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:
- 5,000 square miles watershed north of Lake Okeechobee drains into a
- 730-square-mile lake.
- Water enters lake SIX TIMES FASTER than it can be discharged. With a fragile dike, the Corps of Engineers discharges water east and west as the flood control system was designed.
- 4.5 five MILLION acre-feet of water in 2013 was discharged to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, and
- More than 5 MILLION acre-feet was discharged in 2016.
- A 60,000 acre reservoir south of the lake could hold 200,000-300,000 acre-feet of water. (During both years, the Everglades to the south was also flooded and could not take any more water when lake releases are made.) So the proposed reservoir fills up and more than 4.2 MILLION acre-feet of water would still be discharged to the estuaries.
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.
Judy Clayton Sanchez is senior director for corporate communications and public affairs, U.S. Sugar Corp., Clewiston. This oped has been printed in The Palm Beach Post, the Fort Myers News-Press and the Naples Daily News.
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