The following comments were made during the July 15, 2021, meeting of the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board by Gil Smart, policy director of Friends of the Everglades.

Good morning, my name is Gil Smart and I’m Policy Director for Friends of the Everglades, founded in 1969 by Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

Today we first wish to first thank the governing board members and everyone at the water management district who have been neck deep in the LOSOM process.

The selection of the new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual will have a huge impact on the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, Lake Worth Lagoon, the southern Everglades and Florida Bay — all of which have suffered under the current Lake O plan, which prioritizes sugarcane irrigation over the environment and public health.

With blue-green algae once again blooming on Lake O, and red tide plaguing portions of the west coast, LOSOM represents a historic opportunity to address – not solve, but address – these wrongs. We know you’ve been treating it as such, investing a tremendous amount of time and effort, and we thank you for your hard work and dedication.

That said, it’s been disconcerting to listen to portions of today’s discussion which could be boiled down to a single question: How hard are we going to punch the St. Lucie? Because we’re going to punch it; we’re going to slap it. It’s just a question of how hard, and how often.

Our organization continues to support, and we again ask YOU to support, an enhanced Plan CC, as we believe that with key modifications, it is by far the most balanced of all the alternatives currently under consideration.

We were intrigued to see the district’s recent modeling efforts suggest that considerably more water could be sent south under SR3.5, and we support the policy considerations listed in today’s presentation. But we were definitely concerned that under SR3.5, should the lake hit 16 ½ – 17 feet, discharges to the St. Lucie could reach up to 6,600 cfs. That would be an absolutely crushing blow — and it’s double the allowable rate of discharges proposed under the original Plan CC.

The Caloosahatchee absolutely needs relief, and equity is indeed a concern. But we’re wary of any attempt to help our friends out west by pushing more water east. Instead, we should be sending the maximum amount of clean water south — and requiring EAA farmers to hold and treat runoff on their own land in order to create room in the taxpayer-funded STAs for water from the lake.

We also noted SR3.5 performs significantly better for water supply, and we’re curious as to the rationale behind bringing more benefits to industrial agriculture’s irrigation. As some other organizations have noted during the LOSOM process, there has been virtually no data presented to document adverse effects occurring when the lake crosses the Water Shortage Management line. Certainly it’s intuitive that there WOULD BE effects and impacts, but given the lack of data, we’re wary of new modeling designed in part to mitigate crop impacts that simply haven’t been publicly proven.

It’s not hyperbole to say that LOSOM is one of the most consequential public policy decisions in recent years, in terms of its effect on Florida’s iconic waters, and indeed the future of this entire region. A lot’s riding on this, and while none of the plans are perfect, we believe CC, with the right modifications, and your policy considerations, will get us where we all need to go.