A coalition of farmers in South Florida have filed a lawsuit seeking to force the Army Corps of Engineers to follow a law passed by Congress in 2000, which offered cities, farmers, Native American tribes and the environment legal protections under the “Savings Clause” for state water rights in the 2000 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA 2000). That law authorized the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), which has guided water restoration projects in the area for the past two decades.
The farmers say the lawsuit was filed in response to the Corps’ failure to recognize and protect water rights when seeking authorization of the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), and the lawsuit is limited in scope to target a specific aspect of CEPP. They say the Army Corps has pushed forward while using incorrect data from 2008 when the project is required by law to rely on water level data from the year 2000, at the time the law was originally passed.
“The water millions of South Floridians depend upon is at risk because the Corps has decided to ignore federal water law,” said Judy Sanchez, U.S. Sugar’s Senior Director for Corporate Communications and Public Affairs. “South Florida farmers are asking that the Corps uphold the federal commitment that environmental restoration would be achieved while maintaining a sustainable South Florida water supply–this promise was the cornerstone of the 2000 Congressional authorization as well as key to creating the broad coalition of support that passed CERP.”
The South Florida Operations Office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment about the lawsuit.
But one of the plaintiffs in the suit, the Florida Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, flatly stated that the Corps violated the Saving Clause under the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) in
the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 (WRDA 2000), and is also in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
“Promises—especially those made by statute and rule—are meant to be kept. Unfortunately, the Corps has broken a promise to our farmers, putting our growers, their livelihoods, and the community’s drinking water at risk,” said Matthew B. Hoffman, CEO and President of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative. “While the Cooperative fully supports the original CEPP Project, the management of the CEPP simply must comply with the Savings Clause to ensure an adequate water supply is available for our family farmers and our community,” Hoffman continued.
According to a press release from U.S. Sugar, another plaintiff in the case, the lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of Florida federal court specifically to address the Corps’ failure to follow WRDA 2000 in its water supply analysis for the implementation of CEPP.
“In using a flawed, lower baseline for water supply analysis, the Corps has eliminated water supply from water supply users in direct contradiction to Congressional authorization,” Sanchez said in the release. “U.S. Sugar remains as committed today as it was in 2000 to all of the CERP projects, including storage projects located north, south, east and west of Lake Okeechobee. In this lawsuit, we simply are seeking clarity to show the plain language of the ‘savings clause’ still applies while maintaining our longstanding support for all of the Everglades restoration projects.”
The “Savings Clause” is a key part of the Water Resource Development Act that was passed by Congress in 2000. The clause aimed to protect South Florida’s water supply and the environment by prohibiting the elimination or transfer of water used for agricultural or urban water supply, Seminole and Miccosukee Tribe lands, Everglades National Park, and water supply for fish and wildlife, unless that supply is replaced by another source.