Sunshine State News

January 5, 2017

Buying Farm Land Will Not Allow You to Send Water South to Stop Lake Okeechobee Discharges

By Judy Clayton Sanchez


Enough is enough. We will no longer sit back and let the eco-activists spin the fairy tale that buying another 50,000 or 60,000 acres of farm land south of Lake Okeechobee is the one-size-fits-all, silver-bullet solution to every environmental ill of the entire region.

In their never-ending quest to drive sugarcane and vegetable farming from the Glades region, Kimberly Mitchell and her special interest cronies now have completely lost touch with reality.

Their recent op-eds claim that America’s Everglades are “collapsing from lack of clean freshwater.” Where have they been? The agency in charge of restoration (South Florida Water Management District) has shown that 100 percent of Everglades National Park is already meeting the stringent 10 part per billion water quality standard -- in other words, it's CLEAN. During the 10 months of Lake O discharges, the entire Everglades was well above flood stage due to excessive rainfall throughout the region. There’s no lack of water anywhere when the lake is so high discharges are required.

Arguing for building a reservoir on currently productive farm land south of the lake because “the Everglades remains too dry in all but the wettest years” is utter fantasy.  It’s only in these wettest years that large lake releases are made to the estuaries, and the Everglades cannot take any water that might be funneled to the proposed reservoir. During the dry years, when the Everglades may need water, a reservoir would not be used since any water that is available would be sent directly to the Everglades. Putting water in a reservoir upstream of the Everglades in a dry year is a waste of water.
Apparently, the upcoming Everglades Coalition Conference needs to include a refresher course in basic reasoning and basic math. Consider the 2013 and 2016 excess water discharges to the coastal estuaries as a simple math/reason equation:

Obviously, a reservoir south of the lake does not solve the two east/west estuary problems.

As for Florida Bay, scientific data shows its average annual water need is only another 100,000 acre feet or so. So you cannot “re-direct” any significant amount of water currently discharged to the east and west to Florida Bay during these wet events either.  “One solution for 3 estuaries.”  Not.

Another popular fiction these activists spread is that the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) required the purchase of 60,000 acres. In fact, when Congress passed CERP in 2000, the state had already purchased 60,000 acres of the former Talisman Sugar operations for water storage south of Lake Okeechobee. The map showing the lands purchased is actually in the final 1999 document. Water projects on this land are engineered, approved and under way. If more water storage is needed, you can tweak the design and store more on the same land already in public ownership.

Perhaps the most appalling bit of fiction is that the Everglades was drained for sugarcane farmers (there was little sugarcane at the time of the major flood control and drainage projects) and that farmers and farming communities south of Lake Okeechobee are “in the way” of water flowing the way it did historically. 

The dike around Lake Okeechobee as well as the dikes protecting the suburban areas of western Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties and the myriad canals that drain urban neighborhoods to the ocean are part of the same regional flood control system. No one is seriously considering taking down these dikes and drainage and letting south Florida return to swamp. Farming communities as well as urban and suburban neighborhoods and businesses all deserve the same consideration.

When the Everglades Foundation pushes a “solution” that is more about punishing farmers than solving water issues and advocates sending massive amounts of phosphorus-rich lake water into a flooded Everglades that is finally meeting water quality standards, it’s time for the media to pull back the curtain, take a closer look at their propaganda and expose it for what it is.