Phillip Roland: Environmental activist’s claims about Everglades water and farmers don’t square with facts

Lake Okeechobee pollution Everglades

It’s not surprising that David Guest and his radical Earthjustice group would use a true weather-related crisis – record rain and flooding across Central and South Florida – to level yet another mean-spirited and false assault on local farmers living and working in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

Guest’s statement regarding the state and federal government’s recent actions on flood control contains outright lies and completely ignores facts that anyone can research for themselves.

The truth is, water was back-pumped into Lake Okeechobee from the south in order to protect tens of thousands of families and businesses from a serious flood risk in the rural communities of Clewiston, South Bay, Belle Glade, Pahokee, and Canal Point. The “back-pumping” is strictly guided by federal regulations stating that when the canal waters rise to a certain height, the pumping occurs. Those flood control measures are taken to prevent homes, schools, churches and businesses from being inundated. State and federal water managers control the canals and pumps and the decision to use them. To claim that it is farmers who are back-pumping water is an outrage.

Additionally, to put things in real context, the water back-pumped into the lake from the south accounted for less than three-quarters of an inch, in contrast to the more than 13 inches of water that had poured into the lake from the north and elsewhere during heavy rains. Scientists from the South Florida Water Management District have publicly stated that the quality of the water back-pumped from cities to the south was no different than any other water flowing into the lake, except that it had lower nutrient levels than many other sources feeding Lake Okeechobee. Guest’s contention that farmers are responsible for pumping polluted water back into the lake is without any factual or scientific merit.

Guest also falsely links back-pumping from the south to the ongoing water releases from Lake Okeechobee and environmental impacts on the east and west coasts. The truth is, only 3 percent of all the water in Lake Okeechobee and only 5 percent of the nitrogen comes from the south. The remaining 97 percent of the lake water – and 95 percent of all the nitrogen – flows into the lake from other areas north, east and west.

Surely, Guest has reviewed — yet somehow conveniently forgotten — reports from SFWMD scientists showing that from 2011 to 2015 in the Caloosahatchee Estuary, local basin runoff accounted for 69 percent of the total water flows and 77 percent of the total phosphorus load to the estuary. And for that same period in the St. Lucie Estuary, local basin runoff accounted for 69 percent of the water flows and 77 percent of the total phosphorus load to the estuary.

Guest is fast to point an accusing finger at farmers and Lake Okeechobee, but he conveniently fails to mention the impact that local runoff and residential septic tanks is having on these precious local waterways.

While criticizing state water policies and the legislators who enacted them, Guest also skips past the fact that farmers in the EAA have dramatically exceeded state requirements for reducing phosphorous in the water leaving their lands for 20 straight years. Farmers have averaged 56 percent phosphorous reductions over two decades – state law requires an annual 25 percent reduction – while achieving a record 79 percent reduction in 2015.

Recent water management district reports show that as a result of the EAA clean-up program, 95 percent of the Everglades now meets the 10 ppb standard and that the water pumped back into Lake Okeechobee is cleaner than most other discharges into the lake.

While they claim to be protectors of the environment, Guest and Earthjustice spend their time filing frivolous legal challenges, disrupting the operations of hard-working farmers, and making vicious statements they can’t back up.

Farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area are actually doing something real to help feed Florida and the country, improve water quality and protect the land they love. Rather than creating conflict and misunderstanding, farmers are creating jobs and economic opportunity, and working closely with their neighbors to find real solutions to our real water issues.

• • •

Phillip Roland is the mayor of Clewiston.

Guest Author

One comment

  • NBC2

    February 25, 2016 at 10:34 am

    The other side and true side of the story

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Andrew Wilson, Wes Wolfe, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Sign up for Sunburn