Everglades Water Quality Report Shows 19th Straight Year of Passing Marks
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Everglades restoration – a colossal task starved as much for good press as it is water – received more than a passing grade in one of its indicators Thursday, when water managers announced phosphorus-reduction results for the most recent water year were two times better than expected.
The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) reported to its governing board that the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) -- the farming region between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades – reduced phosphorus by 63 percent in the water leaving the region. The Everglades Forever Act mandates a 25 percent reduction each year. This is the 19th consecutive year that the region has reduced more phosphorus than the goal, according to the district.
Sugar farmers, who comprise much of the 470,000-acre region, were quick to react to the good news, crediting their “state-of-the-art farming methods, developed in conjunction with university scientists and unparalleled in the United States” for the success.
Farmers also pointed to the fact the EAA is the only "significant agricultural watershed" in the country that must comply with phosphorus-reduction mandates. According to their statement, the EAA “is the only area that requires each farm to measure and report rainfall, the volume of water leaving each farm and the phosphorus concentration of the water. This requires thousands of laboratory samples every year and the results are without question.”
The SFWMD reports the EAA has averaged 55 percent reduction over the two-decade life of the program. In actual terms, it means 2,854 metric tons of phosphorus have been prevented from reaching the Everglades. The district reported the C-139 basin, west of the EAA, was also in compliance and stopped 28 metric tons of phosphorus from flowing south.
Even so, environmentalists have targeted BMPs, which are part of current litigation. Eric Draper of Audubon Florida, which lost its original challenge against BMPs, said he had not seen Thursday’s report but added, “It's the annual success story the water management district puts out every year to give themselves a pat on the back.” He said the “limited success” of the BMP program would not affect the group’s appeal of the ruling.
The last line in the restoration system also showed favorable results. Over the past year, according to the SFWMD, the five stormwater treatment areas (STAs), which encompass 57,000 acres of man-made filter marshes, retained 81 percent of the phosphorus from the 1.3 million acre-feet of water that flowed through them. Since their inception, the STAs have cleansed 14.8 million acre-feet of water and removed 1,874 metric tons of phosphorus.
Gov. Rick Scott’s $880 million Everglades Restoration Strategies plan is slated to expand the STAs by an additional 6,500 acres.
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