Growing up in Georgia, my parents didn’t have money for fancy vacations. Instead, they took me and my sisters camping along Jack’s River. They set up a tent on a sandy bank and let us run wild. Jack’s River is shallow, with crystal clear water. We played in the river until the light bled from the sky. Then we’d huddle by the fire, entranced by flames, waiting for fish and fried potatoes to be heaped on our plates. We’d listen to ghost stories, then head into the tent to sleep on piles of quilts. My life growing up was not idyllic, but camping at Jack’s River was. No vacation could have been sweeter. I would not trade my days at Jack’s River for anything.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, signed by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. It protects selected rivers and watersheds from being dammed and damaged and straightened and whatever else humans might do to make rivers into something God never intended. Too bad some of Florida’s rivers were left out.
The Kissimmee’s meandering oxbows were straightened in the last century, destroying wetlands and allowing manure polluted water to rush into Lake Okeechobee. Canals were dug from Lake O, connecting it to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers, draining the Everglades to make room for sugarcane. Lake O overflows to those rivers, now coated with slime. They empty into estuaries and the ocean, causing dead zones and toxic algae along the coasts, killing fish and endangering beachgoers. All in the name of business.
There’s more to prosperity than unregulated capitalism. There’s the beauty and wonder of nature, which draws so many to Florida in the first place.
The economy of Florida is intimately tied to the environment. Imagine the disaster if we allow fracking to pollute our aquifers and drinking water. We need clean drinking water, rivers, and oceans to sustain tourism, real estate, and fishing. The voters of Florida are the ones impacted. Tourists can go home, but our health and livelihoods are at stake. My opponent says it will be seventeen years or more before the Lake Okeechobee situation will be fixed. We simply don’t have that kind of time! We need regulations to restore and protect Florida’s fragile waterways and ecosystems now. Even if that takes voting out those who stand in the way.