March 9, 2017
Water managers extend Evans Properties water farm contract for another year
By Tyler Treadway
Because it's done a good job keeping water out of the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, a St. Lucie County water farm will keep operating for at least another year.
The South Florida Water Management District agreed Thursday to a one-year, $542,836 contract extension with Evans Properties Inc.
The project draws water out of the C-24 Canal in St. Lucie County to keep it from reaching the St. Lucie River Estuary in Martin County. Water from the canals that stretch into western pastures and citrus groves contain high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and ammonia that can feed toxic blue-green algae blooms in the estuary.
The 970-acre water farm was expected to keep about 1.2 billion gallons of water out of the estuaries each year. Over the two years of the contract, it's held back nearly 1.5 billion gallons a year. At that rate, the cost is about a third of a cent per gallon.
WATER IN, NONE OUT
Water farms hold water until it evaporates into the air or percolates into the ground. The projects are seen as a temporary way to keep water out of the estuary and lagoon until large reservoirs around Lake Okeechobee can be built to hold more water. Opponents see water farms as a type of corporate welfare to large landowners.
Reservoirs are being built along the C-44 and C-43 canals, which send Lake O water east to the St. Lucie River and west to the Caloosahatchee River, respectively.
Projects planned along the C-23 and C-24 canals that empty into the St. Lucie River aren't scheduled to be constructed until the early 2020s.
In 2014, a year after the devastating "Lost Summer" discharges from Lake O, the water district set up water farms in fallow citrus groves owned by Evans and two other companies:
A 450-acre water farm on Caulkins Citrus Co. land that was supposed to remove 4.4 billion gallons of water from the C-44 Canal connecting Lake O and the St. Lucie River sucked out about 8.3 billion gallons. That success led the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott to agree in 2016 to increase the site to 3,275 acres.
A 210-acre water farm on the Bull Hammock Ranch owned by Spur Land & Cattle Co. is meeting its goal of removing about 283.5 million gallons a year from the C-23 Canal, which runs along the Martin-St. Lucie county line.
Water farm opponents point out the projects remove a very small portion of the water that enters the St. Lucie estuary during high Lake O discharges.
For instance: The Evans, Spur and pre-expansion Caulkins water farms can keep about 6.8 billion gallons of water out of the estuary. The 2013 discharges dumped about 136.1 billion gallons of Lake O water into the St. Lucie, the 2016 discharges about 220 billion gallons.
The contract extension approved Thursday will be paid for with a state appropriation; no money generated from local property taxes will be used, according to the district.
Evans water farm
Size: About 1,000 acres
Designed to remove: 1.2 billion gallons a year
Has removed: Average of 1.5 billion gallons a year
Original contract: $1.4 million
Breakdown: $317,780 to build, $537,169 a year to operate
Extension: $542,836 to operate an extra year
Value: Removes water at a rate of about one-third of a cent per gallon
How's the Water?: Current health reports