The Lake Okeechobee Protection Program

November 2005
Pat Miller - Okeechobee County Extension, Dairy & Water Quality Agent

Do you live or operate a cattle operation in the Lake Okeechobee drainage basin? Have you been made aware of the Lake Okeechobee Protection Program?

Back in April, 2000, I wrote an "article of the month" for this webpage speculating about where we in agriculture were headed relative to the concern over phosphorus runoff into the lake and the apparent regulation heading our way. At that time, we talked about the soon to be distributed BMP manual for cattlemen developed by the Florida Cattlemen's Association and the soon to be developed stringent water quality regulations. Both have happened.

This manual was a proactive effort by your cattle industry to "get a jump ahead" of regulations and demonstrate the industry's true concern to be a part of the solution. I encouraged you then, and do now, to obtain a copy if you have not and look it over. Everyone is doing BMPs in some form or other, you just might not realize it. And you might find some suggestions that would not only reduce your runoff, but improve your profitability. It behooves the industry, to document its efforts to address this issue, and using and documenting the use of BMPs is a very favorable step toward that end.

So why bring it up again? Those of you who operate in the basin have another tool available to you to document and establish BMPs you need to be aware of, if not already. It is called the Lake Okeechobee Protection Program. What is it? It's a non regulatory, voluntary, incentive based program designed to reduce phosphorus discharges to Lake Okeechobee. Essentially, the State of Florida has developed this program to give producers an incentive to establish BMPs. The carrot is cost share.

For your participation you receive a conservation plan and any associated engineering for BMPs provided at no cost to you. Cost share for eligible landowners can include 50% from USDA and 25% from FDACS.

Perhaps as importantly, another carrot is you receive a presumption of compliance with water quality standards by establishing and maintaining your selected BMPs and keeping records.

The stick: Once monitoring for compliance begins, if you are not on record as having participated in the program, you will be subject to monitoring and the expense of doing so will rest on your shoulders.

Producers in the basin need to be aware of the availability of this program, they need to understand it and evaluate it for their own sake. At minimum, producers should either get a Cattlemen's BMP manual and look it over to decide what they are already doing and get it documented, and what further they could do, or maybe get it out again and review it and renew your efforts in documentation.

To learn more about the program, contact the FDACS Office of Agricultural Water Policy in Okeechobee at (863) 462-5881.

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