This week, focusing on learning our Everglades-St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon history, we turn our attention to the Storm Water Treatment Areas, better known as “STAs.” These STAs are controversial in two areas that you may have heard about: “Can they hold more Lake Okeechobee water;” and “why does the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) get to put their water through them with priority over straight Lake Okeechobee water?” This short write-up will not explore these questions in depth, but rather give an overview of what the STAs are and why they are there.
The Florida’s Everglades Forever Act of 1994 (http://www.floridadep.com/everglades/efa.htm) is the reason the STAs were constructed; the act mandated and funded construction of treatment areas for cleaning phosphorus from stormwater through “recreated wetlands.” The building of the STAs was basically due to a law suit from “downstream” as phosphorus, mostly coming from the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), but also from other developed areas, was causing tremendous problem with flora and fauna and wildlife habitat as it flowed into lands south of the lake like the Miccosukee Indian Reservation, as well as Everglades National Park.
Presently, there are six STAs: “STA 1 West and East; STA 2; STA 3/4; and STA 5/6. They are read on a map “backwards” so to speak. You read them right to left, or east to west, like Hebrew. Maybe they built them that way…? This threw me off for a while, but now I’m getting it.
Anyway, let’s learn a little more.
The building of the STAs has been a huge success story and our own Martin County resident, Dr Gary Goforth, (http://garygoforth.net) worked intimately them when he worked at the SFWMD.
At present, 57,000 acres of land south of Lake Okeechobee, most once in the EAA, have been converted to STAs. In 2014 more water was put through the STAs than in years before as the SFWMD has been apparently afraid putting too much water through them would “hurt” them or they would exceed the phosphorus level allowed to go into the Everglades by a “consent decree.” Dr Goforth had encouraged using the STAs to their full capacity, and so far, from what I hear, the STAs are doing well, maybe even better being fully utilized.
According to the ACOE Periodic Scientist Calls I attend, the only STA that does not seem to get used as much is STA 5/6 in Hendry County. Supposedly this has something to do with how hard it is to get water into the STA.
Well that’s enough for today! Lots more to talk about though! 🙂
On Friday, July 18th, Dr Gary Goforth (http://garygoforth.net/resume.htm) and I met at Indian River State College just after noon. I jumped in his truck, wearing my dress and heels, and we drove the back roads to find our destination. Our destination was long time Martin grove, Caulkins Citrus, located off Citrus Boulvard, near Indiantown, adjacent to the C-44 canal which of course connects to the St Lucie River/IRL and to Lake Okeechobee.
Kevin Powers, of the South Florida Water Management District governing board, longtime Martin County resident, and family friend, had invited Gary and I to see a pilot project of “water farming.” Water farming is idea that has been in the works for the past few years and is now finding its reality. If it works, thousands of acre feet of polluted water along the C-44 canal, in this case, will not find its way to the St Lucie River/ Indian River Lagoon. Farmers are paid for this service and their lands are not sold to development.
How could this be? Farmers “growing” water?
First we have to go back a bit.
In a Stuart News article dated April of 2013, Doug Bournique, executive vice president of the Indian River Citrus League, is interviewed by reporter Paul Ivice. Ivice writes:
“Diseases, (greening and canker), hurricanes and urban expansion have all cut into Florida’s citrus acreage which is down 38% from 1996…Nowhere in Florida has acreage fallen as sharply as in Martin County. It has less than 15% remaining of the 48,221 acres in production in 1994. The county has suffered the greatest loss for four consecutive years and and been declining sine 1994.”
As the citrus industry is dying, so is our economy. While farmers figure out what else they can grown on their land, the idea for some farmers to hold precious fresh, all be it polluted, waters on their lands came into being. This helps the river and it helps the farmers and it helps our local economy. Boyd Gunsalus, among other scientist at the SFWMD, has worked long and hard for the past many years on this concept.
Caulkins Citrus is in a prime location and were one of the farms that competed for a bid to try out the new technology and receive a DEP/SFWMD grant.
When Gary and I arrived we were met by Tom Kenny, Kevin Powers, and Ronnie Hataway. After introductions, they explained to us how the “farm”operated, how it was created, their hopes for the future, and gave us a walking and driving tour. It was pretty amazing if not surreal. Egrets and herons perched in the dying orange trees surrounded by water. A deer track was at my feet. Water was everywhere and from what I was told could one day go to the horizon.
Although Gary and I had been somewhat skeptical, we left feeling very hopeful and impressed.
So how did they create it?
Basically the grove is fallow due to poor health, and although the farm is much larger, (thousands of acres) a berm was constructed around a few hundred acres of the grove for the pilot study. Then water was/is pumped from the C-44 canal into the old grove. The berm holds the water inside.
The water can go as high as four feet but according to Mr Kenny it is percolating so well through the soft sandy soils that basically the pump can stay on all the time. The nitrogen and phosphorus and other pollutants are cleaned and eaten by healthy bacteria as the water filters through the earth.
The pilot’s long term goal is to hold 6600 acre feet of water but things are looking like they will be able to hold more. The water is slowly filtered into the water table replenishing the aquifer about 40 feet below. Caulkins is installing a number of apparatuses that they call “wells” that will read where the water is going and what is happening underground. If things work out, Caulkin’s acreage to hold water will be expanded.
Although this is wonderful, we must note that it would take many water farms to offset the water flowing into the SLR/IRL.
Dr Goforth states in a recent writing: “For the 34 days between June 13 and July 17, approximately 51,000 acre feet of C-44 runoff was sent to the St Lucie River…”
With that in mind, if a water farm similar to Caulkins could hold 10,000 acre feet, we would need five just to hold the water that has come in this summer SO FAR from C-44 basin runoff. Of course in time, 2020 maybe, the C-44 Storm Water Treatment and Reservoir and Storm Water Treatment Area will be one line, and hopefully working, and that is said to hold about 56,000 acre feet. (http://www.tmba.tv/broadcastanimation/everglades-restoration/everglades-restoration/)
In the end, really though, no one knows how much water can be held until these projects are working. Hopefully all of them, like Caulkins Grove seems to be so far, will exceed expectations.
As we tied up our tour, shook hands and left the property Mr Hataway said, “I have been telling them for years to keep this fresh water on the land….”
Mr Kenny noted, “The goal is to have less water going into the river and out the inlet…”
It is an ironic twist of fate. We worked for 100 years to drain the lands so we could grow agriculture. Now we are trying to keep the water on the land for the health of the river, because fresh water is extremely valuable, and because the citrus industry needs a new crop.
Words such as these about “keeping the water on the land,” especially from successful agriculturally minded businessmen, are an inspiration to me, and give hope for a better water future.
After the fact, I am including this 2 page summary provided to me by the SFWMD when I asked about costs on behalf of blog reader George Gill. Click to enlarge.