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State officials say Everglades water policy, BMP regime are working

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The South Florida Water Management District was joined by Republican elected officials Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and state Rep. Matt Caldwell this week in saying tighter restrictions on agriculture in the Everglades Agricultural Area are unnecessary because best management practices, or BMPs, are working.

Levels of harmful phosphorous — a product of agricultural runoff into the ecologically sensitive area — are down 79 percent according to recently released state data.

“For a milestone 20th year, water flowing from farmlands in the Everglades Agricultural Area achieved phosphorus reductions that significantly exceed those required by law,” read a Thursday release from the South Florida WMD.

“Over the program’s 20-year compliance history, the overall average annual reduction from the implementation of BMPs is 56 percent, more than twice the required amount.

“Two decades of successfully meeting and exceeding phosphorus reductions to improve Everglades water quality is a great accomplishment,” said Daniel O’Keefe, chairman of the district’s Governing Board. “South Florida’s agricultural communities are clearly demonstrating a long-term commitment to restoration efforts.”

Putnam, a key member of the state’s four-member Cabinet, said he heartily agrees.

“Farmers and ranchers throughout our state are looking toward science and data in order to protect Florida’s waterways and manage farms more efficiently, and today’s announcement shows that Best Management Practices are working,” said Putnam. “I thank the farmers and ranchers in the EAA for their continued commitment to being good stewards of the land.”

When Speaker Steve Crisafulli took the reins amid passage of Amendment 1, he declared 2015 would be a landmark year for water policy. Many considered it a failure when legislation aimed at tackling his signature issue died amid the 2015 regular session’s abrupt Sine Die adjournment. But Rep. Caldwell says the news this week is proof the Legislature’s approach is working.

“This historic level of reductions in phosphorus is proof positive that best management practices (BMPs) are working. It also highlights the need for BMPs to be part of any comprehensive water policy reform passed by the Florida Legislature,” said Caldwell via a statement. “Combined with the Second District Court of Appeal’s recent ruling that upheld BMPs, this has been a historic week for restoration efforts in the Florida Everglades. Florida’s farmers are making meaningful gains in water quality utilizing BMPs.”
“Under Speaker Crisafulli’s leadership, we will continue to make water policy reform a priority.”

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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