Sixteen years ago, some friends gave me a copy of Al Gore’s book, “Earth in the Balance.” I don’t remember it very well, but I do remember Gore’s insistence that he was never going to vote for sugar subsidies again: the sugar industry, he said, was ruining the environment of the Everglades, treating its employees terribly, and just generally screwing up the whole state of Florida.
So let’s all celebrate a very big deal: the state of Florida is about to buy out U.S. Sugar: for $1.75 Billion, the State gets 187,000 acres — almost 300 square miles — that will basically connect Lake Okeechobee to Everglades National Park. This is way, way more than just land acquisition that will allow diverse plants to replace sugar cane (although it is that too), the real significance is the implications for water management. An article in the International Herald Tribune says that if the deal goes through (likely but not definite) then:
The impact on the Everglades could be substantial. The natural flow of water would be restored, and the expanse would add about a million acre-feet of water storage. That amount of water could soak the southern Everglades during the dry season, protecting wildlife, preventing fires and allowing for a redrawing of the $8 billion Everglades restoration plan approved in 2000.
It sucks to reward a bad company with so much money — according to the article, “some former company executives have suggested that the state is overpaying, bailing out a company burdened with debt, a new sugar mill and a lawsuit by former employees who said they were bilked out of retirement money.” But “the best” is the enemy of “the good”, and this is a very good deal. The monetary cost is substantial, but the direct monetary savings will be substantial too (in reduced firefighting costs, fire damage, and flood damage, among several other items)…and the environmental benefits will be huge, allowing for the famous “river of grass” that used to define the Everglades, rather than the channels meandering among dry areas that has been the situation for past decades.
Now, let’s (as a country) get to work on a corridor connecting Yellowstone to Glacier National Park and on up into Canada. And let’s start buying up prairie, too, in huge, huge chunks. If everybody in the country were willing to pay $2 per day — the cost of a cup of coffee, for a lot of people — we could do something of this magnitude twice a week, week after week after week.