There will be no Rivers Coalition meeting on Feb. 24 as we move ahead with long-term planning of possible ways to broaden the coalition's activities in view of numerous developments that include major changes in state government as well as debate over the EPA's proposed numeric limit rule designed to curtail toxic nutrient pollution.
Chairman Leon Abood has scheduled an informal focus group to discuss potential steps to add to the Rivers Coalition's mission to restore and enhance the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.
"Over past years we've taken many positive steps to spotlight problems and needs of the estuary," Abood said, "and this is simply a move to expand our work and gather additional community support." The focus group's work will be explored at the March 31 meeting at Stuart City hall.
Meanwhile, a decision is expected this spring by a three-judge appellate panel in Washington on the Rivers Coalition Defense Fund's lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The suit contends that unnatural discharges from Lake Okeechobee amount to an illegal taking of riparian property rights held by waterfront owners.
The proposed EPA (Environmental Protection Assn.) rule is backed by many environmentalists who say it is absolutely necessary because of constant failures by the state to implement reductions in runoffs of toxic chemicals that degrade public waters and destroy much plant and animal life. Agricultural interests, however, contend that compliance would be unduly expensive and that some of the science behind the rule is questionable.
Following is a new column by Attorney David Guest of Earthjustice regarding the pollution issue.
Fort Myers News Press
Guest Opinion: Big polluters spend money on politicking when they should be cleaning up their act | The News-Press
By David Guest
In her Feb. 6 guest opinion for The News Press, state Rep. Trudi Williams seems to favor the interests of her campaign funders, which include huge factory farming corporations, fertilizer mining companies, Big Sugar, oil drillers and the like.
These polluters have been using our public waters as their private sewers, and it isn't fair.
We shouldn't have to keep watching clear rivers, lakes, and beaches turn into cloudy, weed-choked messes year after year.
Instead of getting busy with cleanup, these polluters are spending money on politicking.
With straight faces, they are trying to sell the absurd argument that clean water is just too expensive for Florida.
Floridians aren't buying it.
We know that every time it rains, animal waste, partially treated sewage, and fertilizer run into our waterways. This pollution is preventable, and it is nothing to mess around with - it is a public health threat.
Authorities have shut down drinking water plants due to toxic algae outbreaks. Swimmers all over Florida are warned out of the water because of toxic algae.
People have gone to the hospital with rashes, sores, and breathing problems.
It's not great for tourism when people see a lifeguard wearing a face mask for protection from the toxic fumes coming off the water.
New standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are finally addressing this health threat. The EPA's numbers have been reviewed over many years by Florida and federal scientists.
Upgrading sewage treatment plants will cost each Florida household just 11 to 20 cents a day.
Now, Rep. Williams is trying to pass a state law - House Bill 239 - that would make life easier for polluters.
Perhaps our lawmakers should instead consider the public health threats and loss of waterfront property values that their constituents endure during toxic algae outbreaks.
Rep. Williams contends in her column that Florida's water regulation programs are working.
Sadly, that's not true. The worst green slime outbreak in Florida history happened last summer, covering a hundred miles of the St. Johns River and leaving piles of dead fish on its banks.
When state scientists tested water bodies in 2008, they found that half of Florida's rivers and more than half its lakes are badly polluted. Estuaries fared even worse.
In Williams' own backyard, a recent water quality report by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida gave a "D" grade for Williams' two local waterways, Estero Bay and Pine Island Sound.
Poison water is dangerous for us, and it is especially bad for a state that depends on tourism for its economic livelihood.
Floridians know that. The EPA got 22,000 public comments on the new Florida water pollution rules, and 20,000 of those were in support of the rule.
The trouble is that special interests have too much influence over lawmakers, and pollution protections get weakened every year.
The people of Florida have made it clear: We want clean drinking water and we want to do the things we love - cruise clear waters in a boat, cast a fishing line, and take a swim.
-David Guest is an attorney for Earthjustice in Tallahassee. Earthjustice is a nonprofit organization dedicated to enforcing and strengthening environmental laws (earthjustice.org).