Post’s Christie, Goodman tell WPTV’: ‘South Florida sea-level rise threat is real’

The Intracoastal Waterway between Palm Beach and West Palm Beach an hour after high tide. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

We’ve been beating the drum on the issue for weeks now: The message that there is no graver threat to the future of South Florida than the accelerating pace of sea-level rise. By 2060, the sea is predicted to rise another 2 feet, with no sign of slowing down.

RELATED: Editorial: Wake up, South Florida! Speak up on sea-level rise

The editorial boards of The Palm Beach Post, South Florida Sun Sentinel and Miami Herald — with reporting help from WLRN Public Media — have joined hands in an unprecedented collaboration this election year to raise awareness about the threat facing South Florida from sea-level rise. Our goal is to inform, engage, provoke and build momentum to address the slow-motion tidal wave coming our way.

The collaboration is called The Invading Sea.

To that end, we (Post Editorial writer Howard Goodman and me) went on WPTV-Channel 5‘s  “To the Point” to discuss the threat of sea level rise with host Michael Williams.

As we’ve said previously, most South Floridians get it. The Yale Climate Opinion Maps show 75 percent of us believe global warming is happening, even if we don’t all agree on the cause. We understand that when water gets hotter, it expands. And warmer waters are melting the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. If all of Greenland’s ice were to melt — and make no mistake, it’s melting at an increasing clip — scientists say ocean waters could rise 20 feet.

The problem is, too few of us are convinced sea-level rise will personally harm us in our lifetimes. We’ve got to change that mind-set because it already is. Lila Young, who has lived on the Intracoastal Waterway in West Palm Beach for 30 years, said she’s seen the king tides progressively getting higher and flooding her neighborhood more often.

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Palm Beach County is fortunate to have a slightly higher elevation, which means the risks aren’t quite so acute here as for our neighbors to the south. Still, the high-priced real estate on the barrier islands is equally vulnerable, along with the low-lying mainland along much of West Palm Beach’s Flagler Drive. As the sea level rises, the agricultural area south of Lake Okeechobee will drain more and more slowly after a major rainfall. And when significant hurricanes and floods hit farther south, we may see a sudden flood of people from Monroe, Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Are we ready? Are we taking the threat of sea-level rise seriously enough?

Goodman: Scott gives welcome boost to reservoir plan south of Lake Okeechobee

Florida Gov. Rick Scott takes questions during a news conference on environmental issues at the state capitol Monday in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Joe Reedy)

Gov. Rick Scott has given a big boost to Senate President Joe Negron’s plan for a deep-water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

The governor on Monday endorsed the Treasure Coast Republican’s revised proposal for a reservoir that would use state-owned land at first, rather than seek to take existing farmland. The aim is to reduce water discharges east and west of the lake — overflows that led last year to toxic, stinky algae blooms — as well as help restore the south-bound water flow of the Everglades.

Scott put his own stamp on the proposal. He wants the Legislature to add $200 million to the budget to help the federal government speed up its repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers currently expects to complete a $1.7 billion project to shore up the wall around Lake Okeechobee by 2025. Scott hopes to cut that date to 2022.

The Senate voted last week 36-3 to approve the water bill (SB 10). That sent it to the House, where its fate is uncertain.

The senator who has navigated the bill through the upper chamber, Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said Scott’s backing was “a huge step forward in bringing this in for a landing.”

Negron had originally sought 60,000 acres to build storage for 120 billion gallons of water south of the lake. But facing stiff opposition from sugar growers and residents of Glades communities concerned about the loss of agricultural jobs, Negron scaled back the project to about 30,000 acres, using land already owned by the state. That dropped the projected price to $1.5 billion from $2.4 billion, to be shared by the state and federal government. The Senate bill seeks $64 million for the reservoir, but the House opposes the Senate’s idea of issuing bonds in future years to help pay for the work.

The federal government hasn’t committed to its 50 percent match.

Scott said in prepared remarks:

I support storage south of the lake in the A2 Reservoir which utilizes state-owned land and does not take people’s private land. This is a big step toward protecting our pristine environment. This additional storage, in conjunction with our currently planned projects around the lake, will help reduce harmful discharges in South Florida.

The A2 is a remnant of past efforts to build a pair of south-of-lake reservoirs in the southwest corner of Palm Beach County. Taxpayers spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the early 2000s on the first of the massive water-storage projects, the A-1, before construction was called off in 2008 amid lawsuits and shifting political winds.

Negron, naturally, said he welcomed the governor’s support, but expressed some doubts about lending out state money to help repair the Lake Okeechobee dike, which he said “is unquestionably a federal responsibility.” What’s the guarantee the feds will pay us back?

Nonetheless, no one can argue that it’s a good thing to strengthen the dike as soon as possible.

Negron has done an adroit job so far of nudging many competing — and reluctant — parties together toward the goal of building the south reservoir, which the Post has argued is long overdue. By downsizing the plan and focusing on state-owned lands, he improved the project’s chances with Scott, who could no longer object that agricultural jobs would be jeopardized by the reservoir; we all know how much importance this governor places on jobs. And with Scott’s OK, now even growers seem to be on board.

That leaves matters up to the House, whose Speaker, Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, has repeatedly echoed sugar-industry talking points. Here’s hoping he takes the same posture as the governor.

Take our poll, and let us know what you think.

Christie: Rising tide of horse manure threatens Palm Beach County water, FAU prof warns

Frank Merlino of JH Hauling & Services Inc. in Wellington prepares a pile of horse manure for disposal. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)
Frank Merlino of JH Hauling & Services Inc. in Wellington prepares a pile of horse manure for disposal. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

Only in Wellington and Loxahatchee Groves could horse manure be an issue.

And only this time of year would that issue be a topic of discussion.

As Post contributor J. William Louda, a research professor in Florida Atlantic University’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Environmental Sciences Program, noted this morning:

“The equestrian season is once again upon us.

Catherine Sullivan rides Belladonna Z during a competition at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington last month. The Winter Equestrian Festival starts this week, and runs to April 2 at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Catherine Sullivan rides Belladonna Z during a competition at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington last month. The Winter Equestrian Festival starts this week, and runs to April 2 at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

This a fantastic industry that provides many jobs, financial gains for Palm Beach County and tremendous entertainment for observers, such as myself. However, it also comes with a huge environmental burden — hundreds of thousands of tons of nitrogen and phosphorus-laden wastes.

I have been studying phosphorus pollution from horse manure and bedding wastes for more than a decade, and can offer some simple math. The waters of South Florida need to have low levels of phosphorus for the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee and our coastal waters to function properly. The target for the Everglades is 10 parts per billion (10 ppb = 10 micrograms per liter).

One point source that I sampled was a nursery that has a lot of horse waste … “

Louda, who was quoted often during last summer’s toxic algae crisis, has also been a bit of a lightning rod for critics of the sugar industry’s alleged role in helping cause the pollution in Lake Okeechobee that spilled into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee River estuaries.

But bringing Wellington’s high-minded equestrian community — during equestrian season — into the debate could be the last straw for some.

In fact, calling today’s Point of View op-ed “horse manure” may be the most appropos pun of all.

What do you think?