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Sugar industry, environmentalists debate water quality

Posted: 11:04 PM, Oct 09, 2018
Updated: 2018-10-10 13:59:27Z

The Naples Area Board of Realtors sponsored a South Florida water quality roundtable Tuesday night, pitting an environmentalist against a representative of the sugar industry.

“It's not our water that's going into the Lake Okeechobee, we are not polluting Lake Okeechobee,” said Florida Crystals Vice President of Corporate Affairs Gaston Cantes.

One of Florida's biggest sugar providers, Florida Crystals says water coming in from the north, not the sugar industry is to blame for fouling up the water on the lake.

But president of the Everglades Foundation Erick Eikenberg says Big Sugar has long played a role in what’s in the water, often “backpumping” meaning the pump water polluted with fertilizer back into the lake.

“For decades, the sugar industry was back pumping its water into Lake Okeechobee, and that water was high in nutrient pollution,” said Eikenberg.

Eikenberg debated Cantes during the hour-long forum.

Both say projects put into motion by the state over the past few years to alleviate water flow must be finished before new ones are started.   

Those who organized the event knew it wouldn't produce immediate solutions

“The reality is, there is no quick answer.  we are in a society where people want a quick microwave answer, there is none for this,” said NABOR Vice President for governmental relations Jesse Purdon.