Environment

Florida declares Everglades water cleaner than ever. Miccosukee Tribe says not so fast.

Florida water managers say pollution in Everglades marshes this year was the lowest level since clean-up efforts began, but the Miccosukee Tribe says polluted water on tribal land continues to be excluded from reports.
Florida water managers say pollution in Everglades marshes this year was the lowest level since clean-up efforts began, but the Miccosukee Tribe says polluted water on tribal land continues to be excluded from reports. Miami Herald file

Florida water managers say water running from conservation areas into the Everglades is cleaner than ever, reaching the lowest levels since clean-up efforts began.

“This is one of the most successful environmental projects in the history of the world,” South Florida Water Management District board member Jim Moran said after staff reported on the annual assessment tallying levels of marsh-killing phosphorus. “The farmers alone have reduced their exit numbers by 55 percent.”

But the Miccosukee Tribe, which won a landmark case forcing the state to clean water, said the district continues to exclude polluted water on tribal land from monitoring reports.

“You’re showing deceptive information and everybody wants to sing Kumbaya,” said Truman “Gene” Duncan, the tribe’s water resource director. “Let’s take the sample today and you tell me that’s the truth.”

everglades chapman
South Florida Water Management District officials say phosphorus levels in marshes south of Lake Okeechobee hit their lowest levels since clean-up efforts began. Miami Herald file

According to the 2017 numbers, phosphorus from fertilizer and urban run-off averaged 15 parts per billion in three vast conservation areas west of the urban coast, down from an average of 173 parts per billion before clean-up work began.

Healthy marshes can tolerate phosphorus at no more than 10 parts per billion, a threshold that farmers and water managers have been struggling for years to reach. In two long-running court cases, federal courts have upheld that standard for Everglades water quality.

District officials credited the drop to completing a large treatment area this year, along with better management practices by farmers. At least 90 percent of the sites checked in marshes meet that criteria, the district reported, with water in Everglades National Park hitting as low as 4 parts per billion.

Everglades air boat operator Jesse Kennon explains the impact of flooding in the Everglades on Thursday, October 5, 2017

District officials acknowledged that tribal land remains polluted, but say they are working on projects to address it. They said they don’t include the land in their count because the tribe conducts its own monitoring.

“I’m just asking that the district present the whole truth,” Duncan said. “I see a lot of people saying we’re doing great … but there’s no numbers on that graph from the western basins.”

Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich

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