The move to exercise the US Sugar option is NOT about destroying the sugar industry.

The critical piece we need to buy is the 46,000 acres just below the Lake.

The push to exercise the option is NOT about dumping dirty water south so it destroys the Everglades instead of the coastal estuaries. It’s about acquiring the land so we can send clean water south.

The state’s option with U.S. Sugar allows them to buy all of US Sugars lands at appraised value including the 100,000 acres that is scattered south and east and west of the Lake. That option runs until 2020.

The option that runs out Oct 15, 2015 allows the State to buy all of the property or to buy only the 46,000 acres closest to the Lake.

There are obvious financial benefits in not biting off more than we can afford. The really big benefit of acquiring the smaller piece is that it is the key to cleaning up the water before sending it south. It is also a piece of land next to the Lake that is warmer and has deeper muck soils. It grows twice as much sugar as lands to the south. It is not likely to be offered again as a separate piece.

The current flood control system is killing the coastal estuaries by dumping huge amounts of water from Lake Okeechobee in wet years. The system is killing Everglades National Park by drying it out. The Park is getting much less water than it did through the natural system that carried water south.

The excessive drainage of the current system in South Florida dumps 4 million acre feet per year to tide. We need to rearrange things so that water flows south through sawgrass to the Park instead of being dumped in the ocean.

The problem with sugar is not that it is inherently evil. It’s simply in a bad place. It blocks the natural flow south. The Everglades Agricultural Area is made up of organic muck soils that evaporate when they dry out. The land surface has subsided up to 8feet in the area sugar is grown. That makes the area a big shallow dish. Keeping that dish dry enough and wet enough for sugar cane causes environmental damage in the rest of South Florida.

Every time it rains, they have to pump dirty water out of the fields. They used to backpump to  Lake Okeechobee. That was destroying the Lake with high nutrient loads. Now they pump it to stormwater treatment areas and from there to Water Conservation Areas and then Everglades National Park. The state is committed to spending $800 million to build more treatment areas to clean up the water going south

Meanwhile, every time it doesn’t rain, they need to pump irrigation water from Lake Okeechobee to the canefields. To meet irrigation needs in the dry season they have to keep as much water as possible in the Lake. It’s okay to hold the Lake at 15.5 feet in the dry season. It’s not okay in summertime when hurricanes can raise Lake levels 3 feet in 40 days.

If all the dry season irrigation water has to be stored in Lake Okeechobee, “what’s left” above 13.5 ft. come June has to be dumped on the estuaries. There is no place else to put it. The stormwater treatment areas south of the canefields are full of runoff from the fields. We have to get rid of too much water too fast to treat it.

Exercising the option on the 46,000 acre parcel next to the Lake provides the land we need to solve the problem. A large reservoir there would allow dirty runoff from the fields to be recycled to the reservoir without expensive treatment and without using up the capacity of the stormwater treatment areas. When it rained, we could pump it into the reservoir. When it didn’t rain we could pump the same water back on the fields without having to treat it. We could keep the Lake lower because all the dry season irrigation water wouldn’t need to be stored there. We could send more water south from the Lake through the stormwater treatment areas because they wouldn’t be full of canefield runoff.

There are lots of projects and lots of ideas for storing and cleaning water on the east, west and north sides of the Lake. All of them will build a better and more sustainable ecosystem.

None of them will make it possible to send water south.

In terms of return on investment, we need to make sure that the final system works or we will have wasted billions of dollars.

It won’t work if we don’t send the water south.

We need to act now so that we can acquire the 46,000 acre parcel before the option expires. 

For maps and a further discussion about the option lands see Jacqui Thurlow’s blog: