1. Opinion

Editorial: 'Troubled Waters' a call to action for saving Florida's lifeblood

A giant sinkhole opened in August at a Mosaic phosphate plant in Mulberry, one of two environmental disasters featured in a new documentary about Florida's precious waters. The other is the algae blooms that polluted waterways on the Treasure Coast and Southwest Florida. [JIM DAMASKE  |  Times]
A giant sinkhole opened in August at a Mosaic phosphate plant in Mulberry, one of two environmental disasters featured in a new documentary about Florida's precious waters. The other is the algae blooms that polluted waterways on the Treasure Coast and Southwest Florida. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
Published Mar. 20, 2017

In Tampa, the river turns green in celebration this time of year thanks to the Irish pride that Mayor Bob Buckhorn delights in sharing. Elsewhere in Florida, a green river means environmental disaster from fish-killing algae blooms fed by nutrient runoff. Still, the Hillsborough River and other local waterways face the same risks from human activity as the St. Lucie, Caloosahatchee and St. Johns — all rivers featured in an eye-opening documentary to screen Tuesday at the Tampa Theatre.

Troubled Waters, Connections and Consequences navigates the many threats Florida faces with the decline of its lifeblood — including its economy, the health of its people and its quality of life — and highlights small, citizen-based actions that have overcome institutional resistance and helped slow the decline.

The stories told in the documentary arise mainly from the scenic, historic St. Johns River that runs through urban Jacksonville and from the Palatka-based St. Johns Water Management District.

But there is much here that a local audience will find familiar — the scenes of kayakers, commercial fishermen and airboats cruising along mangrove-lined banks; the scourge of water-sucking St. Augustine lawns; the formation of sinkholes in areas where groundwater is overpumped.

A panel of local water experts will find plenty to talk about, in other words, when they convene after the free Tampa Theatre screening to discuss the documentary. The movie debuted with a panel discussion, in fact, on Nov. 20 in Jacksonville, and more were scheduled in Melbourne, Palatka, and Gainesville.

Troubled Waters is the work of people and organizations who advocate for protecting Florida's waters, chiefly the St. Johns Riverkeeper. The local screening is sponsored by the Sierra Club Tampa Bay Group and 1000 Friends of Florida.

They all are highly critical of moves made under two terms of Gov. Rick Scott to slash regulations and resources credited with helping preserve the quality of the state's waters against the pressures of population growth.

But it's hard to argue against the case they make.

Readers of the Tampa Bay Times and staff writer Craig Pittman are well aware of how regulatory shortfalls have threatened the health of the state's unique natural springs. Troubled Waters drives home the point with a tour of some of the springs closed to swimming statewide because they pose a danger to human health.

A central theme of the movie is connections, both ecological and political. Florida has a finite supply of fresh water and because all is connected — from rainfall to rivers to underground aquifer — all is at risk when any part suffers. And how that finite supply is allocated, one environmentalist notes, is entirely dependent on who has the best connections in Tallahassee.

With this in mind, a county commissioner from Seminole makes the point that nothing of significance gets done in Florida politically until disaster strikes. Troubled Waters declares that disaster struck, twice, this summer.

The film opens with twin images of the "Green Monster" of algae blooms that hit the Treasure Coast and Southwest Florida, and the colossal sinkhole that opened at a Mosaic phosphate plant just over the Hillsborough County line in Mulberry.

The film also points to a more chronic but equally threatening future of continued development at a time when the Scott administration has gutted statewide systems to make sure Florida has the water to accommodate it first.

Two cases in point: The proposed development of the Deseret Ranch north of Orlando would bring in half a million residents and use some 111 million gallons a day, and a University of Florida study shows a threat to the vital percolation of water into the state's underground posed by the paving of the Sunshine State.

As much as a third of Florida's landscape eventually could be covered by roads, parking lots and roofs, according to the study.

There is hope that people from all walks of life are growing concerned enough to nudge the pendulum back on protecting Florida's waters.

Well-heeled boat manufacturers came to Tallahassee last week to argue the case as an economic necessity. And Troubled Waters showcases one citizen who complained after seeing Jacksonville crews aiming leaf-blowers into the St. Johns River, resulting in environmental training for all parks and recreation workers.

With a movie as thought-provoking as this one criss-crossing the state, we can hope for even more advocates to take up this most vital of Florida causes.


  1. This photo provided by Time magazine shows Greta Thunberg, who has been named Time’s youngest “person of the year” on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019.   The media franchise said Wednesday on its website that Thunberg is being honored for work that transcends backgrounds and borders.  (Time via AP) [AP]
    Here’s what readers had to say in Saturday’s letters to the editor.
  2. A look at major newspapers' editorials on impeachment [Tampa Bay Times]
    A round-up of excerpts of editorials from across America.
  3. Election day at the Coliseum for St. Petersburg municipal elections. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Florida should make it easier, not harder, for voters in 2020, writes a new Florida State graduate.
  4. The manuscript of Florida's constitution from 1885. The current version was revised and ratified in 1968. [Florida Memory]
    The governor wants to give a civics test to high school students. He should aim higher and require one of state lawmakers.
  5. President Donald Trump speaks Thursday during the White House Summit on Child Care and Paid Leave in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci) [EVAN VUCCI  |  AP]
    The House has enough reason to justify the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
  6. House Judiciary Committee session during a House Judiciary Committee markup of the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, Pool) [JOSE LUIS MAGANA  |  AP]
    There is a reason Republicans continue to embrace debunked conspiracy theories over Ukraine and the 2016 election, writes a columnist.
  7. Connor Lovejoy, 12, (center left) is pictured with his grandmother Cathy Lovejoy, 57, (center right) who legally adopted him, Coco (left) his therapy dog, Loki, who is a trained service dog (right) and a new kitten named Weasley (center). Connor is diagnosed with autism, fetal alcohol syndrome, intermittent explosive disorder, oppositional defiance disorder (ODD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The boy has been taken for mental health evaluations in the back of a police cruiser under Florid'a Baker Act more times than his grandmother can remember. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Times]
    Too often, the decisions are being made by officers without proper training and without notifying parents first.
  8. Ukraine Nazi concentration camp survivor Petro Mischtschuk, 78 years old, kneels with a red rose in his hand in front of the camp entrance at the former Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald near Weimar, eastern Germany, in April 2005. [JENS MEYER  |  AP]
    Here’s what readers had to say in Friday’s letters to the editor.
  9. We asked readers the eternal question in polls on Facebook and Twitter. Here are the results.