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Water farm expansion helps divert Lake Okeechobee discharges

Posted at 7:51 PM, Oct 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-04 06:26:44-04

There is a major step forward in the fight against those harmful algae blooms that devastated the treasure coast last summer.

Many point to those dirty discharges from Lake Okeechobee as the main culprit.

RELATED: More Toxic Algae coverage

However, the challenge has been finding ways to manage the level of the lake without sending that water into the St. Lucie Estuary.

Watching toxic algae devastate our waterways, comes with a familiar feeling for citrus grove farmer George Caulkins.

“We’ve been in the agriculture business for about 50 years,” said Caulkins. “There's no one who’s in the ag business who isn’t an environmentalist at heart.”

For Caulkins, it was a different kind of toxic green that devastated his livelihood.

“Citrus greening kind of brought us to our knees along with just about every other grower.”

While the Caulkins Citrus Company turned into a fruitless business, he discovered a more unusual way to keep his farm afloat and help his neighboring businesses.

“This is a new solution to take the lemons that citrus greening threw us and make lemonade with by creating the first water farm,” said Caulkins.

What started as a pilot program turned into a full blown operation Tuesday. 

“We take water out of the C-44 (canal) before it can get to the St. Lucie Estuary and cause the discharges down stream, and cause the algae blooms and damage the estuary,” said Caulkins. 

Caulkins is now using 3,200 acres of his barren property to hold and soak up 35 billions of gallons of Lake Okeechobee and C-44 water a year. 

While it’s still only a fraction of the water that could get discharged in a given year, it still means less Lake Okeechobee water going into the St. Lucie Estuary. 

On Tuesday, Caulkins along with state and local leaders celebrated the launch of the expansion and highlighted the benefits of this public-private partnership. 

Caulkins said the soil on his property acts as a cleaning agent as the water seeps into the aquifer. 

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