Eric Eikenberg is chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation. Today Knight Foundation announced $100,000 in support for the Everglades Foundation’s $10 million George Barley Water Prize, the largest global prize competition focused on clean water.
South Florida has a long history of individuals taking action for the greater good – across the arts, civics, philanthropy, science and business. There’s nothing more “South Florida” than revolutionary thinking and taking matters into your own hands to be agents of lasting change.
George Barley, co-founder of the Everglades Foundation, was one such individual. After discovering thick mats of algae that showed no signs of life underneath on a fishing trip in Florida Bay more than 20 years ago, George was committed to finding a way to change it. To reverse the damage caused over the past century, George took on legislators at all levels of government, wrote ballot petitions with Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, the determined defender of the Everglades, and co-founded the Everglades Foundation before his untimely death in a plane crash in 1995.
What George saw on that fishing trip more than two decades ago was unfortunately a vision of the future we live in today. The green algae bloom was nutrient pollution, a sign of high phosphorus levels that, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), plague about 40 percent of America’s streams and rivers – including Lake Erie, and Lake Okeechobee in Florida. The EPA now calls nutrient pollution “one of America's most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems.”
So far, no one has been able to identify a cost-effective solution to the phosphorus pollution problem. Using existing technology would cost more than $3 trillion worldwide, and up to $15 billion to clean up Lake Okeechobee. Today, algae blooms are once again forming in Lake Okeechobee, threatening tourism, recreation, development and fisheries. With so much at risk, the Everglades Foundation is stepping up with a $10 million prize. Teams will compete across lab, pilot and field settings, including a cold climate site in the Great Lakes, with the support and partnership of the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change.
The $100,000 in support from Knight Foundation will help us lead this groundbreaking initiative forward, as we seek out the brightest minds and provide them with the resources to showcase their technologies on a global platform.
We need bold new thinking, the type of thinking George and countless other South Floridians throughout history have possessed and the type of thinking the Everglades Foundation hopes to reward with the $10 million water prize that bears his name.
The George Barley Water Prize launches this summer and we’ll be accepting applications for the first stage of the competition. We will distribute early-stage prizes ranging from $35,000 to $200,000 each year. In 2020 we will award the grand prize of $10 million to the applicant that demonstrates a resilient and cost-effective venture.
South Florida will once again be at the forefront of solving a global challenge. To learn more visit barleyprize.com.