'Water Farming' being tested at more sites

TREASURE COAST, Fla. - Caulkins farm has been in the citrus industry for more than fifty years, but citrus greening disease has changed everything.

“What’s left of citrus trees out there, and soon they will be under four feet of water,” explained Tom Kenny, the project manager at the farm.

Kenny now works with “water farming” as part of a pilot program. As rain falls, and a nearby canal flows, water comes to the farms.  It is absorbed into the land or held for use when it’s needed.

Over the course of several weeks, Kenny noticed the potential for the project.

“We had already pumped 3,000 acre feed, that's a billion gallons of water into this reservoir, keeping that water from going into the locks and into the tide and Indian River Lagoon,” he said.

The idea is that struggling farmers in Martin and St. Lucie counties will keep their land instead of selling it, while also reducing the flow of water to the St. Lucie Estuary, which could improve issues with toxic water.

“It's a lot of water people don't want going through the locks and into their rivers,” explained Kenny.

The South Florida Water Management District is playing a large part in the research of the concept. So far, it seems to be working, according Damon Meiers, Principal Engineer for the Office of Everglades Policy and Coordination.

“I think it will, we've done some feasibility analysis to show that it is cost-effective and it should work, we believe it will work and we do see a lot of potential,” he said.

Having private farmers pay for adding berms to their properties is more cost-effective than projects constructed by the government, but each site must be chosen carefully.

“We also want to make sure we're not impacting adjacent lands as well, so there are a lot of issues to consider,” Meiers said.

Doug Bournique, Executive Vice President and General Manager of the Indian River Citrus League, also serves on the board of the St. Johns River Water Management District. He says the idea is gaining traction and interest. The best part of the idea, he says, is the potential immediacy of the outcome.

“You have an opportunity to do that - today.  We could reduce our discharge to the lagoon overnight,” he said.

SFWMD says two additional pilot sites are being added this summer and a more complete proposal could be reviewed by August.