SOUTH FLORIDA — Clean water advocates are applauding the recent passage of the 2020 Water Resources Development Act that earmarks $250 million in funding for the Lake Okeechobee reservoir, which will store excess fresh water from the lake to be cleaned and sent south to the Everglades and Florida Bay.
The Everglades Foundation hailed the congressional passage of the federal bill and signing by President Donald J. Trump.
“We want to thank President Trump for listening to the bipartisan Florida congressional delegation and the more than 40,000 people who contacted the White House expressing their love of America’s Everglades, their desire to solve Florida’s water crisis and their strong support for Everglades restoration,” said Erik Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation.
“This $250 million — a $50 million increase over this year’s funding — is the minimum investment needed for the next fiscal year to restore America’s Everglades for future generations, reduce polluted water discharges from Lake Okeechobee to Florida’s coastal communities, and help ensure clean drinking water for more than 8 million Floridians. It is also a necessary first step in a ramp-up of future investments needed that will allow construction to be completed on the ambitious schedule advanced by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.”
The funding will expedite the Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir Project, a component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, which will send more fresh water south to the Everglades and Florida Bay.
The $1.6 billion federal-state project includes a reservoir to hold 240,000 acre-feet of water, stormwater treatment area and a network of canals to send water south into the Everglades. The treatment area is scheduled for completion in 2023, and the reservoir in 2028.
More fresh, clean water entering the Everglades will lessen salinity levels in the historically brackish Florida Bay and ultimately thwart the toxic algal blooms fueled by seagrass die-off caused by excessively salty water.
“This federal funding will help to initiate construction of the Everglades reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee,” said Everglades Foundation senior ecologist Steve Davis.
“This pivotal project will reduce the unwanted discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers by 55% while sending much-needed clean freshwater back to the Everglades and Florida Bay.”
In June 2015, high temperatures and low precipitation spiked Florida Bay’s daily average salinity levels to exceed the maximum values of the previous decade in the north-central portion of Florida Bay, according to data collected by the National Park Service.
In fact, parts of the bay were about double the salinity of ocean water.
The result was a catastrophic loss of seagrass in the north-central and western basins of the bay impacting an area of more than 40,000 acres with more than half being dead…