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Nancy Smith

Weather Channel's Lake Okeechobee Distortion; Former Bush Education Team Advises Trump

December 17, 2016 - 11:30am

This column is a vehicle for a number of items in a bits-and-pieces, strictly opinion, sometimes irreverent format. Look for "Just Sayin'" to run once a week in this spot.

Eight Months on an Anti-Sugar Agenda

A documentary and story The Weather Channel calls its latest attempt "to explore the intersection of weather, the environment and social justice," is beyond disappointing.

Sadly, it's changed my opinion of The Weather Channel (TWC) as an objective, public service channel.   

“Toxic Lake: The Untold Story of Lake Okeechobee” begins with a conclusion instead of an investigation -- the conclusion being that Big Sugar and the politics that protect it are responsible for last summer's toxic algae blooms that poisoned wildlife, killed businesses, made residents sick and kept the tourists away.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Even the title, "Toxic Lake," is a misnomer. It isn't the lake that's toxic, it's the water from the north that flows into it. That's just a fact. 

The Weather Channel had 8 months to produce something meaningful -- something truly educational, or something that might have been part of the solution. Yet, all they could come up with is the Everglades Foundation's prevailing spin ... it's sugar's fault.

The only absolute truth I could find in the documentary was the total desperation of Stuart residents, who have every right to unravel. It's their plight that fires me up against the bad information they get from people and organizations they trust.
In "Toxic Lake" there was no reference to science. Not a word about the water studies in the St. Lucie estuary completed during 2016.

There was virtually no mention of septic tanks or the human effluent leaking into the canals, rivers, estuary and Indian River Lagoon.

Heck, before we talked Friday, story writer Marcus Stern had never heard of Harbor Branch marine biologist Brian Lapointe -- who knows more than anyone else I know about what exactly is making the Treasure Coast water sick. Lapointe has published more than 90 scientific papers and, by the way, was a contributing author of the book Clean Coastal Waters: Understanding and Reducing Nutrient Pollution, published by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Nor was there any mention of the "bloom dynamics," the environmental facts that caused the algal blooms. So much for exploring "the intersection of weather, the environment and social justice."

Lapointe, hired by Treasure Coast local governments to sample the water, told me Friday the wrong-headedness of The Weather Channel's documentary ignited a spark. "It's inspiration for me," he said. "It was so bad, I vowed to do a documentary myself about the problems in the estuary and lagoon and causes of the blooms."

Another huge omission: The Weather Channel team never sat down with Ernie Barnett, who has more than 30 years of water resources management experience. Barnett contributed to several landmark environmental laws, had a lead role in the Florida Legislature's successful passage of the Lake Okeechobee Protection Act; the Everglades Restoration Investment Act, which has provided more than $1 billion for Everglades restoration; and the Everglades Improvement and Management Act. All that and a ridiculously lengthy resume more.

While we're talking about omissions, why didn't TWC go to the South Florida Water Management District? The SFWMD is the governmental agency that manages water resources in the southern half of the state. It covers 16 counties from Orlando to the Florida Keys and serves a population of 8.1 million. I'm not even sure TWC knows the Everglades is the largest environmental restoration project in the nation's history.

Eight months to produce "Toxic Lake"?

You don't have to love Big Sugar to imagine sugar farmers' anger over a statement like, “From the south, excess water from fertilized sugarcane fields gets pumped into the lake.” This is where the film's irresponsibility shows. Ten years of SFWMD water quality data shows less than 1 percent of the water added to Lake Okeechobee came from the south.

And then there's the line, "Whatever caused Bodi's illness ..." -- spoken over a panorama of sugarcane fields, as if the cane made the Stuart youngster sick. Who films like this?

Writer Marcus Stern reasoned the earthen Herbert Hoover Dike could be removed from the lake, allowing water to flow south naturally from Okeechobee if it weren't for sugar. "If there were no sugar cane, there wouldn't be any people in the Glades to flood," he told me. True. But that's as insulting as saying if there were no houses in Stuart or any other Martin County community, there wouldn't be anybody to care about algal blooms or poisoned water. The Army Corps could release to tide as much water as they want.

In the wettest periods, a dikeless lake, allowing a so-called "natural flow," would kill the Everglades as we know it. Both Lt. Col. Tom Greco of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bob Johnson of Everglades National Park have said publicly that even when restoration is complete, you plain can't -- that's cannot -- send SOUTH more than an additional 235,000 acre-feet of water. Total.

"'Restoration' is perhaps a misnomer, as the focus of this effort is on more natural management of the remaining 50 percent of the Everglades wetlands, not on regaining the 50 percent that has been converted to urban and agricultural use," says the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). "

To repeat, only 50 percent of the original Everglades is left. The other half, the one that got away, is less agriculture than it is the communities like Wellington and Plantation. Does anybody really think we can flow  the same amount of water through half a flowway?

Continues the USGS, "Even improving the natural functioning of the remaining wetlands will be a complex problem, due to the lost spatial extent, the hydrologic separation from Lake Okeechobee, and land subsidence. The Everglades will likely continue to be an intensively managed system. However, much as the major engineering effort in the 1950s and 1960s halted the destructive fires and saltwater intrusion of preceding decades, the current restoration effort has the potential to halt and reverse more recent environmental degradation.

So, no, TWC, the Everglades wasn't “drained for sugarcane fields.”

Says USGS, "A major challenge will be to deliver water from Lake Okeechobee through the extensive subsided areas so that it arrives in the undeveloped southern Everglades at similar times, in similar quantities, and with similar quality, as it did prior to drainage and subsidence."

TWC wants to hate sugar and talk about politicians and subsidies and pollution from cane fertilizer? Have at it. But for heaven's sake, while they're visiting us, couldn't they please cover the other side?

Talk about the industry's successes in curbing pollution. Talk about the productive farmland it has already given for restoration. Talk to water experts and scientists and the people who best understand how the parts of Everglades restoration fit together. Consider all the stakeholders in restoration and lake management -- every one of them.

Eight months is plenty of time to do good research. 

I wish The Weather Channel would go back, try again and get this right. Stern told me he realizes more needs to be done and I believe him. But even if TWC follows through,  I will look forward to an informed Brian Lapointe documentary. 


Spirit of Jeb Bush Sneaking into Trump Administration

Jeb Bush is happily (I imagine) out of the Trump Tower fray. But his education ideas -- in fact, the whole family's -- likely will live on in the new administration. In one form or another.

Donald Trump's transition team is getting advice from one-time Bush education staffers Lauren Maddox, the former assistant secretary for communications and outreach at the Education Department; Josh Venable, who worked with Jeb at his education nonprofit; and Terrell Halaska, a former assistant secretary for legislative and congressional affairs in the Education Department. 

Some of the former Bush staffers could also end up in the Education Department, which will have to make close to 150 new hires, the publication Education Week said.

The Bush family notably declined to endorse Trump in the election, after Trump frequently used Jeb Bush as a foil during the primaries. Trump was fond of mocking Bush's struggles in the polls and branded him as "low energy." He also criticized George W. Bush for being president during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, attacking the idea that Bush kept the U.S. safe during his presidency.


Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith


Another partisan pile of it... Big Sugar, Citrus, Politicians, SWFWMD, local water treatment districts, etc. are all collectively to blame. This state's electorate's failure to recognize and adequately fund the required steps to fix and maintain it are the biggest failures, but no one will beg to differ with that because it is not politically correct. There should be a tax on all of the aforementioned entities that goes solely towards maintaining and preserving those areas, but that is not their priority. Hopefully, that will change before its too late...

So you're saying American government, greatest in the world for more than two centuries, doesn't work? There are problems, yes, but you fail to account for Florida's history and give a curmudgeon's response instead. More taxes. If what you say is correct, no matter how much more we put into the Everglades with tax or any kind of money will not be spent responsibly.

Thanks Nancy for enlightening all of us about the wretched hack job done by the Weather Channel, which is why I don't watch it...I'm not surprised that the WC bought in hook. line and sinker for the Everglades Foundation mantra that Sugar is the cause of the problem...when you get rich, liberal, head-in-the-mud contributors they will always believe anything that they want...the science is clear...the problem for Lake O is what's coming into it from the sad to see another channel co-opted by Mainstream Media in order to kep people watching their channels...thanks Nancy for another eye-opening story!

Driving over the 7 mile bridge Friday the water was a putrid green/brown color -- all coming from the north (out going tide). While everyone argues over who is to blame the reef continues to die, algal blooms increase, fishing and diving declines and NOAA continues to hand out awards and congratulate each other for a job well done with managing the Florida Keys.

Dr. LaPointe's 2014 video scientifically proves, using nitrogen isotope studies, that agricultural fertilizers are at least 80% of the problem in the Indian River Lagoon. His science is significant at the 95% level. There are 29 other scientific water studies in 11 science journal papers which prove agricultural fertilizers are 90% of the problem with algae blooms in south Florida. There are no scientific papers which show anything else. The only thing Nancy Smith is correct about is that Big Sugar is only 3% of the problem. It's citrus farming which is 54% of the problem. Nursery and row crops are 30% of the problem. More than happy to send the science to anyone interested.

Thanks for the offer to share. Please send what you think I should see to my email address above.

Evidence of sewage-driven eutrophication and harmful algal blooms in Florida's Indian River Lagoon Article in Harmful Algae · March 2015

One of the falsehoods being perpetuated by LaPointe is that Septic Systems are to blame. Just do the research....but just for beginners from the DEP webpage. Florida permitted wastewater treatment plants treat about one and a half billion gallons of waste per day. Of that amount ONE Billion is discharged into the surface waters (rivers) ocean outfalls (in particular Dade, Broward, Palm Beach etc) and deep injection wells. This does not include the SSO (Sanitary Sewer Overflows) caused by overloaded sewer treatment plants or their collection systems. The so called expert LaPointe fails to recognize the direct discharge of sewage effluent to the Indian River Lagoon system and Kissimmee River Basin. He is a paid public relations person with a degree.

You, Mr. Onsite Wastewater, are in the business of keeping septic tanks alive. It is true sewer systems need maintenance too but they can be regulated by local government. The well fields of septic tanks polluting the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie Estuary have been in place and not always maintained for decades. Brian Lapointe is not just talking. He has samples. Martin County has that evidence. The nitrogen in human waste combined with desalinizing fresh water lake releases are our real enemies.

Lapointe always goes against the tide of other trustworthy scientists who are convinced that we need EAA storage, and that Florida Bay seagrasses are dying due to lack of historical southerly flow of water. He blames nutrients reaching Florida Bay. He does admit that the southernmost IRL is largely a Lake O problem. Last I read. Or, has he changed his tune on that too?

Produce the work of those trustworthy scientists. Why don't they or the newspapers covering the blooms story ever show the science? These are very quiet trustworthy scientists.

If you had checked you would have know that the Weather Channel is owned by one of the other major liberal mainstream media outlets. Their format is pathetic. Yes they sensationalize weather stories the same as the talking heads do on national TV when it comes to politics or anything in between. I prefer the mundane weather reports that they originally came out with instead of their robotic approach to weather, climate change, and yes Lake Okeechobee

ANYBODY could have told you what's wrong with the "Weather Channel":... Overly dramatic, and fanticized "24 Hour" re-hashed weather and "specialty pieces". (The exact same problem with overly dramatic, and fanticized "24 Hour" cable news outlets also "looped" throughout the cycle...and beyond). There is no alternative to accuracy when your so-called writers must be creative to maintain some sort of viewer loyalty.

I have been working on this since the Discharged of 2013....this author has so many claims that are incorrect. Please contact Mark Perry from Florida Oceanographic Society and he will tell you what the citizens of the Treasure Coast have had to endure all these years. Or contact Marty Baum Our Indian Riverkeeper to get the Truth. Is you don't live on the East or West Coast of Florida you don't know the truth. Contact me....friend me on FB to see the truth!!!

Trump has said over and over that he loves the uneducated. The tribe of those people will surely increase if he gets his way and destroys the concept of free, appropriate education for all and uses that money to support religious schools and segregated programs for all those that are "better off." Sad that he feels that way.

"David", you must be confused; You're describing, and speaking of, Democrat, Lemming-lock-step voters (and quite probably, you are another of the myriad of failed teachers polluting the 'education system" in this country). [You probably think that "Trump has said that over and over" too]...But he didn't... I DID !...TO YOU !

God help us if Trump ever buys into the Bush family education plot!

God help Trump,...if he does!!! ("JEBBIE" is "toast" now that he has permanently besmirched the "Bush name").... "Stay out of the Bushes" Donald; nothing good can come of that!!!

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nancy smith


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