It was a long and hard battle for the people of South Florida, and that may be perfectly understandable. The defendants are no average–these are their own water district and, to a certain extent, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA). But perhaps the saying “Patience is a virtue” is definitely true. A landmark case received an equally landmark verdict, and the people of South Florida eventually won.
What’s the case about? It was a challenge in line with the Clean Water Act. Back in 2002, concerned citizens and organizations in South Florida decided to sue the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), Army Corps of Engineers, and the EPA. A long time ago, a dike was built around Lake Okeechobee, which is the main source of water supply for the community.
At first glance, it looked like it was to prevent the water from overflowing especially when rains become more persistent, but it was mainly for agriculture. The ultimate treasure lies underneath it: muck soil that allows the farmers to grow winter crops and, later on, sugar cane. To reveal the precious soil, the water had to be pumped and dumped back into the lake as a reserve in case the farmers needed to boost its irrigation during dry spells.
But it’s here the main problem begins: The groundwater that was added back into the lake wasn’t fresh anymore. Rather, it’s filled with nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus that changed the water’s ecosystem significantly, killing the freshwater fish and decreasing the level of oxygen, causing the overproduction of algae. When these living things died, they settled at the bottom of the lake and then transform into muck soil. Then the process continued as long as the fertilize-infused water went up to the lake and the muck soil layer disturbed.
Further, the gates that released the water from the lake were actually found at the bottom, bringing with it sediments and water that was enriched by the fertilizer, threatening the life of the marine species in rivers and estuaries and those of the community. Sadly, for many years, not one of the government agencies, especially the EPA, did something to enforce the policies of the act.
The case was more than a battle against David and Goliath or protection of the waters. It showcased society’s reality. Over the years we’ve been beseeched by information commercials, articles, journals, and studies that show how water pollution is affecting the world, and although we empathize and believe that something must be done, we tend to ignore the traditional practices that are contributing to it perhaps because at some point it has become an accepted one, a norm that’s already hard to eradicate.
Second, with our lack of understanding or knowledge on the many laws that protect the environment, it’s more difficult for us to defend it. We may have already felt that such practice in the Everglades Agricultural Area and the endorsement was wrong, and yet we didn’t have the power to do something about it because we really didn’t know.
Yet it also displayed how persistence and a sense of community moving toward one goal can make a huge difference not only for the environment but also for the lives of the future generation, who hopefully will continue to benefit from the waters provided by the lake. It was a victory for the present and future people of South Florida.