TALLAHASSEE – Gov. Ron DeSantis recently announced site work has begun for the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir Project.
The project promises to reduce harmful algae discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries and send more clean water south to the Everglades. Algae blooms coming from both were thought to contribute to the red tide blooms that devastated Southwest Florida in 2017-18.
The South Florida Water Management District is now working on the project site for the 6,500-acre wetland stormwater treatment area associated with the project.
DeSantis expedited the restoration project on his second day in office, secured record Everglades restoration funding to support this project and worked closely with the Trump Administration to expedite necessary federal permits, according to a press release issued form the governor’s office.
“Today marks a critical milestone for Everglades restoration and achieving our state’s long-term environmental goals,” DeSantis said.
The entire project is expected to cost more than $1.8 billion., creating hundreds of jobs and providing a boost to local economies south of Lake Okeechobee.
After the initial site preparation, the District will begin construction of canals and berms for the stormwater treatment area in coming months.
“We did it,” said Chauncey Goss, District chair. “Thanks to the leadership of Gov. DeSantis, support from the Florida Legislature, and the dedication of the SFWMD Governing Board, we are starting this critical project 12 months early. I can tell you that we are full steam ahead to complete this project for the benefit of both our environment and our economy.”
”This is a big deal,” said Col. Andrew Kelly, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District. “This is another step that allows us to continue the momentum we’ve experienced over the past few years in restoring the ecosystem in south Florida.”
Environmental groups called the project’s early start good news.
“This is welcome news both for our environment and our economy,” said Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation. “After more than 20 years, we are finally moving forward with a project that will deliver massive amounts of clean, fresh water south to the Everglades, under the bridges of Tamiami Trail, and ultimately to Florida Bay.”
“Now more than ever we are seeing the importance of clean water for our economy and way of life,” said Daniel Andrews, executive director of Captains for Clean Water. “The (project) has been held up for far too long.”
”The reservoir is a long-awaited piece of the restoration puzzle that will reduce harmful high-flow discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries by storing and treating water to send south to the Everglades,” said Rob Moher, President and CEO of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “The stormwater treatment component is absolutely essential for fully realizing the project’s ecosystem benefits, and we applaud this swift action by the SFWMD.”
ManaSota-88 executive director Glen Compton was more cautious in his assessment of the project.
“Although the EAA Reservoir appears to be a step in the right direction to correct some of the historic mistakes of the past, implementation and construction of the project will need to be carefully watched. Whether the reservoir has been adequately designed to reduce harmful water quality discharges remains to be seen,” Compton said.
”It is always best to stop pollution at its source; this is a project that allows polluters to continue to pollute and uses public lands to clean up their mess,” he added.
Compton went on to say agriculture is one of the most under-regulated and polluting industries in Florida.
”The algae blooms we have experienced for the last few years are a good example of that under-regulation. It’s unfortunate the taxpayers of Florida and this nation will have to pay the price for pollution in the form of a subsidy to build a reservoir,” Compton said.
The reservoir is a joint Everglades restoration project between the District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. SFWMD is building the water-cleansing stormwater treatment area, which is expected to be complete in 2023. The U.S. Army Corps will build the 10,000-acre storage reservoir, which is expected to be complete in 2028.