Farming Water in FloridaOctober 21, 2010 - 1:38 PM | by: Orlando Salinas
Jimmy Wohl’s been a cattle rancher for most of his life. His family bought the 5,000 acre spread in Sebring, Florida back in the early 1960’s, and it’s still a working cattle ranch today. While we were walking his land, A couple hundred head of beef cattle were looking at me like I was some sort of matador. Kind of like how many American ranchers have looked at any kind of governmental agency that wants to step foot on their land.
But this time, things might be different.
Wohl is one of 8 Florida ranchers who are part of a pilot program that pays ranchers to collect water for the state– on their private land. And at the end of the legally binding contract, the land owner could sell his property to the highest bidder.
The reason this ‘payment for environmental services- PES’ project makes sense, is because Florida has forever been caught in a drought. Some years have been worse than others, but all have been tight on water.
The PES plan would eventually have enough Florida ranchers join the project, so they can collect about 750 olympic size swimming pools worth of rainwater. That’s about one million gallons of water.
The water would be collected during Florida’s torrential rainy season, then released during the dry season. The released water would eventually feed into the Everglades as as well as into south Florida’s stingy water supply.
We walked and rode through Jimmy’s land as the sun beat down hard. I saw a couple of large pumps and computers that had been installed by the state. I saw one pump pushing about 9000 gallons of water an hour, from one side of his land to another. Fast. Loud. Hard and unforgiving. The water had already flooded more than 100 acres. Wohl said he was happy with how the program was working so far.
Environmental groups say the ‘water farming’ plan makes sense, and would cut back on building costly reservoirs that dot the Florida landscape. The flip side is that farmers would not be legally bound to keep any of the land for permanent conservation. But that’s a weak argument in the bigger picture. After all, the ranchers are agreeing to use their land to collect water. To store it and then release for the general population when its needed most.