A sweetheart deal between Big Sugar and Water Management District could thwart a reservoir designed to clean South Florida water.

TALLAHASSEE (11/29/18) – On Wednesday, Florida conservationists filed a legal challenge to a last-minute deal between major sugar companies and the South Florida Water Management District that could thwart emergency efforts to reduce toxic algae outbreaks in rivers and coastal areas. The deal was reached the day after the election of Ron DeSantis as Florida’s governor. DeSantis has previously opposed sweetheart deals with the powerful sugar industry. Under the agreement, the outgoing District board renewed leases to major sugar companies on land that is slated for a reservoir to take contaminated water out of Lake Okeechobee. Leases for growing sugar cane set to expire this coming March were re-leased for up to 8 years, endangering plans to fast-track construction of the new 17,000-acre reservoir.  Lake water contaminated with toxic algae fueled by fertilizer and manure from industrial farming operations has been repeatedly dumped into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, where it triggered massive fish kills and released toxin-laden fumes dangerous to human health.

Florida Wildlife Federation President Manley Fuller said “We need to deal with toxic algae and red tide outbreaks for what they are – a public health and environmental emergency. The last thing we need is a deal to help Big Sugar instead of moving fast to manage the emergency.”

The administrative law challenge asserts that Florida law prohibits last-minute lease deals by the District by requiring public notices to be published three times at least a month before the leases are considered by the District. Notice was given hours before the deal was approved by the out-going water management district board. In addition, the challenge claims that the lease could interfere with an accelerated schedule to build the reservoir. It was brought by Florida Wildlife Federation, and by Marty Baum, a well-known activist on toxic algae issues in Jenson Beach.