A study by the Everglades Foundation, blasted by South Florida water managers as “irresponsible science,” and a “misrepresentation of the facts,” because it relied on outdating modeling and cherry-picked assumptions, is now facing increased scrutiny by Florida lawmakers who are concerned that legislative proposals have relied too heavily on its misleading conclusions.
The controversy over the report, first issued by the Everglades Foundation last fall, is almost certainly bad news for Senate President Joe Negron. Rank and file members of the Florida Senate, if not already skeptical of Negron’s plan to spend billions of tax dollars on a land buy south of Lake Okeechobee, now have fresh fodder on which to challenge the underlying assumptions of the controversial plan. One state senator, who declined to be identified or talk on the record, expressed concern that Negron’s plan is heavily based on the flawed model used by the Everglades Foundation.
In an exchange of tersely-worded letters with scientists from the South Florida Water Management District, who accused the activist group of promoting their study last October as though it were based on the same up-to-date, official models used by state water management engineers and scientists, the SFWMD alleged that the Everglades Foundation “modified the model code” but didn’t make that clear in their report. One of the most pointed criticisms is that the Everglades Foundation failed to factor in existing and planned infrastructure north of Lake Okeechobee. Failing to factor in “current information and science,” the scientists said, made the study “more an academic exercise than a realistic tool to support informed policy and decision making.”
That is a devastating blow to what many view as a major pillar of support for Negron’s own plan.
Understandably, the Everglades Foundation fired back, but their attempt to rebut the criticisms devolved into technical arguments about the whether the existing and planned infrastructure was intended for storage or as “water quality features,” ignoring the fact that water will be stored in those infrastructure components regardless of the basin’s intended purpose.
Despite the controversy, Negron certainly has the political power to navigate his priority through the Senate, regardless of the data and assumptions that underpin his plan, and despite some misgivings by a handful of his Members. But opponents are already licking their chops at the prospect of making a political spectacle over the Everglades Foundation’s debunked study. And regardless of what happens in the Senate, the proposal will almost certainly face a tougher time in the conservative Florida House. Not only will it make for some juicy exchanges between skeptical lawmakers in committee hearings, it’ll also require careful preparation by those testifying on behalf of the Everglades Foundation and its allies to avoid being publicly clobbered.