Voters have spoken.
Amendment 1 -allowing funds to be added to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to acquire lands, restore them and manage improvements- received 75 percent approval last November.
The Water and Land Conservation change to the Florida Constitution could provide funding to protect water quality in Florida's rivers, lakes, streams, beaches, and estuaries for future generations.
More than $10 billion could preserve Florida's wildlife habitat, wetlands and water quality over the amendment's 20-year life. Yet, it will not require a single increase in taxes. Rather, it will direct one-third of existing fees collected when real estate is sold.
Appropriated funds could be used to clean and protect the Everglades AND ease harmful high flow regulatory discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers. We all know what excessive discharges has done to our area estuaries and wildlife. Excessive nutrients in our water can cause algae blooms, red tide, fish kills and manatee deaths when red tide gets into the respiratory system of these endangered mammals.
Locally, Lee County Health Department officials reported evidence of bacteria in the Caloosahatchee at the end of the summer of 2013 due to repeated high flow discharges. Not only was wildlife impacted, so too was human life. Recreational boating, fishing and swimming were threatened.
An environmental slide topped off with an economic impact. Tourists were said to have shortened or cancelled vacation times on both Florida coasts due to water quality reasons.
Let's make sure that does not happen again. All that is needed is an allocation by Gov. Rick Scott. A political will.
Conservation organizations and local officials have made pleas. Sanibel/Captiva Conservation Foundation, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Sierra Club, Everglades Trust, environmental champion Ray Judah and Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann are among them.
Five years ago, U.S. Sugar Corporation agreed via a binding, signed contract to sell 46,000 acres of its land -26,000 of which is directly south of Lake O. Some EAA land could be used as water storage, to allow it to be cleaned of pollutants then flowed south from the lake via Plan 6 to the "river of grass" as it once did.
Buy the Land.
Lawmakers are being held accountable. Is it more of a question of special interests over public interest?
The Herbert Hoover Dam does not have a spillway. Instead, the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers both act as its release valve. The influence that U.S. Sugar Industry has on certain groups has been tabbed a determining factor.
It costs $350 to purchase the Everglades Agriculture Area land, but Amendment 1 is expected to generate $650 million annually, conservationists say. Everglades Trust says agricultural pollution kills two to nine acres a day in the Everglades ecosystem and could lead to the loss of a $20 billion tourism industry, more than 365,000 jobs and the only source of safe clean drinking water for more than eight million Floridians.
So, why the wait.
Friday serves as the deadline to purchase the lands currently under option. Gov. Scott and state legislators need to hear from every one of us to understand this deadline cannot pass us by without action. Reach Gov. Rick Scott at 1-(850)-717-9337 (email@example.com), House Speaker Steve Crisafulli at 1-(850)-717-5051 (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Senate President Andy Gardiner at 1-(850)-487-5229 (email@example.com).
The clock is ticking on a land purchase and our collective health.