I have worked diligently over the past 16 years with many individuals and
organizations and at all levels of government to effect changes to the
policies concerning water management and river protection and
When I was first elected to office in 2002, my first priority was to
revitalize interest in and get authorization for the Indian River Lagoon
Plan, one of the very first components of the Comprehensive Everglades
Restoration Plan. It is our best chance and plan to clean up our local
waterways, and it is a powerful priority for our residents. The former
County Commission had ignored it. I traveled to Washington, D.C. with
former County Commissioner Maggy Hurchalla to meet with top federal
officials about the future of the Indian River Lagoon Plan. We were told
that the Plan was dead. Along with many others, I spent countless hours
over the next 5 years advocating authorization of this worthy Plan. We
finally turned the federal viewpoint around with our efforts. The Indian
River Lagoon Plan was written into federal law in November 2007.
Since then, the federal government has begun to fund their share of this
restoration effort. Hundreds of millions of federal dollars have been
invested in Martin County to begin the hard work of cleaning up
Many elected officials now realize the importance of restoring our
waters, watersheds, water basins, and ecosystems and understand the
disastrous consequences to our environment, quality of life, and economy
if we ignore this catastrophe. I am proud of my environmental efforts and will
continue to work tirelessly to promote the many environmental projects
and initiatives necessary to preserve our unique ecosystem.
In 2005, I received the Public Service Award from the Martin County
Conservation Alliance “for outstanding leadership and dedication to
protect the Indian River Lagoon and uphold the Martin County
Comprehensive Plan”. For 12 years, I served as Martin County’s representative on the
Nine County Coalition (composed of Commissioners from the counties
surrounding Lake Okeechobee).
Florida possesses some of the greatest biodiversity in the world. The
Florida Everglades is a unique ecosystem found nowhere else on Earth.
The estuaries here in Martin County – the Indian River Lagoon, the St.
Lucie River, and the Loxahatchee River – provide spawning and nursery
habitat for more marine species than anywhere in the United States.
According to a recent article in the Florida Oceanographic Journal, over
200 species of fish have been recorded in our estuaries within 5 miles
of the St. Lucie Inlet. This doesn’t include the marine mammals, birds,
plants, corals, and mollusks that inhabit our waters.
The environmental significance of our local waters cannot be overstated.
Our waterways are not isolated from the rest of Florida’s complex and
interconnected hydrology. A delicate balance one existed in which fresh
water from inland lakes, springs, and rivers and salty ocean water had
natural barriers and, when mixed, did so in our estuaries in a ratio
that was an ideal salinity for many species of aquatic organisms.
Unfortunately, the development of Florida has caused the natural flow of
our waters to be altered and that delicate balance forever disrupted.
Freshwater runoff from central Florida’s developments and agricultural
enterprises dump into Lake
Okeechobee. From there, excess amounts are released into the St. Lucie
and Caloosahatchee Rivers and sent into the Ocean and Gulf. This fresh
water laden with fertilizers and pesticides alters the salinity in our
estuaries and kills or sickens fish, oysters, seagrasses, and marine
In 2005, the massive releases from Lake Okeechobee flushed 855 billion
gallons of polluted water per day into our rivers and estuaries, causing
toxic blue-green algae blooms to blanket our rivers and sending the
plume of contaminated water miles out to sea and along our beaches and
over our nearshore reefs. Our rivers were so polluted that our health
department put up signs and issued warnings against coming into contact
with the water. That meant no swimming, skiing, fishing, windsurfing, or
even wading. Fish, Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and manatees were found
ill and dead in all parts of our estuaries.
Residents will never forget the Lost Summer of 2013.
The Army Corps started dumping polluted water from Lake Okeechobee
on May 8 and didn't stop until November. The Health Department posted
signs all over the estuaries warning against any contact with the water
because it was toxic. Record numbers of manatees and seagrasses
and oysters died. Just imagine telling your residents away from the
precious resource they most revere for the entire summer.
No swimming. No boating. No wakeboarding. No paddle boarding.
On February 12, 2010, the United States Court of Federal Claims decided
that “The St. Lucie River is, by all accounts, a national treasure.”
Then, why are we being used as a cesspool?
2016 was an unprecedented emergency for our waterways.
Thick and toxic blue-green algae blanketed our estuaries,
all the way through the St. Lucie Inlet and onto our Atlantic Ocean beaches.
Now, in 2018, we are witnessing even more disgusting pollution
in our rivers and lagoon. At present, over 90% of Lake Okeechobee
is covered by blue-green algae. Florida Department of Protection
tests have confirmed that the algae is Microcystis aeruginosa,
which can contain the BMAA amino acid linked to liver disease,
Alzheimer's disease, and Lou Gehrig's disease.
We are in the midst of a developing environmental crisis
whose future consequences MUST be addressed. We MUST clean up our water.
State and federal policies need to be radically reformed to protect us.
Our future depends upon our actions taken right now.
Although not as well understood or appreciated as our waterways, our
wetlands are a vital component of our hydrology. Not very long ago,
wetlands were considered useless swamps or marshes, begging for
drainage. We dug canals everywhere in south Florida and used the dredged
materials from the canals to fill in the low spots. This made the land
usable and valuable but turned out to be yet another of our modern
Wetlands are nature’s sponges. During the wet season, they absorb
rainwater and control flooding. They act as natural filters to clean the
water as it soaks into the ground and recharges our underground drinking
water aquifers. All potable water use in Martin County is from our
underground aquifers. And, in the dry season, wetlands conserve water
evaporation and recharge. They also provide essential habitat for
countless animals, birds, fish, and reptiles.
This is why Martin County has, in the past, had such strong laws
protecting our wetlands. We know that in order to protect our drinking
water supply and the habitat we esteem here, we must protect our natural
wetlands. We must continue to elect local officials who will refuse to
further weaken our laws and allow additional destruction of this
essential component of our hydrologic system.
The Indian River Lagoon plan when implemented will include 90,000 acres
of restored wetlands. That is how important scientists found the value
of wetlands in our future.
Our uplands are also of significant environmental importance. Martin
County voters have repeatedly affirmed by referendum their desire to put
environmentally sensitive lands into public ownership. Over the past 16
years when I’ve traveled several times each year to Washington, D.C. to
advocate for passage and funding for the Indian River Lagoon Plan, I’ve
spoken to House and Senate members, Office of Management and Budget
officials, the Generals at the head of the Army Corps of Engineers,
White House officials, the President’s Council on Environmental Quality,
and the Government Accountability Office. All agreed that Martin
County’s willingness to reach first into our own pockets to provide the
solutions to problems we didn’t cause is a very compelling reason to
approve the authorization to purchase these lands for conservation and
To date, Martin County has partnered with State and Federal agencies to
purchase thousands of acres of land for habitat preservation and river
restoration. Twenty six percent of the total acreage in Martin County is
now in public ownership.
Environmental restoration is slow and incredibly expensive. It is
very easy to become a skeptic. Many decry the sluggish pace of
our state and federal partners to accept their responsibilities to
clean up this mess that they created. And, residents are right
to point out these facts. But, pointing fingers makes no
We have to keep the pressure on at both state and federal levels.
Some folks say that we will never clean up the rivers. I strongly
disagree. It took mankind over 100 years to become experts at
destroying our ecosystems. If we are to survive, in the next 100
years, we are going to have to become experts at restoring
ecosystems. Lets start right here in Martin County. Let's
show the world what successful ecosystem restoration looks like.