The Use of Best Management Practices to Reduce Nutrient Pollution in the Everglades Agricultural Area
As the sun rises over the vast Florida Everglades, the endangered Florida panther quietly stalks a white-tailed deer in the tall grass. A raccoon fishes for its breakfast of crayfish. A small flock of rose-colored waterfowl flies overhead, a reminder of the vast flocks of wading birds that once called the Everglades home. A couple of otters roll around in the water nearby, keeping a watchful eye out for ubiquitous alligators. Manatees swim silently below the surface in Florida Bay, at the southern end of the Everglades ecosystem. Suddenly, a tractor engine revs to life as a farmer prepares to harvest his sugarcane, and the noise of commuters driving to work on the Sawgrass Expressway disturbs the calm. Such is life in the Everglades, where modern civilization meets wild in a vast subtropical wetland.
Some Florida farmers recently have been reducing the level of nutrient pollution discharged from their fields and entering sensitive Florida ecosystems from the level found in the irrigation water they use. They are doing this while continuing to operate their productive farms. Setting a water quality standard seems to have driven actual “real world” improvements in water quality in Florida, including development of the data and research needed to support those improvements. Mandatory BMPs seem to have worked in reducing phosphorus concentrations in water leaving the EAA. In fact, phosphorus concentrations in water leaving the EAA are about half of the concentrations in irrigation water entering the region. Other regions of the country with significant nutrient pollution thus may be looking to Florida to find out how farmers can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Florida’s BMP program in the EAA thus may be a bellwether for other states seeking to confront the challenges of nutrient pollution.