All that glitters isn’t water

I used to think the gods must be crazy. But now I’m pretty sure it’s us. We Floridians I mean.

But in our defense, it could be something in the water that’s driving us crazy.

What with all the red tide and green algae and dead fish and manatees washing up everywhere.

I only bring this up because I’ve been reviewing Robert L. Knight’s forthcoming book, “Saving Florida Springs.” Knight is executive director of the Howard T. Odium Springs Institute, and he’s probably forgotten more than you or I will ever know about Florida’s “Bowls of liquid light,” to cadge a phrase from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas.

I’ll have more to say about Bob’s book in my next Gainesville Sun column. But in the meantime, there are a couple of things I think are worth mentioning right now.

Like Knight’s observation that “North and Central Florida is The Land of a Thousand Springs, and Florida has the highest number and greatest diversity of artesian springs in the world.

“If there were a World Heritage Site or a national park for springs, it would be in North and Central Florida.”

Sounds impressive, huh? We’re No. 1 in the Springs World! And it is, or it would be, if we crazy Floridians weren’t doing our level best to ignore the slow deterioration of our most amazing natural treasure.

We’re pumping so much water out of the ground that the springs are losing their natural flow. We’re putting so much nitrogen into the water that once-crystal clear springs are growing murky, and beset with slimy, brown algae.

And does all that matter? Not unless you consider the fact that nearly all of us get our drinking water from the very same aquifer that nurtures our springs.

Water, you know? The stuff of life?

Do we care? We should. But from all outward appearances we collectively seem to care as much about that as we do about having turned Lake Okeechobee into a giant cesspool. About having all but killed the Indian River Lagoon. About pouring enough gunk into the Gulf to create nearly permanent red tide conditions from Tampa Bay to Sarasota and beyond.

Listen, experts like Bob Knight know how to save the springs. It’s not that hard and it’s doable. But year after year, water flow and water quality keep deteriorating for the simple reason that Florida’s political power structure is too attuned to the interests of Big Ag, Big Chem, Big Development and all of the other well-heeled special interest groups that profit in the face of environmental degradation.

Which brings me back to my premise that we Floridians must be crazy. Because the very definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Case in point. As Knight writes, Florida voters “elected and re-elected Rick Scott governor for two terms totaling eight years in office.

“Governor Scott’s legacy includes the dismantling of Florida’s environmental protections by watering down protective laws and their enforcement and by firing essential staff at the regulatory agencies.

“The decisions made by Florida’s voters have empowered a state government that is taking Florida’s priceless springs on a path to environmental disaster.”

Crazy, huh? And Scott – who we subsequently elected to the U.S. Senate – is just one example. I’d be hard pressed to identify even one Florida politician who has been thrown out of office in the past decade or two for having a “dirty” voting record.

Which raises another question: If we don’t care about the water that is all around us – if we don’t care that we millions of Floridians are literally stewing in our own toxic juices – what do we care about?

Well, if Gov. Ron DeSantis’ current legislative special session is any indication, we care about thumbing our collective noses at President Biden’s Covid vaccine mandates. We care about the right of parents to let their kids infect other kids at school.

If DeSantis is right, we Floridians care about stopping “wokeness” We care about banning Critical Race theory. We care about owning the libs.

But do we care about red tide and green algae and the Great Okeechobee Cesspool and the dying Indian River Lagoon and our increasingly contaminated and weak flowing springs?

When’s the last time we had a special session to rescue Florida’s water?

“It is past time for Florida voters to stop electing unprincipled politicians,” Knight asserts. And who can argue with that?

In “The Gods Must Be Crazy” a primitive Kalahari tribe is driven to distraction by an empty Coke bottle presumed to be a gift from the gods. In not dissimilar fashion we allow our politicians to distract us with all manner of glittery objects while our natural “bowls of liquid light” slowly grow dimmer and dimmer.

The fault isn’t in our stars and the gods aren’t crazy. We are. We are.

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