Title: Farmers Use Most Water, Say They Need It
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/WL00001799/00001
 Material Information
Title: Farmers Use Most Water, Say They Need It
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Publisher: The Miami Herald
Spatial Coverage: North America -- United States of America -- Florida
Abstract: The Miami Herald Article July 5, 1981
General Note: Box 9, Folder 6 ( SF- State Water Policy/Property Rights Issue - 1980-1981 ), Item 56
Funding: Digitized by the Legal Technology Institute in the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: WL00001799
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: Levin College of Law, University of Florida
Holding Location: Levin College of Law, University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

Full Text

'"" The Miami Herald
,'- Sunday, July 5, 19W

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.r'mes use most watl"r say.

o' ,

'If you suddenly started to put fees on
That water, then you'd eally{ ee,
Ahvvte* ppr

'T ';)'

S Curry Hutchinson,
, former state pl nner

Herald Staff Writer
When the rains don't fall south of
Stake Okeechobee, the pumps come
'| "o life.' '
They suck water in prodigious'
gulps from. man-made canals into
Vast, Imperturbably flat fields of
'miuck where sugarcane, celery and
Srn rise in a watercolor of greens.
SOf every three gallons of water
ued in South Florida, two are con-
sumed by fields in Broward and
Dade counties. In Palm Beach Coun-'
ty, the ratio is more staggering:
four gallons for the farmer, one gal-.
Ion for the coastal dweller.. '
It wasn't always so.
Before about 1950, South Florida
agriculture was, relatively ispeak-
Ing, small potatoes. Citrus, cattle
And a few winter vegetables grew
on the sandy land between the
ocean and the Everglades. Sugar-
cane sprouted in a thin strip on high
ground around Lake Okeechobee.
But sugar was a struggling industry
plagued by quotas, pests and floods.
I'Two 1947 hurricanes and the
generous hand of Uncle Sam would
change all that. The vehicle was the
central and Southern Florida Flood
Control Project, authorized by Con-
gress in 1948 to protect the penin-
Ssula from hurricane flooding. Part
of its stated goal, too, was to re-
Iclaim more than one million acres I
Sfpr farming.
'The plum of that $500.million
.'public-works piewas some 535,000
acres of marshy muckland around..
le southern' rim of Lake Okeecho-
bee. By 1954, pumps, levees and
drainage canals haddrawn away
._.tlhe water, revealing one of the larg-
est deposits of organic soils on
I Thus'was born the Everglades
Agricultural Area dad a cozy rela-
tionship between Glades agribusi-
ness and the South Florida Water
Management District, t.the public
keeper of the pumps, levees and
floodgates. Much of the acreage
,.stood vacant until the early 1960s,
when sugar production, spurred by
a relaxation of government quotas,
began to leap upward. About the
,same time, winter vegetables began
to sprout from the' nitrogen-rich
muck soils. ':It !. ,,

John Wodraska: To study
agricultural water use.
i .

'A farmer doesn't
come in and say he ,
would like X .' f
number of gallons. : i
'He tells us he's
going. to grow celery '
or sugarcane and
we go to a plant ..
scientist who tells
us how much water

Today, the area boasts a
300,000-acre sugar industry, the na-
tion's largest, and the largest win-
ter vegetable crop outside of Cali?
It also consumes about 10 times
the water it did before the project
more water than all the residents
of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach
counties use in a year.
By May, when district officials
became alarmed about the 800 mil-
lion gallons a day, coastal residents
were consuming, water use in the
agricultural area was 2.1 billion
gallons a day. When all users were
'.forced to cut consumption 10 per,
cent on May 6, farmers cut their use!
to about 1.2 billion gallons a day.
That represented about a 40 per
cent decline, but still left them
using twice the water being con-
sumed by coastal residents.
Agricultural conservation, how-
ever, was based partly on the con-
straints of the system. With Lake
Okeechobee less than 11 feet deep,
lake water is tugged by gravity lest
freely into the North New River,
,West Palm Beach,:Hillsboro and
Miami canals.
Less water in those canals means
less water that farmers can take; inn
some cases, water actually ebbs outW
of the reach of their pumps.
Indeed, the water-management
,district's main contention through-.
out this year's drought has been
that those constraints virtually as-
isure that farmers will conserve.
What the district is less'eager to
say is that the amount of water al-
located to farmers is virtually un-


* *, John Wodraska

' I I[ Ia, I ) I -~

it takes to grow
that crop.'

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limited, based on the optimum
Growing needs of prime agricultur-
al plants. :";, ...
;. "A farmer doesn't come.in and.
say he would like X number of gal- .
.ons. He tells us he's going to grow:
6 celery or sugarcane and we go to 4
Plant scientist who tells us how
Much water it takes to grow that
T.cop, says John Wodraska, the dis
'trict's assistant director.".' .
SIn May alone, for instance, total
'crop requirements were a stagger-'
i.ng 201,000 acre-feet an amount,
roughly equal to Fort Lauderdale's
consumption for six months.
SIn normal years, a large part of
that demand would be met by rain--
fall. When the rainsdon'tcome, as
happened' this .spring, those de-1
mands, like the needs of the coast,
are met from the lake. This year,
however, Lake Okeechobee, now
- hovering below. 10,3 feet, has virtu-
n ally gone broke trying to fulfill its
P' Some have raised the inevitable
question: Is agriculture simply get-
, ting too much water, and ought not
* that amount to be curtailed?
Until this drought, the answer
- probably Oul&8gae been no. Cre-

Sating the "ag prea," district officials
have noted, was a specific goal of
the 1948 project, an supplying the.
2 area with water is o e of its obliga-
." '"But one of the things we've
agreed to look at is perhaps coming
up with a different ay of permit-s
ting agricultural 2w ter use," Wo-;
draska says. "As opposed to a'
Scrop-demand reqt recent, we
Might decide to tie it,to available
'storage in the system"
Growers contend that current,
*'cultivation practices including the
*use of underground: irrigation and.
the development of rwater-eficienti
mrops, show that the industry is all4
ready conservation-minded. )
i "If you suddenly started to put
Fees on that water, then you'd real-
ly see conservation," says Curry
:Hutchinson, a former planner with
the now-defunct Division of State
*Planning who helped author a 1975
:report on the economic relation -
ships of water in South Florida.
What Hutchinsog and others de-
termined was that an acre-foot of
water was worth ruhly $110 and .
that such a should fee be assessed to'

'"tlbsE who use the water. '
The benefit of that, the report
suggested, would be to assess the
bulk of water-management costs to!
.those using the bulk of the water.
Now, property taxes In essence.'
coastal taxpayers pick up about
80 per cent of the water-manage-
ment district's .nnual. $30 nmlin
budget. u. -
If the idea sounds simple, district
Officials say it is an emotionally, le-
gally and politically explosive plan'
that would be difficult, perhaps
possible to implement. ,
<. Says Wodraska: .
"The people in the ag area will
say, 'While it Is true that I use a lotI
of water, at certain times of the
year. I actually contribute more'
water than I use, because I pump
excess storm water back into the
System. Therefore. I want a credit'
on that water.' The coastal resident
will reply: 'Well, that might be.
true, but you also put a lot of pollu-
tants In that water that we have to.
Spay to remove.' .
"Every time we discuss thatit
opens a whole can of worms. Yt

"', a T .. .. .. .
InMay, -water-district scientists walk through parched conservation area near Boca Raton. -- -.
2 *

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