BMPs Key to South Florida Water Quality Success

Introduced in 1992, the Everglades Best Management Practices (BMP) Program is a regulatory program, which requires that annual phosphorus (P) loads in Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) basin run-off be reduced relative to “historic” loads. Beginning in 1995, EAA growers were expected to achieve this basin-level target through implementation of BMPs designed to reduce P discharges in farm drainage waters, as well as monitor drainage volume. Over the years, choices and designs of BMPs have evolved, but the general program remains the same: Namely, growers are to develop BMPs appropriate for their farming operation, and their final BMP permit  — subject to approval by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) — must include a combination of BMP strategies. Growers must bear the cost of instrumentation that collects monitoring data specific to their drainage watershed, such as daily rainfall, drainage flow, and drainage water P concentration. The monitoring data is submitted annually to the SFWMD for review (Rice et al. 2013).

Today, growers are banding fertilizer to reduce nutrient loads and using GPS guidance for precision farming.
Photo by Frank Giles

The UF/IFAS Everglades Research and Education Center (EREC) in Belle Glade has a long history in providing essential research and Extension activities in the area of BMPs to growers in the EAA (Daroub et al. 2011). BMPs seminars and workshops are conducted twice annually and have a goal of serving both as a refresher course for growers in the EAA and for educating growers on new techniques and research advances. These workshops are well attended with more than 120 participants in each workshop. In addition to the workshops, hands-on field day demonstrations also are provided to growers, so they can apply a similar treatment technology on their farms.

Record Of Success

Since 1995, BMP implementation has been mandatory for all EAA farms that discharge drainage water into SFWMD conveyance canals. By regulatory rule, the implementation of BMPs at the farm level is required to support annual basin-level P load reductions of at least 25% relative to historic (pre-BMP) loading trends. During the 20 years since the inception of this regulatory program, EAA basin P-load reductions have consistently exceeded those required by law (25%), averaging 55%.

The overall basin-level P load reduction for water year 2016 was 27% (SFER 2016).  This successful program is a collaborative effort that involves 100% cooperation by EAA farmers, and ultimately has prevented over 3,000 metric tons of P from leaving the EAA and entering the Everglades Protection Area.

Some Common BMPs Implemented in the EAA:

Samira H. Daroub, a Professor of soil and water science, Timothy A. Lang, a Research Associate of biological engineering, and Mabry McCray, an Associate Scientist of Agronomy, also contributed to this article.