Veteran environmentalist: Flow way may not be right way to help St. Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon


    From The TC Palm —


    STUART — Members of the Rivers Coalition, the Treasure Coast’s most ardent supporters of a flow way south from Lake Okeechobee to eliminate disastrous discharges to the St. Lucie River estuary, were told Thursday their plan is too expensive and might not work.

    Who would say such a thing?

    The sugar industry, which has labeled a flow way a “non-starter” for years?

    The South Florida Water Management District, which has said its priorities are finishing water projects already on the books?

    No. It was Nathaniel P. “Nat” Reed, a veteran environmentalist who has worked at the local, state and national levels for more than 50 years.

    The so-called Plan 6 flow way calls for buying more than 50,000 acres from U.S. Sugar Corp. and Florida Crystals in the center of the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake O and combining it with about 76,000 publicly owned land farther south to create a link between the lake and the Everglades. The slow-moving flow way would clean and move south up to 488.8 billion gallons of water a year.

    The cost of land for the flow way has been estimated at $300 million to $400 million. The costs beyond that for engineering and construction are unknown because details of the plan have not been worked out.

    “The first problem with the flow way is that it would go through the heart of what is the most productive, and therefore most expensive, land in the (Everglades Agricultural Area) and probably in the United States,” Reed said.

    Reed said another $2 billion would be needed to move the roads, bridges, canals and utility lines to build the flow way.

    “And will the flow way remove phosphorus and nitrogen from the water to the 10 parts per billion required by law before it enters the Everglades?” Reed asked. “I’m not saying Plan 6 is wrong. I’m just saying it’s incredibly expensive and will require an appropriation that Big Sugar is going to block anyway.”

    As an alternative, Reed suggested using existing canals on the east side of the Everglades Agricultural Area to send Lake O discharges to a 5,000- to 7,000-acre reservoir that would feed “huge (stormwater treatment areas) needed to treat all that water properly.”

    So what’s the best way to move the most water south in the most cost-effective, environmentally friendly way?

    “What we need,” Reed said, “is a governor who will tell the president of the University of Florida to have their engineering department study, with the Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District, a way to move 500 million gallons of water south and clean it before it reaches the Everglades.”

    Reed told the coalition members not to “rush into a plan, any plan, without knowing the environmental and financial costs.”

    Karl Wickstrom, founder of Florida Sportsman magazine and former leader of the Rivers Coalition Defense Fund, said Reed “has great insights, but I don’t agree with his alternative path for moving water south. I don’t think it’s feasible; it would require a colossal amount of land. On the other hand, the state already owns two-thirds of the land needed for the flow way. ”

    The cost of construction of the flow-way versus the reservoir and treatment areas Reed proposed, Wickstrom said, would be a wash.

    “We’re all on the same page,” said Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart. “Whatever the configuration — east side, west side or through the middle — we all agree we need a large volume of water going south (from Lake O). The problem is that, right now, a project to do that isn’t on the books. We’ve got to get a project authorized with money appropriated and get it going.”

    Who is Nathaniel Pryor “Nat” Reed?

    Age: 80

    Residence: Jupiter Island

    Private positions: President, Hobe Sound Co., company founded by his father, Joseph V. Reed, to develop Jupiter Island

    Public positions: 1967, first environmental adviser to a Florida governor (Claude R. Kirk); 1969, first chairman of Florida Department of Air and Water Pollution Control; 1971, hired by President Richard Nixon as assistant secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and National Parks.

    Memberships: Chairman, Commission on Florida’s Environmental Future and Natural Resources Defense Council; vice chairman, National Audubon Society and Nature Conservancy; 14 years on South Florida Water Management District Board of Governors; board member, National Geographic Society; co-founder, 1000 Friends of Florida and Everglades Foundation (currently vice chairman)