Florida Waterways in Peril: It is Time for a Statewide Environmental Awakening

My visit to  the Wekiva River in 2008 already showed signs of decline in the quality of the river from my previous visits.

While Florida politicos have been focused on other things for the past few months, our precious and fragile environment keeps getting bad news. Unlike some other southern states where Environmental laws have been pushed by liberals alone, Florida has a strong history of bipartisanship and even Republican leadership on these matters. Florida is a unique state, one where many residents, liberal and conservative alike were attracted to move here because of our distinctive environmental features, whether it be our pristine coastline, the Everglades ecosystem, our unique springs or our abundance of lakes and rivers. But recent years of over development as well as poor growth management decisions have put a strain on our state and threaten our long term economic sustainability. Much of Florida’s tourism industry is based on environmental factors and those are now under serious threat.

On Monday, the Orlando Sentinel ran an excellent story about the continued problems for Florida’s magnificent and plentiful lakes and rivers. One River featured was the Wekiva River in Central Florida. This is just one of two officially designated “Wild and Scenic Rivers” in the state by the Federal Government. (The other is the Loxahatchee River in Palm Beach/Martin counties)

Florida’s State Parks website describes Wekiwa Springs State Park as:

“Located at the headwaters of the Wekiva River, the beautiful vistas within this park offer a glimpse of what Central Florida looked like when Timucuan Indians fished and hunted these lands. Just one hour from most central Florida attractions, Wekiwa Springs offers visitors the opportunity to relax in a natural setting, enjoy a picnic, or take a swim in the cool spring. Canoeists and kayakers can paddle along the Wekiva River and Rock Springs Run. Thirteen miles of trails provide opportunities for hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding. Options for camping include a full facility campground and primitive camping areas. Canoe and kayak rentals are available.“

This description is now dated. The river and springs look nothing like they did when the Timucuan Indians fished and hunted the lands. In fact, the river has never been in worse shape and will be permanently ruined I fear once this highway is built.

The Silver River home to Florida’s oldest and one of our most famous tourist attractions, Silver Springs has fallen into complete disrepair thanks to various environmental problems that the state may have to step in. This is a tragedy for all Floridians who grew up in this state and remember the way things once were.

Florida’s signature river, the St Johns which is an American Heritage River has been challenged by pollution, flood control projects, run off from developments and changing climate conditions. Much of the state depends on the St Johns system of lakes and rivers for everything from drainage to drinking water (which recharges the Florida Aquifer, the nation’s second largest aquifer). Yet efforts to restore the St Johns to its former glory have been hostage to legislative inaction. This must change.

But perhaps Florida’s sickest river is the Caloosahatchee. This river is critical for flood control, irrigation, and drinking water in southwest Florida. Last week, the DEP assured locals that everything would be done to restore this river. The Army Corp of Engineers decision to channelize parts of the river and connect to Lake Okeechobee after the 1928 Hurricane (the second deadliest in US history) has had horrible ecological ramifications. The St Lucie River has suffered a similar fate. The Miami River was channelized after the 1947 Great Fort Lauderdale Hurricane but its pollution problems have more to do with urbanization and related pollution than the Army Corps. The Kissimmee River was restored recently to its natural flow (I was honored in 1999 to attend the blowing up of the first lock on the formerly channelized river) but worryingly pollution remains a problem, despite restoration.

On a somewhat related note, I have begun a petition to prevent Alligator hunting in the Loxahatachee National Wildlife Refuge which is close to my house. If you agree with me, please sign the petition and the others like it on the petition site.

The condition of Florida’s Rivers and Lakes are all the reason for an environmental revival. This needs to be done in a nonpartisan way and addressed in the 2013 session of the Florida Legislature. I am hopeful that our leaders will see these problems and confront them. Only with decisive action can this threat to Florida’s economy and standard of living be reversed.

5 thoughts on “Florida Waterways in Peril: It is Time for a Statewide Environmental Awakening”

  1. The rivers if north Florida are not doing well either. Check out that sentinel article’s interactive section.

  2. Molder from West Palm Beach

    Want an explanation for the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee River problems? Here is it plain and simple from Defenders of Wildlife:

    “Nature meant for Lake Okeechobee, which is filled by waters from as far away as Orlando, to spill south in a “sheet flow” across the Everglades into Florida Bay. Instead, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the Herbert Hoover Dike, to shield communities and sugar-cane farms from floods. Now the aging dike shows worrisome signs of disrepair. To spare the dike from the pressure of high water, the Corps regularly flushes Okeechobee’s excess and polluted waters down the St. Lucie Canal to the east and the Caloosahatchee River to the west.

    The good news for the St. Lucie is that it’s not the Caloosahatchee, which has become the poster child for how bad things have gotten in the Everglades ecosystem. The Caloosahatchee, the defining feature of Fort Myers, has erupted with toxic algae nearly every year for the past decade, forcing authorities to declare the river a health hazard.

    That has also happened to the St. Lucie, but only in 2005, 2006 and 2010. The surges of freshwater from the lake also wipe out beds of oysters and seagrass that depend on a brackish environment.”

  3. The Alligator Hunt in Loxahatchee is very unpopular locally. By the way, your petition is not the first one on the subject. People are against this grizzly idea.