The first time I saw Gary Goforth speak (http://garygoforth.net/services.htm) at Senator Joe Negron’s Senate Hearing on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee in 2013, I was very impressed. He was sitting next to Karl Wickstrom, the founder of Florida Sportsman Magazine, who I sit with on the Rivers Coalition Defense Fund. I knew if Dr Goforth had Karl’s “blessing” he belonged to an elite group of people in the River Movement, as Karl, who I love, is understandably critical of everyone.
I came to learn that this accomplished and well spoken man, had worked at the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) as a Ph.D. engineer, most of his esteemed career and in fact “built” the Storm Water Treatment Areas (STA) in the Everglades Agriculture Area (EAA) as head engineer for the district’s projects in 2004 on onward. Today he runs his own engineering company here in Martin County independent of the district. (See link above.)
An STA is an area that filters water through vegetation taking up nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen and even pollution before it goes into a water conservation area and then to the Everglades. It is an area engineered to do what Mother Nature did before we transformed her into farmlands and urban landscapes.
When the Everglades Forever Act was passed by the Florida legislature in 1994, and after Governor Chiles “laid down his sword,” the SFWMD was required to build more STAs to filter the polluted water running into the Miccosukee lands and Everglades further south. The Miccosukee had sued the US government and the SFWMD, (a long, famous lawsuit starting in 1988), as specifically the high phosphorus from fertilizers and pollution from the EAA’s sugar farms was destroying their reservation’s waters and fauna and therefore all that lived there. The law suit accomplished two major things. It called for 10 parts per billion phosphorus rather than 200 plus so the STAs were built and it called for a certain amount of water to go south to sustain the life of the Everglades.
So in comes the law regarding amounts: In chapter 3773.4592, Florida Statues, “1994 Everglades Forever Act” the SFWMD was directed to send an additional 28 % water to the Everglades, including 250,000 acre feet of Lake Okeechobee water based on base flow statistics from 1979-1988. The Everglades needs water to live.
It is confusing, but although the STAs can send both EAA water and lake water south to the Everglades, the SFWMD gives the EAA water (from the lake, used to water their crops), priority in moving south. Lake water goes south only if the STAs have room….
OK. Here is the kicker.
Although in the recent past, the EAA spent tons of money removing toxic chemicals from the lands they had to give up for STAs and although the tax payers spent billions of dollars building the STAs on those lands for cleaning EAA water and Lake Okeechobee water, Gary Goforth’s charts and engineering show that since 2004, actually less lake water is going south to the Everglades. And most of the water going south is EAA water, very little Lake water comparatively ….Why?
Well, from what I think I understand, even though all this money has been spent in the EAA and tax payers building the STAs, the EAA and SFWMD who work together, are “scared” to send too much water south because if they go over the 10 parts per billion phosphorus limit (an annual limit) they could be sued again. Thus they hold the EAA water in the STAs letting it dribble out and therefore there is no room for Lake O’s water most of the time.
As Dr Goforth points out, it is the St Lucie River and Caloosahatchee that do not get what was legislated for them: a minimum of 250,000 acre feet of lake water sent south a year.
As stated in an email to me:
“The 1994 Everglades Forever Act (Florida legislation Ch. 373.4592, F.S.) directed the South Florida Water Management District to send an additional 28 percent water to the Everglades, including 250,000 acre feet of Lake water. The 1979-1988 base period flows to the Everglades included an average of 100,931 acre feet from Lake Okeechobee – resulting in a targeted increase of Lake water to the Everglades of 148 percent.
For the most recent 10-year period (May 2005-April 2014) an average of 71,353 acre feet of Lake water was sent to the Everglades – or an average decrease of 29 percent from the 1979-1988 base period.
So – the target was a 148 percent increase – and the reality was a 29 percent decrease. This was in exchange for a billion dollars of public funding for the STAs. Who holds the State accountable?” Gary Goforth
If you are like me, this all may remain confusing, but I think the point is made… I hope so anyway.
“Legally, not enough Lake O water is going south.”
This is a serious situation. Really, only the people can hold the state accountable, but do we really want to sue again? Can this be resolved?
Many say it is impossible to send the water south at 10 ppb. This may be the case. Nonetheless, I say the Miccosukee Indians finally won something after generations of sadness to their people, after being forced to live on a postage stamp, so as “tough as it sounds,” I believe the EAA, the SFWMD, and the state of Florida have some more work to do.
Florida Statutes, Everglades Forever Act, (Ch. 373.4592)(http://archive.flsenate.gov/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0300-0399/0373/Sections/0373.4592.html)
FDEP, Everglades Forever Act: (http://www.floridadep.org/everglades/efa.htm)