No room at the (water storage) inn? Blame Big Sugar

3,000+ cubic feet of water per second from Lake Okeechobee pours through the St. Lucie Lock and Dam into the St. Lucie River in this image from February. 

At last week’s South Florida Water Management District meeting, several speakers took potshots at those of us who want to “send it south.” It’s all fine and good to call for water to be sent to the stormwater treatment areas (STAs) and water conservation areas (WCAs) instead of the northern estuaries, but there’s no room; there’s no capacity for this water, the speakers said.

And that may well be true. But left unsaid is the reason WHY there’s no capacity.

If there’s no room for lake water in the STAs an WCAs it’s specifically because runoff from the farm fields of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) has used up all the capacity. 

This graphic from the SFWMD shows the current water year (far right) with the blue representing runoff from the EAA, the yellow representing lake water. Look at how little lake water has gone to the STAs each of the past two years; you have to go back almost a decade to find comparably small totals.

There’s no room at the inn for lake water because the EAA has booked every room.

The EAA totals around 700,000 acres, and of that, about 440,000 acres is sugarcane 63 percent of the total.

And as we’ve noted, our water management system ensures these farm fields perfect growing conditions even as Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee, St. Lucie and Lake Worth Lagoon suffer ecological devastation from high water levels or discharges.

VoteWater board member Ray Judah, a former Lee County Commissioner, hammered this point home in a recent letter to the editor of the Pine Island Eagle

The recent excessive releases of the toxic brew of chemicals and fertilizers from Lake Okeechobee smothering the Caloosahatchee, coastal estuaries and Gulf of Mexico is a stark reminder of Florida’s political system controlled by the sugar industry,” wrote Judah. “Big Sugar’s strangleold of policy makers at the local, state and federal level have prevented implementation of sound water management action to properly store and treat polluted water runoff from the sugar cane fields in the Lake Okeechobee basin.”

Read the whole letter.

So — we’re getting punished so that Big Ag, and particularly Big Sugar, can live high on the hog. Commenters at the SFWMD meeting neglected to mention this.

But don’t you forget it.