This fall, the biggest Everglades restoration project to date came online, creating more than 6,000 acres over new wetlands across a 12,000-acre footprint. On November 19, 2021, the Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District celebrated the completion of the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area (STA). A component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan’s (CERP) Indian River Lagoon South project, the C-44 Reservoir and STA provides more than 60,000-acre feet, or 19.7 billion gallons, of new water storage to the region. This additional storage capacity will allow for water treatment of basin runoff in the St. Lucie estuary to improve water quality and revitalize Indian River Lagoon habitat.
Improving water quality is particularly important for a region that has been plagued by algae. The C-44 project will reduce nutrient loads in the St. Lucie estuary by absorbing approximately 35 metric tons of phosphorus every year - it will also improve the salinity balance between fresh and saltwater, which is essential in an estuarine environment like the Indian River Lagoon. Historically, the Indian River Lagoon has been one of the most biodiverse habitats in North American and supports more than 4,300 species of plants and animals. The region also contributes more than $730 million to the economy each year.
The C-44 canal was first dredged in 1923 to divert flood water from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie estuary. It has taken decades and millions of dollars of funds to restore the C-44 area.
“Audubon Florida applauds this incredible accomplishment. The C-44 project represents decades of dedication to restore the River of Grass,” said Audubon Florida’s Director of Everglades Policy Kelly Cox, “this is the first of the reservoir projects to be completed around Lake Okeechobee and we are excited to see birds flock to the new wetlands, while communities up and down the watershed benefit from cleaner water.”
The C-44’s “sister” reservoir project, the C-43 project near the Caloosahatchee River, is slated to come online in the next few years.