A major decision in federal court today will put an end to government-sanctioned pollution that’s been fouling Lake Okeechobee for more than three decades.
The case, first filed in 2002 by Earthjustice, challenged the practice of “back pumping.” For years, South Florida sugar and vegetable growers have used the public’s waters, pumped out of giant Lake Okeechobee, to irrigate their fields. They wash the water over their industrial-sized crops, where it is contaminated with fertilizers and other pollutants. Then, they get taxpayers in the South Florida Water Management District to pay to pump the contaminated water back into Lake Okeechobee, where it pollutes public drinking water supplies. Lake Okeechobee provides drinking water for West Palm Beach, Fort Myers, and the entire Lower East Coast metropolitan area.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Karas in the Southern District of New York ruled that the water transfer practice does, indeed, violate the Clean Water Act.