Tag Archives: South Florid Water Management District

Learning About Storm Water Treatment Areas, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Map of the 6 Storm Water Treatment Areas south of Lake Okeechobee. (Image courtesy of SFWMD, 2014)
Map of the 6 Storm Water Treatment Areas south of Lake Okeechobee. (Image courtesy of SFWMD, 2014)

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.htmis 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.

STAs or Storm Water Treatment Areas take up phosphorus through aquatic plants. The dirty storm water from agriculture and development must be cleaned before it reaches the Everglades. (Image SFWMD, 2014)
STAs or Storm Water Treatment Areas take up phosphorus through aquatic plants. The dirty storm water from agriculture and development must be cleaned before it reaches the Everglades. (Image SFWMD, 2014)

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.

Hmmmmmmm?

Well that’s enough for today! Lots more to talk about though! 🙂

The SFWMD website below allows you to see “how full” the STAs are and if any more water can be stored in them: (http://sfwmd.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapTour/index.html?appid=a9072c94b5c144d8a8af14996ce23bca&webmap=d8e767997b0d494494243ffbc7f6f861)

Please see this SFWMDlink for an excellent and more comprehensive explanation of STAs:(http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/xrepository/sfwmd_repository_pdf/bts_sta.pdf)

 

 

What is the WRAC and Can Martin County Become the Bull Gator for the Indian River Lagoon?

WRAC the jaws behind the SFWMD? (Photo courtesy of Clyde Butcher)
Right now agriculture interests are perhaps the most powerful force, “the bull gator,” of the SFWMD’s WRAC. (Photo courtesy of Clyde Butcher.)

bull   (bo͝ol) n. 1. The male of certain large animals, such as the alligator, elephant, or moose that periodically fights upcoming bulls to maintain position or dominance. 2. An exceptionally large, strong, and aggressive person.

Perhaps the most important part of understanding our Indian River Lagoon water issues, is being honest about which interests have the most influence,  who has the power to change things, and learning  to take advantage of opportunities to become a competing bull gator at the table of water management.

Understanding the Water Resources Advisory Commission is a good place to start. The WRAC is a body that is appointed by the South Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board and represents a broad range of business, agricultural, environmental, tribal, governmental and public interests. It is an advisory board in essense to the SFWMD. (http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/xweb%20about%20us/wrac)

The Chair and Vice Chair of the Commission are members of the SFWMD Governing Board. The Governing Board is appointed by the governor.

WRAC’s number one bull gator is not named “Alfred the Alligator,” but “Agi. How can I say this? Well I  have served as an alternate for three years.

Monthly, I have sat through the long meetings with detailed scientific presentations by the SFWMD on water issues; it’s enough to leave your mind completely fried by lunch time but incredibly insightful. The real fun starts when all the members are allowed to give their opinions and concerns. Unlike many public arenas, the WRAC allows its members to speak passionately and openly on their interests. The agriculture community is very powerful on this committee and represent status quo.

Historically the WRAC is relatively new, I believe created in the 1990s, however; Florida’s flood districts, (under various names,) the state of Florida, the Federal Government and Army Corp of Engineers have worked and advised each other how to drain lands in South Florida since the late 1800’s.

This was originally done to help the state’s fledgling agriculture industry. But the agriculture and draining machine grew up and went too far destroying the natural system of Sorth Florida.

In the 1970’s under Governor, Rubin Askew, the water districts were restructured and received an additional mission to “flood control,” that of restoring the Everglades.  And in 1994, the “Florida Forever Act” made clear the public expected their government to preserve Florida’s natural future.  (River of Interest, Water Management in South Florida an dthe Everglades 1948-2010,” 2011)

This new mission to restore and not just to “drain and maintain” is struggling to find its footing, as history is a heavy cloak to change. This change will only come through the people–mind you, WRAC is an extension of “the people.” The WRAC is a key.

Last Thursday in a rare and appreciated opportunity for Martin County, the SFWMD/ACOE allowed the county to hold its “After Action” meeting during the WRAC. Almost five hours were dedicated for the purpose of critique. 

The Commission first allowed Gary Goforth and Kevin Henderson, from Martin County, to present on how “more water could have gone south,” during the horrific summer of 2013. Then the SFWMD gave its response of why “it couldn’t.”

Basically, the District expounded upon their many “constraints” to sending more water south: the EAA’s legal flood protection; water quality standards;  a consent decree from the Federal Government requiring phosphorus levels to be 10 parts per billion once they reach the Everglades;  limited capacity in the Storm Water Treatment Areas (STAs );  preference for EAA water over Lake Okeechobee water; flood protection of the east coast and towns south of the lake; the FWC, endanged species, and a restrictive Tamiami Trail, were the most obvious.

Representatives form the agriculture community were some the first to speak in support of the SFWMD’s presentation. In one case, the “water game” was cited, a game that is used to teach how difficult is is to manage the water. “I challenge any of you to have done better,” in essence, was said. The room was silent.

Then the  conversation continued and something interesting happened.

Representatives other than Martin County started asking questions of the top gators…

“How far does the EAA have to keep the water level down in its fields? Could the EAA grow rice or another crop that would allow for more water on the fields? “Could the water go another way? ” Perhaps naive, but there was a clear voice to look for answers for the plight of the estuaries reflected in the questions of many on the commission.

It may not seem like much right now, but I do believe Thursday’s meeting was one that could allow Martin County to evolve from years at the table as a baby gator into that of a bull. As the only way to remain “on top” is to have the support of your fellow alligators….