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EAA Reservoir: Keystone of Everglades restoration

By JAMES EVANS - | Jan 15, 2021

SCCF Aerial map of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

(Editor’s note: In partnership with the Everglades Foundation, the SCCF will host a virtual Everglades Update on Feb. 24 from 6 to 8 p.m. The program will feature a panel discussion about the importance of the EAA Reservoir and include: Everglades Foundation Senior Ecologist Steve Davis, Captains for Clean Water Executive Director Capt. Daniel Andrews, Conservancy of Southwest Florida Everglades and Water Policy Manager Marisa Carrozzo, and SCCF Environmental Policy Director James Evans. It will be moderated by SCCF Chief Executive Officer Ryan Orgera. Registration will open soon.)

On Jan. 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 (about 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 (about 68 billion gallons) to 370,000 acre-feet (about 120 billion) (SFWMD 2018).

PHOTO PROVIDED James Evans

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.

James Evans is environmental policy director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. Founded in 1967, the SCCF is dedicated to the conservation of coastal habitats and aquatic resources on Sanibel and Captiva and in the surrounding watershed. For more information, visit www.sccf.org.