Indian Riverkeeper learned on January 28, 2016 that the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) was back pumping water into Lake Okeechobee through the S-2, S-3, and S-4 pump stations located on the lake’s southern shore.
Back pumping uses pump stations to push water uphill and into Lake Okeechobee. The water is untreated, so any pollutants, fertilizers, pesticide residue or sediments from agricultural fields and storm water runoff that are present flow directly into the lake.
Since back pumped water going into the lake is untreated, this action is of great concern.
On January 29, 2016, Indian Riverkeeper Marty Baum, accompanied by Indian Riverkeeper board members Kenny Hinkle Jr. and Marjorie Shropshire traveled to the bottom of the lake to view and document back pumping at S-2.
S-2, which is located on the edge of the town of Pahokee, is a 4-pump arrangement. All four pumps at S-2 were running. The water issuing from the station was dark and turbid. Rocks a few inches under the surface could not be seen due to the suspended sediment in the water. The canal and outflow at S-2 are quite deep, so the volume of water exiting the station was visible only by the turbulent movement of the water’s surface.
At the time we visited, with lake levels already high from record rainfall, S-2 and the other two structures, S-3 and S-4, were discharging approximately 4 billion gallons a day of untreated water into Lake Okeechobee.
Indian Riverkeeper Marty Baum states, “As they are de-watering fields in the EAA, they are flooding the canals and systems where people live. The sugar companies tell you that back pumping is a safety issue, but it is an issue they create that then holds the safety of local citizens hostage. If they weren’t loading the canals with water from agricultural fields, people would not be in such dire straights. We feel these back-pumping events are harmful and illegal, and should not be permitted even while in appeal. There is an emergency action available to stop all consumptive permits where an emergency is declared. An emergency has been declared but they won’t invoke this solution. Indian Riverkeeper addressed this issue in a letter authored by our President Kevin Stinette a couple years back, but it got zero traction from the state. We will update the letter and again address this issue.”
After leaving S-2 and traveling east, we observed that fields along SR 76 were not all flooded. We stopped at a canal intersecting the road and documented water flowing from a canal structure through a gate, under SR 76, and directly into the Okeechobee Waterway. The water was nasty, and foam was flying in the air adjacent to the structure. This is another example of back pumping, spewing untreated water from chemical-laden fields directly into the eastward flowing C-44 canal. This water travels into the St. Lucie Estuary and the Indian River Lagoon.
On February 1, 2016, after learning that the back pumping from S-2, S-3, and S-4 had stopped, Marty Baum and Marjorie Shropshire launched the Indian Riverkeeper patrol boat at the St. Lucie Locks, located on the freshwater side of the C-44 canal, and traveled approximately 24 miles to Lake Okeechobee. Along the way, they counted 25 water conveyance structures that connected to C-44. 22 of these were active and dumping water into the C-44. Indian River keeper Marty Baum says, “Areas that were not naturally connected to the St. Lucie watershed are currently dumping 999,136,512 gallons of water per day into the C-44. That’s nearly a billion gallons a day of dirty, chemical-laden poison.”
“The total contribution of C-44 to the St. Lucie Estuary and Indian River Lagoon is currently 1.769 billion gallons a day. The added contribution of C-23 and C-24 canals is another 693,449,856 gallons per day. Combined, the total assault on the estuary is some 2.462 billion gallons per day. While researching the numbers, I discovered that S-4 had begun back pumping at 544,807,296 gallons a day into the inside rim channel just north of the town of Clewiston. This water will go out the Caloosahatchee River.”
“Some things to ponder. Why is it that the entity fighting for more than a decade to allow agricultural pollution into our waterways is our very own state? The lawsuit to stop back pumping was appealed by the South Florida Water Management District. Our tax dollars are funding the fight for polluters, and against own citizens. That is unacceptable. There will be more this issue as we move forward.”
Thank you to Capt. Mike Conner for providing the following link that can be used to view discharge amounts from structures within the Lake Okeechobee system:
Indian Riverkeeper Marty Baum and Kenny Hinkle Jr. document the back pumping of water from the S-2 pumping station on the southern shore of Lake Okeechobee.
Water from the S-2 pumping station was dark brown and filled with sediment. Visibility was limited to inches.
Detritus from the intake canal can be seen backed up behind the S-2 structure.