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The Book of the Week is “Moving Water, The Everglades and Big Sugar” by Amy Green, published in 2021.
This volume discussed the people and forces that changed the Everglades (a landscape of waterways running through the central part of Florida all the way down), its vegetation, species and pollution from the 1960’s to date. The main agents of change have been (in no particular order): sugar growers, politicians of all levels of government, regulators, George and Mary Barley, Paul Tudor Jones II and grassroots groups.
After 1960, the United States began large-volume sugar-growing and processing, as it was no longer getting its sugar from Cuba. Soon, annually, 223,000 acres of land were growing 572,000 tons of sugar– half the nation’s crop– which was processed in eleven mills. This activity occupies slightly more than one quarter of the Everglades, and with a few other crops, comprises the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA).
Beginning in 1988, the federal government sued the Florida state government for damages due to the said pollution (caused mostly by the sugar growers). Everglades regulators are diverse: EPA, NOAA, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Department of Health, local governments situated along the affected coasts of the lake and two rivers in the EAA, and the US Army Corps of Engineers. An entity that controls water levels around the whole region– pursuant to weather, environmental changes and political idiosyncrasies– is the South Florida Water Management District.
However, in previous decades, the politicians and some of the regulators (under pressure from the politicians) were besties with the sugar growers. That situation has changed with the worsening of pollution and other unexpected factors that have prompted actual action.
There is ample evidence that a large part of the pollution is caused by the operations of the sugar industry in the Lake Okeechobee area in the central part of the state. The industry uses fertilizer containing phosphorous, which gets into the vegetation; two major consequences include the poisoning of drinking water in South Florida, and river-course-changing excessive sawgrass, cattail and algae growth- at the expense of other plants, and at the expense of animals that eat those other plants.
Pollution has caused: the deaths of sponges, shrimp, seagrass and fish; turbid waters, hypersalinity and elevated temperatures. Some fish eat the aforementioned algae, which contain toxins such as cyanobacteria and red tide. Some humans used to eat such fish, but shouldn’t anymore, or they will likely get sick, at best.
Many people thought that the polluters should pay for the damage they were doing. At the book’s writing, nevertheless,TAXPAYERS, not the major polluters, were paying for cleanup. As can be seen, there are infinite complications, given the number of parties involved in the nature of the beast.
In the first half of 2016, disruption of the ecosystem by excessive algae growth, caused beach closings and a pervasive foul odor over a large territory. As recently as 2018, the aforementioned contaminants were sickening or killing beachgoers, manatees, sea turtles and tarpon.
Read the book to learn all about it.