by SCCF Environmental Policy Director James Evans
On January 10, 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued Executive Order 19-12, Achieving More Now for Florida’s Environment. This executive order outlines the governor’s priorities and goals for protecting the state’s waters and natural resources, which are the foundation of Florida’s communities, economy, and way of life.
Among the governor’s top priorities for reducing the damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the coastal estuaries was a plan to accelerate the construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir. The EAA Reservoir remains a top priority for the coastal communities and Everglades advocates because it is the only Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) project that will both reduce the damaging discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries and restore freshwater flows to the Everglades.
The EAA Reservoir was one of the original CERP projects, conditionally authorized by Congress in the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 (SFWMD), and remains a keystone of Everglades Restoration. The current project authorized by Congress in 2018 includes an above-ground reservoir capable of storing 240,000 acre-feet (~78 billion gallons) of water, a 6,500-acre wetland stormwater treatment area (STA) to clean the water, and infrastructure to convey water from Lake Okeechobee south to the Everglades and Florida Bay.
It is estimated that in combination with previously authorized CERP projects, the EAA Reservoir will reduce discharge volumes to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries by 55 percent and reduce mean monthly high-flow discharge events by 63 percent (SFWMD 2018). At the same time, this project would almost double the flows south to the central Everglades from 210,000 acre-feet (~68 billion gallons) to 370,000 acre-feet (~120 billion) (SFWMD 2018).
Recently, some lawmakers in Florida have raised concerns about the EAA Reservoir, citing budget shortfalls related to the COVID-19 pandemic to justify halting the project. The reality is that Everglades restoration is estimated to provide a 4:1 return on investment. For each dollar spent on restoration, four dollars are generated to support Florida’s economy (Mather Economics 2012).
Moreover, any delays in a project that has already broken ground will prevent critical ecosystem restoration benefits from being realized for both the Everglades and the estuaries and will ultimately cost Florida taxpayers more in the long term.
Now is not the time to delay funding for the EAA Reservoir. We need to stay the course and continue to invest in Florida’s future.