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Sweet Deal for the Everglades

posted on May 15, 2009

The state of Florida is wrapping up a weeklong conservation campaign dubbed "Water Reuse Week."

The "Sunshine State" currently reuses 240 billion gallons of reclaimed water annually to conserve freshwater supplies -- -- and replenish rivers, lakes and aquifers.

While officials boast that Florida's daily reuse of 663 million gallons of reclaimed water makes it the national leader, they also realize the state's exponential growth is creating an unquenchable thirst for more.

Currently, South Florida's water supply is at a critical level amidst the driest November-through-May period on record. Vast swaths of the Everglades -- -- the primary source of water for much of the region -- are bone dry.

But developments this week may help recharge precious water supplies in the famed "River of Grass."

Sweet Deal for the Everglades

On Wednesday, board members of the South Florida Water Management District voted to approve a proposal that will pay the U.S. Sugar Corporation $536 million for 73,000 acres of farmland. The land will be used to store and filter water as part of Florida's $11 billion Everglades restoration plan.

While the 73,000 acre purchase is the largest single acquisition of land in the district's history, it's a fraction of the $1.75 billion for 180,000 acres that Governor Charlie Crist first proposed last June. Crist pushed to keep the deal on the table, paring it down twice as district budgets shrank and amidst growing criticism from lawmakers, rival growers and the Miccosukee (mik-uh-SOO-kee) Tribe.

The deal would allow U.S. Sugar to lease back 40,000 acres at $150 per acre for seven years with the opportunity to extend the lease for up to twenty years. If economic conditions improve, the state has the option to purchase an additional 107,000 acres.

Florida Crystals, a key competitor of U.S. Sugar, and the Miccosukee Tribe, which controls land in the Everglades, have filed lawsuits to stop the purchase. Florida Crystals claims the deal would give U.S. Sugar an unfair business advantage and the Miccosukee believe it would saddle the district with dept and delay the construction of restoration projects for decades.

Governor Crist is calling the purchase a "once in a lifetime opportunity," giving "the River of Grass and the wildlife that depend on it, a brighter and more secure future." Environmental groups believe the purchase is a key component in solving water supply and pollution problems in the Everglades.


Tags: ecology economy Florida news wetlands