Misinformation Spread by Environmental Critics Regarding Water Quality of the Lake Okeechobee Discharges

Dan Florida, General, Industry News Release, Water

From:  Judy Sanchez, Senior Director, Corporate Communications & Public Affairs for U.S. Sugar

U.S. Sugar logoRecently, some environmental critics have attempted to spread misinformation about the source of nutrient pollution in the discharges that are being released from Lake Okeechobee by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I wanted to take this opportunity to provide facts and information to help inform your ongoing coverage:

The water from the back-pumping undertaken by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) represents only a minuscule amount – less than three quarters of an inch – of the more than 13 inches that has entered into Lake Okeechobee (Source: SFWMD, “Just the Facts: Historic 2015-2016 Dry Season Rainfall).

Contrary to claims that backpumping is used primarily to benefit sugarcane farmers, backpumping is a necessary flood control measure that benefits “thousands of families and businesses” in the Glades communities (Source: SFWMD, “Just the Facts: Historic 2015-2016 Dry Season Rainfall).

Only 3 percent of the water and 5 percent of the nitrogen in Lake Okeechobee comes from the South (Source: SFWMD, Update on Nitrogen Water Quality Conditions in the South Florida Water Management District).

As much as 80 percent of the nutrients are coming from the local basins in both the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. (Source: SFWMD, Update on Nitrogen Water Quality Conditions in the South Florida Water Management District).

According to Mote Marine Laboratory, “there is no direct link between nutrient pollution and the frequency or severity of red tides caused by K. brevis” (Source: Mote Marine Laboratory, Florida Red Tide FAQs).

In addition to these facts and below excerpts from recent news stories, you will also find attached slides detailing the origination of phosphorous in Lake Okeechobee from Stuart Van Horn, P.E., SFWMD Chief, Water Quality Bureau.

These statements from the environmental community, which have been repeated in the media, are harmful to the well-being of the hardworking men and women who work in agribusiness throughout our region.  Our farmers are proud of the progress they are making in water quality achievements.  Last year, they reached a historic 79 percent in phosphorus reductions – the most successful yet.  While others talk about cleaning up the environment, U.S. Sugar’s farmers are on the front lines of restoration efforts across the Everglades Agricultural Area.

The Facts on Water Quality in the Lake Okeechobee Releases As Reported in the Media

“Citing SFWMD scientists, the group added that:

  • The quality of water from south of the lake is no different than water from other sources “except that it had lower nutrient levels than many other sources” that feed into the lake.
  • It would be extremely difficult for water to make its way from southeastern pumps to discharge sites on the other side of the lake’s littoral zone.
  • Less than three percent of lake water comes from back-pumping.
  • About 70-80 percent of the flow to the Caloosahatchee River is from local run-off.

Citing a SFWMD water quality report, the group wrote that the back-pumped water is cleaner than most storm water drainage “and not some toxic water that is different from anyone else’s storm water.”

“These are critical facts that would have been extremely helpful to your discussion this morning,” the group wrote.”

–‘Lake O’ cities’ response to Lee County mayors: We deserve flood protection too, WINK-TV, February 11, 2016

“The discoloration is caused almost entirely from naturally occurring tannins in the 1,400-square-mile Caloosahatchee River Basin involving runoff from 900,000 acres on both sides of the river.”

–Lee County Commission Chairman Frank Mann, Ft. Myers News-Press, February 16, 2016

“The environmental damage caused by Lake Okeechobee discharges and local rainwater runoff extends beyond the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.”

       –Black water plume from St. Lucie River threatens offshore coral reefs by Tyler Treadway, Treasure Coast News, February 16, 2016

“But researchers at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium say red tide, which existed before human settlement, develops up to 40 miles offshore and there is no direct link between red tide and polluted water.”

       –Mayors: Funding, transparency needed to address ‘Lake O’ water releases by Stephanie Susskind, WINK-TV Ft. Myers, February 10, 2016

“While much of the attention right now is directed toward the Lake Okeechobee discharges, it’s important to remember that 60 percent to 80 percent of the pollution that makes its way into the Caloosahatchee comes from our local basin runoff.”

–Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman, Ft. Myers News-Press, February 5, 2016

“Despite the initiation of increased Lake Okeechobee regulatory releases, over the last four days approximately 70% of the current water flow is runoff from the Caloosahatchee watershed.”

–Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane, Ft. Myers News Press, February 5, 2016

“The Florida Health Department at Martin County on Friday warned people to stay out of the St. Lucie River at the Roosevelt Bridge in Stuart and at Leighton Park near the Old Palm City Bridge.  Test results Thursday show unacceptable levels of enteric bacteria, which inhabit the intestinal tract of people and animals and indicates fecal pollution. The bacteria can come from pet, people and wildlife waste in rainfall runoff. Potential health risks for those who ingest or come into contact with contaminated water include upset stomach, diarrhea, eye irritation and skin rashes.”

–“Health department: Stay out of St. Lucie River at Stuart, Palm City,” Treasure Coast News, January 22, 2016


Northern Everglades Inflow