No issue is more important to our District than clean water and a healthy environment. We will work to obtain the federal funding necessary to clean up the Okeechobee waterway and restore our Everglades.
Federal-State funded Everglades restoration projects
Many laws have been passed at the state and federal level directed at cleaning up and restoring the Everglades and preserving adjacent waterways, including the Caloosahatchee Estuary, St Lucie Estuary and Florida Bay.
The original Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) was approved by Congress in 2000, calling for 68 projects at a cost of $7.8 billion (now estimated to cost over $16 billion). Today, we have unfunded projects from the federal water bills (Water Resources Development Acts (WRDA) 2007, 2014 and 2016) that will cost approximately $6 billion. The state is approximately one billion dollars ahead of the federal government in funding land acquisition and implementation of CERP that are supposed to be 50/50 cost shared.
The C-43 Reservoir on the west coast at Labelle is an example of a federally authorized project being implemented by the State, despite a lack of federal funding. This project is critical to reducing the frequency and intensity of damaging freshwater discharges to the Caloosahatchee Estuary. Therefore, the state has commenced construction of this $500 million reservoir which will hold 170,000 acre-feet of water from the C-43 Basin stormwater runoff and Lake Okeechobee.
Projects completed to reduce phosphorus from flowing into the Everglades
Recently, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) constructed the A-1 Flow Equalization Basin (FEB), just north of Storm Treatment Area (STA) 3/4, which can store 60,000 acre-feet of water. The FEB holds the water until it can be delivered more slowly into STA 3/4 and STA 2 and then ultimately released into the Water Conservation Areas (WCA), Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. As water flows through these STAs, the phosphorus is removed through naturally occurring biological, chemical and physical processes.
The average phosphorous concentration of water discharged from STA-3/4 during Water Year 2016 (May 2015 – April 2016) was 12 parts per billion (ppb), a 91 percent reduction compared to the inflow concentration of 138 ppb. Due to collaborative efforts, including agriculture, all of the Everglades National Park is now compliant with the state water quality standard for phosphorus, with phosphorus concentrations below 10 parts per billion (ppb).
Status of critical restoration projects now underway or in the works
In WRDA-2016, Congress authorized completion of the Picayune Strand Restoration Project at a cost of $626 million, which will restore over 55,000 acres of over-drained wetlands in southwest Florida and help to improve the quality, timing and distribution of freshwater flows to the Ten Thousand Island National Wildlife Refuge. WRDA-2016 also authorized the $1.9 billion Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), which will construct a series of features to allow redirecting up to 210,000 acre-feet of Lake Okeechobee regulatory discharges southward for storage, treatment and delivery to the Water Conservation Areas and Everglades National Park. This project will also help to reduce damaging freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. CEPP includes several features, including backfilling of canals, removal of levees and roads that impede the flow of water south and construction of another 15,000-acre FEB, A-2, just west of the A-1 FEB.
There are still several unfinished projects from WRDA 2007 and 2014 and previous legislation, too, including Kissimmee River Restoration, C-111 South Dade and the Indian River Lagoon South projects. In addition to restoring the ecological integrity of the Kissimmee River and floodplain wetlands, completion of the Kissimmee River Restoration Project will provide 130,000 acre-feet of dynamic water storage to help control Lake Okeechobee water levels and restore water flow through thousands of acres of floodplain wetlands to improve water quality in Lake Okeechobee. Since the lake fills up six times as fast as it can be drained, these projects all around the watershed are necessary. Flow projects southward, alone, will not solve the problem.
Completion of bridge construction along the eastern portion of Tamiami Trail (US-41) is also critical to restoring more natural flows to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. A one-mile bridge was completed in 2013; however, another 5.5 miles of bridge construction is authorized and remains to be constructed. A 2.6-mile bridge is currently under construction and is scheduled for completion in 2020. The 2.6-mile bridge design and construction is being cost-shared 50-50 by the state and federal government, though Congress authorized the 5.5 miles of bridging at a 100% federal cost.
The Corps of Engineers needs to reinforce and strengthen the Herbert Hoover Dike to ensure safety of South Florida residents in the vicinity of the dike. This critical reparation will also temporarily hold water in times of excessive rains and discharge it more slowly than last summer’s emergency discharges, which damaged estuaries and stirred up pollution.
Funding system-wide projects critical to reaching restoration goals and reducing discharges into estuaries
The bottom line is that restoration of the Everglades and the Okeechobee Watershed -- and controlling excessive discharges into our rivers and bays -- is a complex and expensive challenge. It involves projects all around the lake and along both rivers, east and west, as well as the southward flow projects.
I am working every day to make this case to the federal government including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, House and Senate Appropriations Leaders and the White House. The federal government needs to fund what they have committed to fund in these authorization laws and I am narrowly focused on the federal roles and the existing plans for executing key restoration projects called for through CERP.
Through Legacy Florida and Amendment 1, the State has funded substantially more than their one-half share and remains willing to make state-owned public lands available for construction of restoration projects. The State also is continuing to invest in collaborative projects such as the C-43 Reservoir at Labelle on the west coast and the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area near Stuart on the east coast as well as others.
Governor Scott and I are working together to influence the United States Army Corps of Engineer to increase requested funding in their 2018 budget, which will go to the White House in the spring.
It would be best for our community to be united and focused on funding the projects now authorized and to complete the priority projects agreed upon by the state and federal governments included in CERP’s Integrated Delivery Schedule.
Caloosahatchee Watershed Regional Water Management Issues