Florida Chamber Florida Chamber Congratulates Ernie Marks, New Leader of SFWMD

The Florida Chamber of Commerce congratulates Ernie Marks for being appointed as the South Florida Water Management District’s (SFWMD) Executive Director. Marks’ two decades of experience handling natural resource management and Everglades restoration will serve him well in this position, as the SFWMD continues to make long-term, sustainable and science-based water policy to help protect Florida’s natural and economic resources.

Much of Florida’s economic success is attributed to our state’s unique quality of life. As the third most populous state in the country, ensuring Florida remains the best place to live, work, learn and play is a top priority for the Florida Chamber.

At the Florida Chamber, we look forward to working with Ernie Marks, and to continuing our advocacy and education efforts to help protect Florida’s unique water systems and quality of life.

Watch the Florida Chamber’s Securing Florida’s Water Future Videos

There are few issue more important than water. Learn more by watching the Florida Chamber’s series of education videos focused on Indian River Lagoon, the Florida KeysSouthwest Florida and Springs

For 21st Consecutive Year, Everglades Farmers Exceed Phosphorus Reduction Requirements

By Nancy Smith, Sunshine State News
August 12, 2016

Despite the challenge of “an insanely wet ‘dry season'” — 10 inches in January alone — Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) farmers were able to keep their 20-year hot streak alive.

Pamela Wade, in charge of Everglades regulation for the South Florida Water Management District, delivered the good news to the District’s governing board Thursday: Farmers again exceeded phosphorus reduction requirements for water flowing from their farms to the Everglades, making this the 21st consecutive year they have met the state’s water-quality standard south of Lake Okeechobee.

Wade said phosphorus was reduced 27 percent in the 477,000-acre farming region south of Lake Okeechobee for the 12 months ended April 30. Florida’s Everglades Forever Act, enacted in 1994, requires the amount of phosphorus leaving the EAA to be 25 percent less than before the reduction efforts began, Wade said. It is not a year-to-year comparison.

During the previous 20 years, the EAA averaged a 56 percent reduction in phosphorus, she said.

But she added, this year was particularly challenging — in fact in an earlier statement Governing Board member Melanie Peterson called it an “astounding accomplishment” — considering the high water levels from record rainfall. The EAA experienced the wettest January since record keeping began in 1932.

“There’s always a greater runoff response when we see such unprecedented rainfall and significant flooding in the basin,” Wade said.

During a year of El Nino rainfall — at times more than 350 percent above average — the growers’ science-based “best management” farming practices, such as on-farm erosion controls and more precise fertilizer application methods, pulled them through.

Since 1996, Wade said during a slide presentation, those measures have prevented more than 3,055 metric tons of phosphorus, including 51 metric tons in the most recent period, from leaving the EAA.

Nevertheless, environmental organizations — for example, Audubon Florida — claim meeting the 25 percent phosphorus reduction is keeping the bar too low. It’s an easy threshold to reach, Audubon Executive Director Eric Draper has said. Draper was unavailable for comment Thursday.

Agriculture is a powerful economic driver for the state of Florida. In the 700,000-acre EAA, the primary crop is sugar cane, but other crops such as winter vegetables, sod and rice are grown there, too. In fact, the EAA is known as “the nation’s salad bowl.”

“The Everglades Agricultural Area is a uniquely productive farming basin, unlike any other in the nation,” said EAA grower Paul Orsenigo of Pahokee-based Grower’s Management, the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s incoming chairman. “Not only does the EAA provide abundant supplies of rice, sugar cane and vegetables — including enough lettuce for 3 billion salads — but EAA farmers are also essential partners in the success of one of the world’s largest environmental preservation efforts.”

Said John Scott Hundley of Hundley Farms in Belle Glade,“Hearing these results makes all of the hard work and long hours we put in during this tough year even more worthwhile. I’ve been working on our family’s farm for 26 years, and I can’t remember a tougher year managing water, outside of a major storm.  I’m proud of these results because they exemplify the expertise of the growers who were able to manage their farms in a way that protected local food supply and continued to provide water-quality performance for the Everglades.”

District officials said South Florida’s water, especially water the district moves into Everglades National Park, is cleaner than it has been in generations and meets stringent water quality requirements.

Everglades Restoration Still Best Solution

By Joe Collins, Former chairman, South Florida Water Management District
Naples Daily News, August 7, 2016

 

In 2000, state and federal water managers began to undertake the largest and most advanced engineering and restoration project ever designed when they began the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hailed the plan as an “innovative, comprehensive, cutting-edge approach” that when completed “will be a win-win for the environment and the public needs of Southeast Florida.”

Representatives from environmental and agricultural communities joined elected Republicans and Democrats alike in praising the plan and eagerly awaiting its construction.

The plan was developed after years of studying the best approach to water storage, treatment and delivery of water to the Everglades ecosystem. The facts then, as they do now, suggested that the vast majority of the water enters Lake Okeechobee from the north, and that storage and treatment near the source is preferable before it enters into Lake Okeechobee.

When considering CERP, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) also considered many alternatives such as the flowway concept known as “Plan 6.” In recent months, some critics have revived calls for the flowway concept, but the plan’s real shortcomings still remain.

In 1999, for instance, the district commissioned a feasibility study looking into the flowway. The study concluded that the concept “creates a water supply burden on the system without clear hydrologic benefits.”

In a 2007 presentation to the governing board, district engineers and scientists noted that among other things, flows from a hypothetical flowway to Everglades National Park would remain too low, “exacerbate the already high stages in the northern parts” of the water conservation areas, and have “very low habitat suitability.”

Despite claims that the flowway would return Lake Okeechobee to a more natural state, the presentation concluded that “water deliveries to or from a flowway will never be natural because Lake Okeechobee has changed.”

In 2015, the University of Florida’s Water Institute study on Everglades restoration also noted the challenges with the flowway concept, concluding that “in both the (Corps of Engineers) Reconnaissance Report (1994) and the SFWMD River of Grass planning process (2009), results indicated that a passive … flowway is not the optimal approach for addressing problems of too much water going to the estuaries in the wet season or too little water going to the Everglades in the dry season.”

It was ultimately these factors that would cause SFWMD and the state and federal governments to develop the managed storage, treatment and delivery projects that make up CERP today. Once completed, CERP will provide tangible relief to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie river basins and reduce the need to discharge water from Lake Okeechobee. Additionally, the projects, including the expansion of the C-43 and C-44 reservoirs, will store and treat water near the source before it flows into the estuary.

Leaders in Tallahassee and Washington need to finish what was started in 2000 and fully fund the CERP projects, which are designed to bring relief to the estuaries that are interconnected to the Lake Okeechobee system.

Progress has been frustratingly slow, and while it is tempting to get distracted by sound-bite science promising easy fixes, CERP continues to remain the best option for fixing Florida’s water problems throughout the Everglades ecosystem.

Collins is currently a vice president for Lykes Bros. Inc.