The big controversy in the Florida legislature this session is Senate president Joe Negron’s effort to fund the acquisition of 60,000 acres of land now in sugarcane production. Although a bill has not been publicly released, there is speculation whether his plan will be approved by the Florida legislature and Gov. Rick Scott.
by gimleteye
The big controversy in the Florida legislature this session is Senate president Joe Negron’s effort to fund the acquisition of 60,000 acres of land now in sugarcane production. Although a bill has not been publicly released, there is speculation whether his plan will be approved by the Florida legislature and Gov. Rick Scott.

It is a battle royale because the acquisition frames a central issue for one of the nation’s most politically important states: who controls water? The paradox is that whatever the outcome,  Big Sugar comes out the winner. In the current status quo, Big Sugar calls the shots. It is spending a fortune to stop Senator Negron’s initiative, including a continuous blizzard of PR tactics, but the moment Big Sugar can extract the MAXIMUM offer by the state for their lands, the golden spigot will shut off.

In the meantime, most media reports lose focus on the fact that this isn’t a new battle. Efforts by environmentalists to re-arrange South Florida’s water management infrastructure and equitably serve the needs of the economy and the environment have stretched out for so many decades that public attention has tended to wander, “I thought we saved the Everglades.”

Despite billions spent, it is not true. Florida’s political and economic status quo incentivize all the wrong policies instead of positive steps based on sound science. To prove this point, consider one of Big Sugar’s principal allies: the state’s largest electric utility, Florida Power and Light.

FPL is pushing hard for final permitting to build two new nuclear reactors at its Turkey Point facility in Homestead. In October 2016, according to Barry White of the Citizens Alliance for Safe Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved ” … a plan to inject toxic chemicals and liquid radiological waste (radwaste) from the reactors into the Boulder Zone at 3,000 feet into the Floridan Aquifer on the assumption that it is hermetically sealed and the waste water would stay there forever.”

This “plan” resembles in its key aspects one of Big Sugar’s central delaying tactics in the multi-decadal fight to maintain its prerogatives. Like FPL, Big Sugar also supports using underground aquifers that connect to the drinking water supply serving millions of Floridians and visitors in order to avoid fully accounting for the cost of its pollution.

In the case of Big Sugar, the pollutant is excess fertilizer including highly toxic chemicals added by industry to its waste stream. Its plan is to dump “excess” water into aquifer storage and recovery wells; an engineering strategy the late John Marshall, founder of the Arthur Marshall Foundation, called, “vertical parking lots”.

Regarding FPL’s planned aquifer destruction, CASE tried to offer the Nuclear Regulatory Commission evidence of connectivity and permeability between all levels and areas of the Floridan Aquifer and all other parts of the 4,000 square mile Biscayne Aquifer in South Florida. White writes, “Putting billions of gallons of toxic chemicals and radwaste with tritium, cesium and Strontium 90 into the deep aquifer presents irreversible pollution with potentially irreversible dire consequences.”

The same happened to environmentalists complaining that the 2000 Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) called for the massive use of ASR wells; some three hundred were included in the original $7 billion CERP. At the time, the USGS, nation’s foremost science agency charged with sorting out the public interest in underground aquifers, was not even consulted.

The following is from a 2015 USGS report:

Recent studies by the U.S. Geological Survey of seismic-reflection profiles acquired in onshore canals and offshore in Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic continental shelf have indicated the presence of tectonic faults (one strike-slip fault and multiple reverse faults) and karst collapse structures, and these studies substantiate the utility of this approach for locating feasible vertical-fluid flow pathways. The strike-slip fault and karst collapse structures span confining units of the Floridan aquifer system and could provide high permeability passageways for groundwater movement. If present at or near wastewater injection utilities, these features represent a plausible physical system for the upward migration of effluent injected into the Boulder Zone to overlying U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated underground sources of drinking water in the upper part of the Floridan aquifer system. (“Seismic-Sequence Stratigraphy and Geologic Structure of the Floridan Aquifer System Near “Boulder Zone” Deep Wells in Miami-Dade County, Florida”, USGS in cooperation with Miami-Dade Water and Sewer)

John Marshall, in the 2000’s, served on the South Florida Water Management District’s advisory board, called the Water Resources Advisory Committee. Marshall was a fierce and persistent advocate for additional land acquisition in the Everglades Agricultural Area during these years. Today, the WRAC is stuffed with Big Sugar mouthpieces, lobbyists, and friends of Gov. Rick Scott. The WRAC, as a result, is providing cover for the state water management district to oppose Senator Negron’s acquisition plan. “Stay the course” including the reliance on underground aquifers through ASR wells.

In May 2015, the following was published in Journal of Geography and Geology (Vol.7, No. 2):

The available evidence, including comparisons of chloride concentrations for injected and “recovered” water, confirm that ASR has not fulfilled ASR proponents’ claims as a means of “storing” or “recovering” water injected into the aquifer, a “new water supply” and groundwater “recharge” alternative, or a potential solution to the eutrophication of Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. Consequently, ASR wells simply function as additional “disposal” and water supply wells, without providing any additional aquifer capacity to support those groundwater withdrawals. Claims that “performance” of ASR improves after multiple cycles, or long-term injections are based solely on the ability to force larger volumes of water into the aquifer at a given well location. This phenomenon is the result of severe erosion and/or dissolution of the aquifer matrix comprising the structural component of the aquifer and meets the USEPA’s definition of fracking. (“Fractures as Preferential Flowpaths for Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) Injections and Withdrawals: Implications for Environmentally Sensitive Near-Shore Waters, Wetlands of the Greater Everglades Basin and the Regional Karst Floridan Aquifer System”, Sydney T. Bacchus et al)

The State of Florida approved the siting of FPL’s new nuclear reactors, gliding past economic facts Gov. Scott didn’t like and a dangerous reliance on underground aquifers that he did like. He is doing the same, with Big Sugar. Both rely on deliberately misreading or denying science and fact.

Big Sugar depends on subsidies embedded in the Farm Bill, and who knows what the incoming Trump administration will say about those. No one is asking Big Sugar to walk away from 60,000 acres without fair compensation. No one is asking local communities to surrender jobs, without planning and investment for future opportunities. What Senator Negron has proposed is to fix Florida’s water future and a foundation built at a time by decision makers who bought into false promises and bad science. This is the last, best chance to reverse that unfortunate course.