The Lake Okeechobee green algae saga continues. As I suggested in a report a few days back, it appears to be becoming more and more of a political football. This week a candidate for Governor of Florida appeared at a rally of coastal and inland fishermen in Clewiston, expecting to find a supportive audience for anti-agriculture rhetoric on the topic. But instead he found himself in a lecture about facts he was unaware of by local fishermen who pointed out the other side of the story.
In a video of the exchange that ended up on YouTube, a fisherman who manages a local marina, Ramon Iglesias, pointed out that the origin of most of the pollution in Lake Okeechobee originates in the Orlando area, at the very beginning of the Kissimmee River Valley. This region is one of the largest watersheds in the country draining into one fresh water lake — Lake Okeechobee, which is the second-largest fresh water lake in the United States, and one of the shallowest. Ironically, Orlando is where this particular candidate calls home.
The basis of this issue and the often inaccurate and emotional rhetoric that drives this ongoing debate, have been in play for many years. These arguments now enter a new era, as a new generation of farmers come along to carry on generations of family farming and food production in the region. Furthermore, millions of new voters who don’t remember these same types of exchanges many years ago now also call the region their home. The facts were facts then, and the facts are still the facts now, but sometimes facts are hard to find and understand in the midst of self-centered static.
Farmers continue to work to get their side of the story told. Urbanites in the most populous coastline areas of the state continue to be protected from flooding by a system that had to be built in order for those cities to exist and grow to what they have become. As the pollution of tremendous urban growth continues to pile up, some wealthy coastal urban interests keep pushing the idea that farmers must be the problem. Some want folks to believe if we “get rid of the farms” the pollution will go away. Yet study after study conducted by the water management district continues to prove otherwise.
Sure, every sector of society has had a part in all the changes that have taken place since farmers originally settled the state way back when. My father used to say the farmers would still own and operate this state if it had not been for air conditioning and mosquito spray – and that was back in the 1960’s when I was a kid dragging peppers out of the field on our small family pepper farm in eastern Palm Beach County.
Florida has had to change over time, in so many ways, to make room for more people who keep on coming here to live. However, the farm sector, both north and south of Lake Okeechobee, have been working for many years now, installing new technologies, giving up more and more lands, and changing how they do business, to do their part toward fixing their part of this challenge. In the view of many farmers and a growing number of others, there remains a huge urban factor that appears to have done far less in comparison.
We have heard from several sources recently that some 300-thousand septic tanks are said to be on waterways in St. Lucie, Martin and Indian River Counties alone. We are working to track down these studies to share and footnote. Perhaps some of the mainstream media with more resources can look into that little tidbit? Meanwhile, we hope to keep checking into this story as things develop this election year, as one campaign tries to score versus another, and as the farmers of the region keep feeding the rest of us while waiting for more facts and fairness to enter the discussion.
Gary Cooper, Founder & President