Florida’s recurring water crises lit a fire for lawmakers from Tallahassee to Washington, starting with the passing of Senate Bill 10 by the Florida Legislature in 2017. The historic legislation kick-started the planning of the critical Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir project, which state officials planned in record time. Thousands of Audubon members then urged federal lawmakers to approve the EAA Reservoir in this year’s water infrastructure bill.
Perseverance paid off. The project is now fully approved and signed into law in the 2018 America’s Water Infrastructure Act. A historic accomplishment for America’s Everglades, the EAA Reservoir is a significant piece of the restoration effort and Florida’s journey to bring our ecosystems back into equilibrium.
“The recurring toxic algae blooms in South Florida and the 2015 seagrass die-off in Florida Bay tell us our watershed is sick. Implementing Everglades restoration projects like the EAA Reservoir is the antidote the ecosystem needs, and fast action to get these projects approved and funded is essential to recovery.” Celeste De Palma, Director of Everglades Policy.
In combination with other restoration projects, the project will reduce harmful Lake Okeechobee discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries by 56 percent and cut the recurrence of discharge events by 63 percent. The project will also deliver an average of 120 billion gallons of clean water to the parched Everglades National Park and Florida Bay and significantly increase the freshwater flows to Florida Bay during the dry season, when the Bay needs it the most.
This top Everglades priority will clean, store, and move water south of Lake Okeechobee and help water managers address the impacts of a changing climate. More extreme weather events and warmer temperatures require flexible and ecologically-friendly solutions to protect wildlife and people.
Victory in hand, Audubon remains focused on securing federal funds and making sure nothing gets in the way of this critical restoration project. But just two days after the 2018 midterm elections, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) tossed Everglades restoration a curve ball.
Despite Audubon’s objections, the SFWMD Governing Board rushed to approve a secretly-negotiated deal that allows private sugar interests to use land needed for the EAA Reservoir project. This move threatens one of the most important restoration projects in America’s Everglades and unnecessarily restricts the District’s ability to use state-owned land to relieve pressure on our estuaries if Florida experiences significant rain before the reservoir is built. Using state-owned land in this temporary way would give water managers greater flexibility to move water across the ecosystem, benefiting people and wildlife.
Disappointingly, the secret deal locks away 16,000 acres of state-owned land for a minimum of two years. Because this site has been farmed for decades, a number of steps need to take place before the site is ready for construction. That’s work that needs to take place ASAP. Adding insult to injury, the SFWMD board voted that same day to abandon a 30-year old consent decree that protects water quality in the Everglades.
Audubon is committed to the EAA Reservoir and keeping water quality protections in place. Clean water is the underpinning of what defines the Greater Everglades Ecosystem. With the support of Audubon’s members, we’re ready to defend it all the way.