Analysis: EAA farmers refuse to sell land for Lake O discharges plan

Everglades Agricultural Area

By Isadora Rangel
February 6, 2017
TC Palm

A bill to curb Lake Okeechobee discharges hit a roadblock the day before its first hearing as 14 landowners announced Monday they aren’t willing to sell land for a reservoir.

Sugar giants U.S. Sugar Corp. and Florida Crystals, as well as smaller farmers who own at least 2,500 acres each south of the lake, signed a letter to the Legislature that states buying their land won’t reduce polluted Lake O discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

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The letter makes several claims to dispute the need for a reservoir south of the lake, some of which don’t tell the whole story:

CLAIM: “Studies have determined that nutrients from local sources, including aging septic systems … are the primary cause of harmful algae blooms in the Indian River Lagoon.”
FACT: That’s missing the point because the issue is algae blooms in the St. Lucie River. Even Brian LaPointe, a prominent septic tank researcher at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, said lake discharges are the biggest single source of blooms in the St. Lucie River estuary.

CLAIM: “The Everglades Agricultural Area is not the cause of algae blooms … in South Florida estuaries.”
FACT: That’s true, but, again, that’s not the issue. Farms and towns stand in the way of Lake Okeechobee water flowing south into the Everglades as naturally intended and Negron wants to buy their land to recreate some of that flow.

CLAIM: “No local, state or federal agency … is calling for the purchase … of land as part of any strategies for solving our region’s water challenges.”
FACT: The South Florida Water Management District has said the state already owns enough land, but commissioners in Martin County, which is directly impacted by discharges, has called for the land buy.

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