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DeSantis announces agreement for reservoir build to benefit Everglades

By NATHAN MAYBERG - | Apr 28, 2021

Gov. Ron DeSantis

nmayberg@breezenewspapers.com

New progress on the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir Project was announced on Earth Day by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Thursday’s announcement followed a vote by the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board to authorize an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin construction on the reservoir component this year.

The wetlands part of the project is expected to be completed in 2023.

DeSantis said the latest agreement “means we are another step closer to moving more clean water south through the Everglades and reducing harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.”

The new project will include a 10,500 acre above-ground water storage area, which is “absolutely essential to reduce harmful discharges to the northern estuaries and to help us send more clean water south to the Everglades.” He anticipates construction beginning later this year and reflects a “commitment to our water resources.”

“Today marks a critical milestone for Everglades restoration and achieving our state’s long-term environmental goals,” said DeSantis. “When I took office, I made expediting the EAA Reservoir Project a top priority. Signing this agreement means we are another step closer to moving more clean water south through the Everglades and reducing harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.”

South Florida Water Management District Governing Board Chairman Chauncey Goss, who previously served as a Sanibel city council member, described the project, which includes restoring river grass over 17,000 acres in the Everglades agricultural area, as “the most ambitious ecosystem restoration effort in the world – restoring Florida’s Everglades.”

Last year, the South Florida Water Management District began construction on the State of Florida’s water-cleansing marsh component of the project, the stormwater treatment area. That included blasting and excavating canals, Goss said.

“Instead of sending excess Lake Okeechobee water to our estuaries, the reservoir and wetlands will work together to divert that excess water south to the Everglades and ultimately to Florida Bay where it is needed the most,” Goss said. “Once we finish, we can send even more water to the Everglades instead of flushing it east and west.”

Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani said the project is estimated to reduce high-level flows by about 60% when combined with all the other projects under the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and Central Everglades Planning Project.

“So, we don’t know specifically how the EAA Reservoir alone will contribute to reducing high Lake discharges,” Cassani stated.

Most important locally, is the construction of the C-43 storage basin project, Cassani said.

James Evans, environmental policy director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, took a similar view.

“This is a great day for the Everglades and northern estuaries,” he said. “Thanks to the leadership of Gov. DeSantis and the Governing Board, we are moving forward at a swift pace with the keystone project of Everglades restoration, a project that will reduce the damaging discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries and restore freshwater flows to the Everglades and Florida Bay.”

Applause came from a multitude of local and statewide environmental groups, whose comments were included in a release from the Governor’s Office.

“The EAA Reservoir is a central piece of Everglades restoration and vitally important for reducing damaging discharges that harm the environment and our coastal communities, while simultaneously storing, treating, and sending water south to the Everglades,” said Rob Moher, president & CEO of Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “We greatly appreciate the Governor and Governing Board continuing to make this project a top priority, and applaud the signing of the Project Partnership Agreement between the South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”

Captains For Clean Water shared that view.

“It’s great to see the South Florida Water Management District under the leadership of Gov. DeSantis, making progress on Everglades Restoration,” said Capt. Daniel Andrews, executive director of Captains For Clean Water. “Clean and usable waterways are the backbone of Florida’s economy, and the EAA Reservoir Project is such a critical part of restoring balance back to our estuaries. This agreement will allow progress to continue and things to stay moving in the right direction. Projects like this are massive undertakings, and it’s imperative that they stay on track if we’re going to save our waters. We’re glad to see this agreement to stay on track here today.”

Pedro Ramos, superintendent of Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks, said it is key to the restoration of the ‘Glades.

“The EAA Reservoir is a cornerstone project that will help keep Everglades National Park wetlands and Florida Bay supplied with fresh, clean water, especially during the drier months when we need it,” he said. “This is an important step forward and the greatest gift for the Everglades on this Earth Day.”

Also weighing in with praise were representatives of Florida Bay Forever, the Everglades Law Center, the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, and Audubon Florida

“Audubon applauds the Governing Board and the Army Corps for expeditiously reaching an agreement to move the EAA Reservoir Project forward,” said Beth Alvi, policy director for Audubon Florida. “We thank Gov. DeSantis for his continued commitment to Everglades restoration. The EAA Reservoir Project will benefit Florida’s environment and economy reducing harmful discharges to the estuaries east and west, sending clean water south to the Everglades.”

The Corps agreed the action was a project milestone.

“The signing of this agreement is an important event as we continue the journey to restore the Everglades with our state partners,” said Col. Andrew Kelly, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District.

Officials say the EAA Reservoir Project is one of the most important Everglades restoration projects for reducing harmful discharges to the northern estuaries and sending more clean water south to the Everglades.

DeSantis’ effort began on his second day in office with the signing of Executive Order 19-12. Since taking office, DeSantis also secured record Everglades restoration funding to support this and other key projects and signed important environmental legislation into law, including the Clean Waterways Act.

The EAA Reservoir Project is a joint Everglades restoration project between the South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The South Florida Water Management District began building the water-cleansing marsh called a Stormwater Treatment Area last year, and the agreement enables the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build the accompanying storage reservoir.

“The EAA Reservoir Project will benefit both Florida’s environment and economy,” officials said in an announcement release issued by the governor’s office.

“In addition to more clean water for the Everglades, the project is creating jobs and providing a significant boost to the nearby local economies south of Lake Okeechobee.”