FORT MYERS, Fla.- Buckingham Farms used to take pride in its home-grown peaches. Now, the owner is frustrated, because many of his peach trees are dead. He blames massive water releases into the Caloosahatchee River, for driving up water tables.
"It is frustrating to see something you put everything into, die," says T.J. Cannamela, owner of the farms.
He says when the river is full, it backs up the tributaries and creeks that flow into the river. That in turn drives up the water table in nearby fields. In the case of peach trees, too much water is fatal. The roots cannot stand to be wet for more than one day, Cannamela says, and then the tree starts to die.
He says 400 trees that were producing a lot of fruit during the past two springs. Now, 225 of those trees are dead, and more appear to be doing poorly and may die as well.
"I just wish the Army Corps of Engineers would realize,when they do the massive releases, they are affecting a lot of people downstream. It is not all about them," says Cannamela. He figures he has lost at least 10-thousand dollars on the initial cost of the trees, plus he will lose the 10-thousand dollars he received for the peaches, each of the past two springs.
The Army Corps says it releases water from Lake Okeechobee to protect the aging Hoover dike around the lake. Spokesman John Campbell adds: "It seems to me, you have to blame mother nature. We are having a record year for rainfall, a record wet summer. We know there are people all over south Florida who cannot enjoy their property or land as they might in other years. But we have to let the water out, it has to go somewhere, and we cannot risk a failure of that dike. We certainly empathaize with the farmer you interviewed, and with other property owners who have a lot of water on their land this year."
T.J. Cannamela says he really has no choice but to save a few of the peach trees, and perhaps put in some fill dirt for future plantings, or try to find some slightly higher and drier ground for peach trees.