A program to improve Everglades water quality by ensuring the water flowing from farmlands in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) meets phosphorus reductions required by law, has performed far better than state-mandated goals.
The use of improved farming techniques, known as Best Management Practices (BMPs), produced a 70 percent phosphorus reduction in the 470,000-acre EAA farming region south of Lake Okeechobee for the Water Year 2017 monitoring period (May 1, 2016 – April 30, 2017). Florida’s Everglades Forever Act requires that the amount of phosphorus leaving the EAA must be 25 percent less than before reduction efforts began.
“These tremendous results year after year are proof positive of the hard work from our farming community, who are doing their part to improve Everglades water quality,” said South Florida Water Management District Governing Board Vice Chairman member Jim Moran. “This program, coupled with the state’s investment in stormwater treatment areas and other measures, have restored Everglades water quality and continue to make it better every year.”
South Florida’s water, especially water moved into Everglades National Park by SFWMD, is cleaner than it has been in generations and meets stringent water quality requirements.
SFWMD delivered this required annual report, comparing the current Water Year for which BMPs are in place to a baseline period before the BMP program began, to determine whether the EAA has met the requirement of the law. A scientific model is used to compute the reductions and make adjustments to account for the influences of rainfall. Examples of BMPs include refined stormwater management practices, onsite farm erosion controls and more precise fertilizer application methods. These and other management practices by agricultural growers reduce the amount of phosphorus transported in stormwater runoff that reaches the Everglades and its connected water bodies.
“For more than 22 years, Florida’s sugarcane farmers have worked hard implementing on-farm soil and water management techniques that are directly responsible for the reductions in phosphorus we have seen year-after-year,” said Carl Perry, of Perry Farms in Moore Haven.
“Thanks to the success of our innovative, industry-leading best management practices, the phosphorus in the water leaving the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) was reduced by 70 percent this past year.
“No matter the challenges we face – whether it’s historically high levels of rainfall, drought, or even hurricanes – farmers have more than met the stringent water quality standards required under the 1994 Everglades Forever Act. Since 2011, our average annual best management practices performance has been nearly three times more than what is required by law. Our efforts are making a big difference in cleaner water for the Everglades.”
Gaston Cantens, Vice President of Florida Crystals, which farms in the EAA, said, “Farming sustainably is one of the guiding principles of Florida Crystals. Through our science-based Best Management Practices (BMPs), our organic program and our use of precision agriculture to ensure data-driven decision-making, we are growing our crops in the most eco-friendly way. We are extremely proud of our agricultural team and all of the farmers in our EAA community who are playing a pivotal role in providing clean water for the southern Everglades.”
“We continue to make headway in restoring the health of the Everglades, and the Everglades Agricultural Area has, yet again, exceeded state-mandated goals with its phosphorous reduction achievement, “ said Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam. This phosphorous reduction is a testament to the fact that Best Management Practices, which are science-based and implemented by farmers throughout Florida, are working and protect the quality and quantity of our water.”
The Everglades Agricultural Area is comprised of 470,000 acres of agricultural land south of Lake Okeechobee.
BMP Program Results
When measured in actual mass, 152 metric tons of phosphorus were prevented from leaving the EAA and entering the regional canal system, which sends water into the Everglades, during the Water Year 2017 monitoring period. Since WY1996, the BMP program has prevented 3,208 metric tons of phosphorus from leaving the EAA. The average long-term reduction in total phosphorus since WY1996 has been 55 percent.
Just west of the EAA, in the 170,000-acre C-139 Basin, a BMP program has been in place since 2002. In November 2010, the program requirements were enhanced to better control the nutrient runoff. For the Water Year 2016 monitoring period, data show the actual mass of phosphorus discharged from the basin during that time was 26 metric tons, which surpasses the state requirements. Ongoing work continues to focus on improving phosphorus reductions in this basin, which historically reports elevated nutrient levels in its runoff.