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Maggy Hurchalla Keynote Address

Marine Resources Council
Midsummer’s Night Gala
August 2, 2014


Yesterday morning I was standing at 14,264 ft. on a rock at the top of Mt Evans. I was getting snowed on.

I ran away from home for a week and tried to forget all about saving the world.

It’s hard to do that wandering through beautiful wilderness. I kayaked the upper headwaters of the Colorado River. I paddled in the Poudre River Wilderness.

I kept singing to myself “This land is your land, This land is my land — from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters.”

Those of you who have been in Florida for over 70 years know that when we were kids, privies were at the end of the dock at fish camps. When we were growing up Florida was still busily selling submerged land, draining the swamps and dredging and filling the mangroves. Urban areas had sewer plants but their outfalls were in our waterways.

Those brash hippy children of the sixties changed the world. We got the Clean Water Act. We got Wild and Scenic Rivers. We got the EPA.

The public easily recognized what biologists have known for a long time. If we destroy our natural resources, we destroy our support system and the places we love. Sustainability is not about mushy emotions and sunrise over the Lagoon. It’s about survival.

The legacy of what got preserved, cleaned up and restored is monumental. It is really important to understand that we did some great things and we can do great things again.

Florida enacted the best state water laws in the country. They took the best of eastern and western water law and left out the worst. Those laws declare that the waters of Florida — above ground and below ground — belong to the people of Florida.

Florida continued from Reuben Askew forward a bipartisan program for acquiring and preserving endangered land that spent $300 million a year. We spent more than any other state. We spent more than the federal government. On a regular basis we invested more than any country I know of. We needed to.

We got the Indian River Lagoon declared an estuary of National Significance.

Florida passed the best state land use laws in the country and set up planning rules that made us look at and deal with the consequences of our actions.

In 1993, Lawton Childs appointed a committed to work with the Corps of Engineers to create the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. In 2002 Congress — almost unanimously — approved CERP as the largest wetland restoration ever attempted in the world.

In whitewater kayaking when your boat starts moving backwards upstream, you’re in a hole. You are caught in a powerful hydraulic which is about to trash you.

We seem to be caught in a hole. Last summer when the IRL went belly up from end to end we all realized that we were in a really big hole and we were really getting trashed. In whitewater, what you do in that situation is to paddle like hell.

I think we are ready to do that. I know in Martin County, we have reached a critical mass in terms of anger and frustration and the willingness to get involved and make something happen.

At the same time that we’ve begun to understand the differences in what is happening in the north end of the Lagoon and the south end we’ve come together in a united front. We know that the estuary, linear and diverse as it is, is also united. We know that, at the south end of the Lagoon, Lake Okeechobee dumping overshadows watershed impacts.

But we also know that we have the same watershed problems you have.

The IRL-South component of CERP says that the Indian River Lagoon will be irrevocably destroyed if we do not change the way we are managing water.

The Governor’s Commission that helped create CERP, declared, unanimously, that South Florida was not sustainable on its present course. That was a group a 50 people with more business leaders than environmentalists. They faced the consequences of doing nothing and of wishful thinking and agreed we had to take on the massive job of replumbing South Florida to restore the Everglades and save ourselves.

We’d like to get your help in supporting CERP. Being betwixt and between the two, we think the future of South Florida is important to Central Florida and to North Florida. We would like you to join us in the push to send the water south from Lake Okeechobee to save the Everglades, the Greater Miami water supply, the Coastal estuaries and the Big Lake itself.

But most important to our joint local interest is the Indian River.

We know that if magic could make the Lake discharges go away, the death of the Lagoon at the south end would not be as dramatic, but it would still be irrevocable.

The IRL-South component of CERP says that the Indian River Lagoon will be irrevocably destroyed if we do not change the way we are managing water. That applies to Lake Okeechobee and it applies equally to the runoff that reaches the IRL from the regional watershed.

Sen. Altman has noted that “It will take a concentrated, committed and combined long-term effort to bring the lagoon back.”

He’s right, but we can do it.

I’m preaching to the choir tonight. I’m embarrassed to tell people who know a lot about things they already know. We need to keep talking about all the issues so we can step back and figure out strategies that will work…

Let me suggest some basic ideas we can come together on:

1. Quit blaming everyone else. When state politicians blame the feds, don’t let them get away with it. Tell them to go work together and make things happen. When Congress blames gridlock, tell them they need to work together to make things happen. The blame game works politically only if we buy into it.

2. Do accept the fact that the problem is:


– Urban stormwater is not adequately treated. We have managed to convince ourselves that all those stormwater ponds with notched weirs are cleaning up and rationing the flows from development sites so that it is the same as natural runoff in terms of quantity, quality and timing. IT”S NOT. We need to quit pretending and do a better job, especially for nitrogen

– Pavement is a major source of problems. We should have started putting gas tax revenues into stormwater cleanup projects a long time ago. Every car and every square foot of pavement adds dissolving asphalt, heavy metals, oil grease and a really ugly assortment of all the chemicals that wear away from road surfaces and car engines and wheels. Add to that dogs and trash and aerial deposition of pollutants and the fact that it all washes off together in concentrated doses in the big rains, and it’s obvious this is a source that needs to be dealt with.

– Septic systems are a problem. They are not THE problem or THE ONLY PROBLEM. Researchers estimate that 30% of septic systems aren’t functioning properly because of high water table, crowding, or plain old cracked tanks and pipes. Several years ago the state set up a system to require regular inspection and pump out to make sure those problem systems weren’t spewing raw sewage into our aquifer and our waterways. Then they got push back and undid the legislation. Worse still, they limited local government’s ability to require inspection.

– Effluent disposal is a problem. The state standards for nutrients in effluent from sewage plants are inadequate.

– Lawns are a problem. Any place you put fertilizer and pesticides and herbicides is part of the problem. Floridians are not about to give up their lawns. They haven’t even been able to convince residents to do that in the Arizona desert. We do know ways to reduce the problem at the source. This summer has been a happy story of why fertilizer ordinances work. Down our way we have had classic little thunderstorms all over the place since the rainy season started. Things are green. Lawns that never saw fertilizer are green as green can be. I’m told up to 1/3 of the nitrogen in the Lagoon settles out of the air. Every time lightning strikes, nitrogen gas turns to a form that precipitates with the rain. Turns out the fertilizer ordinances were right — you don’t have to fertilize in the rainy thundering summer months.

– Agriculture is a problem. It’s not the only problem, but if it is not addressed, all the other stuff we do won’t matter. Sugar is a problem because of location — between the Lake and the Everglades. Even low impact ranching adds huge amounts of nutrients — not because of concentrated sources but rather because of the huge area involved. We need to work with farmers to find practical ways to treat and store their runoff at the source. We need for agriculture — right along with all the urban sources — to recognize that they need to accept responsibility and demonstrate measurable improvements in nutrient reduction.

3. Prioritize research. Do not fund research to “prove it is someone’s fault.” That’s a waste of money and ends up in whitewash or controversy. We know what the problems are. If someone else has researched a solution, implement it, and measure the results to make sure it works in a cost effective way.

Learn from others. Research is important but a whole lot of the research has already been done. The Chesapeake Bay Initiative has saved us a whole lot of time and money, if we’d only pay attention.

The state of Maryland paid attention to the research. They set a strategy of looking at all sources of pollution and moving forward opportunistically. That means doing what you know works and choosing economical options first. If it doesn’t work and it’s really cheap, it’s a useless political ploy. If it works wonderfully and it’s unaffordable, it won’t happen. Maryland called it “Going after the low hanging fruit.”

– They required every sewer plant in the state to lower total nitrogen levels. First down to 1.2 mg/l — then down to 0.3mg/l. The cost of sewage systems is mostly in the pipes and pumps. Adding denitrification to the final treatment process does not cause a big jump in sewer rates.

– They’ve quit permitting regular septic systems. The new version is more expensive and requires regular maintenance, but it dramatically cuts nutrient pollution and inspections solve the problem of leaky systems.

– They are requiring agriculture to meet standards for non-point source pollution. I am not clear why the State of Florida is using our tax money to sue the EPA for working with the states around the Chesapeake who want to clean up the bay.

4. Make sure your local government — city or county — is doing its best locally to:

– Adopt stricter stormwater rules that make sure that we really do get as close as possible to the quantity, quality, and timing of runoff from natural areas.

– Limit impervious surfaces and balance them with large and small areas of natural upland and wetlands. Those natural areas don’t have to be cleared with a bulldozer, planted in sod, mowed, fertilized, sprayed with pesticides, or watered. The impacts of those preserve areas are immediate and local.

– Revise rules for permitting new septic systems. The state rules are not adequate. The first rule of problem solving is to stop doing what is causing the problem.

– Find a way to ensure that septic systems will be pumped and inspected regularly.

– Set aside an annual committed funding source to lay sewer lines in problem areas. Don’t wait for a grant from some other government.

– Adopt a fertilizer ordinance and a friendly education program to go with it.

5. See if you can convince your legislators to leave us alone at the local level. States shout at the federal government that “One size doesn’t fit all” then they emasculate local government by refusing to let us enforce local solutions to local problems. We need a state wide water policy, to provide a safety net for the natural resources that belong to all of us. We had one for awhile. It seems to have trickled away. We do not need a state policy that says that local communities that want to do a better job will not be allowed to.

Of all the things I would ask you to do this year, this month and this political season, the most important is: GET AMENDMENT ONE PASSED IN NOVEMBER. Talk to your friends and relations. Get resolutions from your local government. Email anyone you can think of. Get folks registered to vote.

When you’ve spent hours and days going through stormwater research, one thing jumps out at you. The more natural areas we have in great National Parks and in little patches of sand pine scrub, the better off our waterways will be. Preserving and restoring endangered land is not just about wild critters or pretty sunsets. The perfect regime for a healthy sustainable Lagoon is the runoff from wetlands and native uplands. They do it free. They will do it forever.

Finally, I need to tell you:

YOU CAN’T QUIT. You can’t give up. The effort is just too important.

It occurred to me standing in the snow at the top of the Rockies. We’ve done it before.

We can do it again.


Mine too.

— Maggy Hurchalla