As Floridians go to the polls, they face clear choices of whether the leaders they ultimately elect will have the political will, knowledge and skills necessary to restore the Everglades. After advising top political appointees since 1992, I know the same thing that South Floridians know: The clean water necessary to fuel the region’s economy and ensure its environmental sustainability must move south to the Everglades and not be wasted by flushing it out to tide.
Our ability to reverse the trajectory of ecological decline in the Everglades is therefore not just a test of our scientific knowledge, engineering smarts and our determination to never give up, but it is also about the choices we make to elect leaders who are able to address the most important challenges of our times, including global change. Electing leaders who lack leadership skills will surely halt the incredible progress that the restoration partners have made to date. Do Floridians want a restored Everglades or not?
The most important issue isn’t what we must do next. That question is already answered and is uncontroverted scientific fact: Send more clean water south to the Everglades and Florida Bay.
Restoration scientists — including our independent scientific watchdog, the National Academy of Scientists — believe this to be so thereby avoiding harmful discharges to Florida’s coastal estuaries. Given our progress to date and recent state decisions to not move forward with planned land acquisition to provide for more water storage and treatment in the Everglades Agricultural Lands, the partners must work with all stakeholders to find the necessary lands in the EAA to ensure that the Everglades gets the water it needs.
The restoration partners and stakeholders agreed on the need to move water south when we enacted federal legislation in 2000 to “restore, preserve and protect the South Florida Ecosystem (the Everglades) while providing for other water related needs of the region.”
Given that we know what to do next, we are left with ballot box choices. Which leaders understand that the most important element of this multi-decade effort is a partnership? Former Gov. and Sen. Bob Graham does, and analogizes restoration to a marriage which is a romantic partnership. As most of us know we do not appreciate being trashed or abused by our romantic partners!
So since I began my sabbatical from government earlier this year, I have listened with great dismay as the executive director of the South Florida Water Management District has trashed my federal team and several non-governmental organization partners.
He attacked U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service career staff over the Endangered Species Act and stewardship of the A.R.M. Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. These attacks resembled the unacceptable hate speech uttered during the Presidential campaign and state officials know the attacks are not true. Are these officials just trying to influence ballot box choices or intimidate their federal partners?
Similarly, the attack was directed at Florida Audubon and the Everglades Law Center staff who have worked for years to find reasonable solutions that ensure win-wins to ensure clean water, restore more natural water flows, establish new refuges in central Everglades and ensure continued conservation by ranchers and other private sector stewards and promote responsible local land use. Why?
I urge Floridians to find candidates of any party who recognize the value of partnerships and who eschew baseless attacks against restoration partners. Candidates of any party who demonstrate that they can unite and not divide and support communities struggling to lead the way on climate change or clean up their estuaries are key.
Before I moved to Washington D.C. and landed in government as a career civil servant, I was a Floridian. I watched my dad, an immigrant and decorated World War II veteran, serve the public as mayor of Belleair Beach, a small Gulf Coast community. I learned that public service is a privilege and a demanding job. So let’s elect leaders like my dad who know this.
Nathaniel P. Reed, a native Floridian and national conservation icon, recently told a crowd of school children that we can restore the Everglades. I believe Nathaniel, so let’s elect leaders who will get support the partnership so we can get to work to get the task done.
Don Jodrey is a former senior policy adviser in the U.S. Department of the Interior currently on a sabbatical teaching at Wake Forest.