What Can a Gondola Do for Munich?

In Munich, the future of public transit might be up in the air. This month, the city is discussing a plan to create a new 4.5-kilometer gondola link in the northern part of the city, linking two districts on the internal beltway that are currently poorly connected for everyone except drivers.

Supported by the mayor, the regional transit minister, and even the opposition parties in the city’s assembly, it’s a plan that has a strong likelihood of being built.

It’s still perhaps a little unexpected: Munich is a flat city with a good public transit network. Gondolas have a mixed reputation, having both transformed mobility in some very hilly cities while failing to be more than gimmicky white elephants in others. So would Munich’s embrace of the gondola be a good or a bad thing? And why would the city even need one in the first place?

The fact is that even the better public transit systems have their limitations. Munich’s subway (U Bahn), Suburban rail (S Bahn), and tram networks offer good coverage of the area, but they all focus primarily on getting people in and out of the city center. This is fine for commuters, but can pose an inconvenience for people in outlying districts who simply want to travel between two adjacent neighborhoods. Bus routes compensate for this, but their speed and efficiency is dependent on road traffic.

The gondola poses a solution to a small local issue that could, if effective, be rolled out at other sites in the city. The proposed link would connect two subway stations (at Oberwiesenfeld and Studentenstadt) that sit 4.5 kilometers apart on a major road. Despite being close to each other, it’s time-consuming to travel between them, requiring a five-stop subway trip toward the city center, a transfer, and a five-stop trip back out in a different direction.

The gondola could knit these two districts tidily together. Sailing over the road, the wires would be far cheaper to install than the terrestrial rails of a train or tram, but still ferry up to 4,000 passengers an hour. Land-wise, the gondola would only take up the space that’s necessary to support its towers. Indeed, the road it would follow already has space for these in the median. To make it a fully functioning link, it’s vital that each terminus connects swiftly to the subway, but broadly the idea seems sensible.

Similar projects elsewhere in Europe—where urban gondolas are still in their infancy—suggest grounds for cautious optimism. France in particular has embraced the mode with enthusiasm, with five gondola projects currently under construction and due for opening before 2021. The gondola that the French city of Brest opened across its river in November 2016, for example, celebrated its millionth passenger last month—not bad for a metro area of only 300,000 people. Initially resisted by some residents for fear it would provide unwelcome views into people’s houses, Brest resolved the issue ingeniously by installing windows that misted temporarily when the cars neared people’s homes. London’s Emirates Air Line nonetheless remains a cautionary tale of what to avoid. Constructed at the time of the Olympics, it was promoted as both a transit link and tourist attraction. Due to a poorly chosen, out-of-the-way location, it hasn’t functioned well as either.

There have been some preposterous suggestions in the German media that Munich’s proposed gondola might possibly be a tourist attraction as well. The route offers little to look at, but proponents are sensibly focusing on its role as a transit fix, rather than a sightseeing adventure.

There’s still a sense that this plan is a too-piecemeal response to outer Munich’s limited connections. Even if the city creates similar gondolas in other underserved areas, the transformative effect of these all joined together would still be far less than that of a full orbital subway or segregated streetcar line circuiting the city. The fact that Munich isn’t considering such solutions reflects the considerable financial burden they would pose, but also suggests a certain narrowness of ambition. There’s also the argument that by avoiding the roads entirely, the gondola link offers little incentive for Munich to reduce the polluting traffic on its major roads. But is the proposed link feasible and likely to attract passengers? Probably, yes.

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Webinar Resources: Detailing Successful Local Government Home Composting Programs

Join us for a webinar on July 17th, 2018 at 2PM Eastern to dive into the details of our new report, Yes! In My Backyard: A Home Composting Guide for Local Government. The report advocates for home composting programs as one of the best opportunities to reduce food waste, especially as they can be implemented relatively quickly, and in areas lacking curbside organics collection or facilities to compost. Eleven programs were profiled, demonstrating that there is no one right way to implement a home composting program.… Read More

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MapLab: The Map Is a Feedback Loop

Welcome to the latest edition of MapLab. Sign up to receive this newsletter in your inbox here.


Orient yourself: A smarter “smart city”

Perhaps you’ve heard that the future of cities lies on the internet. Buildings, streetlights, roads, and sewers will be blanketed with wifi-connected sensors, tuned to gather vital signs of the urban environment and our movements within it. At least that’s according to many a “smart city” product pitch from the likes of Alphabet, IBM, Cisco, and others.

The uneasy part is what happens with the information, collected by gunshot scanners, traffic detectors, even public wifi kiosks. It’s not that governments necessarily intend to do anything nefarious with people’s data. But “smart cities” are usually designed from the top-down with predetermined objectives, be it surveillance, prediction, science, or profit.

Waste travels in Seattle. (Senseable City Lab)

Carlo Ratti, an Italian architect, urban designer, engineer, and theorist, sees that heavily internet-ed future differently. I spent an afternoon with Ratti in May at the Senseable City Lab, his research consortium at MIT—you can read my profile of him here. He develops urban data-gathering projects where sensors interact with people and the environment in a more open-ended feedback loop, rather than in pursuit of particular outcomes. Take his exploratory sewage probes that somewhat inadvertently uncovered a new way to track opioid abuse. “It wasn’t supposed to solve anything. It was more like, what we can discover?” Ratti told me. Or take the GPS trackers tagged to bits of garbage that revealed the surprisingly broad pathways of American waste. Above, a map of a local trash route in Seattle.

A view of Boston’s tree canopy coverage on Treepedia. (Treepedia)

There are often gorgeous mapping components to Ratti’s work, rooted as it tends to be in cities. Above, behold a visualization of Boston’s “Green View Index,” part of his lab’s “Treepedia” project, which gathered satellite imagery to determine the quality of canopy coverage in cities around the world. The idea was to help people get smarter about the living, breathing infrastructure around them, and possibly pique their interest in protecting it. A positive feedback loop, indeed.


Compass points: Inside the 100-mile zone

With the help of ESRI, CityLab’s Tanvi Misra recently mapped the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s “100-mile-zone,” a wide belt of American soil where CBP agents are allowed to detain, search, and seize individuals, including on the basis of race.

The zone happens to contain a whopping two-thirds of the U.S. population. But after Tanvi published the story, she got a lot of questions asking why all of Michigan was in there, too. After all, a portion of the state lies far beyond the 100-mile line from the U.S.-Canada border, as the crow flies.

In the zone. (CityLab/Esri)

In other words, when the government decides where to patrol “the border,” how does it decide where it is? Turns out, it makes up the answer. Exclusively for MapLab, Tanvi writes an update:

This issue came up in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2016. In the complaint, the plaintiffs cited a map obtained from the CBP showing that the agency considered a “reasonable distance” of 100 nautical miles to extend from the shore OF THE? Great Lakes. They marked it as the “functional equivalent” of the actual U.S.-Canadian border in this region—whatever that means. The agency declined to directly answer my question regarding this interpretation.

CBP’s reading of the international boundary has also come up in the case of a lawsuit in New Hampshire, where, according to a statement the agency provided to a local news outlet, 100 nautical miles starts at “12 nautical miles offshore from the mean low-tide.” By that measure, all of New Hampshire falls in the zone.

The big takeaway? Tanvi tells me that the “reasonable distance” from the border varies a lot from region to region, depending on the CBP’s discretion.

Looking for more of Tanvi’s maps of U.S. immigration policy? Peer into where migrant kids separated from their parents at the border might have wound up, and which U.S. cities are helping detain immigrants.


Mappy links

George Skaife Beeching’s Map of Matrimony, ca. 1880. (Public Domain Review)

Up and up: what a city’s “vertical agglomeration” says about its economy. ♦ Paris, c’est trop chaud: A map of heatwave hideaways in the French capital. ♦ ICYI: Apple Maps says it’s ready to be taken seriously. ♦ Beware the State of Solemnization: Fanciful maps of emotional terrain, circa the 17th century. ♦ Heart maps, but seriously: Advances in medical imaging reveal maps of the beating organ. ♦ Hot diggity: A tubular map projection by a conceptual artist, good for the grill. ♦ Hard not to balk: Montenegro, one NATO ally Trump might not help in a crisis, has its moment on the map.


Everybody’s summer would be better with MapLab. Share this newsletter with a friend, and sign up here.

Cheers,

Laura

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The ‘War on Poverty’ Isn’t Over, and Kids Are Losing

Raise the banners and strike up the band, because the “War on Poverty” is won. Mission accomplished! And that means it’s time to hack down the safety net that saved the nation’s poor.

That was the head-turning takeaway from a report last week from the White House Council of Economic Advisors that declared the War on Poverty “largely over and a success.” The report diverged sharply from what even other Republicans say about poverty, to say nothing of economists. (“Do these people ever visit the real world?” Paul Krugman asked.)

But while the language marked a rhetorical reversal of the usual conservative efforts to undo Johnson-era programs designed to aid low-income Americans—which hinge on the conceit that federal aid is wasteful, not that it nailed it—the intent is largely the same. This was an argument for work requirements in welfare, one of the Trump administration’s top domestic priorities.

The Trump administration’s declaration might also come as a surprise to the millions of American children (still) living in what looks and feels a lot like poverty. Kids are major beneficiaries of most safety-net programs for food, housing, and healthcare. Some 44 percent of the people who receive food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are children, for example. Cutting spending on poverty means cutting spending on kids—a downward trend that is already happening.

Declaring an end to the war on poverty allows federal agencies to pivot to other goals, namely “self-sufficiency,” which is a watchword for setting strict work requirements for aid. Congress has yet to pass draconian cuts to aid, but spending on children is already declining, even as overall federal spending continues to rise since the Great Recession. A new report from the Urban Institute finds that by 2020, the federal government will spend more on interest payments on its debt than it pays to provide support for children.

Children will receive just one cent of every dollar from the projected $1.6 trillion increase in federal spending authorized under the Trump administration, according to the report. And over the next decade, the children’s share of the budget will drop from 9.4 percent to 6.9 percent.

That dip is happening even without factoring in the changes now being proposed by chief White House economic advisor Kevin Hassett* and company—those who argue that poverty’s a thing of the past. If and when work requirements and cuts to aid are implemented, the outlook for kids will only get darker.

“If we spend less on children, we’re investing less in the next generation,” says Julia Isaacs, senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “We want children to be well fed, well housed, and well educated.”

Isaacs, the co-author of the Urban Institute’s report on current and future federal expenditures on children, adds that cutting spending on kids has implications for future growth. “We can think of children as human capital, if we want to be economists. And if we don’t invest in human capital, it may come back to bite us in the long run.”

Medicaid is the largest source of federal expenditures for children: about $90 billion in 2017. Tax provisions make up another big chunk of spending on kids, namely the earned income tax credit ($60 billion in 2017), the child tax credit ($49 billion), and dependent exemptions ($38 billion). Other large categories of federal spending on kids include nutrition, education, and income through various programs. Spending in these discretionary categories is dropping already. Local and state governments—who pay the lion’s share of spending on education—will be left to make up the gap.

(Urban Institute)

Federal spending on children increased sizably between 1960 and 2010, thanks to a mix of demographic and political forces. Over the next decade, though, this trend will reverse as millions of Baby Boomers enter retirement and spending on older adults under Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid is projected to soar. Interest payments on the rising federal debt will also go up.

These projections don’t take into account the newer policy priorities under the Trump administration, which would shift spending away from children even more dramatically. For example, the House version of the farm bill would cut spending for food aid dramatically and establish strict work requirements for recipients.

“More than three-quarters of the people [who receive SNAP aid] are either kids or people living with kids,” Isaacs says. “If we were to enact the farm bill that cuts SNAP so much, then the numbers would be worse. This decline is happening before we take into account any additional changes.”

If the White House report is any indication, its war on welfare is only just beginning. Getting to a near-zero figure for poverty requires some creative math, namely a cherry-picked “consumption-based” measure for poverty based on families’ spending. This measure is wildly out of step with traditional and official measures for poverty. As researchers from the University of Michigan show, a consumption-based poverty measure indicates that poverty was worse during the early 2000s than during the Great Recession.

(University of Michigan)

Similarly, the report’s call for work requirements assumes that work-able adults who receive aid aren’t working. Organizations such as the Kaiser Family Foundation say otherwise. In the end, children will be hurt by the policies set under these faulty premises.

More than 14 million people under age 17 were living below the federal poverty limit in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That number has fallen since 2012, but still represents about 20 percent of all children in the U.S. The share of federal spending for children that reaches low-income families has grown over time— meaning that the war on poverty is achieving results. That doesn’t mean it’s over: Spending cuts on food, housing, and healthcare will hurt children disproportionately. Kids can’t live on alternative facts alone.

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story named Gary Cohn as the chair of the Council of Economic Advisors. He left the office in 2017, and left the White House in March. Kevin Hassett now serves as the chief White House economist.

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CityLab Daily: Inclusionary Zoning: What Is It, and How Does It Work?

Keep up with the most pressing, interesting, and important city stories of the day. Sign up for the CityLab Daily newsletter

(Madison McVeigh/CityLab)

Benjamin Schneider gives an intro course on inclusionary zoning, walking us through the history of the affordable housing policy and how leaders have used it to address city segregation. This syllabus comes packed with frequently asked questions, a case study, viewpoints, a toolkit, and a reading list—explaining all the acronyms and jargon along the way. Even if you’re already an expert, keep it on hand to share with people you know who could use the lesson: CityLab University presents: Inclusionary Zoning.

  • Let us know what you think of our pilot endeavor and what you’d like to study up on next: Drop us a line at hello@citylab.com

Andrew Small


More on CityLab

Cities and the Vertical Economy

Vertical clustering—of certain high-status industries on the higher floors of buildings, for example—is an important part of urban agglomeration.

Richard Florida

Dockless Bikesharing Hits New York City’s Transit-Hungry Fringes

The strategy: Keep free-range riders off Citi Bike’s turf.

John Surico

The Surprising Fortunes of a Metro Expansion

What urban archaeologists found underneath Amsterdam as workers dug out the new Noord/Zuidlijn line.

Michaela Cavanagh

Mobile Home Co-ops: A Lifeline Against Displacement

When a landlord sells a mobile home park, it can upend an entire community. By banding together, residents are finding a way to stay where they live and control their rent costs.

Hallie Golden

When Portland’s Nuclear Defense Drill Was Televised

Credits for the 1957 CBS airing of The Day Called ‘X’  list the cast as “the people of the city of Portland, Oregon.” City officials, including the mayor, got lead roles.

Carl Abbott



What We’re Reading

Heat makes you dumb, in four charts (Washington Post)

I tried to fall asleep at a nap bar (Fast Company)

Rising seas could cause problems for internet infrastructure (NPR)

Senators want to sneak safety exemptions for self-driving cars into law (Streetsblog)

A photography project, by homeless people (The Guardian)


Tell your friends about the CityLab Daily! Forward this newsletter to someone who loves cities and encourage them to subscribe. Send your own comments, feedback, and tips to hello@citylab.com.

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When Portland’s Nuclear Defense Drill Was Televised

Welcome to the latest installation of “

Portland had already shown its enthusiasm for civil defense. Two years earlier the city and state had staged the preparedness drill Operation Greenlight, which provided a template for the 1957 script. On September 27, 1955, 101,000 Portlanders evacuated 1,000 blocks in the center of the city and headed for dispersed reception centers as they followed flashing green traffic lights that marked escape routes. The exercise mobilized medical personnel, highway crews, and emergency responders at staging centers 20-30 miles outside the city center and even designated the number of evacuees that would be assigned to each Oregon county.

The city cooperated with the filming. The credits list the cast as “the people of the city of Portland Oregon,” playing themselves. Portland officials got lead roles. Mayor Terry Schrunk, in the first of four terms, acquitted himself well in front of the cameras. The city made its new emergency command center available for dramatic scenes in which civil defense workers track the approach of the bombers on a giant wall map. Built into a hillside six miles from downtown, the Kelly Butte Control Center could accommodate three hundred people for up to a week with its own power, telephone system, and air filtration.

Portland was an ideal city for testing out civil defense efforts—an adamantly ordinary place that served the farm and forest industries of the Pacific Northwest, ran regional resources through mils and factories, and shipped their output from the region’s busiest port. Portlanders were overwhelmingly white, conservative, and tight with their tax dollars.

The Day Called ‘X’ was a late installment in the optimistic civil defense program of the Eisenhower years. By 1963, when Portland mothballed its own civil defense effort, unstoppable ballistic missiles were replacing bombers and the growing power of thermonuclear warheads was rendering evacuation plans obsolete. When Dr. Strangelove arrived in 1964, the 1957 CBS program was a relic of a different era.

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Mobile Home Owners Find a Lifeline Against Displacement

More than a decade after Jim Wallace moved into a small mobile home community in Duvall, Washington, he said the landlord threatened to sell the property and possibly make everyone leave. Wallace had been living there since 1982. He didn’t want to move. He also didn’t think he could afford to.

If he tried to move his 14-foot, single-wide mobile home, it “would fold up like a cardboard box,” he said. Wallace didn’t own the land he was on; like his neighbors, he was renting it. Leaving the community would probably have meant dropping his home off at the dump and leaving Duvall, where he has lived in his entire life, in order to find a cheap apartment somewhere farther north.  

“I was doing some pacing on the floor,” said Wallace, now a 71-year-old retired manufacturing engineer.

But by 2012, everything changed. Once again, there was concern that the landlord was going to sell, but this time Wallace and the other members of the 25-home community had a plan. For years, the residents had wrestled with the fact that they have little to no say in the park’s long-term future. So in July, they wrote a letter to the landlord, expressing their concern. “We wanted assurance that our homes would be safe for us to enjoy in the future,” said Katy Bowen, president of the Duvall Riverside Village’s board of directors and one of its residents. The next month, the landlord sent them a letter offering to sell them the property.

The entrance to the Duvall Riverside Village. (Hallie Golden)

They formed a co-op, got a loan, and bought the 4.5-acre land, about 25 miles northeast of Seattle, for $1.18 million. With that, they officially became Duvall Riverside Village. Now any household can pay the one-time membership fee of $200 to become part of the co-op that owns the land. In other words, the residents were given the long-term security and financial stability that is so often unavailable at a mobile home park.

Manufactured home communities have a long history of providing low-cost housing in the U.S., where residents drive their homes in, secure them, and pay a monthly rent to stay on the owner’s land. These homes are typically the least expensive option when it comes to unsubsidized housing, serving households with a median annual income of about $30,000, according to the Manufactured Housing Institute, a national trade organization. Today, about 22 million people in the U.S. live in these homes. On average, they pay a gross housing cost of $564 per month, compared to $1,057 per month for people living in homes or apartments, according to Apartment List.

But residents in most states find there are few protections to prevent them from being kicked out of mobile home parks at an owner’s or developer’s whim. If the land value increases, the owner might be tempted to sell, and residents in many places aren’t entitled to such protections as an advanced notice to vacate or money to cover relocation costs. As a result, an increasing number of approximately 40,000 mobile home communities in the United States have opted to take landlords out of the equation.

Today, at least 220 mobile home parks have been converted to resident-owned communities, said Mike Bullard, the communications and marketing manager at ROC USA, a national non-profit that helps residents take ownership of manufactured home communities. ROC USA and its affiliates have helped to make this switch for 14,252 homes, a quarter of which have made the change in just the last two years.

A 79-home community in Fridley, Minnesota, called Park Plaza Cooperative made the switch in 2011. Natividad Seefeld, the co-op’s president, said the land was up for sale and she was concerned about the residents getting displaced, given the desirable area they live in—15 minutes north of downtown Minneapolis, near a train station and two major highways.

“When a community is offered up for sale, it means anyone can come and purchase you,” she said. “They can displace you, your whole entire community.”

And often it’s not just the community that gets lost in the process—it can also mean residents lose their homes altogether. Despite their name, relocating a mobile home can pose some big hurdles. For one thing, the home needs to be in good enough condition to move, and the owner has to find a community that will allow it in. (Many have rules about the age of homes that are brought in). Owners also must be able to afford the $5,000 to $15,000 price tag that may be needed to move the structure. Bullard said the process involves a crane and a truck, and often additional vehicles to escort the oversize load.

“Unfortunately what happens when communities are closed is often times people just abandon their home,” he said. “People who own a home, that’s their largest asset, and if you have to forfeit it, that’s a huge financial setback.”

***

Becoming a resident-owned community isn’t a simple process. The Duvall village failed on two separate occasions because the residents couldn’t afford it.

By 2012, with the landlord getting older and the price of living in the city continuing to rise, the residents were facing a truly uncertain future.

“We kept hearing about these mobile home parks where they sell them and tell people to get out immediately or within months,” said Bowen. “So we talked to him and he thought about it and came back with a letter saying that he talked to a broker and is willing to sell to us.”

Jim Wallace sits outside his mobile home with Katy Bowen, president of the Duvall Riverside Village’s board of directors. (Hallie Golden)

The residents held an hour-long meeting to make sure everyone was on board with the plan, and agreed to buy the land through a loan financed by ROC USA and Washington State Housing Finance Commission, a state entity that helps with local housing programs. That was still just the beginning: They then had to review the purchase and agree to it, and do the same for community bylaws and rules (a ROC USA template for bylaws helped with that part); they also had to elect a board of directors.

At the beginning there was so much to discuss, approve, and learn that they were having meetings every week just to keep up with it all, Bowen said. “We were so tired of meetings, but they had to be done.”

After they officially bought the land, each household was responsible for a monthly co-op fee of $475, about $25 more than they were paying before the switch. Since then, that monthly fee has only increased one time, by $5, because of higher insurance rates. Bowen said when the land was owned by an outside landlord, rent increased by at least $5 to $10 every year.

The village now has monthly meetings to make decisions, and members vote on the board’s budget each year. They also have an annual summer picnic. Bowen said she used to not know many of her neighbors. Now, with regular meetings and events, “everybody knows each other,” she said.

Wallace said he’s happy with the change and doesn’t ever plan to leave. “It’s our property now, so that’s a good feeling,” he said. “You’re not at the mercy of someone.”

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Can Florida’s Toxic Algae Be Stopped?

Toxic blue-green algae has bloomed again in Lake Okeechobee, Florida’s largest lake, an outbreak so severe that Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in seven counties. While the term “algae bloom” might not sound dangerous, it is an outbreak of cyanobacteria that presents a significant risk to public health.

In early July, the bloom was reported to cover more than 90 percent of Lake Okeechobee’s surface. The green sludge has crept outward from the lake and filled waterways with a putrid sludge that locals say smells like mold. News reports are warning residents to keep children and animals away from contaminated water. According to the CDC, ingesting it—including through consumption of marine animals like oysters—is the most dangerous type of exposure. Effects can include skin, nose, eye, and throat irritation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

What’s causing the bloom?

Pollution and warm water fuel the algae’s growth. Research from the U.S. EPA suggests that fertilizer runoff is introducing phosphorous and nitrogen to waterways, essentially fertilizing the algae.

Another factor is water flow. The Everglades, a wetland ecosystem, naturally flows from Lake Okeechobee south to Florida Bay. But since 1910, a series of more and more robust dikes have been built to contain that flow. The current dike system, called the Herbert Hoover Dike, is made up of about 143 miles of levees. Additional canals divert the flow to the east and west coasts.

With the natural flow of the Everglades staunched, water builds up when it rains. Then the algae blooms again, and like clockwork, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tries to relieve Lake Okeechobee’s water levels by discharging more water along the canals. This increases the concentration of fresh water in the estuary, giving the cyanobacteria even more opportunity to thrive.

Lake Okeechobee in 2016. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

The Army Corps has been releasing a lot of water from Lake Okeechobee, and, in combination with the rain runoff from the basin, it’s compressed the estuary so that it’s mostly fresh [water] now—which is what cyanobacteria like,” said John Cassani of Calusa Waterkeeper, a nonprofit that’s part of the Waterkeeper Alliance. “So cutting back on those fresh-water inflows would increase the salinity of the estuary, and hopefully discourage continued growth of this cyanobacteria.

When the Army Corps discharges water from Lake Okeechobee, it increases the concentration of fresh water in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, giving the cyanobacteria even more opportunity to thrive there—while interrupting the Everglades’ natural southward flow.

Others point to the role of agriculture, especially Florida’s massive sugar industry. Peter Girard, a spokesperson from the environmental group Bull Sugar, said, “Sugarcane needs water when Florida is dry, and it needs drainage when Florida is wet. The industry has secured policy and practice from both state and federal authorities to give them that at the expense of everyone else in Florida.”

For years, Florida environmentalists have complained that agricultural runoff from and water mismanagement by “Big Sugar” cause damage to Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. Grassroots pushes for the state to buy back land from sugar companies go back two decades. Many contracts and pieces of legislation have been signed and then nixed.

Buying back land could help

Still, organizations including the Everglades Trust and the Sierra Club have joined with a long list of companies, such as Yeti and Costa, to champion SB10, the latest iteration of the state’s land buyback scheme (also known as the Now or Neverglades Declaration).

SB10 was introduced into the Florida State Senate in January 2017 and approved by Governor Scott by that May. The bill calls for the creation of a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, in the region called the Everglades Agricultural Area. If the construction of the reservoir is executed as planned, freshwater will be able to flow southward rather than in forced discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. The new southward flow would alleviate the toxic algae blooms and help save the state’s fragile ecosystems. Last week, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget approved the reservoir project.

Legislators have suggested other ways to solve the algae-bloom problem, like increasing salinity in areas plagued with blooms. But Chris Wittman, co-founder and program director of the nonprofit Captains for Clear Water, said these measures would amount to treating the symptoms of a disease instead of its root cause.

“The reason we’re in this [mess] this year is manmade manipulation of a natural system,” Wittman said. “So the idea is not to manipulate it farther. The idea is to get that system back to functioning with delivery and timing as close to the natural cycle as possible.”

Meanwhile, another type of algae bloom, red tide, has been killing fish in the Gulf of Mexico. The two blooms are sending tremors through businesses in a state that is known for its natural beauty and depends on tourism. In 2013, a year that was plagued by algae blooms and the deaths of hundreds of manatees, more than 90 percent of hotels in Fort Myers Beach reported cancellations related to water conditions.

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