33rd Everglades Coalition Conference focuses on inclusion, equity, and sending water south
Coalition seeks to build a diverse, inclusive Everglades community
(Stuart, FL) The Everglades Coalition, an alliance of 62 local, state, national conservation organizations opened its 33rd annual Everglades Coalition Conference at the Hutchinson Island Beach Marriott, Stuart on January 11. The conference, which continues through January 14, brings together scientists, government officials and members of the public to protect and restore America’s Everglades benefiting wildlife, the economy and families. This year the Coalition has sent clear messages that the time has come to:
- Implement an optimal EAA reservoir in accordance with Senate Bill 10
- Finish key projects, like the C43 Reservoir, for the health of the northern estuaries
- Complete and operate projects like Modified Water Deliveries to finally get the water right flowing into Everglades National Park and alleviate high water levels in the system
- Include voices of ALL stakeholders in Everglades Restoration
“Even though 2017 brought welcome progress on limited aspects of Everglades Restoration, the fact that we are hosting our 33rdannual conference suggests that the time is more than overdue for us to bite the bullet, deliver on those projects already underway, and ensure the optimal approach in design and timing for those critical to completion of the task” said Mike Baldwin, Co-Chair of the Everglades Coalition and President of the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society.
In its mandated January 9th report to the legislature on the status of planning the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has failed to configure a project footprint that can store and clean the water necessary to provide Everglades National Park and Florida Bay the freshwater flows the ecosystem requires. The District’s report does not represent the optimum configuration of a plan that will maximize reduction of estuary discharges.
The Everglades Coalition urges Governor Scott to direct his water management district to model alternative configurations that consider additional state-owned lands, including lands currently under lease, made available for use in Senate Bill 10. The bill signed into law in May of last year requires analysis of “the optimal configuration” but to date the SFWMD has only offered options that would squeeze water storage into an industrial scale smaller footprint with massive walls without adequate water quality treatment for conveyance south. This issue will run through and beyond Plenary IV, “Keeping the EAA Reservoir on Track,” in the Plantation Ballroom at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday featuring Florida Senate President Joe Negron.
“We need the Governor to step up and get this project implemented with the maximum benefits to the northern estuaries, the Everglades and Florida Bay. His commitment to leadership is critical during this state legislative session” stated Mark Perry, Co-Chair of the Everglades Coalition and Executive Director of the Florida Oceanographic Society.
This year the Coalition seeks to tackle one of its biggest challenges– the lack of diverse voices engaged in the movement. During panels, attendees will hear from communities long under-represented within the environmental community, share stories, examine successes and take action to collaborate for Everglades restoration. Panelists from Belle Glade, Glades County, the Miccosukee and Seminole Tribes, and the Florida Farmworkers Association will be featured in Plenary III, “Expanding the Dialogue for a Just and Equitable Path Forward,” in the Plantation Ballroom at 3:00 p.m. on Friday. A separate panel on Saturday morning will focus on pre-harvest sugar field burning’s impacts on low income communities and communities of color in and around the EAA.
As the ability to protect national public lands and water under the Trump Administration becomes increasingly difficult, the Coalition is working diligently to keep these lands protected and push back against sea level rise by increasing freshwater flow to Florida Bay.
The Coalition recognizes that climate change and sea level rise are major threats to the Everglades and calls on the Governor to no longer deny the undisputed science and take action to reduce the use of fossil fuels for transportation and electricity generation by rapidly converting to solar-generated electricity. The importance of ecosystem restoration as a tool in hurricane resiliency will be discussed in Plenary II, “Can Hurricane Recovery Efforts Build Resiliency for All? Lessons Post-Irma,” in the Plantation Ballroom at 10:30 a.m. on Friday. Monroe County Commissioner George Neugent will participate, bringing critical perspective from the Keys about climate resiliency.
The Coalition will tackle tough issues including land conservation funding and water quality. Plenary I, “Making the Connection: Southern Everglades Restoration and the Estuary Solution,” in the Plantation Ballroom at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, will explore how projects already on line and those still needed will work together to send water south to save this one of a kind ecosystem General Todd Semonite, Chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will provide insight about the status and path forward for critical projects at Everglades National Park. The final session of the conference Plenary V, “Triple Threat: Florida Policy on Water, Growth, and Conservation Funding,” in the Elliott Amphitheater at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, will thread together the themes from a number of other panels to address important policy recommendations for 2018.
The conference is hosted by the Sierra Club, Coalition Co-Chairs: Mark Perry, Florida Oceanographic Society, Stuart & Michael Baldwin, “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society, Sanibel