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Sugar growers sue US over Florida reservoir water levels

Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida sign outside building where shooting took place, June 4, 2021
Posted at 12:47 PM, Aug 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-28 12:47:19-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Sugar growers in Florida are suing the U.S, Army Corps of Engineers over proposed reservoir water levels they say will be far too low.

The federal lawsuits filed this week by Florida Crystals' Okeelanta Corp., U.S. Sugar and the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative say the current Corps plan won't supply enough water for their fields.

"Farmers need a secure supply of water, and all farmers need certainty as we plan and manage our planting schedules and crop rotation," said Jaime Vega, vice president of agriculture at Florida Crystals.

Jacksonville Commander Col. Andrew Kelly defended the Corps' work, saying the agency will balance water supply for both the environment and farmers.

"We go through a very, very deliberate process, not only with our (environmental) analysis, but with all of the analysis it takes to figure out the best infrastructure to be put in the ground in the right place," he said. "So we're pretty confident that the infrastructure plan that we have going forward is a good one."

The project in question is the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir intended to cleanse tainted water so more can flow south as crucially needed toward Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.

In the lawsuits, Sugar Growers say the still-under-construction reservoir should be kept at higher water levels than what is currently envisioned in a Corps of Engineers plan.

Everglades restoration advocates say the growers are simply putting their priorities ahead of others.

"They have always been at the front of the line and now they are not happy with how the lake and the reservoir will be operated in a more equitable way," said Eric Eikenberg, chief executive officer at the Everglades Foundation.

The lawsuits are pending in West Palm Beach federal court. They ask a judge to order the Corps to return to a reservoir plan guaranteeing a greater water supply.