A recent column published on Sunshine State News, titled “Lying About Lake O to Win Hearts and Minds: The Eric Draper Story,” alleged that Audubon of Florida’s executive director was lying about the mismanagement of Lake Okeechobee, which has suffered as a result of the recent South Florida drought. In a response, Draper writes that although the column is “derisive,” it brings much-needed attention to the issue at hand.

Sunshine State’s Nancy Smith wrote the piece as a response to a letter Draper penned to the South Florida Water Management District, which he says mismanaged Lake Okeechobee water releases, giving more to Everglades Agricultural Area than to the algae-plagued Caloosahatchee River. (As we previously reported, the South Florida Water Management District has estimated that 1.3 inches of lake water went into the Caloosahatchee during that time period, while the Everglades Agricultural Area received around 15 inches.)

In her column, Smith argued that Draper’s letter was “full-of-baloney” and has a “sinister agenda”:

Think about it. Literally thousands of Floridians are engaged in some kind of volunteer effort to protect the vanishing habitat of native creatures in this state. And here comes Eric Draper, with environmental credentials up the wazoo, telling them that another species is going under because — to hear Draper tell it — chronic screw-up SFWMD is playing favorites and evil Big Sugar is greedily sucking up Lake O.

Very little in this letter is true, no matter what light you hold it under.

In his response, Draper notes the importance of balancing water management needs across the state, saying that not only did mismanagement worsen the South Florida drought, it has worsened the situation for fish and wildlife.

“While the exact quantity is unclear, a significant amount of this water was delivered via publicly owned canals to irrigate sugar cane,” writes Draper, who goes on to explain that the lack of water has been especially harsh on Everglades snail kites, a type of bird that is known to be an overall indicator on the health of its surrounding area. According to Draper, the snail kite population has gone from around 3,400 individuals (in 1999) to less than 700.

“Largely as a result of drought and water management there were no successful nests on the lake in 2007, 2008, and 2009,” he writes. “The 14 nests in 2010 were a start to recovery. Of the 41 nest attempts this year, only 13 fledged young and it is not yet known whether those young birds have survived the drought.”

The solution, maintains Draper, is better water management:

My letter to the water management district contained one practical suggestion for dealing with drought and water supply: Revisit the rules and permits that allow sugar-cane irrigation to use the wasteful practice of flooding fields with Lake Okeechobee water. Just revisit those rules and permits. Look for efficiency just like many other water users have done.

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