The following article first appeared in the March edition of Florida Sportsman Magazine. It is reprinted with permission here.
In 1763 the Dismal Swamp Company was founded to drain, tame and make profitable the low-lying swamp-land in and around Washington D.C. One of the shareholders was none other than George Washington, our nation’s first president. Reading this I realized that the “over-drainage” of our wetlands is anything but new, chugging into existence nearly 260 years ago and our swamps haven’t been safe since.
In an ironic twist, the metaphor of draining the swamp has been viewed as a rallying cry when it pertained to ridding corruption or government waste. But, as we see now, the actual draining of the swamp is at the very root of our water quality woes.
Today, for this column, let’s settle for the metaphorical and not the literal. If we can’t rid Tallahassee of government waste and corruption, let’s try and control it, influence it. Certainly, we need to make our voices heard at the ballot box during the election cycle, but we can’t make that the only time we speak up. We need to address our state lawmakers while they’re in office, especially during their 60-day legislative session, this year, running from March 2 through April 30, 2021.
Due to COVID related issues, in-person lobbying will be cut way back if not entirely discouraged this year. But rest assured the gnarly, algae-covered swamp rats representing special interests like Big Sugar will lurk the halls of the state Capitol, or linger outside, from dawn to dark.
We need to counter their efforts with letters, phone calls and, when possible, participating in organized efforts such as the Everglades Action Day. Since 2012, Floridians have been celebrating on April 7, in honor of legendary Everglades activist Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ birthday. Typically, the Everglades Coalition celebrates Everglades Day by mobilizing people to Tallahassee for a Day of Action in the state’s Capitol. But this year the event most likely will be done virtually.
As anglers and outdoorsmen of the state, our focus for this upcoming session needs to be on addressing unfishable waters. Our state is doing a decent job with the critters but is falling way short on managing the water. Let’s help steer our lawmakers into cleaner water. Below are some solid ideas and legislative priorities from Friends of the Everglades and Florida Conservation Voters in which our elected officials need to be lobbied:
- SETTING MORE AGGRESSIVE POLLUTION REDUCTION GOALS AND ACCELERATING TIMELINES FOR REACHING WATER QUALITY TARGETS. We need to fix the broken system of voluntary BMAPs (Basin Management Action Plans) by making pollution-prevention programs like BMPs (Best Management Practices) mandatory and enacting stronger water-quality standards.
- STOP THE ROADS TO RUIN. Repeal the M-CORES toll roads program and reject the proposed expansion of State Road 836 and redirect funding to water quality and conservation priorities of the state, including the Everglades.
- FULLY FUND THE FLORIDA FOREVER CONSERVATION PROGRAMS. Provide increased funding and a geographically equitable allocation for land and water conservation and restoration efforts in watersheds throughout Florida.
- FINISH THE JOB. Maintain state-level funding and increase federal funding to expedite completion of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).
- INVEST IN AND UPGRADE WASTEWATER TREATMENT. Florida must establish a timeline by which all waste- water treatment plants upgrade to advanced wastewater treatment standards, regardless of the disposal method.
- NO FLY ZONE. Stop the proposed expansion of aviation at Homestead Air Reserve Base, situated between Ever- glades National Park and Biscayne National Park.
- REQUIRE A STRICTER REVIEW OF CONSUMPTIVE WATER USE PERMITS. Florida’s water supply is not endless, yet regulatory agencies continue to issue water use permits and drastically undercharge for the use of our water, often benefiting special interests over people.
- HUMAN HEALTH MATTERS. Enact recommendations of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force, including and especially water-quality standards for cyanotoxins and adequate public warning of toxic algae blooms.
The night crawlers, scary creatures, and those that don’t value nature are working against us. It’s up to us to counter this by flooding our elected officials with thousands of letters, phone calls, emails, text messages, and social media posts. Let’s tame and reclaim the swamp! FS