Your View: The fight for Miami’s freshwater is happening now

The most important vote in recent history involving sea level rise in Florida already happened. You may have missed it, and if you did, you’d be glad to know that the voters chose correctly.

But of course, there’s a catch.

“The people have spoken, and the leaders are ignoring the people,” South Miami Mayor and FIU biology professor Philip Stoddard told The New Tropic at an environmental rally in support of Amendment 1 last Saturday. “The science is unified on the need for clean water, and the only way that can happen is with more land for Everglades restoration,” he said.

These are the brass tacks of Amendment 1. In November 2014, “Florida voters recognized that conserving land is a top priority for our environmental and economic health,” noted Dawn Shirreffs, Senior Everglades Policy Advisor of the Everglades Foundation.

But while it’s true they did, that doesn’t mean lawmakers actually give a damn.

Passed at the end of last year, Amendment 1 “was overwhelmingly approved by the largest number of voters who have ever passed a constitutional amendment in the state,“ said Shirreffs.  The feat was impressive, with a resounding 75 percent of voters — remember, this is Florida —  supporting the water and land-buying initiative. The money would come from an existing tax on new real estate sales, which means no tax increases. Currently, there are $773 million that the legislature can decide what to do with, and for the first time in 23 years, lawmakers ended their usual session without voting on a budget. This dire situation led to a 20-day special session that began on Monday, June 1.

The Florida House has suggested $10 million be spent from the Amendment, while the Senate has called for a mere $2 million. It’s a gross disconnect between the voters’ will and the the will of politicians.

Arguments from all sides are complicated, but key activists such as Shirreffs and Stoddard agree that the acquisition of land for conservation is seen as the most important next step.

Why does land acquisition matter? “Storage of water is what we are missing,” explained Shirreffs, and in order to store and treat the water we need land.

There was a massive parcel of 48,600 acres of land south of Lake Okeechobee put on the block for the state’s purchase by U.S. Sugar, but the purchase never happened for reasons that remain somewhat unclear. The legislature didn’t provide the necessary funding and now U.S. Sugar is claiming they have the right to take the sale off the table, despite the agreement to hypothetically sell being in place for another few months. Big Sugar is now trying to sell the state land to the north instead — not a great solution to help South Florida’s parched Everglades and Florida Bay. Unfortunately, it’s worthless sitting at the negotiating table with Big Sugar if you don’t have the cash. Which is why the outcome of Amendment 1 is so important.

So how does land acquisition affect sea level rise?

“The only plan we have,” Shirreffs said, “is having freshwater continuing to flow south to have a head to push back on that saltwater intrusion.” Every intelligent Miami-is-drowning think piece about sea-level rise includes a discussion about the dangers of saltwater contaminating the aquifers. According to Shirreffs, if saltwater enters an aquifer,  the water is not allowed to be used for consumption for 100 years.

If nothing is done, saltwater intrusion will contaminate our freshwater, making South Florida unlivable. Water must be siphoned south from Lake Okeechobee, and we need to control the massive flow. Billions of gallons of water are currently being wasted because there is nowhere to store the overflow, which should be used to keep freshwater flowing south. Our most logical solution for keeping the freshwater flowing is to acquire the land leading from Okeechobee to the Everglades. It’s A+B=C. This is our best plan, and there’s money for it, but it’s being politicized and could be cannibalized by politicians with other agendas.

The fact of the matter is, we are wasting fresh water. Buying land would alleviate that, as well as providing a solution for storing, filtering and keeping water clean in the future. If the seas rise, this would be our first and most crucial problem.

People in Miami, and South Florida in general, are now in a near constant conversation about sea level rise, but it often seems like there’s very little that the common citizen can actually do. This may be one of those moments when there’s a chance to make things better.

Reach out to the Governor. Find your State Senator. Contact them any way you can. (Twitter, if they have it, is particularly effective because it most likely goes straight to their personal phone.) Tell Joe Negron you support him supporting this. Here’s his twitter. Tell Senator Thad Altman, another supporter, that you want this money to go towards land purchases.

Senator Hayes, the chair of the committee, who thinks the state owns enough land, might want to hear you think differently (not sure he looks at his Twitter). Tell him you don’t think the legislature should spend this money on existing state expenses after you and millions of other voters mandated that money should be used to improve the environment.

And make sure to remind them that the natural beauty of your home state will suffer irreversibly if something isn’t done. Anyone on the front lines of this conversation, as well as anyone living near natural habitats, can tell you about the potential horrors that could ensue.

“If the state doesn’t buy more land for CERP [Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan],” said Maggy Hurchalla, activist and former five-term Martin County Commissioner, “my river, my estuary, and the southern end of the Indian River Lagoon will be irrevocably destroyed. That’s not the wording of wild-eyed environmentalists. It comes from the IRL [Indian River Lagoon] report by the Army Corps of Engineers.”

“I’ve dived 100 feet down in Blue Spring in North Florida,” she added. “Those springs won’t be blue anymore if we don’t buy land to protect them.”

By Nathaniel Sandler
Nathaniel Sandler is the founding director of Bookleggers Library and a freelance writer born and raised in Miami. He occasionally drunk tweets at Marco Rubio about the increasingly exorbitant price of domestic lite beer.

  • Malagodi

    Thank you for going to the event hosted by Mayor Stoddard. Thank you for taking the time to understand why Lake Okeechobee, the Indian and Calousahatchee Rivers, the Everglades, the fresh water acquifer, sea level rise, drinking water and people in South Florida are all connected. I suppose it seems like a complicated situation; somehow difficult to understand. But spend even a little time outdoors, maybe even take a brief excursion into the Everglades and it doesn’t take long to figure it out. One could even call it a revelation.

    But when you say “There was a massive parcel of 48,600 acres of land south of Lake Okeechobee put on the block for the state’s purchase by U.S. Sugar, but the purchase never happened for reasons that remain somewhat unclear”, this isn’t entirely correct. It is actually quite clear what those reasons are. It’s actually one reason. We recognize it and call it what it is everywhere in the world, whether it’s Nigeria, or Venezuela, or Wall Street, or FIFA. It’s called systemic corruption. We just won’t call it that in Florida, even though that’s what it is; top to bottom, ubiquitous, and 99% of the time, completely legal.

    But let’s say that in the general public’s mind, this is not yet the common understanding. When a situation seems mysterious “for reasons that remain somewhat unclear” it is the job of the artist, or in this case the journalist, to flip the switch, to illuminate the scene, so that people may more clearly see what is going on around them. They then can have the ability to see the connections in the real environment.

    When did our writers loose their courage to say what they see? Was it when just a few organizations came to own everything, when just a few editors came to control what is said and who gets to say it? When just a few people get to decide who gets paid for their work and who doesn’t? Or is this just another case of it being “for reasons that remain somewhat unclear”?

    I don’t think so. It’s called systemic corruption.

    • Nathaniel Sandler


      Harping on that one phrase and then coming away talking about how the whole scene was not illuminated seems a bit picky. The focus of the piece is on the legislature’s inability to budget the money and make it available, not Big Sugar’s corrupt practices. Sure, going after Big Sugar is a great idea, but that’s not what this particular piece of writing is. Calling my courage in to question is just petty.

      As it stands, officially the reasons still actually remain- you know- unclear for why the plot of land was taken off the table. They gave no official reason for why. The people I spoke to don’t want to give a reason. Of course, we can all speculate as much as we want; US Sugar owns half the state and even more of its politicians. But again, that really wasn’t the point here, and again, you know it, but you choose to take one phrase (that’s actually true) out of context, and imply things about about my “courage”.

      But also, I know you recognize that going on about “systemic corruption” is just as vague, correct? You’re a good writer, so you can somehow make “systemic corruption” seem more clear than it actually is, which is great for exposition, but it’s of very little value here. Systemic corruption is systemic, and thus much larger than an opinion blog post about one particular issue that’s in need of concrete discussion right now.

      As always you are welcome in my comment section any time. And even though you think I’m a gutless writer I still do have a soft spot for you and your grumbling. Keep on keeping on.


      • Malagodi

        Clear, like water.

        The journalist writes what can be proved, the writer writes what is apparent.
        What you have chosen to do is hard. Nobody said you were gutless.

      • cyndilenz

        Nathanial- take some time and look at my blog. I’ve documenting for the last two years and I live in jensen beach and that’s what got me started. http://cyndi-lenz.com/ Also, read http://eyeonmiami.blogspot.com. Alan Farago’s been doing this for a long time. He know what he is talking about. Most of my blogs include actual video from out meeting at SFWMD which we just found recently could not have helped us if they wanted to. They let go there for month and months and forgot to tell us we were barking up the wrong tree. Yesterday. I wrote an explanation of who’s who at US Sugar Corp. Read Judy Sanchez’s tweet at the bottom about us “wackos”
        I’m one of those people who have been writing letters, making phone calls, driving to meetings, went to Tally etc. I’ve documenting for two years here https://www.facebook.com/SaintLucieRiverofLight. Today’s blog is about STA 5/6 where I ventured to over the weekend to find that it is situated next door to US Sugar Corp. Besides the nasty brown spiders in the gross disgusting bathroom I found that the water was very low and the place didn’t look managed at all. We must have water that flows south to stop salt water intrusion and to save the water of south florida. We must stop wasting billions of gallons of water that go out to tide. and we must stop the toxic discharges on our estuaries.

    • Liz

      Great stuff, Malagodi. Thanks for sharing!