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  • South Central Florida Life

EAA STAs provide flood protection as well as water treatment

WEST PALM BEACH — Use of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) stormwater treatment areas (STAs) was questioned at the April 11 meeting of the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board.

The EAA STAs were built and designed to provide flood control for cities south of Lake Okeechobee and to clean the EAA runoff before it is released south into the Water Conservation Areas.

As explained in previous SFWMD meetings and in an interview with SFWMD Chief Consulting Engineer Tracey Piccone, the EAA STAs have a dual mission of flood control and water treatment. In order to provide the necessary flood control component, the EAA STAs were designed to hold water up to 4 feet deep. In contrast, the A-2 STA, which was built to treat water from Lake Okeechobee, is designed to hold water up to 2 feet deep.

Piccone said shallower STAs are more efficient in cleaning water, but because they use the EAA STAs for flood protection, they have to allow the higher water levels. This also means the EAA STAs are less efficient at cleaning water, an important consideration because the lake water is higher in phosphorus – sometimes more than double the phosphorus level of the EAA runoff.

At the April 11 SFWMD meeting, Gil Smart of Vote Water referenced a report his organization recently posted online. He said looking at the amount of water sent south by the district, “if all the water the district moved south this past year came from Lake O, the lake would be about 3 feet lower.”

“The STAs are managed for the benefit of the few,” Smart claimed.“It only makes sense the lake water should get more space in the STAs,” he said.

While the equivalent of more than 3 feet of water on Lake Okeechobee did move south from Water Conservation Area (WCA)-3A under the Tamiami Trail in the past year, most of the water in WCA-3A was from direct rainfall into the STAs and WCAs. Rainfall south of Lake Okeeechobee is often heavier than rainfall north of the Big O. According to SFWMD data, during the 2023 wet season, runoff from the EAA farms, which drain into the STAs, accounted for only about 16% of the water in WCA-3A.

Also at the April 11 SFWMD meeting, Eve Samples of Friends of the Everglades argued that while the agriculture privilege tax pays for about half of the $22 million annual operational cost of the STAs, the farms get more than 50% of the capacity to treat water. “Sugar should not get 90% of the capacity,” said Samples.


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