(By Kim Ryan) The recent Friends of the Everglades “Clean Water Conversations” monthly zoom call focused on priorities for the upcoming state legislative session. I watched the meeting and wanted to share the details with everyone.
Friends of the Everglades is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving America’s Everglades and its interconnected ecosystems, originally founded by environmental activist Marjory Stoneman Douglas in 1969.
Those on the call included Eve Samples (Executive Director) and Gil Smart (Policy Director) for Friends of The Everglades and Florida State Rep. Anna Eskamani from Orange County. There laid out 7 priorities for the upcoming legislative session. Here they are summarized from that meeting.
#1 Stop pollution
When discussing the harmful effects of pollution Eve Samples stated “time and again we’ve seen the Florida legislature not have the political will to do that” Gil Smart pointed out that “everything is downstream of this problem, the fact that we can’t stop it at its source.” They advocate for new stormwater rules and adopting all the recommendations from the Blue Green Algae and Red Tide Task Force. They questioned why all these recommendations did not get into the Clean Waterways Act. The group discussed the devastating effects from the Piney Point leak and the negative impact pollution has had on the many manatees who starved to death due to seagrass destruction, referring to it as an “unusual mortality event”.
#2 Banning Oil drilling in the Everglades to include Big Cypress preserve.
#3 Sugarcane Burning
The group explained the process of pre harvest burning and the harmful effects it has on the residents living around the area. They mentioned safer alternatives called “green harvesting” which could be implemented and advocated to strike part of SB 88 “right to farm” expansion bill. Language was added which aims to protect farmers from so called “nuisance” lawsuits seeking damages from particle emissions (the harmful ash produced by the burning). Interestingly, when sugarcane burning occurs there are restrictions depending on which way the wind is blowing- if east it’s a no go but otherwise burn away.
#4 Fully fund Florida Forever which is a conservation and recreation lands acquisition program
#5 Send more Lake Okeechobee water south. Gil Smart revealed a shocking metric. “Since 2008 over 3 trillion gallons of polluted water from Lake O has been sent to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuary. He went on to say that the new LOSOM will not solve the entire problem but the acquisition of land for more STA’s (stormwater treatment areas) will. The group citing the importance of getting more land pointed to eminent domain as a last resort to achieving this outcome.
#6 Support legal rights for the natural environment.
Rep Eskamani detailed the rights of nature, which is a global movement granting rights to waterways. “This gives a voice to the voiceless” she stated. It gives the average citizen the ability to sue on behalf of a body of water to protect it from damage which might be done from encroaching developments and other entities. Last Year, 89% of Orange county residents voted in favor of a Right to Clean Water Charter Amendment. However the Florida legislature later preempted it.
#7 Stop the assault on home rule which allows the local government to enact ordinances, codes etc without the states approval.
The video of the Clean Water Conversation is available to view HERE