By Tim Canova
For the past several years in Florida, we have been dealing with toxic blue green algae — a red tide of cyanobacteria algae — that’s been killing our wildlife and strangling our internal waterways and coastal waters.
Today, it’s reached a terrible tipping point, with thousands of dead and dying sea animals, including manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, otters; all kinds of fish, a white shark, seahorses, shellfish, clams, oysters, crabs, lobsters and other crustaceans, and many species of birds, including pelicans. This is now the largest ongoing toxic waste site in the country.
How did we get to this point of ecological disaster? It started with the contamination of our politics by the corrupting influence of corporate money. In the past 25 years, Big Sugar firms have contributed more than $50 million to Republican and Democratic parties and candidates in Florida — including to my opponent Debbie Wasserman Schultz, one of the ringleaders. And for years, Big Ag and Big Sugar firms have polluted the waterways without end.
Fertilizer runoffs from Big Sugar and big factory farms have poured massive amounts of phosphate, nitrates, and herbicides like glyphosate into Lake Okeechobee, which is prevented from flowing naturally into the Everglades where the plant life would act as a natural filtration. But that natural water flow has been impeded by the political clout of Big Sugar, which wants to hold onto its federal subsidies, now in the hundreds of millions of dollars a year. In addition, phosphate mining by the Mosaic Company adds more pollutants into the water. Meanwhile, aging sewage infrastructure, cesspools and septic tanks are breaking down and leaking into the surrounding land and waterways, further adding to the filth and toxic stew of the algae blooms.
In 2014, a supermajority of Florida voters approved Amendment 1, a constitutional referendum passed to spend a billion dollars raised from a small real estate transactions tax to buy out the Big Sugar farms south of Lake Okeechobee and allow the lake to once again flow naturally into the Everglades. But the Big Sugar firms and their political puppets in Tallahassee have stopped the Florida legislature from fulfilling this mandate. Instead, the toxic algae builds up to a crisis level and then flows through the St. Lucie River to the Indian River Lagoon and Atlantic Ocean to the east, and through the Caloosahatchee River to the Gulf coast to the west. All along the way, sea life is dying and people are getting sick just from inhaling the air near the algae blooms. The tourist industry and marine sports are shut down, and the drinking water is in danger everywhere.
Two years ago, I received a letter from the big law firm representing these Big Sugar companies threatening to sue me for defamation. I dared them to do so by speaking out even louder against them. I did not back down because I knew it was only the beginning. And today this environmental disaster is worse than ever. This is now quickly becoming Florida’s own Flint, Michigan water crisis!
Enough with the corporate interests who keep putting their profits ahead of people’s lives and ahead of the wellbeing of future generations. It’s time to elect true fighters for our natural environments, people who will protect our water, wildlife, and public health and safety.