Think Tank Urges Restoration North Of Lake Okeechobee

Jul 13, 2016

Credit Rasmus Bøgeskov Larsen via Flickr

Free-market think tank The James Madison Institute is weighing in on Everglades restoration.  The organization wants policymakers to focus their efforts north of Lake Okeechobee.

In the wake of a massive algae bloom, JMI is urging the state to focus its everglades restoration efforts on water storage north of Lake Okeechobee.  To Dan Peterson, the study’s author, going to the source is just common sense. 

“I liken it to this,” he says, “if you walked into your house and you saw that your sink was about to overflow with water, would you cut another hole in the bottom of your sink, or would you attempt to limit the water by turning it off or limiting the water at the faucet?”

Ramesh Reddy chairs the University of Florida’s Soil and Water Sciences Department, and he agrees water storage facilities north of Lake Okeechobee serve a vital role.

“Because as you store the water it’s not only you controlling the water flow, but at the same time when the water is stored north of the lake it also provides some treatment reducing the nutrient concentrations—especially phosphorus,” Reddy says.

And cutting the phosphorus load is important because it’s fertilizer—promoting the growth of algae. 

But Reddy says water flowing in is only half of the equation.  What do you do with the water rich in nutrients like phosphorus that’s already in the lake?

“That water needs to be treated to meet The Everglades nutrient criteria,” Reddy says, “so that requires water storage and treatment also.”

“So in my opinion both water storage north of the lake and also south of the lake are important.”

JMI analyzes policy with a focus on economics, and Peterson argues projects north of Lake Okeechobee offer the greatest return on investment—the best bang for your buck.  But Steve Davis an ecologist with The Everglades Foundation disputes that conclusion. 

“If we are looking for storage solutions that benefit the situation in the St. Lucie River, the Caloosahatchee River, as well as the massive areas of dead seagrass in Florida Bay—we know that water needs to go south,” Davis says.  “If we want to be able to provide benefits in all those areas we know that storage south of Lake Okeechobee is the most beneficial.”

In addition to lobbying for water storage above the lake, JMI’s report argues there should be greater progress reporting for everglades projects and further studies should be done on the impact of fresh water releases.