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Water managers may appeal ruling on pumping into Okeechobee

FORT MYERS — South Florida's water managers may appeal a federal judge's ruling over the pumping of water from farmlands into public water supplies such as Lake Okeechobee.

Environmental groups have hailed last week's ruling by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas in New York's Southern District. Karas said the practice of "backpumping" violates the Clean Water Act.

South Florida Water Management District spokesman Randy Smith tells the News-Press in Fort Myers that day-to-day operations won't immediately change while the district considers filing an appeal.

"Backpumping is very rare, and it is used primarily for health and human safety issues during flood control operations," Smith said.

The district has repeatedly said its permitting process is within the scope of the Clean Water Act, and that district projects do not fall under National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, a federal permit required when polluting U.S. waterways, Smith said.

Historically, backpumping was used to provide water for fields during the dry season and to prevent flooding during heavy rains.

The nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice first filed its case in 2002 over polluted water from sugar cane and vegetable fields pumped into Lake Okeechobee. Earthjustice argued that the South Florida Water Management District violated federal law by allowing agricultural companies to send polluted water into southern Florida's water supply without decontaminating it first.

The Florida case was bundled with similar claims from several other states and heard in New York federal court.

Environmental groups say stopping pollution at its source is key to fixing South Florida's water problems.

Lake Okeechobee is the drinking water source for millions of Floridians.

Water managers may appeal ruling on pumping into Okeechobee 04/01/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 9:34pm]
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