It has been said that Everglades restoration efforts are often hindered by analysis paralysis. In the past, projects have been slowed, or even stopped, because concerns were raised about a good project not being perfect.
Sen. Rob Bradley’s comments at the Jan. 18 Senate Appropriations Committee meeting give us hope that the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir project will move forward with the expediency Floridians desperately need.
“There isn’t a CERP project that has been studied more than the EAA Reservoir,” Bradley said. “It is foolish to wait for something that might happen decades from now, in the meantime allowing damage to our estuaries and coastal communities when we have a project today that will make a significant difference.”
South Florida Water Management District has worked diligently over recent months to meet a January deadline put into law by Senate Bill 10, directing the District to plan a project that would reduce harmful discharges to the estuaries, meet water quality standards, and send additional water south to the Everglades and Florida Bay. The project is required to use existing state- and district-owned land to minimize the impact to agricultural communities. Ernie Marks, SFWMD executive director, assured the Senate committee that the “Best Buy” alternatives presented for a reservoir in the EAA meet the requirements of the law.
Two alternatives were presented as both economically feasible and feasible from an engineering standpoint:
Alternative R240A includes a 240,000 acre-foot reservoir, with a footprint of approximately 10,100 acres and a depth of approximately 23 feet. Estimated cost for this alternative is $1.34 billion.
Alternative C360C is a 360,000 acre-foot reservoir with a footprint of approximately 19,700 acres and a depth of about 18 feet. Estimated cost for this alternative is $1.71 billion.
Marks also assured the senators that there is confidence the reservoir will meet the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan goals when combined with other restoration projects, and is both economically feasible, and feasible from an engineering perspective.
Some environmentalists have claimed the reservoir must be larger to clean the water adequately. Marks addressed this concern by stating that first the Water Management District decided what amount of treatment was needed and then worked from that point to plan the reservoir.
He also explained that pushing for more land when there have been no willing sellers identified will slow the project down. Marks says the District is comfortable with the proposed footprint; besides, the plan would be subject to a third-party, independent review to ensure it would, indeed, work.
Bradley responded by saying, “The third party independent reviews we heard about today, that should give citizens some assurance that the District is doing its job because people who don’t work in the District are reviewing its work.” He went on to say, “Make no mistake about it, the state has done its part and now the federal government needs to do theirs.”
We couldn’t agree more.
The experts at South Florida Water Management District have answered our questions and presented a workable plan that meets our goals. We must keep pressure on the federal government to completely fund its half of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir, and the other authorized Everglades restoration projects required to move water south.
We cannot afford to wait for more land to become available, especially when a team of experts who will be subject to third-party review, is telling us that more land is not needed.
Thank you, Sen. Bradley, for your leadership. It’s time to get the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir done once and for all.
Nyla Pipes sits on the board of the Water Resources Analysis Coalition (WRAC) and is executive director of nonprofit Florida clean water advocate One Florida Foundation, Inc.