Pollution Cleanup in Florida Everglades Falls on Taxpayers

Environmental group says agriculture should being paying the bulk of cost, but isn't

Big Sugar and other growers polluting the Everglades fail to pay their fair share of the cleanup, leaving taxpayers with too much of the bill, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel.

Sugar cane growers and other agricultural producers are responsible for 76% of the polluting phosphorus that flows into the Everglades, but agriculture pays just 24% of the cleanup costs, according to the findings of a study commissioned by the Everglades Foundation.That leaves taxpayers and local utility customers to pay the bulk of an estimated $106 million spent each year to remove phosphorus from storm water that flows into the Everglades, according to RTI International, a North Carolina-based independent research group hired by the Everglades Foundation.

The study puts a number on a contention that environmental groups have long made–-that Florida is failing to enforce a 1996 "Polluter Pays" Florida constitutional amendment aimed at shifting the cost of Everglades cleanup to those most responsible for the pollution, according to the Everglade Foundation.

Phosphorus, found in fertilizer, animal waste and the natural decay of soil, washes off agricultural land and urban areas and drains into the Everglades. Elevated levels of phosphorus fuel the growth of cattails that crowd out sawgrass and other vital natural habitat in areas already suffering from decades of draining to make way for farming and development.

Florida has constructed more than 40,000 acres of filter marshescalled storm water treatment areas—that remove some of the phosphorus from water that flows to the Everglades. But the cleanup efforts have yet to meet the ultimate goal of reducing phosphorous levels in the water headed to the Everglades down to 10 parts per billion. Sugar cane and other farms are supposed to grow crops and manage storm water discharges in ways that limit phosphorous discharges, but the Everglades Foundation maintains that the state should require them to do more.

Researchers for the Everglades Foundation determined that 76% of the phosphorus that ends up in the Everglades comes from agriculture, with just 23% coming from urban areas, according to RTI.

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