U.S. Sugar will honor commitment to find solution to Lake Okeechobee discharges

By Malcolm “Bubba” Wade Jr.
The Stuart News
May 25, 2016
At our request, members of Treasure Coast Newspapers’ Editorial Board spent an hour and a half talking to representatives from our company last week about water quality and quantity issues facing our region.

The board’s subsequent editorial has honed in on our commitment to work on developing solutions for the discharges that have been extremely taxing on the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. That’s a commitment we fully intend to honor.

While the editorial seemed mostly interested in the commitments we made for the future, our farmers have been part of the solution of cleaning up the Everglades over the past decades.

Here is what U.S. Sugar has done in the way of conservation, Everglades restoration and environmental advocacy to date:

Using best management practices, we have worked to reduce phosphorus in the water flowing off our farms by an average of 56 percent — well above the state/federal requirement of 25 percent. As a result, 90 percent of water on the approximately 2.4 million acres in the Everglades south of us is meeting the stringent 10 parts per billion standard for phosphorous.

Farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area have in recent decades sold 120,000 acres of sugar-cane farmland to the state, of which approximately 30,000 acres have been used to design or construct the A-1 and A-2 reservoir projects south of Lake Okeechobee. If it is determined that additional storage is needed in the EAA after the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), Restoration Strategies and the Modified Water Deliveries projects are implemented, this storage can be expanded by increasing the levee and pump capacity without having to purchase additional lands, which takes farmland out of production, results in job losses, reduces the tax rolls and harms communities. We believe this is a much more cost-effective storage solution on land the state currently owns and would not significantly detract from the planned solutions in the northern, eastern and western parts of the lake.

We will continue to support elected leaders on both sides of the aisle that share our commitment to finishing the CERP projects started nearly two decades ago and the South Florida Water Management District priority projects. We believe CERP represents the best path forward to provide relief to the entire Lake Okeechobee system. When initially developed, district scientists estimated the completion of CERP and district priority projects would reduce the discharges significantly from happening once every three years to once every 10 year events. We also strongly support the Central Florida Everglades Planning Project, which calls for restoring the timing and the distribution as well as storing water south and moving it south.

We also have hosted thousands of Floridians from neighboring communities, including from the Treasure Coast, on tours of our farming operations to show our commitment to conservation, proper land stewardship and sustainability.

We agree with scientists and engineers at the South Florida Water Management District, legislative and congressional leaders and even some members of the environmental community who have concluded the best way to provide substantial improvement to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries is to accelerate funding for existing federally-authorized projects.

In addition to our actions, we also want to continue playing a meaningful part in the conversation, which is why we are engaging with newspaper opinion leaders, communicating digitally, and placing newspaper advertisements on the Treasure Coast and in Southwest Florida to provide information about the issues and our company of 2,500 hardworking Floridians.

We recognize that the people of the Treasure Coast region want and deserve solutions that will prevent the discharges from occurring in the future.

U.S. Sugar employees live, shop and enjoy time outdoors here, too. We owe it to future generations of Floridians to find the right solutions that balance the economic needs of our state and our people with the needs of our environment.

Malcolm “Bubba” Wade Jr. is senior vice president of corporate strategy and business development for Clewiston-based U.S. Sugar.

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