Center for Property Rights

Plan ⁠t⁠o d⁠i⁠ver⁠t⁠ Lake Okeechobee wa⁠t⁠er s⁠i⁠mpl⁠i⁠s⁠t⁠⁠i⁠c, ⁠t⁠oo l⁠i⁠m⁠i⁠⁠t⁠ed

By: The James Madison Institute / 2017

(Photo: AP)

Over the past two years, a public debate has ensued regarding the best approach to addressing the complex challenges presented in restoring and protecting the Everglades. Some have advocated for the state to purchase land south of Lake Okeechobee to store and cleanse water. This approach has generated a wealth of responses, some factual, but some long on emotion and short on facts.

One recent response from former Martin County Commissioner Maggie Hurchalla is an example of the latter. Her perspective is both skewed and incomplete, failing to address either real problems or their solutions.

By way of reminder, the Everglades is an enormous ecosystem. It begins just south of Orlando, flows through the Kissimmee River basin, through Lake Okeechobee, through fertile and productive agricultural land, and on to Florida’s southern tip. Though estimated to be half its original size, it is still a valuable, huge complex system.

One government effort to restore and preserve the Everglades is CERP — the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project. It is important to note that first word – comprehensive. Restoring the Everglades is like solving a “Rubik’s Cube.”

To suggest that the purchase of land south of Lake Okeechobee for water storage and cleansing is the silver bullet misses the big picture and ignores the practical realities of the challenge completely. CERP includes over 62 currently active projects in the Everglades at a cost of hundreds of millions of our taxpayer dollars.

As the recent report from The James Madison Institute “Solving the Everglades Riddle” articulates, the process is complex, underway, and achieving progress. Like many other failed government attempts to manage short term expectations, declaring eminent domain and diverting hundreds of millions of dollars to a land grab popular with environmentalists will create more problems than it would seek to solve.

A critical part of Everglades restoration is the storage, treatment, and movement of large amounts of water laden with phosphorus and, to a lesser degree, nitrogen. Although these nutrients make for fertile and productive agricultural land, they can also lead to widespread algae blooms which can harm marine life and make Florida’s water unattractive to tourists.

Nowhere is this felt more acutely than in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. When Lake Okeechobee reaches certain depths, a federal mandate requires the Army Corp of Engineers to release enormous amounts of water into the estuaries. When these nutrient laden waters collide with brackish and fresh water, algae blooms can form and the damage begins.

One solution to halt the effect of devastating releases is to build large reservoirs to store and purify these waters before they can pollute the estuaries or the Everglades further south. Ms.Hurchalla would have us believe the ticket to saving the Everglades, and providing drinking water to south Florida, is to purchase land south of Lake Okeechobee and construct a reservoir. Not only is this too simplistic, it is too limited.

Experts involved in Everglades restoration agree one million acre-feet of water storage is needed and requires several large reservoirs. They agree these reservoirs are needed all around Lake Okeechobee. Because the 5,000 square-mile Kissimmee River basin flows into the 730 square-mile Lake Okeechobee, the most effective reservoirs would be north of the Lake. After all, if you enter your kitchen and see your sink about to overflow, the first step is to turn off the faucet, not figure out how to catch overflowing water.

Future decisions regarding Everglades restoration should be based on criteria such as location, scientifically-based suitability, best land use principles, the impact on local economies, affordability, and perhaps most importantly, cost-benefit. Return-on-investment should always be a consideration. In fact, the real policy experts in this arena, the South Florida Water Management District, considered the utilization of a 46,000-acre parcel south of Lake Okeechobee as a site for a reservoir and determined it was not a fiscally responsible solution.

Finally, for those interested in water quality, more treated water is being delivered to the Everglades than ever before thanks to best management practices employed by Florida’s farmers. As the 2017 Legislative Session approaches, let’s hope that comprehensive and factual criteria will trump politics and rhetoric. For a more comprehensive look at this issue, please read, “Solving the Everglades Riddle,” found

Daniel Peterson is director of The James Madison Institute Center for Property Rights