A recent large-scale algal bloom in the Caloosahatchee River disrupted daily business in the small town of Alva. Residents there say the bloom was not only noxious, but was killing dogs and making people sick.
But agricultural interests might have more pull when it comes to water pollution rules — especially considering their alliances with state lawmakers. Alva’s own state House representative is affiliated with some of the agricultural interests that are adamant in their opposition to EPA-mandated water quality standards.
The bloom in the Caloosahatchee has died off somewhat as a result of rainwater that has diluted the algae. But problems remain. Environmentalists argue that without a set of stringent standards to govern pollution in Florida waterbodies, blooms (and the fish kills caused by them) will continue to pester business owners who rely upon clean water. But lawmakers, and nearly every major industry and agricultural interest in the state, disagree.
State Rep. Paige Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda, is among those who have opposed the EPA’s proposed “numeric nutrient criteria,” which would restrict pollution in Florida waterbodies. He also represents the town of Alva in Tallahassee.
Kreegel voted for a bill that would have banned the state from implementing federal water rules like those proposed by the EPA. The bill — which was sponsored by state Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers (also a major opponent of the criteria) — was postponed and eventually died before being voted on by the Senate.
“I’m all for clean water, but how do you get from here to there?” says Kreegel. “The problem with the nutrient requirements that the feds hoisted on the state of Florida is that many of our waterways don’t originate in the state of Florida. I also don’t want to put anybody in Florida out of business. If there are better ways of farming, we have to find some way to implement them that doesn’t make us suffer economically. If the rest of the world makes beef for a dollar a pound and we make it for $2 a pound, we’re out of business.”
Among the “affiliations” listed on Kreegel’s House of Representatives profile, three would be directly impacted by the implementation of harsher water standards: the Charlotte County Cattlemen’s Association (an affiliate of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association), the Gulf Coast Citrus Growers Association and the Peace River Valley Citrus Growers Association.
In a recently penned letter to Florida’s congressional delegation, dozens of ag. interests implored lawmakers to allow the state of Florida to implement its own water rule-making, apart from the EPA. The letter specifically referenced the Caloosahatchee, but blamed the intensity of the bloom on the recent South Florida drought. The letter didn’t dispute that industry runoff likely plays a role in the blooms.
Among the letter’s signers? The Gulf Coast Citrus Growers Association and the Florida Cattlemen’s Association.
“You always run the risk of putting the black hat on one industry when in fact it’s multi-factorial,” says Kreegel. “The water coming out of sugar already filters through filter strips and marshes, and nitrogen content and phosphorus content is already quite low. The fact is, I don’t have a quick, shoot-from-the-hip answer. I certainly think we need to move in the direction of water quality, but I’m still at a quandary of how we get there.”
Kreegel says that the “industry” of restoring Florida waterways has become one of “all process and no results,” in which committee meeting after committee meeting never yields results.
“When I was a kid, 40 years ago, there were committee meetings about cleaning up the Everglades,” he says. “There’s no meat there. … Nothing gets done. We’ve sunk billions into cleaning up the Everglades and the rate of progress is still pathetically slow.”