[USA] Our long environmental nightmare might soon be over.
For the moment, that is.
On Friday, the Army Corps of Engineers stopped the discharges from Lake Okeechobee — 279 days after they began.
I went to take a look at the St. Lucie River in Stuart on Thursday afternoon. It was brown, not green. There was no algae in sight. And with it gone, and the dry season upon us, the sense of immediacy that gripped the region is diminishing. You can feel it.
And that’s good. But maybe not entirely.
For there’s an election next week. Had it been held in the swelter of July, the algae crisis — and the political crisis it triggered — might have led to substantive change. But how many people will base their vote Tuesday on our water, particularly when it’s beginning to look a little better?
Kenan Siegel of Bullsugar.org thinks the answer is “plenty.” The enviro-activist group, which shot to prominence this summer as the algae crisis worsened, has endorsed candidates and continues to drum up support for the “Now or Neverglades” petition, which advocates buying land south of Lake Okeechobee for water storage.
“Honestly, we’re still surprised by how big an issue clean water has become in so many races around Florida,” Siegel said.
Though he wouldn’t venture a guess as to how many races will be won or lost over clean water, he said that as Bullsugar ramped up its efforts, “we heard over and over that people wouldn’t understand how interconnected South Florida’s water issues are, or how much opposition the solution faces from the sugar industry, or how political our water management has become. (But) clearly, people understand it all perfectly well, and these issues snowballed into a movement faster than anyone expected.”
Fair enough. But will that be borne out in the voting booth?
The Florida District 83 House race is explicitly about water quality. Democratic challenger Crystal Lucas has made it her signature issue, and Republican incumbent Rep. Gayle Harrell has stepped up her environmental game in response. Had the election been held a few months ago, the edge might have gone to the challenger.
Now? Martin County Republican chairman Don Pickard thinks it might be a wash.
“In my discussions with those who do not live directly on the affected water or boat/fish frequently, it seems to be much less of an issue,” he said in an email. “This is especially true of the many ‘snowbirds’ who vote in the county but were away from the problem this summer.”
Harrell “has a proven background on supporting Everglades restoration, but Lucas is doing a good job claiming” the issue, he said. Whether that matters now as much as it might have a few months ago, we’ll find out Tuesday.
The environment remains a big concern in Florida. The University of South Florida-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey, released in early October, showed that while the economy topped Floridians’ list of worries, the environment was second — and respondents identified water quality as their top environmental issue.
“The groups for whom environmental issues are most intense are younger voters — millennials — as well as retirees who move to Florida because they like what it has to offer in terms of the environment, water and wildlife,” said Susan MacManus, a political analyst and Distinguished Professor of Political Science at USF.
The Treasure Coast region has comparably few young voters, she said, but plenty of retirees, and “a lot of Republicans who are pro-environment.
“It’s less of a partisan issue than it is a quality of life issue,” MacManus said.
And it looms large in races beyond the Harrell-Lucas contest.
State Sen. Joe Negron, seeking to fend off Democratic challenger Bruno Moore in the District 25 race, has been running ads touting his commitment to “reducing harmful Lake Okeechobee discharges.” Negron has pitched a plan to buy land south of Lake O, which has been described as “dead in the water” by some sugar industry bigwigs. But whether it sinks or swims, merely proposing it was politically savvy, particularly this year.
In the U.S. District 18 House race, sugar industry donations are a huge issue, with Democrat Randy Perkins charging that Republican Brian Mast first took money from “Big Sugar,” then returned some — but not all — of it. Mast, meanwhile, said clean water is the top issue facing the district, and has publicly backed Negron’s proposal, while Perkins has demurred.
And our water crisis is even an issue, albeit a minor one, in the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Marco Rubio and Democratic challenger Rep. Patrick Murphy. Both made a point of visiting Stuart this summer during the worst of the algae crisis, and Murphy has unabashedly backed plans to buy the land south of Lake O, while Rubio said he doesn’t think the feds should be involved at this point — though he told representatives from the USA TODAY NETWORK’s Florida editorial boards that he didn’t oppose the state buying the land.
And 2016 won’t just have been a lost summer. It will have been a lost opportunity, too.
View original article at: Gil Smart: Will you bring algae into the voting booth?