Broken Water

Broken Water 101: The most significant challenge facing the Everglades today

Historically, the Everglades used to cover most of South Florida, stretching from present day Orlando all the way south to Florida Bay, the headwaters of the Florida Keys. Water from the Kissimmee River would fill Lake Okeechobee and then flow south into the River of Grass. But sadly, this is no longer what the Everglades looks like.

Today, water can no longer freely flow south from Lake Okeechobee, and the Everglades Agricultural Area, owned mostly by subsidized sugar companies, sits right where the River of Grass used to begin. The water in Lake O has been contaminated with all kinds of nutrients from agricultural fertilizers, like nitrogen and phosphorus, so much that the water in the lake is considered far too polluted to be sent directly on to the Everglades like it used to.

Instead of sending lake water south to be cleansed and released into the Everglades  throughout the year, we hold all this polluted water in Lake Okeechobee to provide irrigation water for 400,000 acres of sugarcane, benefiting U.S. Sugar and Florida Crystals, until the water levels become so high that trillions of gallons of polluted water have to be dumped down the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers and out into the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. 

Not only is this a waste of precious freshwater, but it also damages our coastal estuaries, kills fish, and contributes to toxic Red Tide and sends toxic blue-green algae into our waterways, endangering nearly 8 million Floridians up and down the coast.

Meanwhile, the Everglades and Florida Bay, the headwaters of the Florida Keys, are desperate for clean freshwater. Everglades National Park receives less than half of the water it once did, and what’s left of the historic River of Grass will run dry if it doesn’t get more water soon.

So why can’t we just clean all of this extra water and send it south to where it belongs? Well, we’ve been trying.