Floridians push back against sugar industry efforts to hoard water

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The sugar industry has tried to steal your water from our beaches, fisheries, and the future of Everglades restoration.

Thanks to a wave of opposition – led by the Everglades Foundation, Captains for Clean Water, business owners and hundreds of fishing guides – and the intervention of Governor Ron DeSantis in February, the worst aspects of the latest attack sugar industry underhanded have been caught on Senate Bill (SB) 2508.

Now, the Florida House must stay strong in the budget negotiation process and not allow language in the Senate version that ties hundreds of millions of dollars in Everglades restoration funding to the passage of SB 2508. Even reduced , SB 2508 would hamper the restoration of the Everglades. by locking in Lake Okeechobee’s outdated drought rules, giving Big Sugar priority for water during the drought.

What’s at stake is the water we drink, the beaches we love, the fishing we love, and the Everglades that attract millions of people from around the world every year.

Big Sugar wants water, a lot – more than it actually needs. Sugar cane uses huge amounts of fresh water for harvesting. According to the Water Footprint Network, it takes more than 213 gallons of water to produce a single pound of refined sugar from cane.

This is why the sugar industry wants Lake Okeechobee water levels to be kept as high as possible, using the lake as a private reservoir. Unfortunately, piling more water into the lake for the sugar industry leads to a greater likelihood of harmful discharges that lead to toxic blue-green algae, closed beaches, restricted fishing, dead marine life and devastated coastal economies. , ruining what drives Florida. economy.

According to a 2020 Florida Chamber of Commerce report, agriculture, of which the sugar industry is only a small part, employs less than 1% of Florida’s population and contributes about 1% to GDP. from Florida. However, clean and water-dependent industries, such as real estate, tourism and leisure, accounted for 23% of GDP and 16% of employment.

Instead of sitting in Lake Okeechobee as a safety blanket for the sugar industry, this water is desperately needed to recharge the Biscayne Aquifer – Miami’s source of drinking water.

Sending lake water south not only reduces the likelihood of harmful discharges for coastal communities, but it will feed the American Everglades, which are so drought-stricken in the dry season that they are prone to wildfires. Forest. It will also restore Florida Bay, the “fishing capital of the world,” by balancing the salinity needed for seagrass growth to keep its fisheries healthy.

After years of environmental damage from blue-green algae, canceled fishing trips and rental reservations, Floridians have had enough. Within hours of the introduction of SB 2508, thousands of people were giving lawmakers a piece of their minds.

Led by fishing guides and the hospitality and real estate industries, Floridians made it clear that they were tired of the sugar industry treating our waterways like toilets, and they demanded that restoration of the Everglades goes ahead.

In the final two weeks of House and Senate budget meetings, lawmakers should muster the courage to stand up for clean water and the Everglades. The senators gave public assurances that the remaining harmful language in SB 2508 will be removed.

Let’s make sure they go all the way. After all, it’s everyone’s water, and we need to make sure it’s protected.

Eric Eikenberg is CEO of the Everglades Foundation.

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Eikenberg

Rachel J. Bradford