In a low-lying state like Florida, storing excess water is essential to protecting the growing state from the ravages of flooding. Fortunately, Florida has a perfect example of how excess water can be stored effectively, quickly and economically. I was privileged last fall to attend the grand opening of the Caulkins Water Farm in Martin County, a facility that clearly meets these needs.
I first became acquainted with the concept of water farming two years ago while researching methods of restoring the Everglades. I thought, “store” water on private property? Why and who would do that?
I was aware that the weakened integrity of the aging Herbert Hoover Dike was requiring water releases from Lake Okeechobee by the Army Corps of Engineers. I also was aware that during heavy rain, approximately 1 million acre-feet of water storage was needed to counter such releases, which lead to environmentally harmful algae blooms in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee river estuaries with negative effects on local economies.
After a successful 450-acre pilot project, the South Florida Water Management District agreed to a 10-year, $62.5 million contract to expand Caulkins Water Farm's storage area to more than 3,000 acres. (Photo: LEAH VOSS/TCPALM)
However, I was unaware of a pilot project underway to help meet this challenge. The Caulkins Citrus Company was among the successful citrus enterprises that had been destroyed by the disease citrus greening. In 2014, company President George Caulkins decided to experiment with his property, using it as a shallow reservoir, or water farm.
He designated 413 acres for a pilot project in which water was pumped out of the C-44 Canal. While the water was stored, natural filtration removed at least 75 percent of the phosphorus and 50 percent of the nitrogen. This led to a helpful recharging of the aquifer beneath the property.
The project was so successful that the state and Caulkins decided to expand it to 3,200 acres. As a result, the Caulkins Water Farm has the capacity to store more water each year. That’s impressive.
Even more remarkable is the fact that the pilot project was launched only three years ago.
Impressive beyond that is the price tag for this storage ability. The state paid $7.4 million to construct the infrastructure and Caulkins provided the land. Because it operates as a public-private partnership, Caulkins is subject to an annual legislative appropriation as the project continues. Over a 10-year period, the contract for the expanded Caulkins project will cost the state $55 million (not including construction).
Construction continues at a renovated pump station that will be used to pull water from the C-44 Canal before it reaches the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017 at Caulkins Water Farm in Martin County. The pump station begins operating Oct. 3 and within a month will be able to send 151 million gallons of canal water into the water farm daily. (Photo: LEAH VOSS/TCPALM)
At the launch of the expanded project in early October, it was lauded by state Senate President Joe Negron and leaders from project partners including the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs. The project deserves those accolades and so much more.
The Caulkins Water Farm is ready to store a significant amount of water. It already is up and running, it is recharging the aquifer, and it is cleansing water — all at an attractive price.
Hopefully, Floridians will recognize the value of such a public-private partnership. Its shining example seems abundantly clear.
Dan Peterson, an Orlando resident, is the director for the Center for Property Rights at The James Madison Institute.