Monday, March 22, 2010

Damage, restoration of Florida waters discussed by authors

Florida needs to change the way it manages and uses water in the future as it repairs the mistakes of the past, a panel of environmental book authors suggested on Saturday.

The panel at the Tallahassee Festival of Books and Writers Conference featured Cynthia Barnett, Doug Alderson and Michael Grunwald.

Barnett, author of "Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern U. S.," said Florida historically made two big mistakes with its plentiful water: Draining wetlands and over-pumping aquifers, and then over-engineering its waterways with dams, canals and locks.

To plan for the 21st century water needs, she said, Florida seems to be repeating its past mistakes while assuming that more water, rather than conservation, is needed for growth.

"It doesn't have to be this way," she said. Barnett is on leave as an editor of Florida Trend magazine while she works on another global water book.

Instead, Florida and the nation needs to follow a "blue path" of living well while using less water. "Economic prosperity and population growth need not equal this greater and greater water consumption," she said. "It doesn't have to be this way."

"What Florida really needs is a statewide water ethic -- not just for kids brushing our teeth or homeowners watering their lawns," she said. "But really an ethic among all of us to use less, not just us but at every level where you see people valuing water from the governor on down."

Grunwald, author of "The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida and the Politics of Paradise," said the Everglades restoration faces challenges despite having support across the political spectrum.

The Everglades is being watched as a restoration model for the Chesapeake Bay, the Louisiana coastal wetlands, the San Francisco Bay delta, Puget Sound and even wetlands in Iraq, Grunwald said. If successful with The Everglades, he said, Florida can help usher in a new era of ecosystem restoration.

"Everyone says they want to save the Everglades," Grunwald said. "If we can't do it here, we really have to wonder where you can do it."

Restoration of the Kissimmee River is drawing visitors from around the world to see the results, said Alderson, author of "New Dawn for the Kissimmee River, Orlando to Okeechobee by Kayak." His book tells of the restoration of the Kissimmee River through a 12-day kayaking expedition.

"I didn't go on this trip thinking I would write a book," he said. But he found so much material while working on a magazine article that it resulted in the book, published by the University Press of Florida in 2009.

The Kissimmee River was diverted into a channel by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1960 and 1971 to reduce flooding. But U. S. Sen. Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat, in 1991 put a bill through Congress that authorized the Corps of Engineers to do environmental restoration.

Now dams have been blown up and a portion of the ditch has been refilled so that the river is flowing again through the old oxbows and spreading across the floodplain during floods.

"The biggest surprise was how quickly the marsh plants came back when it was reflooded -- the seeds were still there," Alderson said. "Very quickly the birds started coming back, the fish started coming back, the gators started coming back. It was an incredible recovery and it was a great lesson if you give nature half a chance nature will do the rest."

(Photos courtesy of the authors. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained at .)


Larry Thorson said...

Thanks for this report. I'm finishing Grunwald's "The Swamp" and feel we are on almost the right track on several environmental fronts. But this article in The Nation
makes me wonder if some green groups are selling out and not following science. I would appreciate reading of Florida angles in the vein of that article.

Anonymous said...

It's troubling that reporters and editors who report on these issues come with their minds already made up. I never have worked for a publication that allowed reporters and editors to state opinions on topics they cover. How can you claim even-handed reporting after you have adopted a public stance?

Bruce Ritchie said...

What have I adopted a public stance on? I covered a panel of authors discussing issues they have written about.

Anonymous said...

I am not talking about you, specifically, in this post. I am talking about the authors you covered, especially Cynthia Barnett. Your blog states she is on leave from her job as editor of Florida Trend. How can Florida Trend be credible on these issues if she has adopted a public stance? And how does this square with the ethics espoused by Poynter, which owns Florida Trend?