The following public comments from Friends of the Everglades Executive Director Eve Samples were made during the March 11, 2021, meeting of the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board:
During the environmental report later in today’s meeting, you’re going to learn that the South Florida Water Management District is falling woefully short in meeting an important goal, set by the Everglades Forever Act, to send Lake Okeechobee water south to the Stormwater Treatment Areas and Everglades National Park.
You’ll hear that more than 1.5 million acre feet (489 billion gallons) of water has been sent to the STAs since May 1, the beginning of the current water year. But of that, only about 99,300 acre feet (32 billion gallons) of water has been from Lake O. That’s about 6% of the total. The rest has flowed from sugarcane fields and other land in the Everglades Agricultural Area.
The Everglades Forever Act, which called for building the STAs, and the design documents enabling that project, call for about 250,000 acre feet (81 billion gallons) of Lake O water to be sent south annually. The District has hit only 40% of that target so far this year — a grade no parent would tolerate if their child brought it home.
Why is this important? Simply put, the more Lake O water that’s sent south during the dry season, the less chance that water has to be dumped into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries during the wet season.
That’s especially important right now because the Army Corps of Engineers has increased Lake O discharges to the Caloosahatchee River and resumed discharges to the St. Lucie River. Both estuaries — two of the most vital parts of the Greater Everglades ecosystem — are in danger of irreparable harm from months more of discharges.
Also in today’s environmental report, you’ll hear about conditions for oysters and seagrass in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. Both are threatened if the current discharges continue, just as oysters begin their spawning season and seagrasses begin their spring growth spurts.
Yes, Lake Okeechobee is too high. But the way to lower it is to send more of its water south, not to send damaging flows east and west.
Fortunately, you can increase the amount of Lake O water sent south now, during what remains of the dry season.
Some will point to loopholes in the Everglades Forever Act that allow you to send less lake water south if conditions don’t allow it — if it caused a risk of flooding in the EAA or threatened water supply. That’s not the case now. Flooding isn’t an imminent issue in the dry season, and the lake is so high that getting as much water off of it as possible won’t risk a shortage before the rainy season kicks in.
You’ve got less than three months until the end of the dry season and less than two months until the end of the current water year to do the right thing.
Through our property taxes, taxpayers in 15 counties paid $2 billion to construct STAs. We the taxpayers also pay for half of the annual operating costs of the STAs, to the tune of $11 million a year. Why are sugarcane growers south of the lake getting the vast majority of the benefit of these cleansing marshes, when taxpayers have covered a majority of the total bill?
Friends of the Everglades emphatically asks that you stay true to the Everglades Forever Act, and send more water – a lot more water – from Lake Okeechobee to the STAs.