottom of the sheet. Third from the bottom in white you will notice a line that reads: “EAA Storage & ASR/Decomp Ph2.”
EAA storage is referring to water storage for Lake Okeechobee in the EAA; ASR is an entire other subject–like deep injection wells in the aquifer to store and retrieve water. Obviously the two concept were seen to work together.
It is all very complicated and I will write more about it in the coming months, but Senator Negron’s proposal has the potential to put the EAA reservoir higher up on the list, save the St Luice River/Indian River Lagoon, promote faster Everglades Restoration and pull us out of the tar-pits.
I for one am very thankful to Senator Negron, and I plan on pulling this Mammoth out by his tusks! 🙂
Here are some insightful links on the subject.
1. “Florida Audubon 2016: The Role of the EAA in Everglades Restoration Storing water in the EAA is one of the central components of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). The EAA Reservoir project in CERP sought to hold water from Lake Okeechobee and farm runoff in the wet season and release this water south in the dry season. A er leaving the reservoir, freshwater would move through the network of man-made filter marshes called Stormwater Treatment Areas to remove phosphorus and other nutrients that are harmful to the plants and wildlife before continuing its path through the Central Everglades, Everglades National Park, and Florida Bay. Although an initial plan for the EAA Reservoir project was developed, the project was not constructed. The original location on for the project is now being used for two shallow water storage structures known as Flow Equalization on Basins (FEB). One FEB is part of the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) project while another is part of the State of Florida’s Restora on Strategies plan required to meet water quality standards. These are important projects, but as recognized in the CEPP plan, the EAA Reservoir project is s ll necessary to achieve the goals of restoration on.1 There is an urgent need for state and federal agencies to come together to plan for water storage in the EAA.” (http://fl.audubon.org/sites/g/files/amh666/f/audubon_eaa_reservoir_may2016.pdf)
Yesterday, I stumbled out of bed by 5:00 A.M to write my blog and make it to Palm City for the Collaborative Chamber Breakfast starting at 7:30 A.M. I had to get up as Governor Rick Scott’s kick off campaign tour to publicize his “Let’s Keep Florida Beautiful Plan,” was kicking off, in of all places, Martin County, Florida. I wanted to hear what he had to say.
Scripps reporter, Isadora Rangel, implies this morning in our Stuart News that Martin County was chosen as the kick off location because “it is the epicenter of grassroots efforts to clean the estuary.”
There were about 200 people at Martin Downs County Club and both Democrats and Republicans and were present. The Lagoon goes beyond political boundaries. But politics abounds…
I greeted everyone from Democrat Maggie Hurchalla, to Republican Senator Joe Negron, and found my seat. I introduced myself to the people at my table. I looked around the room to see a veritable “who’s who.”
Hmmm? I thought.
In spite of the politics. This is pretty cool. Martin County has been chosen to kick off the governor’s reelection campaign. Why?
Because we are the most vocal little county in the state! Because 5000 people protested last summer at the height of the SLR/IRL toxic algae outbreak and releases from Lake Okeechobee. Our voices were heard. We practiced our right to assemble under our constitution. We are fighting still as last weekend’s 1500 plus at the Clean Water Rally showed. We have made a name for ourselves. Some of our politicians helped us, yes. But WE did it. We have called attention the dying St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, the canals and Lake Okeechobee and maybe now there will be help.
As I was daydreaming about how great Martin County’s River Movement is, the governor walked to the front of the room and took the microphone.
He was very well dressed and looked more comfortable than usual. He greeted the crowd and then told the story of his life:
Born in Illinois, single mom, did not know his father, step dad, poor, Eagle Scout, Navy, University of Missouri, Law-Southern Methodist, no money, worked since a kid, rose to success, went to church a lot as his mother said he would….no money…family….made money….the importance of jobs…
I sat there thinking that if the governor had a really good P.R. person they would have written a book on the “Eagle Scout” part….and not concentrated so much on the business….
So anyway, his assistants walked around the room and passed out a booklet with a photo of a spring on the front reading “Rick Scott, Let’s Keep Florida Beautiful.”
“Hmmmm? I thought. This is different. A pretty picture of a Florida spring and Rick Scott’s name on it.”
I opened up the booklet and right on the first page it read: DURING MY SECOND TERM I WILL: 1. Ensure that Everglades and Indian River Lagoon Restoration continue to have the vision and funding to provide a restored ecosystem to our children…”
“Remarkable” I thought. After the “Indian River Lagoon” having “no name” in Tallahassee for years, it is now listed in the first sentence of a governor’s reelection booklet. Will it happen? Time will tell. At least we are recognized.
One thing is for sure. Martin County is not just the epicenter for the Indian River Lagoon, it is the epicenter of water change for the whole state. No place has a reputation like we have. The governor choosing Marin County to start his campaign supports this point. Like him or not, that’s cool.
I have included photos I took of the booklet below. Some are blurry but it will give you an idea of what it says.
Politics are as toxic as the waters of the SLR/IRL. And we, little Marin County, have risen to the top of the fermenting algae heap. Be proud and keep fighting for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon!
Booklet passed out at yesterday’s kick off re-election campaign for Rick Scott.
Senator Joe Negron, Senate Appropriations Chair, and leader of the “Senate Hearing on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee,” brought home more money for the IRL compared to any other water body in the state: $231,998,021. Our springs comrades who have been publicly fighting ten years longer than us, brought home 30 million. Tallahassee is wondering who this new kid on the block is, us….
Whether you are a fan or not, it must be noted that Senator Negron stuck his neck out, possibly compromising his senate presidency, to get our “name on the map” as far as Tallahassee goes. Prior to last year, most “good ‘ol boys in Tallahassee would have said, “Indian River Lagoon…Hmmmm? Creature of the Indian Lagoon, ain’t that a movie?”
Nonetheless, I do not pretend to think that these monies alone will cure the lagoon’s ills, as the gorilla in the room has not been addressed “head on and in its entirety:” the releases from Lake Okeechobee through S-308 and S-80. I believe this will come in time if we keep fighting.
In my opinion, the biggest part of change is the first step. With the outrage of the public over the “Lost Summer’s” toxic St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, and the support of Senator Negron, one of the few people in a the legislature with the seniority and status to act somewhat independently of demanding party pressures to conform, we have taken the first step forward to fixing the lagoon. Actually, a leap.
WE MUST CONTINUE, YES! But let’s be happy that we have made public progress on a state level more than ever before, and let’s look at what we received, as we should be aware of the gift of public monies from people all over our great state and be full of gratitude.
It’s a lot to go over, but it is important, so I will simply go down the list and summarize. Let’s look at the map as well. Please remember the SLR/IRL is part of the greater Everglades system, from the Kissimmee River area in Orlando, south to the Tamiami Trail in Dade, and beyond to Florida Bay. So anything done to help “the system,” helps us move water south, and with our health as well.
Here we go!
1. $32,000,000 for Water Quality storage in Storm Water Treatment Area 1 in Palm Beach County. Water storage is key to stop releasing so much into the estuaries.
2. $3,000,000 for Best Management Practices (BMPs) for farmers in the St Lucie, Lake O, and Caloosahatee watersheds. It is difficult to swallow more public money going to help farmers with pollution runoff, but there is no other way to do this. We must continue to help fund them, big or small. This is a historical issue as they have been here since the 1800s in many cases. I look at it like “grandfathering” with an extra requirement, as in real estate. The good news is that as time goes on, agriculture businesses will have higher standards to avoid pollution fertilizer, pesticides and fungicide runoff that is killing our waterbodies. Hopefully we can make changes before the rivers and springs die off completely.
3. $40,000,00 for the C-44 Storm Water Treatment Area/reservoir in Martin County. This will offset local drainage farm and urban runoff along the C-44 canal, not water from Lake Okeechobee. We must clean our local runoff as well as it is responsible for around 50% of the destruction to our estuary and on an everyday basis.
4. $2,000,000 CERP Picayune Strand east of Naples in Collier County. This area is important to the southern glades and needs monitoring and vegetative management for water flow and storage and improvement. Hopefully it will help some panthers too!
5. $5,000,000 C-111 South Dade. This is a crucial water delivery system to allow more water to “go south.” A must.
6. $5,000,000 Kissimmee River Restoration. The all time worst thing ever done in Florida other than dike Lake O and redirect the water to the estuaries, was to straighten the Kissimmee River. (Hold my tongue!) Restoration of the ox bows must continue. So far the ACOE has restored about 22 miles of the 56 miles of what was once 153 miles of gorgeous serpentine like, vegetative, wildlife filled, cleansing waters.
7. $18,000,000 C-43 STA along Caloosahatchee River. This is the equivalent of C-44 STA/reservoir for the Caloosahatchee. Only fair. C-43 is a must. They take up to three times the polluted runoff from Lake Okeechobee that we do!
8. $20,000,000 IRL muck removal in northern lagoon. The northern IRL has lost 60% of their seagrasses and has 2 Unexplained Mortality Events including manatee, dolphin, and pelican die offs. Give them what they need! Sediment/muck fills the lagoon over the years from canal runoff covering seagrasses; when stirred up, it releases legacy pollution. GET THE MUCK OUT!
9. $2,075,000 Lake Worth Lagoon. Lake Worth does not get the attention it needs being in development happy Palm Beach County. This area was once full of sea grass and life but not after years of receiving dump water from Lake O, like us, but through a different canal. Local advocate, Lee Shepard, is a great advocate for this part of the lagoon. Let’s help!
10. $4,000,000 Water Quality research for Harbor Branch and ORCA. Although it is hard to justify “more tests,” as we can all see the lagoon is dying, these new, scientific studies will help us find sources to our pollution issues that the legislature can’t ignore. Septic leakage, especially, is difficult to trace without such systems. LOBOS and Kilroys, please help us!
11. $1,000,000 Oyster recovery programs for St Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers. Millions of dollars worth of oysters, natural and deployed by government programs, died during the fresh water discharges of 2013 and years before. One oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day. Government in action….
12. $90,000,000 NUMBER ONE NECESSITY is raising the Tamiami Trail in Dade County so water is not blocked off from going south. They should raise the whole road as the road built in the 1920s cuts off the flow of water south to the Everglades for the entire state. (Another environmental nightmare to fix.)
13, $2,7769,585 This money will be used for pump improvements etc to move more water south and cut away vegetation blocking water “going south,” or hold water in the C-43/44 reservoirs that would go into the estuaries.
14. $2,076,728 The Loxahatchee is one of two “Wild & Scenic Rivers” in the state of Florida and home to tremendous amounts of wildlife. Helping with storm water runoff and preservation is key for the health of this important part of the Everglades System.
15. $2,076,718 The St Lucie Rivers Issues Team has a long history of working with local governments for “close to home” projects along the SLR/IRL. Kathy LaMartina at its helm, South Florida Water Management District. Thank you!
Grand total= $231,998,021
I am grateful to the state legislature, especially Senator Negron, and I must note Governor Scott did not veto one line. But please know everyone, the “fight for right” along the Indian River Lagoon has just begun!
The first time I saw Gary Goforth speak (http://garygoforth.net/services.htm) at Senator Joe Negron’s Senate Hearing on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee in 2013, I was very impressed. He was sitting next to Karl Wickstrom, the founder of Florida Sportsman Magazine, who I sit with on the Rivers Coalition Defense Fund. I knew if Dr Goforth had Karl’s “blessing” he belonged to an elite group of people in the River Movement, as Karl, who I love, is understandably critical of everyone.
I came to learn that this accomplished and well spoken man, had worked at the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) as a Ph.D. engineer, most of his esteemed career and in fact “built” the Storm Water Treatment Areas (STA) in the Everglades Agriculture Area (EAA) as head engineer for the district’s projects in 2004 on onward. Today he runs his own engineering company here in Martin County independent of the district. (See link above.)
An STA is an area that filters water through vegetation taking up nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen and even pollution before it goes into a water conservation area and then to the Everglades. It is an area engineered to do what Mother Nature did before we transformed her into farmlands and urban landscapes.
When the Everglades Forever Act was passed by the Florida legislature in 1994, and after Governor Chiles “laid down his sword,” the SFWMD was required to build more STAs to filter the polluted water running into the Miccosukee lands and Everglades further south. The Miccosukee had sued the US government and the SFWMD, (a long, famous lawsuit starting in 1988), as specifically the high phosphorus from fertilizers and pollution from the EAA’s sugar farms was destroying their reservation’s waters and fauna and therefore all that lived there. The law suit accomplished two major things. It called for 10 parts per billion phosphorus rather than 200 plus so the STAs were built and it called for a certain amount of water to go south to sustain the life of the Everglades.
So in comes the law regarding amounts: In chapter 3773.4592, Florida Statues, “1994 Everglades Forever Act” the SFWMD was directed to send an additional 28 % water to the Everglades, including 250,000 acre feet of Lake Okeechobee water based on base flow statistics from 1979-1988. The Everglades needs water to live.
It is confusing, but although the STAs can send both EAA water and lake water south to the Everglades, the SFWMD gives the EAA water (from the lake, used to water their crops), priority in moving south. Lake water goes south only if the STAs have room….
OK. Here is the kicker.
Although in the recent past, the EAA spent tons of money removing toxic chemicals from the lands they had to give up for STAs and although the tax payers spent billions of dollars building the STAs on those lands for cleaning EAA water and Lake Okeechobee water, Gary Goforth’s charts and engineering show that since 2004, actually less lake water is going south to the Everglades. And most of the water going south is EAA water, very little Lake water comparatively ….Why?
Well, from what I think I understand, even though all this money has been spent in the EAA and tax payers building the STAs, the EAA and SFWMD who work together, are “scared” to send too much water south because if they go over the 10 parts per billion phosphorus limit (an annual limit) they could be sued again. Thus they hold the EAA water in the STAs letting it dribble out and therefore there is no room for Lake O’s water most of the time.
As Dr Goforth points out, it is the St Lucie River and Caloosahatchee that do not get what was legislated for them: a minimum of 250,000 acre feet of lake water sent south a year.
As stated in an email to me:
“The 1994 Everglades Forever Act (Florida legislation Ch. 373.4592, F.S.) directed the South Florida Water Management District to send an additional 28 percent water to the Everglades, including 250,000 acre feet of Lake water. The 1979-1988 base period flows to the Everglades included an average of 100,931 acre feet from Lake Okeechobee – resulting in a targeted increase of Lake water to the Everglades of 148 percent.
For the most recent 10-year period (May 2005-April 2014) an average of 71,353 acre feet of Lake water was sent to the Everglades – or an average decrease of 29 percent from the 1979-1988 base period.
So – the target was a 148 percent increase – and the reality was a 29 percent decrease. This was in exchange for a billion dollars of public funding for the STAs. Who holds the State accountable?” Gary Goforth
If you are like me, this all may remain confusing, but I think the point is made… I hope so anyway.
“Legally, not enough Lake O water is going south.”
This is a serious situation. Really, only the people can hold the state accountable, but do we really want to sue again? Can this be resolved?
Many say it is impossible to send the water south at 10 ppb. This may be the case. Nonetheless, I say the Miccosukee Indians finally won something after generations of sadness to their people, after being forced to live on a postage stamp, so as “tough as it sounds,” I believe the EAA, the SFWMD, and the state of Florida have some more work to do.
I didn’t pick up Sunday’s Stuart News until Monday, as I had been out of town. Sipping my coffee and holding the old fashioned paper, I love so much, my lips curled in a broad smile. The opinion page juxtaposed articles by two candidates running for Florida governor: Nan Rich and Rick Scott.
These letters were not just broad sweeping letters; they were thoughtful and personal, they mentioned the River Warriors and direct stories of inspiration from local residents. Don’t get me wrong, I know it is an election year, but nonetheless, it is simply amazing. In one year, since the discharges from Lake Okeechobee and our local canals turned our world upside down, and news of such “went viral,” the people have accomplished the most impressive of our forefathers’ American expectations. Expectations that years of social conformity and acceptance of over-development and pollution had overridden. The people of the Indian River Lagoon have stood up to their government.
The rebellion of the southern lagoon corresponded to the northern lagoon’s massive deaths of manatees, dolphins, pelicans and loss of almost 100% of its seagrasses. These die-offs and toxic algae blooms in the north, actually began happening in 2011 but did not come out publicly until the uprising in the southern lagoon blended the two tragedies.
I know for many of my friends the politics of the River Movement is hypocritical, frustrating and painful. I feel the same way. In fact lately I have been a bit depressed over the whole thing. But I am getting out of it. Boy is it a pleasure to see that paper, to be in the drivers seat, to have “them” writing letters, visiting, and actually thinking that there is no longer a “golden ticket” to pollute. I have been in Martin County many years, and on “this level,” “this” has never happened before.
Finally, even Senator Rubio is getting heat in the press; long standing Senator Nelson is happy he’s been around, but also nervous he is part of the lagoon “establishment;” Charlie Crist is taking out his old notes about US Sugar; Senator Negron is promising more for the lagoon in 2015; Congressman Murphy is regrouping and studying the Farm Bill after the ACOE refused CEPP on his watch; and the future speakers of the Florida house and senate are making their cases for the future of “water.”
Many times the lagoon has been defiled by our government, in fact 2013 was not the worst its ever been. But I am telling you, this time it is different because of “us.” This time we have exposed them. This time we are asking truly for government to do what it is supposed to: “protect the health; safety and welfare” of its people. This time we are united in a brotherhood and sisterhood of diverse backgrounds and interests. This time we have reached a tipping point, as has the lagoon.
And most important for change, this time, “they” are watching and listening to us.
Please take advantage of this opportunity. Don’t turn your back because the politics are so repulsive to watch. Look to the sky—look to the river ——write a letter or make a call and say : ‘thank you; we are happy you are taking an interest in the lagoon; I will be weighing who to vote for based on who really has the desire, passion and an honest heart.”
These politicians may never be able to reach perfection, their world is pretty insane, but be grateful they are paying attention, and know you are a force for change in a way never before. Drive your points home!
After six years as a locally elected official, one thing is clear. I still do not really understand how the Florida Legislature works or how to make it work for me, but I’m getting there.
I thought with the Legislative Session convening, today, March 4, 2014, I would try to share what I do think I know or what I think I have figured out.
First of all, the basics. The legislature is composed of two “houses:” the House, that consist of 120 members www.myfloridahouse.gov
and a Senate, that is composed of 40 members www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_Senate. Each represents a district according to population.
The House leadership includes Speaker of the House; Speaker pro tempore; Majority Leader; Minority Leader and committee chairs. These House seats come up for reelection every two years. Not fun.
The Senate leadership consist of the President of the Senate; President pro tempore; Majority Leader; Minority Leader and committee chairs. Senate seats come up for reelection every four years, so you can at least get something going before you have to jump back into the reelection circus.
There are term limits for both the house and the Senate but because they are defined as “consecutive” you can take a break and then jump back in….
So what have they been doing? Well, recently they have been in Tallahassee and had “House and Senate Interim Committee Meetings.” The dates of those meetings were as follows: September 2013, 23-27; October 7-11; November 4-8; December 9-13; January 2014, 6-10; 13-17; February 3-7; 10-14; and 17-21. So what do they do at these “interim meetings?” In their committees they formulate the bills that individuals will sponsor and try to get passed starting today, March 4th, when the session officially begins. This year the last day of session is May 2nd. So it is two months of “mayhem …”
A bill can start in the House or the Senate but it has to have a “companion bill” to move forward and be voted upon. Hundreds of bills are brought before the legislature each session but only a fraction will make it into law. You can imagine there are many different interest throughout our varying state…
As the session continues, it is difficult to keep track of everything and bills usually get packaged along with others, sometimes with others that have nothing to do with them. As a locally elected official, this frustrates me as I feel every bill should be considered separately as local ordinances are. Well, this is not the case, and allows for negotiating– better said, “if you help me, I’ll help you,” which at the end of the day is not so bad. What is bad, is that the people, the voting public, have almost no way of keeping up with all this hop-schotching, so we are 100% dependent on our elected officials and those watching out for us at home. To complicate issues further, elected officials are pressured, and blackmailed, mostly by their own party, to do what they need to do to make a deal work or “we won’t let your bill be heard” or “you’ll never get to chair a committee,” especially if you are a freshmen or relatively new to the pecking order.
It takes years to develop the seniority to do what you want, so to speak. Senator Joe Negron http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Negron a good example, as he served in the House before he served in the Senate, then he became the head of the Appropriations Committee (they all sit on committees in some capacity ) and his recent position has a lot of influence and power. Senator Negron could not have started the “senate Select Committee on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee” years ago; he has earned his position to do such.
So how do you stay on top of all this politicking ? It is kind of like holding an angry cat. Hold on tight but be prepared to get scratched. Go on line to the state website and get on email alerts and call your local delegation: here in Martin, St Lucie and Indian River: Senator Joe Negron; Representative Gayle Harrell and Representative Mary Lynn Magar; Representative Debbie Mayfield; Representative Larry Lee, and tell them you expect them to support St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon policy and whatever else is important to you; tell them you appreciate what they are doing, and that you are paying attention to reports in the newspaper as far as how they vote. Most of all, be supportive so they support you. And be sure to tell them “good luck not getting scratched.”
It has been described as “black mayonnaise,” and if you’ve ever stepped into parts of the St Lucie River or Indian River Lagoon it may have sucked you down, like quicksand. Muck is as deep as 12 feet or more in some areas and is one of the primary reasons that the St Lucie River, part of the Indian River Lagoon, was declared “impaired” by the state of Florida in the early 2000s.
According to the the Department of Environmental Protection, due to the area’s development, agricultural industry and the building and discharge from canals and Lake Okeechobee, muck sediments into the the St Lucie River have increased causing thick deposits to accumulate.
In 2004, with the help of then Senate President, Ken Pruitt, Kevin Henderson of the St Lucie River Initiative, published a study for the SFWMD entitled “Final Report: Characterization, Sources, Beneficial Re-Use, and Removal of Marine Muck Sediments in the St Lucie Estuary.”
This extensive and excellent report concluded that there really are no “beneficial uses” for muck. Because of its high salt content it cannot be used as fertilizer and the cost of transporting it is often “cost prohibitive.” Nonetheless, based of this study the county and district were able to coordinate the plans or execution of muck removal from area creeks, such as Poppleton, Kruegar, Frazier and Haney.
For those of you really into this, it is worth noting that slow moving government policies such as SWIM, Surface Water and Improvement Management, CERP, Central Everglades Restoration Project as well as the Indian River Lagoon Restoration Plan, also deal with muck sediment removal.
There is hope, manatees came back to Kruegar Creek once it was cleaned and the muck sediments of some of the creeks went to build brims at Witham Airfield and “lined” the land fill. Mr Henderson’s report is a reference for all of us and the basis for future improvements.
Also, right now, in the central lagoon they are very close to getting monies from the state for muck removal in their area due to their area senator, Thad Altman’s involvement on Senator Joe Negron’s “Subcommittee on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee.”
As depressing as the river situation is, in the 1970s laws were created to halt destruction of submerged and coastal lands, like here in Sewall’s Point where once developers and the local government could just decide to “create a marina or make subdivisions out of mangrove filled spoil islands. It is a slow go, but in some ways we have been, and we are making progress.
I’m about mucked out, but in case you’d like to learn more about muck, this Saturday at 10am in Sewall’s Point, the River Kidz are tie-dying t-shirts with river muck and colors. They named their project: “Get the Muck Out!” Scientists will be speaking; we will be teaching; and we will be screaming GET THE MUCK OUT! Please join us.