Florida has a shining example of how excess water can be stored effectively, quickly, and economically. The Caulkins Water Farm in Martin County meets these needs and I was privileged to attend its grand opening last month.
I first became acquainted with the concept of water farming two years ago while researching methods of restoring the Everglades (see https://www.jamesmadison.org/publications/detail/solving-the-everglades-riddle). I thought to myself: “store” water on private property? Why and who would?
I was aware of the mandated regulatory water releases by the USACE from Lake Okeechobee to protect the weakened integrity of aging Herbert Hoover Dike. And, I was also aware that during heavy rain events, approximately one million acre-feet of water storage was needed to counter such releases which lead to environmentally harmful algae blooms in the St. Lucy and Caloosahatchee rivers estuaries, not to mention their negative impact on local economies.
However, I was unaware of a pilot project that was underway to help meet this challenge. The Caulkins Citrus Company was one of the successful citrus entities which had been destroyed by citrus greening. In 2014, Caulkins Citrus Company President George Caulkins, decided to experiment with his property, using it as a shallow reservoir or water farm. He designated 413 acres for a pilot project. Water was pumped out of the C-44 Canal where it was then stored. While the water was stored, natural filtration removed a minimum of 75 percent of its phosphorus and 50 percent of its nitrogen. This led to a helpful recharging of the aquifer beneath the property. It also became a source of clean water to be sent downstream to hydrate the Everglades.
The project was so successful, the state and Caulins decided to expand the project to 3200 acres. That means the Caulkins Water Farm has the capacity to store more than 110,000 acre-feet of water each year. That’s approximately one-tenth of the total storage needed during heavy rain events. That’s impressive.
Even more impressive is the fact that the pilot project was only launched only three years ago in 2014. Now, the project can pump 465 acre-feet of water per day from the C-44 canal before it gets to the St. Lucie River estuary.
Impressive beyond that is the price tag for such storage ability. The state paid $7.5 million to construct the infrastructure and Caulkins provided the land. By operating as a public-private partnership, Caulkins is subject to an annual legislative appropriation as the project continues.
The launch of the expanded project took place in early October. At the ceremony, the project was lauded by Senate President Joe Negron and leaders from project partners the Department of Environmental Protection, the South Florida Water Management District, and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs. And rightly so.
The Caulkins Water Farm is ready to store a significant amount of water, is already up and running, is recharging the aquifer, and is cleansing water – all at an attractive price. Hopefully, Floridians will recognize the value of such a public-private partnership. It’s shining example seems abundantly clear.