Sunday, August 19, 2018
Opinion

Column: Focus restoration efforts north of Lake Okeechobee — not south

Editor's note: Samuel E. Poole III, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer who served as executive director of the South Florida Water Management District from 1994 to 1999, responds to the Nov. 15 column "New reservoir needed to stop algae blooms'' by Erik Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation.

I agree with everything in Erik Eikenberg's column concerning Everglades restoration except his priority of treating Lake Okeechobee's nutrient problems after they enter the lake. Our first priority must be stopping the nutrients from entering the lake.

Lake Okeechobee receives about five times the 105 tons of phosphorus per year limit, and nearly all of that phosphorus enters the lake with stormwater from suburban and agricultural development as far north as Orlando. My more than 40 years of experience addressing environmental consequences of development in Florida has taught me that complicated engineering projects are seldom the best response to the unanticipated problems created by complicated engineering projects. Filling in the channel dug through the Kissimmee River is the most successful environmental restoration project in the United States. The takeaway is that undoing mistakes is often more effective than building and maintaining another project to treat the mistake.

For Lake Okeechobee, this means going upstream as close to the source of the stormwater runoff as possible. This also means working with the owners of roughly 1 million acres of undeveloped land remaining in the watershed to undo the drainage ditches and canals sending water to Lake Okeechobee and to hold and clean up stormwater on their land. Using a market-based system known as a fee for environmental services, landowners are compensated based on their effectiveness in holding and treating stormwater.

Regulation alone has not prevented damage to our lakes, rivers, bays and aquifers. Supplementing our regulatory system with a fee for environmental services approach is a rational alternative to more big engineering solutions.

This approach is not new to Florida. The Florida Ranchlands Environmental Services Project proved the concept in the Lake Okeechobee watershed. Although the program lost leadership and focus with cuts in the South Florida Water Management District budgets, it still exists.

Cost comparisons between government purchasing thousands of acres of land; designing, permitting and constructing; and then maintaining, operating and making corrective modifications to big engineering systems in perpetuity, and paying private landowners to produce clean water crops continue to evolve. It is clear that service payments to landowners will need to make the business of dispersed water management competitive with other uses of land, including agriculture and development. In its mature form, fee for services could allow a mix of uses on small and light footprints, with the majority of the landscape available for water storage and treatment.

Five points are clear when comparing another big engineering fix south of Lake Okeechobee and fee for services water storage and treatment north of Lake Okeechobee:

• Dispersed storage and treatment can be scaled up and have immediate impacts.

• Design, permitting and construction of a 60,000-acre storage and treatment system will take years before it's fully operational.

• Holding and treating stormwater north of the lake will help the estuaries and allow the lake to begin recovery, including cycling out the legacy nutrients in lake sediments.

• Storing and treating stormwater south of the lake will help the estuaries but allow Lake Okeechobee to continue to receive very high nutrient loads.

• If the storage and treatment capacity of the lake's watershed is restored, the important reconnection of Lake Okeechobee with the sawgrass Everglades would be a different project — more like a natural flow way and less like a new lake south of Lake Okeechobee.

Finally, holding stormwater for aquifer recharge instead of dumping it into the estuaries could ease Central Florida's concern about future water supplies. I have experienced too many big engineering fixes to believe that "this time we will get it right."

Samuel E. Poole III is a Fort Lauderdale lawyer and served as executive director of the South Florida Water Management District from 1994 to 1999.

Comments
Editorial: Did Rick Scott’s wallet affect his epiphany on rail line?

Editorial: Did Rick Scott’s wallet affect his epiphany on rail line?

Within weeks of taking office in 2011, Gov. Rick Scott made one of the worst decisions of his administration and refused $2.4 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. Within months of leaving office, the governor...
Published: 08/17/18
Editorial: Hillsborough has a place among growing number of governments suing opioid makers

Editorial: Hillsborough has a place among growing number of governments suing opioid makers

Local governments across the land can find plenty of reasons to go after the drug industry over the crisis of opioid addiction.Hillsborough County can find more reasons than most.• In 2016, the county led the state with 579 babies born addicted to dr...
Published: 08/17/18
Editorial: Here’s what needs to be done to stop algae blooms

Editorial: Here’s what needs to be done to stop algae blooms

The environmental crisis in South Florida has fast become a political crisis. Politicians in both parties are busy blaming one another for the waves of toxic algae blooms spreading out from Lake Okeechobee and beyond, fouling both coasts and damaging...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Journalists are friends of democracy, not the enemy

Editorial: Journalists are friends of democracy, not the enemy

It is real news that the Hillsborough County School District said this week it will accelerate testing for lead in drinking water and release the results after the Tampa Bay Times reported testing would take years and that until we asked families wer...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/16/18

Bumping into GOP cowardice on guns

One small island of sanity in the generally insane ocean of American gun culture is the near-complete federal ban on civilian possession of fully automatic weapons — machine guns.The nation got a bitter taste last year of what we’d be facing on a reg...
Published: 08/14/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Vaccinations are safe way to prevent measles

Editorial: Vaccinations are safe way to prevent measles

The revelation that three people in Pinellas County have contracted the measles virus should be a wake-up call to everyone to get vaccinated if they haven’t been — and to implore parents to immunize their kids. Contagious diseases such as measles can...
Published: 08/14/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Habitat for Humanity still has questions to answer about selling mortgages

Editorial: Habitat for Humanity still has questions to answer about selling mortgages

A good reputation can vanish overnight, which is why Habitat for Humanity of Hills-borough County made a smart decision by announcing it would seek to buy back 12 mortgages it sold to a Tampa company with a history of flipping properties. The arrange...
Published: 08/14/18
Editorial: Vote — or a minority of the electorate will decide your future without you

Editorial: Vote — or a minority of the electorate will decide your future without you

40%of Americans who were eligible to vote for president in 2016 just didn’t bother. That number dwarfs the portion of all eligible voters who cast a ballot for President Donald Trump — 27.6 percent — or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton, 28.8 percent...
Published: 08/13/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Why stand your ground has to go

Editorial: Why stand your ground has to go

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe made a reasonable decision to charge Michael Drejka with manslaughter in last month’s deadly Clearwater convenience store parking lot confrontation. The shooting, which erupted over use of a handicap parkin...
Published: 08/13/18
Editorial: Politics aside, arguments are clear for moving appellate court to Tampa

Editorial: Politics aside, arguments are clear for moving appellate court to Tampa

It’s time to re-establish a permanent home for the state appeals court that serves the Tampa Bay region.It makes sense to put it in Tampa, the same as it made sense 30 years ago when the court’s operations began moving piece by piece up Interstate 4 ...
Published: 08/09/18
Updated: 08/10/18