Editorial: Water's value
Published: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 3, 2012 at 4:05 p.m.
While Floridians paid rapt attention to last week's record $587 million Powerball drawing, we suspect they did not pause once to think about the value of the jackpot that is right before their eyes every day.
A needed reminder of just how important Florida's water is came this month in a new report, "Valuing Florida's Clean Waters," detailing just how polluted our lakes, rivers, streams and seashores have become. Moreover, those who conducted the study, the Stockholm Environment Institute-U.S. Center, noted that since the U.S. Environmental Agency first issued a warning that our state's waters were becoming dangerously tainted due largely to excessive nutrient pollution, the state has moved lethargically to take effective steps to clean up our waters. Needless to say, the health of Florida's water has continued to worsen.
Much of the 30-page report focuses on scientific data confirming what the average Floridian already knows: "The scientific community is now clear that pollution is a primary cause of harmful algae outbreaks. What remains is for federal and state agencies to set, and fund, an agenda for gathering the underlying data needed to comprehensively assess the value of Florida's clean waters."
Therein, of course, lies the rub. While Floridians want their rivers, lakes, springs and, of course, their seashores clean and healthy, and they want their groundwater safe to drink, they recoil whenever there is any mention of new fees to pay for the necessary systemic and environmental changes.
The report, however, is packed with data making a clear and inarguable case for investing more in cleaner water.
A 2010 assessment by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection found that 53 percent of Florida's rivers and 82 percent of its lakes were polluted to the point of "impairment." The report specifically cites Silver Springs, where "the nitrate level ... has reached 1,000 times the normal level and is still rising," adding that 75 percent of Florida's springs "have nitrate levels high enough to cause shifts in the ecosystems." In short, pollution that is mostly human-generated is killing Silver Springs and Florida's 700 other springs.
And for those who think it is only a problem in populated areas, the study notes, "Nitrates are also polluting groundwater wells used in many rural areas for drinking water."
But if we are not worried about what degradation of our water can do to our physical health, maybe we will be worried when it effects our economic health. As we all know, and the report reminds us, Florida's $67 billion tourism industry, $7 billion agriculture industry and its $4 billion fishing industry are vital to our economic health and heavily dependent on clean water. Then, there is real estate and its value — who wants to live on a polluted and dying waterfront?
In its final analysis, the Stockholm Environment report concludes that if federal and state agencies take serious, mutual steps — some 14 years after the problem was identified, incidentally — to clean up Florida's waters, they will produce an economic benefit of up to $10 billion a year.
Yes, we will all have to pay some, but it will be for a jackpot that's sure to pay — forever — and for something we cannot afford to lose.