An important decision this week in the decades-long Everglades lawsuit aimed at reaching a 10 parts per billion (ppb) phosphorus water quality limit may allow the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to build more Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs) to clean up Everglades water.
In March, federal judge Federico Moreno tentatively ordered the SFWMD to construct a project known as the A-1 Reservoir, a 16,000 acre deep storage reservoir located at the south end of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). The Miccosukee Tribe and others wanted the reservoir completed because of its purported benefits to water quality. Expert witnesses from the Everglades Foundation, testifying on behalf of Florida Audubon, as well as state and federal agencies explained that much better water quality improvements would be achieved through re-evaluating the project on this land as a STA because of its opportune proximity to existing STAs and location within the EAA.
Special Master John Barkett was asked to review this issue by Judge Moreno to determine whether changed circumstances continue to justify reservoir construction. After a lengthy hearing in which Florida Audubon was represented by attorney Tom Rumberger, Special Master Barkett recognized how the purchase of U.S. Sugar lands and new science demonstrate better options for ensuing clean water flows to the Everglades. Florida Audubon’s witnesses, a hydrologist and water quality scientist employed by the Everglades Foundation, provided a compelling scientific basis to reassess restoration plans and assumptions for the Reservoir now that land from U.S. Sugar is available.
Audubon commends the Special Master’s recommendations, which must be approved by the Judge before becoming final. By ensuring the needed expansion of STAs in the most effective locations and the use of other tools, such as strengthening Best Management Practices (BMPs) for EAA farmers, Florida Audubon believes the 10 ppb phosphorus level can be achieved.
Improving water quality to consistently meet the 10 ppb phosphorus limits for water entering the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge and Everglades National Park is critical to prevent further ecological deterioration. The pollution emerging from sugar cane, other cropland, and urban runoff in and around the EAA is causing healthy Everglades sawgrass marshes and sloughs to convert into cattail-choked wasteland at a rate of between 2 and 9 acres per day.