EAA/SFWMD, why isn’t more water going south, instead of into the SLR/IRL?

This chart shows how even though more Storm Water Treatment Areas came on line in 2004 and after, actually less water from Lake Okeechobee is "going south." Why? (Chart by engineer Gary Gorforth, formerly of the SFWMD.)
This chart shows that even though more Storm Water Treatment Areas (STAs) came on line (red) in 2004, actually less water is “going south,” (blue). Why? (Chart by engineer, Dr. Gary Gorforth, formerly of the SFWMD, 2014.)

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.)

Map south of Lake O. showing EAA, STAs, and WCAs. (Map Everglades Foundation, public)
Map south of Lake O. showing EAA, canals, STAs, and Water Conservation Areas, (WCAs.) (Map SFWMD, public.)

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.

Aerial os STA in EAA surrounded by sugar fields. (Public photo.)
Aerial of STA in EAA surrounded by sugar fields, northern area. (Public photo.)

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

Another chart showing the same ideas. )Gary Goforth 2014.)
Another chart showing the same ideas.) (Gary Goforth 2014.)

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)

(Everglades Restoration:(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everglades_Forever_Act#Everglades_Forever_Act)

10 thoughts on “EAA/SFWMD, why isn’t more water going south, instead of into the SLR/IRL?

  1. Jacqui, glad you posted this. Excellent, though you have one glaring typo in the text–you cite 100 parts per rather than 10 as I assume you meant to write.?

    Mike Conner Editor-in-Chief Fly & Light Tackle Angler Mean Tide Media LLC http://www.flyandlighttackleangler.com (772) 521-1882

    Sent from my iPad


  2. jacqui this is awesome. but my question is didn’t the sfwmd know this when everyone was talking about the last bill and why the acoe wait until the last minute to bring it up?

    1. Cindi the agencies absolutely know this. It is the elephant in the room. They are starting to bring it up more. Why not earlier? No good answer to that…
      Sometimes we all think problems will go away if we don’t bring them up or thing someone else will address them. This legal issue of sending required amounts of water south is a problem we all must fix together and it’s a big one….but the responsibility lies on the state of Florida. thx 4 your great question Cyndi.

  3. great entry, jacqui. as gary says, it’s a question of priority. we must urge the sfwmd leadership (governor & water mgmt board) to place a higher priority on the estuaries’ health. we have always been low man on the totem pole, that has to change.

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