Last week the Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District voted to extend the lease for sugar farmers on land that has been slated for a water storage reservoir. The reservoir is intended to reduce the need for water discharges from Lake Okeechobee, which contribute to harmful algal blooms on Florida's coasts. The proposed EAA, or Everglades Agricultural Area, Reservoir recently received federal authorization through the 2018 Water Resources Development Act.
Part of the reservoir will be built on about 16-thousand acres of land that’s currently being farmed by New Hope Sugar Co., a subsidiary of Florida Crystals, under a lease that would have expired next March -- that lease will now expire in March of 2027. But, provisions allow the district to take parts or all of that land back as soon as it’s needed for construction of the reservoir, with four months notice. Water managers say this is all on the up and up, and that the law requires them to allow the farming to continue until the planning stages are complete, and work on the reservoir actually commences, which will take years. Critics say the land could be used for water storage now, and that the lease extension is just a giveaway to sugar farmers.
We're joined by one of the most vocal critics of the vote: Eric Eikenberg is CEO of the Everglades Foundation. We did extend an invitation to the South Florida Water Management District to join the show, but did not hear back.