Florida’s Ranchlands Helping to Preserve Landscapes, Protect and Improve Waters
OKEECHOBEE, FL — Leaders of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) today marked the expansion of an innovative, cost-saving land management strategy with the signing of partnership agreements with eight Florida ranchers. Water managers are collaborating with landowners to achieve water storage, water quality and habitat improvement benefits north of Lake Okeechobee but at less cost than traditional government land acquisition programs.
DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. and SFWMD Executive Director Melissa Meeker met with landowners at the Dixie Cattle Ranch in Okeechobee County to finalize the new agreements that will store 4,800-acre feet of water on private lands and improve water quality in Lake Okeechobee, the coastal estuaries and the Everglades. The ranchlands — totaling 9,500 acres across three counties — have become part of the SFWMD’s Dispersed Water Management Program to store water on public, private and tribal lands. The program is an important new tool that is helping to improve water quality, protect water resources and conserve Florida’s habitats. At the same time, using working ranchlands to achieve environmental benefits also helps sustain jobs, keeps land on local tax rolls and avoids burdening taxpayers with new debt to buy title to the land. The effort parallels the water resource goals of Florida’s successful land acquisition programs without the higher cost of buying and managing land. "Getting the water right is central to every aspect of Florida life and its future," said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. "Collaborating with property owners to store excess water helps advance the conservation and natural resource protection goals of highly successful environmental protection programs, without the high cost of land acquisition, the burden of ongoing debt payments and leaving landowners to do what they do best — manage the land and support our economy."