During the past year, the Gulf Citrus Growers Association (GCGA), along with other ag organizations, has been working diligently on the Lower West Coast Water Supply Area Plan, which is set for its five-year update. The planning area includes Lee County and portions of Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, and Monroe counties.
The plan projects water needs out until 2030 and will be used by local governments, water users, and utilities to update and modify local comprehensive plans, facility work plans, and other ordinances.
“Initially, the South Florida Water Management District’s (SFWMD) staff recommended severe water cutbacks for citrus, based on the latest Florida Ag Statistics Service data on citrus tree/acreage reductions in the region,” says Ron Hamel, executive vice president of the GCGA. “Through several sessions and negotiations, we were able to resolve the ‘cutback’ issues and maintain an adequate water supply for our citrus and other crops in the region.”
Looking At Lake Levels
Hamel notes that water supply from Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee River for irrigation of citrus and other crops continues to be a major issue in the region, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages Lake Okeechobee at very low levels due to the structural integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike.
“We are working with Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and other key ag interests to address the issues related to the management of Lake Okeechobee in order to store more water for all users in that key water body,” Hamel adds. “The association also is engaged in working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the SFWMD to provide input in the state’s efforts to address consumptive water use permit issues, include permit consistency, duration and reporting.”
According to Hamel, the association was actively engaged in FDACS efforts to consolidate the regional citrus BMP manuals into a single, statewide document. “We also have been devoting considerable time to addressing nutrient total maximum daily loads for the Caloosahatchee River to the east of the Franklin Locks,” he says. “And, we will continue to work with all the agencies in developing appropriate basin management action plans (BMAPs) to enhance water quality through the BMP program.”