Everglades Foundation chairman calls for more direct action on water quality crisis
On November 5th, the Biscayne Bay Village Council held a Water Quality Workshop during which a number of residents and specialists painted a very grim picture of the state of water quality in Biscayne Bay. Anecdotal reports about the presence of feces and bacteria on beaches, and overall deterioration of water quality and marine life, were corroborated by experts and specialists charged with monitoring water quality regularly. But perhaps the most disturbing takeaway from the meeting was that experts are still unable to pinpoint the exact cause of the increase in pollution.
Miami-Dade County needs to solve this, and do so swiftly. It is time to declare “a state of emergency” for Biscayne Bay, as the Biscayne Bay Marine Health Summit advocated earlier this fall. Sadly, our county commission has yet to recognize the gravity of the environmental situation our community is facing and make effective and clear policies in support of protecting the Bay – in spite of the fact that tourism, our region’s largest industry, depends on it.
By refusing to show environmental leadership, our county officials are not only putting roughly $20 billion in tourism-generated dollars at risk, they’re also swimming against the current, so to speak, with respect to the state’s environmental priorities. Just 48 hours after assuming office, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis introduced a sweeping environmental agenda, committing $2.5 billion to address the toxic algal blooms choking the state’s waterways, clean up aging septic tanks, and expedite key Everglades restoration projects - projects that, it should be mentioned, have the potential to dramatically improve conditions for Biscayne Bay.
Historically, fresh water from Central Florida flowed from the Kissimmee River to Lake Okeechobee and down through the Everglades and into both Biscayne and Florida Bays – where it helped replenish those ecosystems by keeping salinity levels in balance. (When salt levels get too high, the seagrass and all the aquatic and wildlife life that it supports, dies off.) Today, however, water from the Lake is diverted to the East and West, reducing the flow of water to the Everglades by more than 50% percent. So, in addition to polluting the Bay, we’ve systematically starved it of fresh water – and the devastating results are apparent.
Construction of the Everglades Reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee – a key restoration project that is scheduled to break ground next year, thanks to the Governor’s leadership – would send fresh water south again, as nature intended. The Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands project would restore wetlands and flows to southern Biscayne Bay. But all of these efforts – billions of state and federal dollars, decades of work on the part of lawmakers, business owners, concerned citizens, and environmental advocates – will be for naught if the county does not demonstrate leadership and perform its duties to protect Biscayne Bay.
In Mashta Point, we have seen how something as simple as eliminating fishing helps to restore a small ecosystem by the bridge. Imagine what restoring billions of gallons of clean fresh water back to the Everglades will do for our River of Grass, our mangroves and seagrasses, our bays and estuaries, our fisheries, our tourism?
Getting to the bottom of what’s polluting our Bay, and fixing the problem, needs to be a top priority for our Commissioners for years to come.
Carlos de la Cruz is Chairman of the Board of The Everglades Foundation.