The following was written by Dr Gary Goforth as a response to U.S. Sugar Corporation’s months long ad campaign in the Stuart News.
· The health and economies of the St. Lucie River and Estuary, the Caloosahatchee Estuary, and Florida Bay have been sacrificed for decades by the management of Lake Okeechobee for the protection of US Sugar and other agricultural lands south of the Lake.
The recent ad blitz by US Sugar appears to be an attempt to divert the public’s attention away from this preferential treatment and from an egregious betrayal of south Florida taxpayers perpetrated by US Sugar, the Florida legislature and the Governor’s administration – the failure to exercise the willing seller contract to purchase US Sugar land south of the lake. Failure to secure needed land south of the Lake is the single biggest obstacle to long-term protection of the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries from destructive Lake discharges, and providing Florida Bay and lower east coast wellfields with needed water.
· Water storage necessary to reduce high flows to the estuaries by about 90% will require about 10% of the land in the EAA – not complete elimination of farming in the area. The recent UF Water Institute study reconfirmed what scientists have been saying for decades – additional storage and treatment beyond what is currently planned in CERP and CEPP is needed south of the Lake: “If this required storage were to be provided strictly though deep 12-ft reservoirs, new land area between approximately 11,000 and 43,000 acres would be required south of Lake Okeechobee.” The upper limit – 43,000 acres – is less than ¼ of the amount of land US Sugar was willing to sell to the state (187,000 acres).
· Regarding the numbers in the ads – some are accurate, some are completely fictitious (e.g., the distribution of water from Lake Okeechobee), and many critical numbers are missing, e.g.,
-millions of pounds of nitrogen and phosphorus from lake Okeechobee that feed algal blooms and wreak havoc on the ecology of the river, estuary, lagoon and near-shore reefs. (million off pounds of nutrients that the State of Florida ignores in their BMAP progress reports for the St Lucie River.)
– the hundreds of millions of pounds of Lake Okeechobee sediment that turned a once sand-bottom clear water estuary into a muck-filled lagoon that belches blackwater every time it rains.
– the hundreds of millions of dollars of economic impact to local businesses, tourism and real estate values attributable to poor water quality
If you’re interested go to the SFWMD’s (or my) website.
· Most of the area that the ads calls “local waterways” did not flow into the St. Lucie River (SLR) until after the major agricultural drainage canals (C-23, C-24, C-25 and C-44) were dug, connecting more than 250,000 acres to the SLR. Historically these areas flowed north into the St. Johns River watershed, south into the Loxahatchee and Everglades watersheds, evaporated or recharged the groundwater.
· The ads ignore the fact that more than half of the “local watershed” is agriculture, and that more than half of the flows and nutrient loads to the St. Lucie River and Estuary come from agricultural land use.
· Nutrient loads from septic tanks along the Indian River Lagoon need to be addressed in cost-effective ways based on good science. Nevertheless, nutrient loading and sediment from Lake Okeechobee and agricultural runoff constitute a far greater threat to the health of the St. Lucie Estuary than does loading from Martin County septic tanks. The loading from septic tanks in Martin County have been overstated by upwards of 200-300%.
· The 2016 Florida Legislature was an unmitigated disaster for the environment of Florida, with misappropriations of Amendment 1 funds for the second year in a row and the passage of a water bill that rolled back environmental protection for the benefit of agricultural interests. What role did lobbyists for US Sugar and other agricultural interests play in this debacle? —–Dr. Gary Goforth
*Dr. Goforth has more than 30 years of experience in water resources engineering encompassing strategic planning, design, permitting, construction, operation and program management. For the last 25 years, his focus has been on large-scale environmental restoration programs in the Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades ecosystem. He was the Chief Consulting Engineer during the design, construction and operation of the $700 million Everglades Construction Project, containing over 41,000 acres of constructed wetlands. He is experienced in public education, water quality treatment design and evaluation, engineering design and peer review, systems ecology, statistical hydrology, hydrologic modeling, hydrodynamic modeling, water quality modeling, environmental permit acquisition and administration, hydrologic and water quality performance analyses. (Website: http://garygoforth.net)