Everglades Update

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Key Projects Moving Forward

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) hosted the virtual program, “2020 Everglades Update: Celebrating Historic Progress on Everglades and Estuary Restoration,” via ZOOM on Friday afternoon, April 17. The forum, moderated by Rae Ann Wessel, the SCCF Natural Resources Policy Director, featured Drew Bartlett, Executive Director of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD); Chauncey Goss, the SFWMD Governing Board Chair; Howard Gonzalez, Program Manager for the United States Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District; and Sharon Estenoz, Chief Operating Officer for The Everglades Foundation.

“We move forward at this opportune time, when leadership, funding and projects are all coming together,” explained Wessel. “We have the same amount of water we did 140 years ago, when we started to construct manmade enhancements to manage water, but today we now only have half the land left in the Everglades, with dirtier water and hydrology conditions that lead to droughts, negative impacts on wildlife and threats to our drinking water. This is especially true this year, as this March was the driest in our 89 years of recordkeeping. The system is not designed to handle these kinds of extreme conditions.”

Gonzalez provided a detailed review of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) water storage and stormwater treatment projects that soon will be, are under construction or near completion, such as the Kissimmee River Basin, Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project, Herbert Hoover Dike Rehabilitation, the C-44 Reservoir and stormwater treatment component for the Saint Lucie River and C-43 Reservoir for the Caloosahatchee River, the Picayune Strand restoration near Naples and Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir south of the lake. “There are twenty projects in the design, funding, construction or maintenance phases in the South Florida restoration program,” he said.

Sing with One Voice

When Wessel asked the speakers for their takeaways, Estenoz stated, “We are finally cooking with gas on this program! Dirt is getting turned; bulldozers are on the ground and we are finally building momentum! The reason it is absolutely critical we finish projects and we finish them as quickly as possible and we invest at a level that allows us to accelerate them, is that when an emergency hits, like a drought or flood, water managers like Drew and Chauncey do not currently have enough tools in their toolboxes to manage our way out of these difficult conditions and that is why the Everglades catches on fire and the Florida Bay and Caloosahatchee River go salty. These projects represent those tools, so it is critical that everyone stay engaged and we sing with one voice to Washington and Tallahassee.”

“From the Army Corps perspective, we must continue the momentum we have on water projects planning and construction,” offered Gonzalez. “This includes ongoing support from all your communities, so keep voicing your concerns to your congressional leaders so we get these projects funded and constructed.”

“Stay Engaged”

Goss noted, “There has been a lot of focus on water the past year, but our water is still in crisis; even though it looks good now, it will not always stay that way. We can get too much water in summer and be in drought in spring, so it is important we get these water quality projects done and that we stay the course, on the same page, and speak with one voice, to ensure water quality keeps getting necessary funding. While the 2020 drought is not a great thing and the COVID-19 pandemic is a bad thing, the good news is construction crews working on the C-43 Reservoir have not slowed at all and in fact are speeding up because of the dry weather, so we are making great progress on that right now.”

“I like to reflect on what we might expect for the Everglades and estuaries,” concluded Bartlett. “These problems with the Everglades and estuaries have been going on for decades. The CERP was inked in 2000, and no one has been able to experience a difference in the system yet. But just five years from now, think about where we will be! We will have reservoirs for the Caloosahatchee and Saint Lucie Rivers with stormwater treatment components and the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to capture and treat all the water released into the Everglades. We will have a restored Kissimmee River and a fixed Herbert Hoover Dike. The year 2000 does not seem all that long ago to me, and five years from now will happen before you know it, and all these things are happening within a five-year timeframe and that is going to make a huge difference, so stay tuned, because we are going to start to feel positive differences here!” “It behooves all of us to stay engaged,” related Wessel, “with excellent leadership like this!”

To learn more about reservoir projects related to Lake Okeechobee, see ‘Everglades Restoration Projects: Reservoirs on Track’ in this issue.