News-Press

September 23, 2016

 

U.S. Senate support for CEPP vital step forward

Rob Moher

http://www.news-press.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/09/23/us-senate-support-cepp-vital-step-forward/90753258/

 

Last week, the U.S. Senate adopted a new water resources development bill that authorizes $1.9 billion to advance one of the key pieces of Everglades Restoration – the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP).

Though this bill still needs to pass through the U.S. House of Representatives, the support from the U.S. Senate is a key step in moving forward this large set of projects that will increase the capacity of restoration efforts for the Everglades. On the same day in Florida, water managers with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent notice that water discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries will once again be increased to high levels due to the record lake levels, sending more pollution west into our already stressed estuaries.

The U.S. Senate support for CEPP is a vital step forward, but it is only one piece of a larger puzzle and will not by itself resolve the matter of high-volume discharges that continue to negatively impact our estuaries, water quality and economy. Sustained public education and advocacy is needed now more than ever.

To learn more about all of those interconnected pieces, I encourage every community member interested in the health of our estuaries and our coastal wildlife to attend the first “Save Our Water: Market Watch Summit” presented by The News-Press and sponsored in part by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida on Oct. 26 at Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa. Go to news-press.com/saveourwater for tickets and more information. The Conservancy believes that a comprehensive set of solutions is needed to solve our water quality challenges, and this educational experience provides an excellent opportunity to learn more about the many pieces of the water quality puzzle

Another report issued yesterday by the University of Florida for the 1000 Friends of Florida organization highlights the difficulty of our task in the face of the continued growth wave expected in Florida in the next 30 years. Sprawling forms of development are expected to use up over five million additional acres of land, currently in natural or agricultural use right now, as the state’s population is estimated to grow to more than 30 million by 2070.  One of the key areas of growth is expected to be in Southwest Florida.  The future of our region and our quality of life will in large part be dictated by how we grow.

The continued patterns of development moving into sensitive environmental and agricultural lands and converting wetlands to pavement, coupled with our water quality challenges, should wake us up to this fact: our economy and quality of life are directly tied to how well we preserve our remaining water, land and wildlife.  If we do not move now to acquire additional lands south of Lake Okeechobee for needed storage, treatment and conveyance of water for a growing population and a stressed ecosystem, we will lose a historic opportunity to solve one of the key pieces of the puzzle for our long-term sustainability.

Let’s not wait for lands currently in sugar production south of the Lake to be converted into more development; let’s support the effort led by Senator Negron to buy the land now, to send the water south and to leverage the $1.9 billion the U.S. Senate has just authorized to restore our river of grass. Let’s stop the polluted water discharges flowing into our estuaries and create a sound economic foundation for Florida’s future in the face of these many challenges.

You can learn more about the Conservancy’s water quality work online: www.conservancy.org/policy.

Rob Moher is president and CEO of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.