In February of this year, Florida’s Governor declared a state of emergency in several coastal communities. Instead of hurricanes or other natural calamities, agriculture water pollution was the culprit. The majority being run-off from from sugar cane fields.
South central Florida, particularly the region around Lake Okeechobee, received excessively high rainfall this past winter. As a result, larger than normal amounts of water was released from the lake to prevent flooding. Unfortunately, this water was heavily laden with with fertilizer by-products, mainly phosphorus. These toxic flood waters ran down hill to shore front communities and even the Everglades. The effect on seagrass, fish and marine life, in some areas was devastating. And not just to the environment. Dive and fishing charter businesses took a big hit. Surf and Paddle Board rentals fell. After all, who wants to surf in filthy, smelly breaks? The “trickle down” hurt many areas reliant on the tourism economy.
Ironically, some of the best fixes for future problems, not only helps our environment, it helps the bottom line of the agricultural industry. Periodic rice crop rotation stabilizes both soil and wetlands. Decreasing fertilizer usage, reduces both costs and phosphorus. And the creation of filtering marshes, acts as a barrier to harmful runoff, while giving us more recreational opportunities.
This clearly is a complicated process. Even though strong legislation is already in place to address these issues, enforcement has been lax and mired in a dynamic economy and politics. And for any of us with a sweet tooth, outrage is easy but difficult to take responsibility for.