Protecting Our Environment

Having lived and raised her family on the banks of the North Fork of the St. Lucie River for more than 40 years, Gayle has witnessed firsthand the degradation of our rivers and the Indian River Lagoon. She experienced the fish kills, the blue-green algae blooms and devastating releases of phosphorous and nitrogen laden water from Lake Okeechobee into our rivers and ultimately, the Indian River Lagoon.

gayle-environment1The future of our environment and our economy are at stake. Not only is the St. Lucie River a vital part of the culture and economy of the Treasure Coast, but the Indian River Lagoon system is the most diverse estuarine environment in North America. It is home to more than 4,000 plant and animal species including manatees, oysters, fish, dolphins, sea turtles, and sea grasses and is a significant economic driver of our economy.

In addition, the Everglades or “River of Grass” is truly a national treasure. There is only one Everglades. It is a mosaic of sawgrass marshes, freshwater ponds, prairies and forested uplands that supports a rich plant and wildlife community. Renowned for its wading birds and wildlife, the Everglades is home to dozens of federally threatened and endangered species, including the Florida panther, American crocodile, snail kite and wood stork. The mix of salt and fresh water makes it the only place on earth where alligators and crocodiles exist side by side.

Cleaning up the St. Lucie River, Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee River, the Indian River Lagoon and the Everglades has been a priority for Gayle since she was first elected in 2000. gayle-environment2She is committed to protecting and restoring these natural treasures.

Gayle believes it will take a system-wide approach to protect and restore the Southern and Northern Everglades, including Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee River, the St. Lucie River and Estuary and the Indian River Lagoon. The state of Florida, the Federal government, the South Florida Water Management District and local communities must partner together to address the complex issues dealing with both water quantity and water quality in these vital ecosystems.

1She has worked diligently for over 2 years with Speaker Crisafulli, Rep. Matt Caldwell and the environmental community including the Everglades Foundation, the Nature Conservancy and Audubon Florida to craft HB 989 – Legacy Florida. She is pleased to have partnered with Sen. Joe Negron in the Senate to pass this important legislation.

Legacy Florida will provide a consistent, dedicated funding source to restore the Florida Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers. Importantly for us on the Treasure Coast, it will bring much needed relief to our communities affected by water releases from Lake Okeechobee.

14Under provisions of Legacy Florida, a minimum of 25% of Amendment 1 dollars or at least $200 million will be appropriated each and every year for restoration projects that implement the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, the Long Term Plan and the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program. Priority must be given to projects that reduce the discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

Legacy Florida is a “game changer” for our estuaries. It will ensure steady progress and completion of projects underway. Importantly, additional projects including long-term projects and the purchase of appropriate land to move water south can be pursued and completed without fear that funding would not be renewed each year under the tensions of the political arena.

image293Gayle looks forward to partnering again with Senator Joe Negron to support his proposal to purchase land south of Lake Okeechobee and construct a reservoir that will hold 120 billion gallons of water to send into the Everglades instead of the St. Lucie River and the Caloosahatchee rivers. Under the proposal the state and the federal government would share the $2.4 billion cost equally. The state’s portion would be financed with $100 million per year over 20 years from Amendment 1 dollars approved by the voters in 2014.

Gayle traveled to Tallahassee to hand deliver her letter to Governor Rick Scott requesting his support of purchasing land south of Lake Okeechobee.

In addition, Gayle supports:

  • Using land south of Lake Okeechobee that is already in state ownership such as Holey Land and Rotenberger Wildlife Management Areas) to construct additional storage and treatment areas to move water south.
  • Directing the SFWMD to work with the Army Corps of Engineers to expedite the planning process and act concurrently in identifying storage opportunities to the south as well as to the north of Lake Okeechobee
  • Working concurrently with both regions to find additional storage. We are in a state of crisis and cannot delay the planning process.
  • Directing SFWMD to further research and evaluate new technologies that may be available to address this crisis including technologies to reduce the nutrient load of phosphorus and nitrogen in Lake Okeechobee and the water that is released into our estuaries as well as new methodologies available for water storage, deep well disposal, Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) and dispersed water management (DWM).
  • gayleenvironment3Expanding water storage capacity in times of heavy rain both in the Kissimmee River valley and the Lake Okeechobee Basin, development and expansion of ways to store excess surface water on public and private lands through programs such as the Dispersed Water Management Program.
  • Reestablishing the natural flow of the Kissimmee River from Orlando all the way to Lake Okeechobee, limiting runoff into the lake, and building storm water treatment areas and filter marshes to help clean up water before it flows into the lake or our rivers.
  • Purchasing of appropriate tracks of land both south and north of Lake Okeechobee in order to facilitate the movement of water south from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades,
  • Constructing storm water treatment areas, filter marshes and other cleansing mechanisms to reduce phosphorus and nitrogen levels of the water before entering our rivers and the Everglades.
  • Completion of C-44 and other projects already begun as part of CERP.
  • Assisting cities and counties in expanding the use of sewer systems to reduce the use of septic tanks in critical areas.
  • Continuing the development of the state wide strategy and long term funding plan for water issues including the restoration and protection of the St. Lucie River, Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee, the Everglades, the Indian River Lagoon and our springs.

gayle environment 4Gayle believes the federal government must contribute its fair share for the restoration efforts as promised by law with the passage of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. Unfortunately, there have been long delays in authorizing and funding projects that would alleviate many of the problems face by the state and residents of the Treasure Coast. Florida has consistently outspent the federal government in Everglades restoration activities. The State has contributed over $2.4 billion dollars on cleanup while the federal government has contributed only approximately $1.2 billion dollars on cleanup.

Gayle will continue to push the Federal Government to do its share of providing funding for the entire cleanup. It is time for the Federal government to step up to the plate!

“The future of our way of life is linked directly to the health of our rivers, the Indian River Lagoon, Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. We must all work together to restore them”.


Click here to see Gayle’s record.)