Friday, August 9, 2013

Lake Okeechobee - Scott's Waterloo?

Seems our highest-ranking elected official in Florida is about to get a real-world snoot full of what it really takes to get Florida’s water “right.” 
For the last two years his minions, Herschel Vinyard and Jeff Littlejohn, have been mindlessly going about decimating the state’s water resource management capabilities, particularly at the South Florida Water Management District.  Meanwhile, Scott, with no idea what he or they are doing, is about to learn that getting the state’s water “right” is a whole lot more than having DEP spew endless news releases that shamelessly give him credit for things he didn’t do or that don’t amount to much.
At a meeting of the Water Resource Advisory Commission of the South Florida Water Management District held in Jensen Beach yesterday, it was reported that despite the fact that the Corps is releasing water from the lake as fast as possible, water can actually flow into it six times faster than it can be released.
Right now the lake is as high as it has been in eight years and the rainy season is just getting underway, not to mention the hurricane season.
Most of us on this side of the state don’t pay much attention to the Lake O problem but we should because it reflects the state’s growing incompetence at protecting the public’s health, safety and welfare as well as its natural systems.  Use to be, water management in Florida was science-based.  Now it’s who you know, not what you know, and lives are at risk.
Improperly managed water can be dangerous, vast ecosystems can be destroyed and human lives lost.  The situation down south is demonstrating this in spades.
Because the lake is so high and the rains keep coming, the US Army Corps of Engineers, as one would expect, is pulling all the stops and discharging all it can before the lake’s aged culverts and 143-mile weakened levy fail … an urgent and real concern. 
Lt. Col. Thomas Greco of the COE said the dike at the southern end of Lake Okeechobee is among the most at risk in the United States and needs immediate attention, according to Palm Beach Post reporter, Christine Stapleton, who reported on the meeting.  (Read the full article HERE.)
Mayor Phillip Roland of the city of Clewiston expressed concern that that this could be “another Katrina.”  Clewiston lies just outside the lake’s levy.
The Corps’ massive freshwater releases are causing major destruction to coastal natural systems, which are salt or brackish water dependent.  In addition, the water is loaded with nutrients and pesticides from the multitude of farms adjacent to the lake. Slime and algal blooms are becoming commonplace and the Indian River Lagoon may be facing total ecosystem failure.
Despite the hyperbole of the internet, this is one matter you should consider carefully and be legitimately concerned with because it is about much more than just southeast Florida.  Think about our own rivers, lakes, springs, coastal marshes, and freshwater aquifers.
Melissa Meeker is the most recent political appointee to the SFWMD to flee back to the private sector before, as one anonymous writer put it, her incompetence at handling one of the most complex water resource management challenges in the country was “found out.” 
Now Tallahassee has replaced her with another political appointee, Blake Guillory, who brings no apparent better management capabilities or insights. 
This may very well be Scott’s re-election Waterloo.  As much as it may seem irresponsible to suggest, a water management disaster as frightening as this, might be the price the state will have to pay to rid itself of his incompetence and return to the truly responsible resource management Florida urgently requires and once had before he dismantled it.


  1. Well, I think after 10 years of reading Sunshine Law record requests from the DEP, one thing is for sure: they have no real standard testing!
    I mean, while all these consumer advocates were screaming for the US Sugar sale, some of us were relieved it did not pass. Because US Sugar had no clean up of the parcels being sold.

    So, let me ask, all you people "upset" about the algae. Did it ever occur to you, Algae= nitrates and phosphates??

    So, if our water is so EPA clean, WHY do we have algae everywhere??

    And if Florida DEP is cutting employees, WHAT are they doing to the lab technician departments???

    Maybe someone should fund LaPointe's $2 Million (Rick Scott didn't)so he can independently test the water area around Lake Okeechobee??!

  2. And on another front, we're looking for ways to add more run off water. (And for ways for private entities to profit from that water.)

  3. You're a legend in your own mind. It's a shame that you have chosen to sensationalize Lake Okeechobee water level management as if it were subject to the whim of the Governor or Secretary Vinyard. You know better. The abandonment of the protocols embedded in the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule, for the sake of public sentiment, is irresponsible and stands in direct opposition to the science-based decisions you claim to hold so dear.

    You disappoint me and those who work every day to manage south Florida's complex water resource issues.

    1. A legend in my own mind? Nah. But I do touch nerves from time to time and apparently I’ve touched yours. As you know I’m fully retired and pretty much say what I want, without concern for nurturing legends in anyone’s mind, particularly mine or yours. But, there’s no need to get personal.

      Let me clarify … Nowhere did I suggest that the lake’s levels are being operated at the whim of anyone in Tallahassee. Nor did I say, or even suggest, that “the protocols embedded in the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule” have been abandoned “for the sake of public sentiment.”

      The point I was making, apparently not clearly enough, is that the wholesale and politically motivated dismissal of literally centuries of institutional knowledge and nationally recognized expertise with no regard for the impact it would have on the ability of the state to resolve “south Florida’s complex water resource problems,” as you put it, was totally irresponsible and is resulting at least partially in the dangerous situation that now exists there. You’ll never convince me that the actions of Rick Scott, Herschel Vinyard and Jeff Littlejohn have not placed the state in more danger than existed before their unthinking ignorance was released upon the scene … arrived in situ, as you techies might say.

      Again not to get personal, but don’t you think ag holds some - no, a lot - of the responsibility for the mess there? It’s long past the time when the farmers’ oxen can continue to be protected. It’s time for ag to get painted by the radar of truth, just as it is for most of the other actors in that bad play unfolding down there. Seems to me we’re at that point where the denouement is about to be revealed and all that’s left to see is who dies. Will it be the Park, Indians, Agriculture, People, Politicians, lobbyists, Economy, or Everglades? (Pardon me if I’ve left anyone out.)

      Good to hear from you, ____. Hope you reach retirement one day and be able to say any and everything you really want and should say.


    2. I spent the last twenty years of my career working for the State of Florida land planning agency in Tallahassee (in the Department of Community Affairs) and for the Department of Transportation in Tampa. I watched the start of state land use planning in the early 1970's, and later witnessed the drawn-out backlash and final gutting of it in 2010-11 under the current regime. In recent years heavy-handed politicians and their appointees demanded special treatment and favors. Some competent managers in positions charged with protecting the public interests under Florida law. . . were fired for "doing the right thing" under the law. Water management districts and state agencies mandated to protect the environment were slammed to discourage the monitoring of business interests and protection of resources including water and land. Florida has become the developer's whore. Sincerely, lifetime Florida resident.

  4. After reading your email that was forwarded to me by a friend, I think I needed to be added to your distribution list because you did a great job expressing my thoughts of late…

  5. I do not have knowledge of all that is going on with the lake, but if there is concern that the water levels have gotten away from them down there then one has to consider the reasons for that. I have some knowledge of the system as an ex SFWMD engineer (although managing the lake's structures was not my primary duty). What I am seeing is that the work environment is one where failure is not an option for the individual. Failure, at least from the Governing Boards, Executive Directors and the Governors office viewpoint seems to be defined as anything that makes their actions of staff cutbacks, targeted termination of former senior leadership positions and "program" adjustments appear to have been a mistake. Therefore anyone that "allows" a problem to arise must be incompedent at be dealt with, as in removed. Seems to me that all that does is ensure people don't make any descisions on their own. Why would you. That leave it up to the executive level inexperienced staff to make them. As we all know, you can't predict the weather so I imagine that those in charge of regulating the lake's water levels early on (remember we were in a drought last winter) didn't want to over compensate by creating more storage and then not have the rains come, something that previous administrations had done. The difference is that previously you took your lumps but you did so because the other option was a failure and lives lost. Hopefully that is not going to happen, but I do not have the confience that the new guy (Guillery) is any better than the last one (Meeker). He won't last long, maybe 2 years like at SWFWMD before he creates a high paying job near his home and splits.