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U.S. SUGAR IMPLEMENTS ON FARM PHOSPHORUS REDUCTION PROGRAM AS ALTERNATIVE TO PROPOSED STORM WATER TREATMENT SYSTEM

 CLEWISTON, Fla., Feb. 12 /PRNewswire/ -- Less than one year after farmers presented an alternative strategy for revitalizing the Everglades, U.S. Sugar Corporation reported it has put in place an extensive on-farm phosphorus reduction program that is showing significant progress in cleaning farm water run-off.
 "We promised a year ago that we would immediately begin removing phosphorus in our water and not wait for resolution of the battle over the Everglades SWIM plan," said Robert H. Buker, senior vice president of U.S. Sugar. "We have been going forward with a plan which will help protect the Everglades eco-system and at the same time protect tens of thousands of jobs associated with agriculture in South Florida.
 While it is still too early to make final projections, U.S. Sugar reports a 43 percent reduction in phosphorus from water leaving its farms as a result of on-farm programs. The data period is from May to December 1992.
 The program, initiated at a cost of several million dollars, ranges from implementing new water pumping practices to experimental chemical treatment systems and clean up of sugar mills. Several parts of the overall program have been put in place and are functioning, while others will require continued experimentation and monitoring to measure long range effectiveness.
 "Based on our experience to date, we are confident that farmers can reduce significant amounts of the phosphorus in farm water runoff," Buker said. "More importantly, we believe our work here demonstrates our good faith as a contributing partner in improving South Florida's environment."
 The SWIM plan, proposed by the South Florida Water Management District requires a reduction of 150 metric tons of phosphorus at the primary pumps. In April 1992 the farmers outlined a plan in two phases which would achieve that goal. The first phase includes steps farmers could take in the short term which would reduce phosphorus by 100 tons annually. The steps include new pumping practices; reducing non-farm sources such as sugar mills and urban phosphorus runoff; and implementing best management practices from the University of Florida Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS).
 An additional 25 ton reduction in phosphorus would be achieved through the two experimental restoration projects the District has in progress (the Holey Land project and the Everglades Nutrient Removal Project).
 U.S. Sugar implemented new pumping practices based upon extensive computer modeling on all of the company's land in June, 1992. The new practices involve more closely managing water levels before and during pumping. This replaces the historical practice of prolonged pumping in anticipation of rain, which stirs up sediments on the bottom of canals, resulting in an increase in the water's phosphorus content.
 Studies by engineers and consultants indicate that, when fully implemented, the new practices can mean a 58-ton reduction in phosphorus in drainage water pumped from the farmlands south of Lake Okeechobee. A large scale monitoring program indicates that the new practices should meet that goal.
 U.S. Sugar owns and operates two sugar mills, Bryant and Clewiston. Even though the mill operations have closed systems and no surface water discharge, about two percent of the phosphorus (from processed sugarcane) in water held on-site percolated indirectly from holding ponds into drainage canals, equaling about five tons annually at each mill.
 The company has invested $2 million in projects to seal off the two mills and reuse water. Early reports from the project at Bryant Mill shows a 300 percent reduction in phosphorus concentrations. The Company believes the infrastructure changes can eliminate phosphorus discharge from the mill basins and conserve water.
 In their alternative plan, farmers estimated that a combination of phosphorus reduction strategies concentrating on the non-farm sources of phosphorus, such as sugar mills and other facilities, urban area runoff and miscellaneous sources (such as agricultural villages), could reduce phosphorus by at least 20 metric tons annually.
 In 1992, U.S. Sugar and other farmers in the Everglades Protection District helped pay to upgrade publicly owned sewage treatment facilities in Belle Glade and South Bay. These facilities now pump their effluent into a municipal deep injection well rather than discharging into canals. This technology is already at work and removes at least 11 metric tons of phosphorus per year from the Everglades.
 University of Florida's IFAS recommended a series of "best management practices" or "BMPs" regarding the use of fertilizer and other farming techniques. The BMPs call for use of calibrated soil testing to gauge fertilizer needed; banding fertilizer on sugarcane, lettuce and leafy vegetable crops; preventing spilled and misapplied fertilizer; using rice as an aquatic cover crop; and minimizing water table fluctuations, among others.
 Farmers' scientific consultants estimate that these agricultural practices can result in approximately an 11 metric ton load reduction to the primary system.
 U.S. Sugar has utilized a number of these practices, including calibrated soil testing, rice as a cover crop, preventing spilled and misapplied fertilizer, and banding fertilizer on sugarcane.
 Most significantly, after almost a decade of research by U.S. Sugar scientists working with IFAS, the company has invented new machinery and implemented a new technique to band fertilizer on lettuce and leafy vegetables this season at its South Bay Growers operation. The new practice involves applying fertilizer in "bands" at the base of the plant instead of "broadcast" application on entire fields. The fertilizer is applied several inches underground, so that the possibility of fertilizer runoff is significantly reduced (wind and rain erosion are the primary reasons for runoff).
 The technique is proving to be even more effective at reducing the amount of fertilizer used than was projected. With the season well underway, South Bay Growers is applying about 55 percent less fertilizer than in previous seasons. A monitoring program is also in place to measure the resulting decreases in phosphorus levels in soil and water.
 U.S. Sugar is conducting an intense program of research and development on the second phase of phosphorus reduction strategies, which the farmers' plan estimates will achieve the remaining tonnage of reduction needed to revitalize the Everglades. These strategies involve experimental methods for cleaning or treating water containing phosphorus, redirecting or controlling the flow of water and preventing sediments containing phosphorus from reaching ditches or flowing through the canal system.
 Research shows that limerock (calcium carbonate) binds phosphorus, removing it from water. Limerock underlies the farm areas. Several experiments are underway at U.S. Sugar to test the best arrangement for using limerock to cleanse water. In one experiment, two canals were dug side by side. This allows the water to percolate from one canal to a parallel canal. The water is treated as it moves through the rock. In another experiment, the water cascades over limerock, in a setup similar to river rapids, to remove phosphorus.
 Other processes to treat water using chemicals are also being tested. Several experiments are in development at U.S. Sugar to test different methods, rates and timing of water treatment. One of those experiments will test the feasibility of removing water from a canal and then pumping it through a treatment area before returning it to a canal. Another will hold water on 3/4 to 1 acre blocks of land to test different rates and timing of treatment.
 The ability to prevent soil erosion caused by wind and rain will allow farmers to prevent a significant amount of phosphorus from ever reaching drainage ditches and canals. U.S. Sugar is experimenting with a number of techniques to minimize erosion and to provide opportunities for sediment to settle before being moved along the drainage system.
 The experiments on fields include using lasers to guide the leveling of fields, using cover crops, discing fields in a zig-zag pattern instead of straight lines and planting sugarcane between the rows of harvested cane stubble as a minimum tillage practice. These types of practices can help reduce soil erosion from fields due to wind and rain which would normally end up in drainage ditches. U.S. Sugar's Research Department has developed a series of field tests of these practices to measure their effectiveness in reducing erosion.
 Other experiments focus on reducing soil erosion on ditch banks. These include testing the ability of grasses, such as bermuda grass, to stabilize the bank; using limerock to build a berm on the bank to filter water; and covering ditch entrances with either grass or a polymer to keep the soil firm so that water running over it does not erode the soil.
 Several other experiments are testing techniques to settle sediment before it reaches a ditch or moves from a ditch or canal farther along the drainage system. The slower the speed of water, the more sediment will settle before it reaches the entrance to a ditch, a culvert or a pump.
 The experiments include using sumps (wide, shallow basins) to slow the water before it reaches a bank, before a culvert, or near pump intakes; using plastic pipe where water drains into ditches instead of letting it flow over and erode the banks; and using risers to adjust the flow of water in field ditches. An experiment is also being constructed in one canal to test a sediment trap, which involves widening the canal to slow the water and digging a sump with a rock barrier to trap sediment.
 U.S. Sugar is also testing, on a limited basis, the effectiveness of removing sediment in the bottom of a canal. A more comprehensive plan to remove sediment from all canals on the company's property is being investigated.
 Aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) wells have been implemented in several areas of South Florida already. The concept of the ASR well is to store excess drainage water and inject it into an underground aquifer where it is held until it is needed for irrigation. At that time, the water is pumped back up out of the aquifer and used as irrigation water. The net effect of this technique is to reduce the overall drainage pumping during rain and, at the same time, conserve that water for use when it is needed for irrigation.
 U.S. Sugar submitted a permit application for constructing the company's first ASR well to the District in April, 1992. The permit was issued in October 1992 and U.S. Sugar began drilling a test well in November 1992. Once the drilling was completed, testing was performed and the test results submitted to the Florida Department of Regulation. An engineering consulting firm is currently preparing an evaluation of the test results. If the evaluation is favorable, U.S. Sugar will apply for new permits to operate the ASR well.
 "U.S. Sugar is confident that a combination of the short-term and long-term phosphorus reduction strategies outlined here can be used to meet the phosphorus reduction requirements of the state more economically and more effectively than the proposed STAs," said Buker. "The tax dollars now being earmarked for phosphorus reduction could be used to finance restoration of hydroperiod, and removal of exotic species, which scientists say is more important to the long-term viability of the Everglades system than nutrient removal projects.
 "Our plan also includes a program of Transferable Everglades Restoration Credits to give farmers the flexibility they need to develop and implement environmental solutions, like those outlined above, that save both jobs and the environment at a substantially lower cost than the proposed government plan."
 -0- 2/12/93
 /CONTACT: Sylvia Walters of U.S. Sugar Corporation, 813-983-8121/


CO: U.S. Sugar Corporation ST: Florida IN: SU:

JJ -- FL017 -- 6309 02/12/93 17:05 EST
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Date:Feb 12, 1993
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