The Florida Audubon Society today challenged three permits that allow the dirtiest farms within the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) to send highly polluted water flowing toward the Everglades in violation of Florida law.
The permits were part of a group approved by the South Florida Water Management District with scarce public notice and participation. Audubon is seeking a denial of the permits based on the failure to include additional on-farm cleanup requirements.
Audubon has long urged the water management district to impose additional cleanup requirements for the most polluting farms in the EAA. State law requires that farms engage in phosphorus-reducing practices before discharging polluted water into the water management districts’ canals. Failure to clean up water on the farm harms the natural Everglades and places additional burdens and costs on the public and taxpayers to build treatment projects.
A recently announced agreement between the state and federal government will spend $800 million to meet water quality standards by 2025. That agreement, while a significant step forward, does not require improved efforts to control on-farm pollution.
“Everglades water quality goals can be met more quickly and at less cost to the public if the District adhered to state law and required operators of the dirtiest farms to implement additional cleanup measures to reduce the amount of phosphorus leaving their farms,” said Draper.
Florida law provides that the South Florida Water Management District must require additional cleanup steps by individual farms that cause or contribute to water quality violations of the 10 part per billion phosphorus standard. Audubon’s permit challenge contends that the agency has simply ignored this requirement in state law.
Prior to 2007, EAA farmers could comply with the law by reducing phosphorus pollution by 25% across the 700,000 acre EAA. This approach has achieved an average annual reduction of 55%, and some years the reductions are higher. Audubon applauds those farms that have made a sincere effort to reduce phosphorus pollution to acceptable standards. However, a significant number of highly polluting farms, some discharging 400 parts per billion or more of phosphorous, are still not being required to limit their pollution, and the Everglades water quality standards are still not being met.
“Audubon is challenging these permits to seek a ruling directing the agency to comply with the law that requires more pollution reduction by the farms discharging the dirtiest water,” said Draper.