News-Press

October 15, 2016

Let's stay focused on science, not sound bites

Malcolm "Bubba" Wade Jr

http://www.news-press.com/story/opinion/2016/10/15/lets-stay-focused-science-not-sound-bites/92048826/

 

Over 20 years ago, stakeholders in South Florida set out to accomplish an ambitious goal of restoring the Everglades, one of the most treasured watersheds on the planet. Achieving this goal would involve an unprecedented commitment from everyone involved, including those living in communities stretching from Orlando to the Florida Keys.

For district engineers and scientists, accomplishing this goal meant developing a comprehensive suite of projects scientifically-designed and proven to clean and store more water. For elected officials, it meant committing billions of dollars to construct those projects, which are still in progress today. For farmers living south of Lake Okeechobee, it meant adopting innovative, nutrient-reducing farming solutions known as Best Management Practices (BMPs) as well as making many other sacrifices.

Since that time, U.S. Sugar has helped reduce the phosphorus in the water flowing off our farms by an average of 55 percent – well above the state and federal requirement. Our BMPs, developed with the University of Florida, have helped ensure that 95 percent of the Everglades is meeting the stringent 10 parts per billion water quality standard for phosphorous today.

These BMPs are 100 percent paid for by farmers. Through a tax of $25 per acre, EAA farmers have paid their share of building and operating the Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs) to clean the balance of the water flowing south. This tax has raised $200 million for Everglades restoration in addition to the $200 million farmers spend for research and on-farm, BMP water clean-up efforts. This is more than any other private group – environmentalists included – has committed to Everglades restoration in history.

Additionally, farmers south of the lake have given up 120,000 acres of productive farm land to the state, of which approximately 30,000 acres have been used to design or construct the A-1 and A-2 reservoir projects south of Lake Okeechobee. Before any new land is purchased, these new projects could be re-designed to store more than 97 billion gallons of water.

Somewhere along the line, activists turned their focus away from solutions and toward attacking Florida’s farmers and calling for the purchase of more of their land. This misguided attempt has set a dangerous precedent and put decades of progress in Everglades restoration at risk. State and federal studies have concluded that additional storage south of the lake will not significantly reduce the harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee.  Yet, environmental activists keep calling for the purchase or seizing of additional farm land, taking more land out of food production and destroying jobs in our farming communities.

In 2016 alone, nearly two million acre-feet of water has been discharged from Lake Okeechobee.  The proposed reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee would only provide a few days’ worth of storage (300,000 acre-feet), and during wet conditions, constraints in the Everglades would not let the water flow south the Everglades.  At a cost of over $3 billion this is not a viable nor economically cost beneficial solution.

We look forward to participating in The News-Press’ “Save Our Water” summit and sharing scientific data about the water quality and quantity issues of the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee system. By staying focused on the science – rather than sound-bite rhetoric – we can ensure that the restoration goal started more than two decades ago can become a reality.

Malcolm "Bubba" Wade Jr. is senior vice president of corporate strategy and business development for U.S. Sugar and serves as a member of the South Florida Water Management District’s Water Resources Advisory Commission (WRAC).

.