Take a look at the graph above, showing data collected by the South Florida Water Management District and consider the following:
There are roughly 60,000 acres of taxpayer-funded stormwater treatment areas (STAs) south of Lake Okeechobee. These man-made wetlands are designed to store and treat water before it reaches the southern Everglades.
For each of the last 10 water years depicted above, the yellow portion of the bars represent the volume of water sent to the STAs directly from Lake Okeechobee. The much larger blue portion represents runoff sent to those same STAs by sources including indistrial sugarcane farms in the Everglades Agricultural Area.
So what’s the problem? Coastal communities downstream of Lake Okeechobee are familiar with the horror that accompanies large discharge events. Ideally, the water that wreaks havoc on the northern estuaries should be sent south to the STAs where it can be treated for excess nutrients before it’s sent on to the Everglades, where it’s often desperately needed. But there’s a limited capacity for water sent to the STAs. And as the graph plainly shows, there’s not much room left given the amount of runoff coming into them from sources including the EAA.
In the 2022 water year alone, only 10.5% of all the water going into the STAs came from the lake. Instead of lowering Lake Okeechobee — thereby reducing the risk of strain on the Herbert Hoover Dike and possibly preventing another catastrophic discharge event in the estuaries — Florida’s STAs are being used to clean polluted water coming of the fields of giant sugarcane corporations, on the taxpayer’s dime.
This chart illustrates the need for rules requiring sugarcane farmers to treat their own water on their own land, with their own money.