What’s an STA anyway?

On the fringes of the Everglades Agricultural Area, south of Lake Okeechobee, sit tens of thousands of acres of man-made wetlands called stormwater treatment areas, or STAs. These marshes, managed by the South Florida Water Management District, were designed to use native and non-native aquatic vegetation to clean water of damaging fertilizer runoff from surrounding agricultural land and the polluted Lake Okeechobee, before the clean, fresh water flows south to nourish the River of Grass. They are a crucial tool for Everglades restoration and for protecting coastal estuaries.

The STAs are arguably the most effective Everglades-restoration projects ever built by man — because they emulate Mother Nature. That said, their full strength will be realized only if they store and clean water from Lake Okeechobee, too. The problem, as outlined in this helpful analysis by our friends at VoteWater, is that sugarcane runoff has historically been prioritized over water from Lake O. With only so much existing capacity in the taxpayer-funded STAs, polluted water from Lake O is often discharged east and west when the lake becomes full (as it is right now). Such lake releases are known to cause major ecological harm and toxic-algae blooms in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

The solution is arguably simple, at least in concept. To relieve pressure from the beleaguered northern estuaries and adequately treat water going south, we need additional land to build more STAs. Even the National Academies of Sciences have acknowledged this need, pointing in their latest report to a looming deadline of federal water quality standards for water headed south to the Everglades that could necessitate “expanding the footprint” of the STAs.

Florida cannot thrive without a healthy Everglades. Without more land for additional STAs, we cannot ensure the survival of this ecosystem, and the life that depends on it.

We need Gov. Ron DeSantis and state lawmakers to make more STAs a priority.

STAs by the Numbers

5: number of STAs south of Lake Okeechobee
62,000: total effective acres of STAs
10.5%: percentage of STA water from Lake Okeechobee in the last water year
89.5%: percentage of STA water from the Everglades Agricultural Area in the last water year
440,000: acres of sugarcane in the EAA
$1.8 billion: taxpayer dollars spent on STAs to clean up phosphorus pollution over last 20 years
1994: Everglades Forever Act authorized construction of STAs
15-18 inches: target water depth of an STA
6,500: number of acres planned for the EAA Reservoir STA