STAs are critical to cleaning water flowing to the Everglades


Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs) are constructed wetlands designed for the final cleaning of stormwater flowing into the Everglades from the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), a highly-productive agricultural region predominantly cultivated with sugarcane and winter vegetables.

The Everglades Forever Act (EFA) of 1994 expanded and codified phosphorus reduction measures, authorizing over 40,000 acres of STAs for the benefit of the entire Everglades. It also mandated the implementation of Best Management Practices (BMPs) in the EAA to control phosphorus at its source, set an annual Agricultural Privilege Tax, and established a numeric phosphorus criterion for the Everglades Protection Area.

The STAs, since their inception, have expanded to more than 60,000 acres and have treated approximately 24 million acre-feet of water, retaining 3,089 tons of Total Phosphorus (TP), which is 77% of the TP load that entered those facilities.

The On-Farm BMP Program has prevented 4,282 tons of TP from entering the Everglades between since 1996, achieving an average annual TP load reduction of 57%--exceeding the TP removal provided by all Everglades STAs.

The reduction in phosphorus loading and concentrations due to the EAA farmers’ BMP Program has significantly improved EAA farm water quality, making it consistently better than water released from Lake Okeechobee. STA design was s based on anticipated EAA water quality after on-farm BMPs were implemented.

The success of the BMP Program and STAs has resulted in dramatic restoration of Everglades water quality, with most of the Everglades at 10 parts per billion or below. This program has been highlighted as a model for large-scale ecosystem restoration.

It makes no sense to re-task the successful STA model for other uses (such as treating more polluted Lake Okeechobee water) to benefit coastal estuaries. A better solution for those issues would be to continue to focus on projects that increase water storage and treatment north of Lake Okeechobee and complete large-scale water storage and treatment facilities around it.

False Claims Made about STAs

Anti-farming activists are either unaware of state laws and federal court actions’ governing EAA stormwater treatment areas or again ignoring the facts because they don’t suit their agenda. The truth is farmers partnered with the state and federal agencies two decades ago to help design ways to treat water from farms flowing south—water needed by the ecosystem.

Claim: “More than 60,000 acres of taxpayer-funded stormwater treatment areas, which could effectively store and treat water from Lake O, are instead prioritized for polluted runoff from industrial sugarcane fields.” (Source: Friends of the Everglades)

Fact: A reading of state law shows the STAs WERE NOT constructed to handle Lake Okeechobee water to reduce coastal discharges. They were built on former farmland specifically to treat runoff from the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) to meet federal court orders to clean water flowing to the Everglades. These STAs are integral step in the public/private partnership between the SFWMD and EAA farmers in successfully cleaning water since the program began in 1996. The projects under construction north, east, west and south of Lake Okeechobee will handle the influx of water into Lake Okeechobee, which year after year receives 95 percent of its water from north of the lake.

Claim: “We need you to ask [SFWMD] to address STA capacity — and the gross prioritization of sugarcane field runoff over Lake O water — at that meeting. They can and must do more to fix the rigged system. (Source: Friends of the Everglades)

Fact: Attempts to change STA capacity – would significantly harm progress to clean water going to the Florida Everglades. Today, 95% of the Everglades are meeting strict clean water standards (10 parts per billion in phosphorus). Should the SFWMD attempt to circumvent state law as these activist propose, it would send more water to the STAs and jeopardize the ability of these biologically-engineered treatment marshes to meet strict water quality standards that are overseen by a federal court under a Consent Decree.

Claim: “…water managers have confirmed that capacity in these manmade treatment marshes is currently prioritized for runoff from the Everglades Agricultural Area…” (Source: Friends of the Everglades).

Fact: It’s not the water managers’ decisions that determine capacity in the STAs — that is outlined in a federal consent decree. According to a judge’s order issued in 1992, “large water filtration marshes designed to process and remove nutrients from agricultural runoff destined for the [Everglades Protection Area].”1 As noted in the Consent Decree, the STAs were to serve as a “buffer zone” between the EAA and the Everglades Protection Area, “receiving stormwater directly from agricultural drainage canals and purifying the water before it enters the [Everglades Protection Area].”