Water Managers, U.S. Sugar Agree to Terms to Preserve Everglades

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said Nov. 12 that Florida water management officials have agreed to new terms in their negotiations with the United States Sugar Corp. The new terms, subject to approval by the South Florida Water Management District include a land only purchase of more than 180,000 acres at a purchase price of $1.34 billion.

"A land purchase creates unprecedented possibilities for the River of Grass and for our environment," said Crist. "Many people, including the late [Everglades advocate Marjory Stoneman] Douglass, have looked forward to this day. Today, we are closer than ever to making their dreams a reality and giving this wonderful gift of restoration to the Everglades, to the people of Florida, and to our country."

The 180,000 acres, one of the largest environmental land acquisitions in U.S. history, are the "missing link" that the district needs to protect Florida's coastal estuaries and better revive, restore, and preserve the Everglades.

The vast real estate – roughly the size of New York City — will be used to reestablish a part of the historic connection between Lake Okeechobee and the fabled River of Grass through a managed system of storage and treatment. The land also will be used to safeguard the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and estuaries.

Acquiring the enormous expanse of land offers water managers the opportunity and flexibility to store and clean water on a scale never before contemplated. Water managers expect that dedicating significantly more land in the Everglades Agricultural Area to restoration will build upon and enhance the 30-year state-federal Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and the State of Florida's Northern Everglades program to restore and protect Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, and their respective estuaries.

"We look forward to continuing to work with the Governor and the District in the cooperative spirit with which we have begun," said Robert Buker, president and chief executive officer of U.S. Sugar. "We are happy to help the state of Florida restore one of her most precious treasures."

Benefits from the land acquisition include:

• Increases in the availability of water storage, significantly reducing the potential for harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee to Florida's coastal rivers, and estuaries when lake levels are high.

• The ability to deliver cleaner water to the Everglades during dry times and greater water storage to protect the natural system during wet years.

• Preventing thousands of tons of phosphorus from entering the Everglades every year.

• Eliminating the need for "back-pumping" water into Lake Okeechobee from the Everglades Agricultural Area to augment the water supply needs. The District's Governing Board this year voted not to back-pump into the lake during the ongoing water shortage to protect water quality.