Florida’s vast water resources are the lifeblood of Florida and are precisely why our state is such a vibrant and unique part of America. Water is at the core of Florida’s economy and a defining feature of our state’s identity. Our beautiful beaches, lakes, and springs are enjoyed by people the world over, and water from our immense lakes has served as a critical source in feeding Florida’s families and providing nourishment for many of our nation’s crops. Our state’s preservation and strength depend upon the quality of our water.
While in elected office, I have had the opportunity to consider wide-ranging proposals aimed at tackling various components of Florida’s water issues. I was proud to vote for continued red tide research, as well as the construction of a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to curb excess discharges. More recently, however, as Floridians have understandably grown impatient with poor water quality, there has been an alarming trend of peddled misinformation that has oversimplified our water issues by putting the blame on our state’s farmers. This trend has inspired misguided policy proposals at the expense of Florida’s agriculture community, many of whom are hard-working residents of our district whose families have made a living in Florida for over seven generations.
Among the proposals recently touted includes the drastic lowering of Lake Okeechobee’s water levels. This ill-conceived action would accelerate water shortages and jeopardize the lake’s vast ecosystems and crop productions critical to Florida’s environmental and economic wellbeing. Lowering lake levels below 10 feet also poses a dangerous threat to all Floridians in times of severe drought, as it would disrupt natural water supplies to key nearby water bodies while imposing economic strain on local farmers, growers, and ranchers. Florida experienced a drought in August 2011 that would have decimiated Florida’s rural economy if not for healthy lake levels.
Like all Floridians, I’m tired of the polluted water, the red tide, the algal blooms, but we must rely on data and science when crafting policy, not haste and emotion that foster divisiveness and bad policy. At the end of the day, whether it’s development north of the lake, aging septic tanks, or ill-advised fertilizer and farming techniques, there are many contributors to the water crisis and plenty of blame to go around. That is why it is essential that we work together and take a holistic approach to solving each part of this problem so that we address this issue with all Floridians in mind. I look forward to working with President Trump, the Army Corps of Engineers, fellow members of Congress, and local and state lawmakers to ensure water continues to be the lifeblood of Florida for generations to come.
Congressman Greg Steube represents Florida’s 17th Congressional District including all of Charlotte, Hardee, Highlands, DeSoto, Glades, and Okeechobee counties, as well as portions of Sarasota, Lee, and Polk counties. This op-ed is the first in a series addressing Florida’s water quality crisis. Visit steube.house.gov to learn more.