FFAA Conference Takes Up Nutrient and Water-Quality Issues

Tacy CalliesBMPs, Events, Water

During Florida Fertilizer & Agrichemical Association’s annual conference, Ernie Barnett said water-quality issues in Florida encompass more than just agriculture.

Florida Fertilizer & Agrichemical Association members gathered in Palm Beach recently for the organization’s annual conference. The status of nutrient regulations and water-quality issues were at the top of the agenda for the group.

Ernie Barnett, Florida Land Council president, addressed those issues during the conference. He has been involved with water issues in the state for more than 30 years, so he brings deep knowledge to the subject. He said the agriculture industry has been a leader in efforts to protect water, despite criticisms.

“Over all these years, I have gained a deep and profound respect for farmers in Florida and these multi-generational landowners,” he said. “I will argue they are the best environmental stewards in the nation.”

Barnett acknowledged that the water-quality problem in Florida is a big issue but argued that to focus only on agriculture will not resolve the challenge. He provided an example with the Lake Okeechobee basin. In the basin north of the lake, much of the land is in agricultural uses. But those uses are low-intensive farming, and growers there are deploying best management practices (BMPs) to protect water quality. He added those BMPs are working.

When water problems occur, since that region is mostly agricultural, the blame gets placed on agriculture. Barnett argued that the history of the Lake Okeechobee Basin, straightening of the Kissimmee River and channeling of the watershed that makes water rapidly flow to the lake must also be considered. He added there is a high amount of legacy nutrients from many years before in the basin. The watershed covers about 5,000 square miles, dumping into Lake Okeechobee, which is only 732 square miles.

Data show 90% of the nutrients going into the lake occurred during only 10% of the highest flow water events. These events include hurricanes and slow-moving tropical systems.

“Focusing on BMPs alone is not going to meet our water-quality needs,” Barnett said. “There’s too much legacy phosphorous in the watershed and other activities happening.”

Barnett said it is true that BMPs are not working during high-water flow events, but neither are septic tanks, urban stormwater treatment ponds or stormwater treatment facilities. To address this, he said more investment needs to be made to build large stormwater storage treatment areas north of Lake Okeechobee.

Barnett will be speaking at the Citrus & Specialty Crop Expo and providing insights on agriculture and the politics of water. He will discuss new developments in the state’s BMP program and what growers might expect from future regulations. Register and check out the full seminar program.

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Frank Giles