SFWMD says sugar farming no longer a threat, advocates disagree

Reporter: Gina Tomlinson
FILE Photo: Water being released from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River on October 29, 2018. Credit: WINK News.

Is a controversial state board putting our waterways at risk? The South Florida Water Management District says sugar farming is no longer a threat and no longer requires “big brother” to keep a watchful eye.

Advocates for water quality say the 30-year agreement with the federal government to protect the Everglades should continue.

“We’re getting good water quality,” said Dr. Bill Mitsch, a wetlands expert at FGCU. “That doesn’t mean it will all fall apart tomorrow.”

To make sure the future of the water in the Everglades stays protected, environmental groups and water advocates like Chris Wittman of Captains for Clean Water are against the SFWMD’s recent vote to end federal oversight on this issue.

“If there’s no regulation and no enforcement of that, there’s nothing to stop polluted water being sent south,” Wittman said. “There’s hundreds of thousands of acres of sugar farms between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades”

The SFWMD board voted in November before several of the members resigned and before Chauncey Goss was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to the SFWMD board.

“I think the water management districts argument was, ‘Look we’ve been doing this a long time, we’re getting pretty good at it,'” Goss said. “We’re far enough along that we don’t really have the pollution problem.”

Mitsch calls the actions of the former board risky.

“Suspect at least,” Mitsch said. “And down right nasty at worst. And they don’t care about the federal government. They, of course, don’t want the federal government overseeing their work.”

WINK News contacted Judy Sanchez, the sugar industry spokesperson, who sent a statement that said, for more than two decade, “The sugarcane farms have been required by law to monitor the quantity and quality of the water leaving the farms and implement best management practices to reduce phosphorus, and they are meeting the strict standard.”

“We’ve made good strides,” Goss said. “Are we far enough along that we can finally say, ‘Hey, we got this, and we don’t need that anymore?’ I don’t know. That’s something that we need to negotiate.”

There’s still seven spots to be filled on the SFWMD board, and the next hearing on the water quality in the Everglades is Feb. 11 in Miami.

Copyright ©2024 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.