Posted by: floridanature | October 4, 2008

I should have listened to Ed Abbey

It happened again.

One minute, I was driving down the road, just planning to sit in on an event near Lake Mary.

Then, the event expanded, I mean, it just flat-out turned turtle on reality.

Let me explain. This was the kick-off for the legal hearing that pitted the St. Johns RiverKeeeper against Seminole County ( where I live) and the regional water management district.

Here’s the deal: About 150 years ago, the great American storyteller Mark Twain said we live not in a democracy, but in a “plutocracy.” That’s government by the wealthy.

More recently, the great naturalist Ed Abbey wrote that ‘sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.’

This out-of-body legal hearing had to do with the sheer arrogance and illogic of my home county wanting to continue to squander water. Mainly because they can—or, in this case, think they can.

Our elected officials have allowed water hogs to take as much of this “common resource” as they want from our underground Floridan Aquifer for decades. Now, because upland recharge is being paved over and unmanaged growth is sucking that geological reservoir dry, those same officials are looking for an easy fix.

Well, folks, there is no easy fix. It sort of comes down to taking responsibility for our actions—for acknowledging there are “consequences” to our squandering-mindsets.

That doesn’t play well politically (Remember Twain’s take on it?).

And so comes the trial. Leading off was a so-called expert for the county’s “environmental consultants”. He was an engineer working as the project director of a plan that would harvest a tremendous amount of water from the St. Johns River.

Yep, that would be Bartram’s “Grand and Noble San Juan”. An American Heritage River. The timeless aquatic highway into the interior of Florida. The most historic of our country’s rivers, and the largest river in our state.

Dawn at Brickyard Slough on the St. Johns River

Dawn at Brickyard Slough on the St. Johns

The engineer, on the stand, said that taking up to 150 million gallons of water of day from the grand and noble San Juan would have absolutely no negative ecological impact on it. The phrase he used was “no environmental harm.”

He said that several times, in different ways. He was a puffed up sort of guy, overweight with a bad goatee, and every time he answered a question, he did so with a pronounced twitch of his head. He seemed as if the questions almost offended him, and each time he fielded one, he did so with one of those inbred arrogant reactions—as if to imply: “I’ve got better things to do with my time.” Odd, but he seemed not offended at all by the lack of truth in his testimony. Or by the irony that other schemers said virtually the same thing a century earlier about the draining of the headwaters of the St. Johns. In this speciated world of the consultant it’s not about sustaining the ecology— It’s about making money. Yet, the economic value of nature—the “natural capital”— is never factored into such equations.

After this went on a bit, I leaned over to my good friend sitting next to me, and whispered to her: “Cane Toad.”

As in Bufo marinus. Large exotic herp that hops about, croaks, eats up native fodder, and then, when all is said and done, sits back down on its haunches, and burps.

There’s lots more to come on this strange theater. But for now, I wish that Twain had been with us. He would have provided context, and reminded us that, after all, vigilance is needed to keep the liberties that are so essential to us. And then he would have satirized it all in a story or novel.

And, if Ed Abbey were there, he probably would have laughed out loud at the outrageous lies.

I know I sure did.



  1. I loved Edward Abbey’s books as a teenager, but haven’t read him much since (my brother has most of my books from that era … long story). He had a bit of a NPS pedigree … and he forever left his mark on Arches: Desert Solitaire is a classic! The ending: sublime!

  2. First, God bless Bill Belleville.

    His clear voice and haunting words help us understand the threats facing our natural resources, including the St. Johns and Ocklawaha Rivers.

    Seminole County’s plan to remove freshwater from the St. Johns River is just the first.

    We all must defend what we love; the wolf is at the door.

    Neil A.Armingeon
    St. Johns Riverkeeper.

  3. Thanks, Neil. Your words are much appreciated. Both Abbey and Twain had it nailed. These guys are simply used to steamrolling over anything in their way, simply because they can. Thanks to the RiverKeeper for having the heart to stand up to them. ‘Might’ does not make right. – Bill

  4. Reverand Bill,

    Continue to spread the word.

    From the choirbox, a resounding AMEN!

  5. Thanks, Robert. It’s a gospel so obvious that it shouldn’t even require preaching. Still, I have to admit that the Orwellian spin on basic natural laws still amazes me. – BB

  6. Great post. On a lighter note in this article Bill mentioned Cane Toads. Has anyone else seen that silly Australian Documentary on Cane Toads?

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