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U.S. Sugar Buyout May Not Help the Everglades

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U.S. Sugar Buyout May Not Help the Everglades

Corps Rejected Concept a Decade Ago Due to Insurmountable Hydrological Barriers

Washington, DC — Florida Governor Charlie Crist’s plan to purchase 300 square miles of U.S. Sugar land as the “missing link” to restore the Everglades may be an expensive pipe dream. Ten years ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted a detailed analysis of re-creating a “flow way” from Lake Okeechobee as envisioned by Gov. Crist and rejected it as unworkable, according to agency documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The Corps analysis and hydrological modeling, which was vetted by both the Governor’s Commission for a Sustainable South Florida and the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, among others, found that a flow way through what is now the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) was technically infeasible, and would not help, and could harm, Everglades restoration, citing –

  • Land Subsidence. By some estimates, intensive agriculture has reduced the elevation of the current land twenty feet below where it was before human intervention. As a result, any released water would pool rather than flow. In the words of the Corps: “Soil subsidence in the EAA has substantially reduced the hydraulic head that would drive the southward flow of water; hence, velocities and flow rates would be greatly reduced”;
  • Water Loss. The flow way would lose a tremendous amount of water to both seepage and evaporation: “By spreading the water over shallower areas (as opposed to reservoirs) and
    because a marsh habitat would have to be kept hydrated, the evapotranspiration loss could easily be doubled”; and
  • No Steady Supply. “Perhaps the most crucial element, water flowing from the lake to the WCAs [Water Conservation Areas] is not present in dry or even normal years!…The only years where water could flow for long duration are wet periods…[and in] those years, the stages in the WCAs are already too high and additional flow from flowways would be damaging, not beneficial.”

“The idea of obliterating all artificial alterations to revive the River of Grass is alluring but will not make non-existent water flow up hill,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Before jumping on yet another Everglades bandwagon, hardheaded study is needed to make sure the wheels actually turn.”

Another huge problem is the accumulated pollution in both the soil and the water. Beyond the possibility of mass poisoning of wildlife from releases of highly polluted waters, the Corps is concerned that the native saw grasses would not return: “Because nutrient-laden soil would be flooded for the flowway, the vegetation most likely to dominate would be cattails and not desirable Everglades habitat.”

In addition, there will likely be legal and political barriers as well. Since flow ways were not included in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) authorized by Congress, Gov. Crist’s plan would require Congress to endorse it as a condition of federal funding.

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See the summary of the Corps findings on barriers to the flow ways

View what was included in the CERP and why

Read about worsening water pollution problems in South Florida