Good News: Everglades Water Quality Up from Better to Almost Best

By Nancy Smith, Sunshine State News
November 4, 2016

Let’s hope lawmakers whose heads are turned by the Everglades Foundation’s “buy the land” bus tour and petition drive also saw Thursday’s South Florida Water Management District news.

It dispels virtually every claim the Foundation is making.

Without science to back up their claims, the Foundation folks are traveling across Florida crying that the state needs more land south of Lake Okeechobee to help “Save the Everglades.” Not even close. The Water Management District just released updated facts, they have the science to back them up, and it’s about the best environmental news we’ve heard in some time. (See the comparison maps at the bottom of this page.)

Read “Florida Achieving Everglades Water Quality Goals” by clicking this link. Not only are the Everglades healthy, they are remarkably so:

Tests show at least 90 percent of the Everglades, top to bottom, now meets ultra-clean water quality standards for levels of phosphorus of 10 parts per billion (ppb) or less as required by a federal consent decree and established under state law.

Not only that, but 100 percent of Everglades National Park is below 8 ppb. Actually, 86 percent of the total Everglades is at 8 ppb.

I’m just pleading for a little perspective here. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports more than one-third of the nation’s lakes and rivers, except at their headwaters, registers a phosphorus level above 25 ppb.

James Moran, SFWMD Governing Board member, is justifiably proud of the Everglades water data released Thursday. “The water quality targets needed for America’s Everglades to thrive are being met thanks to our dedication and use of sound science over the past two decades,” Moran said. “With the work already under way through Gov. Rick Scott’s Restoration Strategies, we will restore water quality in the Everglades.”

No matter what you hear from the alarmists on the bus, progress on Everglades restoration is undeniable:

  • Before the Florida Legislature passed the Everglades Forever Act in 1994, water flowing south out of the sprawling Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) contained an average of 173 parts per billion (ppb) of phosphorus.
  • For the past five years, phosphorus levels in Everglades-bound water have averaged 20 parts per billion after being filtered through the District’s network of constructed treatment wetlands, known as Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs).

And now it’s even cleaner. Much cleaner. I know the Everglades Foundation people don’t want to admit it, but over the 20-year history of the Best Management Practices (BMP) program, phosphorus levels in water leaving the EAA dropped by an annual average of 55 percent compared to initial conditions — more than twice the improvement required under the Everglades Forever Act.

The BMP program has prevented approximately 3,055 metric tons of phosphorus from entering the Everglades.

But I also realize clean water and a restored Everglades has little to do with the Foundation’s motives for their lavish, con-job-of-a-pre-election bus tour. Nor is it about saving the Treasure Coast folks from damaging Lake Okeechobee discharges.

This is all about buying land, taking land out of agriculture production.

“Buying the land” will NOT allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to send more water south. Didn’t we see in 2013 and again from late January to November 2016 that Everglades National Park won’t take lake water when the land is already so wet? Neither will the water conservation areas (WCAs). They are and have been above their federal flood regulation schedules all year.

As engineers repeat and repeat, storage to the south only marginally helps the Everglades and WCAs when they can’t take any more water. Southern water storage never was intended to reduce coastal estuary discharges. The solution to deal with the large volume of water coming from the North and from local basins draining into the rivers was determined to be north, east, west regional storage and deep well sites.

In their NowOrNever petition the Foundation folks claim, “Especially considering the recent devastation to the coastal estuaries and ongoing massive seagrass die-off in Everglades National Park, planning for EAA projects must be expedited and be given top priority over planning for other new Everglades restoration projects.”

Just another part of their campaign of misinformation.

Click on the attachment below, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Fact Sheet on CEPP. You will see the planning, engineering and Chief’s Report have been completed, and both the U.S. House and Senate have approved CEPP as part of the current Water Resources Advisory Act.

What I want you to see in the Corps document is that CEPP already contains the EAA storage reservoir. After Restoration Strategies is built, and it’s proved that CEPP can move more CLEAN water south — we’re talking 2021 — the integrated delivery system calls for looking at the next increment of storage, if needed, south of the lake — same as it says in the University of Florida water study.

The A-1 and A-2 reservoirs have already been designed with a built-in footprint that could accommodate holding water 12 feet deep if there’s the need and the funds to build that much storage — with NO additional land acquisition costs.

Florida lawmakers, please stay the course, keep the federal government focused on CEPP and let the Foundation’s bus leave without you.

Thanks, SFWMD, for the good news: The Everglades isn’t dying, it’s thriving. Every water body in America should have to show such progress.

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.